In with the new(ish)…

So. Russel T Davies is back at the helm (I’ll refer to him as RTD if I need to in future, it’ll save time). When he brought Doctor Who back, oh, ages ago now, he brought with it The Christmas Special. Other TV shows have one, so why shouldn’t Dr Who?

Now I might be on my own here, though given the Whovians I know I suspect I’m not, but they’re not exactly the best episodes out there. I can’t quite bring myself to say that I don’t like them, but I’m not exactly fussed if I don’t see it when it’s broadcast.

Okay, Clive, quick spin around the Christmas specials past and then back to me.

Christopher Ecclestone regenerates, David Tennant takes over, RTD carries on as showrunner, writing all of the DT Christmas specials…

2005. The Christmas Invasion. Couple of good ideas, a great inspirational speech that turns out to have been from The Lion King, and a solid Hitch-Hiker’s reference. Set the bar for Christmas specials.

2006. The Runaway Bride. Can’t review, still haven’t seen it.

2007. Voyage of the Damned. It was okay. Had Kylie in it, and the werewolf off the UK Being Human. Not entirely memorable.

2008. The Next Doctor. Actually quite fun. Miranda Richardson as the baddie. Raised the bar a little.

2009/2010. The End of Time parts 1 and 2. The Master is back, the Timelords are back (hello, Rassilon) and then they’re not (goodbye, Rassilon). An entire planet of Masters. And you can safely fast-forward through most of part 2. Not as good as 2005’s Christmas Invasion. And that’s it for Tennant’s run. The bar for entertaining is fairly low. None of these specials have been the stand-out episodes of these seasons

Now Stephen Moffat has stepped up to the plate. We’ve got Matt Smith as The Doctor, and the bar is still low…

2010. A Christmas Carol. Nope. Dreadful. Not even Michael Gambon playing definitely-not-Scrooge can save this one. I mean, it’s got a flying shark, for goodness’ sake. And not a sharknado in sight.

2011. The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe. Nope. Dreadful. Not even Bill Bailey can save this one. Bar has sunk low now. But it’s still Doctor Who. I’m still going to watch it, even if it is usually in January now.

2012. The Snowmen. Right. This is the exception. This is the one that works. This is the one that actually is a solid episode of Doctor Who and works even if it was a Christmas Special. Strax and the memory worm. “Madam Vastra sent me to see if you needed any grenades. She may have said help.” And Richard E. Grant chewing the scenery as a solid villain. Bar set high (spoiler alert, it’s not reaching this level again).

2013. The Time of the Doctor. Reboot time. Got to find another cycle of regenerations somehow… Should’ve been the last episode of the series, not a Christmas Special really. Matt’s out, Peter Capaldi’s in.

2014. Last Christmas. Nope. Dreadful. Not even Nick Frost as Santa can save this one. Inception with mind-altering space crabs.

2015. The Husbands of River Song. I’m not sure I’ve actually seen this one.

2016. The Return of Doctor Mysterio. Nope, definitely haven’t seen this one.

2017. Twice Upon a Time. Twelve and One together. Don’t ask what a ‘browser history’ is. And Mark Gatiss (again, but as a good guy this time). Clever use of original footage, quite a fun story. Capaldi out, Whittaker in. Moffat out, Chris Chibnall in. Christmas out, New Year in.

2019. Resolution. Scrap metal recon Dalek good, GCHQ tweeting everything’s okay, good. The rest, oh dead. And I thought CC had set the bar low with his general standard of writing Doctor Who. I was wrong.

2020. Spyfall, Part 1. Nope. Dreadful. Not even Lenny Henry can save this one. And I’m sorry, I still don’t like Sacha Dhawan’s Master.

2021. Revolution of the Daleks. Oh, good. Daleks again. It’s been positively ages since we had Daleks in a seasonal special episode. And no, not even John Barrowman as Captain Jack can save this one.

2022. Eve of the Daleks. Oh, good. Daleks again. It’s been positively ages since we had Daleks in a seasonal special episode. To be fair, the blurb sounded good but somehow I never got round to watching this one.

And that brings us up to date. Chibnall’s out (and there was much rejoicing), RTD;s back. New Year is out, Christmas Day is back. And after 3 somewhat strange episodes to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the show (the 50th felt like a celebration, this didn’t really. Not even Neil Patrick Harris singing “Spice up your life” can entirely save this one. I mean it was fun, but it’s going to cause problems…). Ncuti Gatwa’s now The Doctor and so in 2023’s Christmas Special we get to see him in action.

2023. The Church on Ruby Road. Right. Watched this this morning. And I’m not sure. It’s a Christmas Special, so the bar was set low. And it just about cleared it. I’m going to throw no spoilers in here for those who haven’t seen it yet, but it’s a solid episode, one of the better Christmas Specials. I’m just not entirely sure… I mean the resolution to the whole thing was a bit off for The Doctor. Normally someone else would’ve brought the ship down and what happened would’ve been a terrible accident. Anyway… The fourth wall break at the end was nice, though. To borrow from Sir Terry (Pratchett, not Wogan) that bodes. Whether it bodes well or ill, we’ll just have to wait until May.

There have been 19 Seasonal Specials. To my mind, the writers have never really brought their A-game to these. It should work as a standalone story, it should be entertaining, it should be a brilliant introduction that needs no relative to understand 60-years of continuity and it shouldn’t try to explain everything’s that’s ever happened in Who. This is The Doctor. These are The Doctor’s <companions/disposables>, Exposition and Comic Relief (Or is it Thing 1 and The Other One). It should be the one that converts watchers into fans who can’t wait for the next episode to come along. The only thing the Specials have done for me is really make me want a Victorian-era spin-off show with Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax. And we’ve still not got that, RTD…

A plea for next year, as I have no doubt there will be a 2024 Christmas Special. Please, just tell a fun story and have it kinda make sense?

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