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DOCTOR WHO Specials of Christmas Past: All Timey-Wimey-Christmas-y

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Before I dive into the review of the new Doctor Who Christmas Special “The Snowmen”, which sees not only the debut of the new Companion in the form of Jenna-Louise Coleman’s Clara, but also the first onscreen appearance of Richard E. Grant, Who’s “first” 9th Doctor, methinks it’s a good time to take a trip down memory lane, and look at the history of the Doctor Who Christmas Specials.

(Ok, there will be a few of you who might bring up the Rowan Atkinson/Richard E. Grant/Hugh Grant/Jim Broadbent/Joanna Lumley 9th through 13th Doctors of “The Curse Of Fatal Death”, and yes, that was hysterical, but it was broadcast in the midst of the wilderness years of Who, and consequently, isn’t canon.

Neither is Richard Grant’s “The Scream Of The Shalka”, but it almost was… )

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Christmas Specials are a staple of British television, but until the return of Doctor Who in 2005, there really had been only one episode that was meant to be one: “The Feast Of Steven”, waaaaaaay back in William Hartnell’s 1st Doctor era. When Russell Davies brought the show back, he decided to have a yearly Christmas Special, and it’s continued to the present. Spoilers follow, but really, you should have watched these by now.

DrWho_ChristmasInvasion

The first of the Specials was 2005’s “The Christmas Invasion”, which was also the first full episode featuring David Tennant’s 10th Doctor, and set up what would be a recurring theme: Aliens like to invade on Christmas. Yes, it’s best not to think too hard about that, but it’s made for some interesting and entertaining visuals, with “Invasion” featuring killer Santa Robots and deadly Christmas Trees. Overall it’s a solid introduction to the kind of Doctor Tennant would be through his run: Funny and charming, cold and vengeful, apologetic and kind. From his introduction to a disbelieving Rose, his fight and somewhat ruthless killing of the Sycorax’s leader, and his calculating and angry political destruction of Prime Minister Harriet Jones, we see all the sides of the 10th Doctor right away, although most of the depth of those aspects of character would get more prominence in later episodes.

It isn’t actually much of a Christmas-y story all told, aside from killer Santas and the Christmas dinner at the end. The only snow that appears in the story is, in fact, the remains of the Sycorax ship. Which is kinda creepy if you think about it.

DrWho_RunawayBride

Next is “The Runaway Bride” in 2006, which saw the 10th Doctor meet Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble for the first time, and it saw the return of the Santa Robots as well. again, only a little Christmas-y, it focused more on Donna’s wedding, and it’s connection to the return of an old foe of the Time Lords: The Racnoss. Following the dramatic events of “Doomsday”, the Doctor is in pain from the loss of Rose, and when given a chance to fight against the Empress of the Racnoss, he lets free his vengeful side, watching in judgement as she drowns. Here we also see the beginnings of the dynamic that will be in place when Donna becomes an official Companion, as she banters and fights with the Doctor at every turn. I admit that I wasn’t a huge fan of Donna here, but in context of the later series, it’s a great introduction to the character.

DrWho_Voyage

2007’s “Voyage Of The Damned” brought the 10th Doctor together with a spaceliner called the Titanic and pop-star Kylie Minogue. It was a pretty fun ride, with Minogue proving to be both a good actress, and one who could die well. Again, it’s not really all that much about Christmas aside from the dates involved, although the Angel robots lend a festive air.

DrWho_NextDoctor

Then we had “The Next Doctor”, which I just re-watched, in part for this review, but also because David Morrissey is playing the Governor on The Walking Dead these days. As part of the season where we didn’t have anything but Specials, this kicked off the Tennant end run, by first teasing us with the idea of seeing a future Doctor, then giving us one of the more memorable female villains of the new Who in Dervia Kirwan’s Miss Hartigan. There was also a Cyber-King, another of the few references to Paul McGann’s 8th Doctor, and more of the Lonely God version of the 10th. It’s biggest tip of the hat to the holiday was the Christmas dinner at the end.

