Since the reboot began in 2005, there has been a Doctor Who Christmas special every year and this year is no different. The people of modern-day England were given enough grief between the robot Santas, the Sycorax, the Empress of Racnoss, and a starship Titanic, so the Doctor is spending another Christmas away from England. Well, modern-day England anyway since this year’s Christmas special, “The Snowmen,” takes place in 19th Century England: Christmas Eve in 1892 to be exact. Doctor Who fans have been looking forward to the Christmas Special for months, especially since the prequel minisode “The Great Detective” and the first official trailer were released in mid-November, plus the more recently released minisode “Vastra Investigates.”
This year, the Christmas special will see the return of the familiar doomsday atmosphere, this time with living—and seriously scary—snowmen. Some new(ish) faces will debut in the special: the Doctor’s next companion Clara Oswin, played by Jenna-Louise Coleman, will officially be introduced (she made her first appearance in the series 7 premiere, “Asylum of the Daleks.”) The new face of the Tardis will also appear in the Christmas special, though a photo has already been released. Since we’ve got some time until the premiere of “The Snowmen,” I thought I’d count down—and watch—my top 5 favorite Doctor Who Christmas specials.
Borrowing elements from C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe this Doctor Who special has the Doctor meeting Madge during the 1938 Christmas season. She helps him find his way back to his Tardis after a crash landing. The Doctor comes back into Madge’s life a few years later when she, along with her children Lily and Cyril, evacuate London during World War II. He pretends to be the caretaker of their estate and learns that Madge is keeping a huge secret from her children. The first night of their stay, Cyril finds a portal into another world that had been disguised as a present. The Doctor and Lily follow Cyril; Madge follows later after realizing her children are missing.
Though the Doctor is keeping his distance from the Ponds at this point, after seeing a heartfelt reunion of the family he decides to visit his own family for Christmas only to find that Amy had often set a place for him at their table. It’s a beautiful ending to the episode and it’s one of the main reasons I love this particular Christmas special. The other main reason is that I love The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe so much that I was bound to love it. Plus, the Doctor interacting with children is always entertaining. It’s refreshing to see some childish wonder in the Doctor, which Matt Smith plays marvelously.
“Voyage of the Damned” (2007)
The Doctor stows away aboard a spaceship titled after the 1913 ocean-liner, the Titanic, that is orbiting around Earth on Christmas Eve so that it’s passengers can visit the planet and learn of it’s “primitive culture.” The Doctor befriends Astrid Perth, played by Kylie Minogue. Together they uncover a plan to purposely crash the cruise-liner into London. Max Capricorn, who was once head of the company that owned the ship, had planned the destruction of the Titanic in order to bankrupt the company, which had recently forced him out. Astrid sacrifices herself to save the Doctor and the ship. The Doctor, with the help of midshipman Alonso Frame, steers the ship back on course, narrowly avoiding Buckhingham Palace.
This episode is great because of the small band of characters it features. Astrid and Alonso, of course, but also Morvin and Foon Van Hoff, as well as Bannakaffalatta. There is continuity between this Christmas special and previous specials since when passengers visit London, it’s nearly deserted. It is explained that residents of London evacuated in fear of a third Christmas alien attack. Wilfred Mott (who we’ll revisit later in this list) makes a small appearance as one of the few people to stay in London for Christmas.
“The Christmas Invasion” (2005)
This Christmas special was David Tennant’s introduction as the Doctor, and although I was sad to see Christopher Eccleston go, Tennant made a fantastic Doctor. No matter how little action he gets in this episode. After the events of “The Parting of the Ways,” the Doctor is suffering some post-regeneration effects. Rose, Mickey and Jackie watch over him and become aware of an alien invasion only after Rose and Mickey are attacked by robot Santas. The Sycorax take over Prime Minister Harriet Jones’ broadcast and demand that half of the human population be given to them as slaves. The Doctor comes to the rescue just in time, in his PJs no less.
This was the first Doctor Who Christmas special since the first Doctor broke the fourth wall to wish viewers a Happy Christmas in 1965. Though David Tennant doesn’t wish New Who fans a Happy Holiday—not that fans wouldn’t have loved it—it’s still a great episode. I don’t think I will ever forget the Doctor sword fighting a Sycroax and his hand being chopped off only to grow back as if he were a starfish. Tennant’s Doctor is a far cry from Eccleston’s portrayal, but that’s what makes this show fantastic. This episode was a wonderful introduction to the 10th Doctor.
“A Christmas Carol” (2010)
As I mentioned in my Top 5 11th Doctor Episodes, this new take on the classic Charles Dickens story is one of my favorite episodes with its intricate plot and fish that can swim in the fog. In this episode, Amy Pond and Rory Williams are on their honeymoon aboard a space liner that is in danger of crashing into an unknown planet. The Doctor travels by means of Tardis to the planet and tries to reason with Kazran, the only person who can prevent Amy and Rory’s ship—that is carrying another 4000 people as well—from crashing. Kazran refuses so the Doctor pulls some of his timey-wimey tricks and saves the day. It’s a bit more complicated than that of course, but it’s much easier to watch the episode than explain the episode, though Wikipedia does try.
Although Amy and Rory are technically the Doctor’s companions at this point, he spends a lot of time with Kazran and Abigail as they enjoy countless Christmas Eves together. There are so many small, wonderful stories that aren’t told within these nights and the audience gets a glimpse at what it might have been like for Amy if she had grown up with her raggedy Doctor. Despite Kazran being the Scrooge in this version of A Christmas Carol it’s hard not to love him, especially since he was so cute as a kid. Plus, have I mentioned the fish that can swim in the fog and how I wish I lived on the planet in this episode for that reason?
“The End of Time Part 1” (2009)
The Doctor receives a warning from the Ood that the Master is returning, although he is not the biggest of the oncoming danger as a darkness will bring about the end of time itself. A cult that is loyal to the Master brings him back and the Doctor tries to track him down. The Doctor runs into Wilfred Mott, Donna Noble’s grandfather, who decides to help the Doctor. A billionaire captures the Master to have him repair an “Immortality Gate” but the Master fixes it so that the device makes all humans on earth into doppelgangers of the Master.
Although there is no resolution, since this is the first of a two-part special, it’s a great episode. Wilf is one of the best companions for the Doctor. At this point in time the Doctor is under the impression that he will die soon, which he tells Wilf. Although it’s hard not to mourn for the Doctor’s loss of Donna, and fight down the desire to punch the billionaire, Joshua Naismith, this episode is fantastic. John Simm plays a wonderfully diabolical Master, while still being funny if you appreciate each individual doppelganger. Besides, who can resist Wilf wearing reindeer antlers and dancing a jig in the middle of the road? Because I can’t.
Even though all of these Christmas specials are wonderful in their own right, I am looking forward to “The Snowmen,” especially to see Jenna-Louise Coleman and the Tardis’ new redesign.