Retrospective: Specials, ‘Minisodes’ and Others

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Guest contributor David Selby concludes his new Who retrospective, this time looking at the Xmas specials, minisodes and more.

So I’ve reviewed all 6 series but that’s not it – ever since the 2005 reboot the show has had a regular Children in Need ‘Minisode’ or trailer and a Christmas special, along with other occasional short treats provided by the BBC in the suspenseful wait for the new series.  First up, the Christmas specials:

The Christmas Invasion

The Christmas Invasion was my favourite Christmas Special (tied with A Christmas Carol) because it managed to achieve something which many of the other specials failed to: being Christmassy without being silly.  Allow me to expand on that; during The Christmas Invasion, the Doctor and crew were plagued by the deadly ‘Pilot Fish’ who took the form of a killer Christmas tree and psychotic Santa’s – and yet this didn’t take away from the story at all, if anything it made it more interesting and entertaining.  It was also a great introduction to a truly amazing Doctor, David Tennant, and prepared us for series 2.

The Runaway Bride

The Runaway Bride is my second favourite Christmas special (due to the fact that the first two are tied) because once again it achieved its ambition of not being over-Christmassy but still having a festive feel to it. It also introduced Donna, my favourite companion.

Voyage of the Damned

Voyage of the Damned started very well – in fact, the first half of the episode was excellent, the acting was good enough, the earth scene was very entertaining and the special FX were excellent.  However I was disappointed with the resolution, for a start, it was a Christmas special so it should have been way more uplifting (far too many people died), and the villain turning out to be Max Capricorn was a huge disappointment.

The Next Doctor

The Next Doctor was my least favourite Christmas special – for a start, there could have been a more exciting resolution than Jackson Lake just thinking he was the Doctor, and this wasn’t then helped by the misuse of the Cybermen and the Cybershades, plus the slightly embarrassing moment when everyone at home thought, “Hang on, wouldn’t a great big stomping giant robot be accounted for in history books?”  Mm… Not sure this was your best, Mr. T. Davies…

The End of Time – Part 1

Now don’t get me wrong, The End of Time Part 1 would have made a perfectly decent penultimate episode – only it wasn’t.  it was a Christmas special, and in my opinion a Christmas special should be about Christmas in some way and should be a bit happier than this.  I found the Doctor’s miserable attitude to life in this episode rather sad and touching; he was old, tired, sad and lonely, he was scared of death and yet in reality wanted to die – now as clever as this idea was, was it really necessary for a Christmas special?  I’m sure usually at Christmas by the end the Grinch is happy… only he wasn’t.

A Christmas Carol

As I stated earlier, A Christmas Carol is tied with The Christmas Invasion as my favourite Christmas special.  It was, for the first time in a while, very Christmassy, it was an emotional and interesting story about a man who had his heart broken, and how that affected him, and of course the Doctor coming to help. What Christmas in the Whoniverse is all about!

The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

As an episode, The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe wasn’t bad, however for the one of the first times I put this down to the actual script, not necessarily the idea, but the words.  Humany-wumany was in all honesty cringe-worthy; an overuse of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey (even spacey-wacey was pushing it), which made the episode seem like a bit of a last-minute job, and some of Madge’s crying scenes seemed awful unnecessary and over the top.

So, I’ve taken a look at the Christmas specials, which aren’t the best of Who, but arguably not the worst either.  How did the mini-episodes fare?

Born Again (Children in Need 2005)

Born Again showed us what followed the events of Parting of the Ways, and was a nice, touching, and at times amusing scene between the Doctor and Rose -- nothing much, but short and sweet.

Time Crash

Time Crash was, for many of us, one of the best mini-episodes.  It was great to see a classic Doctor return and was incredibly well-written by (as I recently discovered) Steven Moffat, and showed how alike two Doctors were (or for differences you can always look at the latest DWM: Matt and Pat)!