DrWho_EndOfTime

“The End Of Time” (Parts 1&2) isn’t really a Christmas Special in the holiday sense at all. While it kicks off on Christmas Eve and, of course, saw the first part broadcast on December 25th, 2009, it’s really about finally (well, more or less) resolving the Time War/Master/10th Doctor plotlines. Here we saw the return of the Time Lords, led by the now insane Rassilon, the resurrection of John Sim’s version of the Master, and the final sacrifice of the 10th Doctor in order to save Bernard Cribbins’ Wilfred Mott. Best of all, we got hints about the Doctor’s Mother, and a lovely farewell tour of the Companions on our way to 10’s regeneration. Seeing Elizabeth Sladen again made me tear up a bit, I’m not afraid to admit. She’s still missed. All in all, it was a pretty grand way to send off David Tennant, and introduce, if only briefly, Doctor Number Eleven, Matt Smith.

DrWho_ChristmasCarol

With Steven Moffat taking over from Davies at the beginning of Smith’s run, we saw a much bigger emphasis of the holiday themes in 2010’s “The Christmas Carol”, and in fact, the episode is a DW riff on the Dicken’s classic. With Amy and Rory on a space liner in jeopardy, the Doctor finds himself playing the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present AND Future to Michael Gambon’s Scrooge — I mean, Kazran Sardick. Wearing its influences proudly on its sleeve, this Special gives Gambon so very much to work with, and watching him make Sardick so much more than the Scrooge stand-in while playing off Smith manic/tragic performance is a real joy. Sure there’s plenty of silliness, with flying sharks and half a sonic screwdriver, but there’s also real sadness in the doomed relationship between Sardick and Abigail, and it’s effects on the past and the future. It also gets my vote for the best of the Christmas Specials, should anyone be wondering.

DrWho_Wardrobe

Last year’s “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe”, in what should be a fairly obvious reference to C.S. Lewis (and so help me, if you don’t get it, then get thee to a bookstore RIGHT NOW), brings us the Doctor returning a favor to an English woman named Madge Arwell, played by the delightful Clair Skinner. When he crashes to Earth after saving the planet again, Madge helps him find the TARDIS. In return, the Doctor promises to help her in the future, one that comes in the midst of WWII, when Madge learns her husband’s plane has been shot down over the English Channel. It’s Christmas, and she doesn’t want to tell her children and spoil the holiday, but finds herself with a mysterious Caretaker at a house in Dorset, one who we, if not she, recognize all too well. What follows is something pretty silly actually, and only slightly referencing The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, but it ends up being powerfully sweet none the less. The love of Madge for her children saves a world, and her husband and his crew, and her family is reunited for Christmas, all due to a strong woman who looks at the madness that accompanies the Doctor and rolls with it all. The scene where she realizes that her Caretaker is the man she helped and reminds the Doctor that he has people who love him and miss him is priceless, as is the touching reunion between the Doctor and the Ponds. It’s a fine moment where we realize, along with the Doctor, that while he may be the Last Time Lord, he does have a family.

So there’s the Christmas Specials!  Hopefully you enjoyed this little trip down memory lane, and if you haven’t seen these episodes, it’ll make you get out there and hunt them down. Did you watch “The Snowmen”? My review of that is in the works, and you’ll see how I thought it stacked up against its predecessors, but what did YOU think?

Timothy Harvey

Timothy Harvey is a Kansas City based writer, director, actor and editor, with something of a passion for film noir movies. He was the art director for the horror films American Maniacs, Blood of Me, and the pilot for the science fiction series Paradox City. His own short films include the Noir Trilogy, 9 1/2 Years, The Statement of Randolph Carter - adapted for the screen by Jason Hunt - and the music video for IAMEVE’s Temptress. He’s a former President and board member for the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City, and has served on the board of Film Society KC.

One thought on “DOCTOR WHO Specials of Christmas Past: All Timey-Wimey-Christmas-y

  • I did very much enjoy Jenna-Louise Coleman, and saying “It’s Souffle girl!” every 5 minutes. I’m looking forward to her as the new companion, I’ve a feeling she’s going to keep The Doctor on his toes. a bit like Amy, only more so.

    as for recent Christmas specials, I think my favorites have been The Christmas Invasion, Voyage of the Damned, and The Christmas Carol.

    Reply

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