The Christmas Specials from 2005-2014 in all their glory…
It’s become a staple of the television schedule now, but the idea of a Doctor Who Christmas Special wasn’t an automatic part of the show’s return in 2005 – there were quite a few people who thought that there was a good chance the series wouldn’t find an audience and could end up “burned off” in a non-primetime slot, to become a one-season wonder. Instead, Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor chimed with the family audience and not only was the series renewed for a second year, but a special effectively introducing the new Doctor, David Tennant, was added. The Christmas Invasion added a lot to the new series mythology – UNIT’s Tower of London base, Torchwood’s offensive capability, the TARDIS wardrobe, among many other things – as well as serving as a terrific debut (Children in Need minisketch notwithstanding) for Tennant. He’s in it surprisingly little during the first two-thirds, as Rose tries to come to terms with the regeneration and his inactivity even during an invasion, but from the moment the TARDIS doors open and he stands there, grinning in borrowed pyjamas, Tennant owns the show.
He shared billing for the 2006 special with Catherine Tate in an episode that showed sides to the Doctor that perhaps frightened even him, and contains one of my favourite sequences from that era as Donna is rescued from the taxi-driving Santa. The 2007 special saw Kylie Minogue join him in the first of the more downbeat specials – while there’s plenty of humour, the drama definitely took a darker turn. The following year, David Morrissey was the key guest star in one of the more out-there stories, culminating in a giant Cyberking stalking through Victorian London.
Christmas of course brought a larger audience to the show than normal, so it seemed sensible to use it for a major change in the series, even if basically a regeneration story is about the Doctor dying. 2009 marked the first of these, with the two part The End of Time (and yes, even though part 2 aired New Year’s Day, it’s here). Rewatching it, you realise that there’s an excellent 100 minute movie to be edited from this – achieved in part by taking out the self-indulgent final scenes as the Doctor (and his production team) says farewell!
Steven Moffat embraced the Christmas element of the specials more than Russell T Davies, with his 2010 story A Christmas Carol shamelessly plundering the classic Dickens tale. The 2011 episode, The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe looked to C.S. Lewis for initial inspiration, while the 2012 story The Snowmen served dual purpose – introducing Jenna Coleman’s Clara properly, and setting up elements for the 50th anniversary story – and is probably the strongest of the Moffat era’s Yuletide feasts. Matt Smith regenerated at the end of 2013’s The Time of the Doctor, a story that tried to cram far too much in. The most recent special, Last Christmas, was another strong entry (although not one that stands up to the sort of forensic scrutiny that fans bring!)
The set has all of these – in HD on the blu-ray set, upgraded for the pre-2009 stories – with subtitles (with “respite” coming out as “rest bite” at one point, rewriting a scene rather wonderfully), but not the commentary tracks from earlier releases. There’s also a 17 minute piece with Rufus Hound that includes very short clips from interviews with Peter Capaldi and Moffat. Hound looks embarrassed at some of the jokes he’s given and anyone hoping for any sort of analysis of the Specials is out of luck.
The Christmas Specials have needed to be entertaining and on the whole, they succeed in that. It’s not an essential collection for fans (unless they really want the rather fun Christmas cards that are included!) but it will appeal to those whose children have come to the show in more recent years, but are daunted by the prospect of nine series of blu-rays or DVDs.
Verdict: The changing face of Doctor Who (in all senses) over the last decade is reflected in this enjoyable compilation. 8/10