Meanwhile in the TARDIS

I think it was fair to say that it had been a pretty long time since the last mini-episode, but I enjoyed these on the box-set, found them great to connect the episodes and liked the way they utilised the TARDIS set with the scene featuring all of the companions on the screen.

Space/Time

Space and Time weren’t anything special, but were nevertheless a bonus to have, and worked quite well, even if they were a bit silly – but hey, it’s Comic Relief!

The NTA Awards

The NTA Awards scene was, surprisingly, my favourite mini-episode; it was quick and witty with some hilarious moments and for once a different soundtrack to the usual ‘Fish Custard’.

Death is the Only Answer

To all those who complain about Death is the Only Answer being awful; it may have not been the best mini-episode, but for a child-written story it was very good!  So there were a couple of very childish moments (ahem, the Daleks exterminating a toothbrush), but there were also others which I was shocked at for primary school kids (“That’s the 20th century physicist for you; always wanting to do it themselves)!

Children in Need 2011

So it wasn’t much, and I’m aware of that (and also the whole thing was a lie because the Doctor actually stole those clothes), but giving as we already had a feature-length trailer for The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, this was quite a nice little extra.

Night and the Doctor

Night and the Doctor was probably big enough to be included in the show’s serial list.  Whilst some such as Good Night and Bad Night were just small little nice-to-have’s, First Night and Last Night  gave us an insight into the Doctor and River’s private life, and, once again, utilized the TARDIS set to the best it possibly could.

Good as Gold

Good as Gold was hands down the worst mini-episode down to all the factors.  Now I know it was written by kids, but certain parts such as the ‘Adventure Setting’ and the Angel wanting to destroy the Olympic Torch down to morals proved that these kids clearly weren’t Who fans, which begs the question, “Why not let fans have a go?”

So most of the mini-episodes made pleasant extras, but apart from Night and the Doctor aren’t really a huge part of the show’s legacy.  But what about all those other features the BBC have provided us with?  Let’s take a look at the last five…

Attack of the Graske

For a free 2006 computer game, Attack of the Graske was excellent, a challenge which I thoroughly enjoyed more than once (I also liked the way they included the Slitheen)!

The Adventure Games

Why on earth did they stop doing The Adventure Games?  For something free, these were amazing (even if they were filled with glitches); the visuals were great, the stories were good, and the way they brought back the monsters was more than satisfactory.  I particularly liked TARDIS, although I couldn’t help being disappointed that we couldn’t see up the other staircase.

Deleted Scenes

The deleted scenes make me cross because I really enjoyed watching them, and some episodes like The Unicorn and the Wasp had large sections cut out, and now sadly we can’t watch these anymore.  But I still treasure my Russell T. Davies era boxsets!

Trailers

Doctor Who have provided us with many great trailers, and some such as the last one have featured the best clips from the series (and at times made them look better than they ever are), and even inspired YouTubers to go on and make their own!  But a huge feature of Doctor Who are the promotional trailers, my favourite being the one for series 5 which saw Amy and the Doctor hurtling down a vortex-like rabbit-hole.  Now you just can’t beat that.

Spin-off Shows

Now this is such a big feature that I can’t even imagine covering it all, it would most likely take a few articles!  The spin-off shows split into two categories – ‘factual’ shows, and related shows. Doctor Who Confidential was a great factual show and gave us an insight into the life of the actors and actresses behind the scenes, whilst Totally Doctor Who struggled to do so.  However the two highlights were Torchwood, my favourite spin-off, which was an ‘adult’ Doctor Who, covering darker subjects and situations (The Children of Earth was excellent but scared the socks off me), and The Sarah  Jane Adventures, a show which far more often related back to Doctor Who, and was, arguably, the best children’s television program – ever.                                                         

So overall, the ‘others’ were also a huge help the show.  Since the show was revived it’s fan-base has grown across the world, even reaching into the US, and the standard of every single department – writing, acting, casting, visuals, music – has mostly improved year on year, to make what is now the ever-famous, ever-successful and ever-amazing Doctor Who.

Catch up with the whole retrospective:

Step back in time...