The Christmas Specials So Far
Guest contributor Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull looks over the Xmas specials so far.
The Doctor Who Christmas special has always been a highly anticipated and awaited event for many fans. Ever since the show was revived in 2005, it’s become an annual event. There is always the odd person that dislikes it and personally I feel, why? Why would you dislike a festive episode that you are to take in good faith and not consider crucial to the ongoing continuity of Doctor Who. It’s definitely something Whovians will want more of and hopefully it will continue for years to come. So I begin my countdown starting from 2012 all the way back to 1965…
As part of their yearly Children In Need telethon, the BBC aired the trailer of this year’s Christmas special along with a prequel. The Great Detective, an intriguing preceding clip of the episode gave us a sour Doctor whom I quote has “retired”. The trailer promised us Richard E. Grant, vicious-looking snowmen, Madame Vastra, Jenny and the tuxedoed Sontaran, Strax. I personally think that this may top A Christmas Carol as the best Christmas special yet and that definitely has set a high bar.
The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe
I’ve never especially liked The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe; I’ve always considered it as one of the great disappointments of Doctor Who. Steven Moffat allowed his ambition to create the most Christmassy special ever cloud the fact he was writing sci-fi and not for toddler TV. The setting, the characters and the villain, (sorry, scratch that – there was no villain or foe of any kind unless you consider a sinister tree an enemy). The high-profile stars they got in: Bill Bailey, Arabella Weir and Paul Bazely were heavily underused and their appearance can only be put down as a short cameo. It was also unnecessarily boring and the space it holds, primetime on Christmas Day was wasted. As well as counting the fact that it was the famed Doctor Who Christmas special, it let down many fans completely.
A Christmas Carol
My first viewing of this particular festive episode wasn’t an especially good one. I had always grown up with Russell T Davies’ Christmas specials and his episodes always had the obvious villain, some spaceships, the odd planet or two as well as a new companion. Obvious villain, well Michael Gambon softened, so, no. Spaceship, check, but only one room… boring. Planets, the drama was set on a disappointing Earth-like place and no new companion, just Amy and Rory. However if you let me get to my point I’ll explain further. My second viewing occurred after buying the Series 6 boxset and as I re-watched it, I found I adored the episode. It was great and I quickly adapted to Steven Moffat’s new way of conveying the Christmas special, this was one of the reasons why I anticipated The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe so much. Michael Gambon was used well, considering he’s such a famous actor and Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins’ voice was utilised superbly. It remains firmly in my mind as one of the best specials ever.
The End of Time
It’s hard to consider The End of Time as a proper Xmas special when you note that it’s the final story of David Tennant. The elements were right, the companion and the villain as well as the Christmassy setting, but because it was Tennant’s penultimate episode the mood was sombre as well as the character. David Selby noted in his article that he was “old, tired, sad and lonely”; this fits Tennant’s portrayal of the Time Lord in this particular episode aptly. One of the nice things I found was that Wilf finally got the chance to travel (even if it was just roaming the Earth) with the Doctor. His small roles in Series 4, waving the Doctor and Donna off made you wish for him to be onboard the TARDIS and not stuck at home with the whiny Sylvia Noble. Bernard Cribbins was brilliant as usual and hey, if you don’t think he got to travel with the Doctor properly then search out the movie based on Doctor Who, Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D.
The Next Doctor
The first of the 2008-10 specials, The Next Doctor as everyone knows, doesn’t have many fans. I, for one, am. I thought that it was enjoyable for its 60 minute length and the Cybermen were used well whilst Dervla Kirwan is intensely creepy as the sick and twisted Miss Mercy Hartigan, one of the best villainesses of New Who. However the episode would have been so much better had ‘Jackson Lake’ storyline not been included and if they had replaced the companions with someone a little more satisfactory. The setting was bland for Russell T Davies-era, Davies using Earth once more. He could have easily changed to a different continent never mind planet.
Voyage of the Damned
Kylie Minogue, the Titanic in space and eerie angel robots, the whole episode sounded brilliant and I felt it carried all of this out as it promised. Minogue was rather wooden but that didn’t affect a thoroughly good episode. The death count is a heavily criticised point but I felt that it suited an episode about the famous doomed liner. Considering the James Cameron movie was released six days before Christmas, you can’t shun Voyage of the Damned for having this factor. The reveal of Max Capricorn was well executed, however the fact that he was the ship’s owner didn’t surprise anyone, he was shown throughout the whole thing as a recording. The Heavenly Host were freaky with their graceful walk that’s like a ghost and the way they kill people through their haloes was a nice twist on our image of angels (although there is the Weeping Angels…)
The Runaway Bride
Donna’s introduction to the series had her depicted as a horribly loud-mouthed Londoner that gets pulled aboard the TARDIS minutes after the Doctor’s tearful departure with Rose. Her “what the hell is this place?” nearly ruined the poignancy of Billie Piper’s farewell. Donna’s attitude towards the Doctor leaves the audience angry towards her and even when she assuages we are still not too pleased with her. Her return in Series 4 built more into her character and as I said in my article, The Case for… The Doctor’s Daughter, Catherine Tate makes her a more mature and independent character. The Racnoss Empress’ costume is one of the most impressive New Who has seen. Poor Sarah Parish however, standing up in that thing for so long. The Empress creature herself is a fearsome baddie, but doesn’t do much apart from rant evilly and laugh. Don Gilet convinces us he’s honest as Lance and David Tennant is the usual David Tennant as the Doctor.
The Christmas Invasion
The first Christmas special made specifically to fill that purpose, it will always be one of the best. It had the remarkable ability to combine the Christmas theme and sci-fi into a convincing story. Yes there was a mad spinning tree that tries to kill everyone but that didn’t stop the episode. David Tennant is unfortunately asleep for about half of it but when he’s up, he takes down the Sycorax in what would go on to be Ten style. Penelope Wilton reappears as new PM Harriet Jones giving a less-demanding performance than previously in the Slitheen two-parter. The Christmas Invasion is one of the oldest and still one of the best Christmas specials.
The Daleks’ Master Plan – The Feast of Steven
Many people don’t appreciate that the first Doctor Who Christmas special or episode that aired on Christmas Day happened in 1965. Seven episodes into the grand The Daleks’ Master Plan, the episode The Feast of Steven had the Doctor, the eponymous Steven and one-off companion, Sara (I guess you could say this Xmas special had a one-off companion) land in ‘60’s England outside a police station. This was all part of the same plot and the TARDIS crew had just escaped Kembel from the Daleks. The Feast of Steven was a fun episode with a funny plot and good humour throughout it. The TARDIS then lands on the set of a ‘20’s film-set where mistaken identity gags ensue.
At the end of the episode after returning to the TARDIS, the Doctor produces some drinks for he and his companions to toast as he realises that when they were at the police station it was Christmas. The Doctor then famously breaks the fourth wall by saying:
“… a happy Christmas to all of you at home.”
Do you agree with my opinions on these Christmas specials? Are you a fan of one but not another? Please leave your thoughts on the episodes and the article in the comments below. Happy Christmas!