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Doctor Who Christmas Specials: A Festive Rewind & A Look Ahead

Doctor Who has had a lot of Christmas Specials. This became a tradition when Russell T. Davies revived the show in 2005. The end of the first series featuring Christopher Eccleston and his departure kicked off David Tennant's debut as the tenth Doctor. His first proper episode was the new show's first Christmas special, "The Christmas Invasion." There have been fourteen Christmas specials altogether. That's a lot.

Doctor Who: A Look Back at the Christmas Specials
"A Christmas Carol," BBC

The BBC has released its last (???) Doctor Who compilation of the year, this time covering the Christmas specials. Oddly, it doesn't include "The Christmas Invasion" but does cover the rest. Davies wrote six, Steven Moffat wrote eight, and Chris Chibnall wrote none. The Christmas specials could be hit-or-miss, but Davies and Moffat always strived to make them feel special and unique, set apart from the regular series. They always combined joy with heartache in their stories. Davies' specials were all original stories that featured significant moments for the Doctor: The Tenth Doctor's first story, his first meeting with Donna (Catherine Tate) and the first mention of Gallifrey since the show's return, the teasing of a new Doctor (David Morrissey) who turned out to be not that at all, the Tenth Doctor's final adventure, though he regenerated on New Year's Day instead of Christmas. Only Russell T. Davies would kill Kylie Minogue for Christmas, all to make everyone sad.

Steven Moffat's Many Christmas Carols

Moffat's Christmas specials all drew on obvious literary and movie sources: the Eleventh Doctor's (Matt Smith) first special was even directly called "A Christmas Carol," where the Doctor had to turn the heart of a Science Fiction version of Scrooge (Michael Gambon) to save Amy (Karen Gillen) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) and a whole space cruiser from crashing. "The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe" drew on C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as well as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's classic movie A Matter of Life and Death, the latter's influence in the World War II setting and the story of the doomed fighter pilot reunited with his love.

Doctor Who: A Look Back at the Christmas Specials
"The Time of the Doctor," BBC

"The Snowmen" finds the Doctor taking on the Scrooge role when he flees to live as a recluse in Victorian London, mourning the loss of Amy and Rory but drawn out of his shell by Clara (Jenna Coleman) and facing fighting an even more villainous Scrooge manque played by Richard E. Grant. "The Time of the Doctor" sees the aging, dying Doctor playing a kindly Scrooge character defending a town called Trenzalore that lives in perpetual Christmas in his final adventure before he regenerates into the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi).

Doctor Who: A Look Back at the Christmas Specials
"Last Christmas", BBC

"Last Christmas" draws on Alien, A Miracle on 34th Street in the ambiguity of whether Santa Claus (Nick Frost) is real, and even Neil Gaiman's The Sandman in the endless dreams.

Doctor Who Christmas Specials: A Festive Rewind & A Look Ahead
"The Husbands of River Song," BBC

"The Husbands of River Song" has elements of O'Henry's The Gift of the Magi in ending the love story of The Doctor and River Song (Alex Kingston). "The Return of Doctor Mysterio" pays homage to comics and Richard Donner's Superman the Movie with the revelation that the Doctor breezed through the cheesiest and most lighthearted of all the specials while mourning the death of River Song. Moffat always found at least one poignant note for the Doctor in all his Christmas specials.

Doctor Who Christmas Specials: A Festive Rewind & A Look Ahead
"Twice, Upon A Time", BBC

"Twice Upon a Time," the Twelfth Doctor's final story, draws on Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol again with the dying Doctor meeting himself, his first incarnation (David Bradley) as they both face ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future while deciding whether or not to regenerate and live on. Moffat must hold the record for finding the most variations on A Christmas Carol to create endless stories from.

The Time of No Doctor Who Christmas Specials

When Chibnall took over as showrunner, they stopped having Christmas specials. They shifted the holiday season episodes to New Year's Day, and they were all Dalek episodes. The New Year's Day specials felt less special than Christmas. But that tends to be the problem with Chibnall's writing – it doesn't feel particularly special. They were the usual Dalek stories. It's probably just as well Chibnall didn't write any Christmas specials and just ruin them like he did the rest of the show. Amazing to think we just went through four years without a Christmas Special.

The Upcoming Return of the Christmas Specials

Now it looks like Davies is bringing the Christmas specials back, possibly starting with one in 2023 that kicks off Ncuti Gatwa's first proper episode as the Fifteenth Doctor in his first adventure with his new companion Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson). But for this Christmas Day, Emily Cook has asked if the internet wants to do a tweet-along for a rewatch of "The Christmas Invasion." Why not? Might be something to do when you want to get away from the family. Or do it with the family. It's Christmas with all the horror and the love that entails.

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Adi TantimedhAbout Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh is a filmmaker, screenwriter and novelist. He wrote radio plays for the BBC Radio, “JLA: Age of Wonder” for DC Comics, “Blackshirt” for Moonstone Books, and “La Muse” for Big Head Press. Most recently, he wrote “Her Nightly Embrace”, “Her Beautiful Monster” and “Her Fugitive Heart”, a trilogy of novels featuring a British-Indian private eye published by Atria Books, a division Simon & Schuster.
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