Top 3 “Doctor Who” Christmas Specials

By, Phoenix Robertson

Warning: This article contains spoilers for the “Doctor Who” television series. 

The Doctor. No, not a medical doctor or a professor, but The Doctor. An alien from the planet Gallifrey who whips around all of space and time in a time machine called the Tardis. The Doctor is the main character of the BBC television series titled “Doctor Who,” which has been stealing the hearts of fans since its original debut in 1963. The show has been responsible for the creation of various memorable episodes and fan favorite characters. Among the many things that “Doctor Who” has become known for, such as comedically cheap looking alien foes and an ever-changing circle of actors to play the Doctor, the show is also well known for its Christmas and New Year specials. These episodes often mark a turning point in the show, whether it be a side character’s last episode, the introduction of a new character, or a “new face” for the Doctor. The series releases a Christmas or New Year’s-themed episode each year. As a long time fan of “Doctor Who”, I look forward to watching these Christmas and end-of-year specials with my family every year. 

Who is Doctor Who?

The 59 year spanning British television sensation “Doctor Who” follows the adventures of a time traveler known only by their alias, the Doctor. The Doctor hails from the lost planet of Galiphrey which was destroyed during an interstellar war long ago, but also in the future, known as the Time War. In their Tardis, which is disguised as a blue police box from the 1960s, the Doctor is able to travel throughout space and time to help others and experience the unimaginable. Accompanying the Doctor on their fantastical adventures is the Doctor’s companion; the companion is another character, usually a human, who serves as the Doctor’s friend or romantic interest to make sure that they never take things too far. 

Over the show’s run, the Doctor has had 13 different faces. This is due to the fact that all Time Lords, the species of creatures on Gallifrey, can regenerate. When a version of the Doctor regenerates, the actor for the character in the real world changes. The character of the Doctor then often changes personalities, costumes, companions, and Tardis’ internal layout. Regeneration-centered episodes often take place around New Years or Christmas. 

Although there have been 13 separate regenerations of the Doctor, there have been 19 Christmas/New Years specials for the series. In the following section, I will discuss my top 3 Christmas/New Years specials that have aired during the “Doctor Who” reboot series, which began in 2005. 

“Last Christmas”

“Last Christmas” starred the 12th face of the Doctor, Peter Capaldi, and his companion, Clara Oswald, who was played by Jenna Coleman. In this episode, Santa Claus, Clara, and the Doctor must save a group of humans from “Dream Crabs” or the Katrofarri, who capture people by attaching themselves to their faces and showing them a perfect world in the form of a dream. While the person is enjoying a wonderful dream, the Katrofarri feast on the human. Clara is attacked by one of the Dream Crabs and is shown her version of a perfect world, one where her fiance, Danny Pink, played by Samuel Anderson, is still alive. The Doctor then allows a Dream Crab to infiltrate his mind so that he can save Clara. In order to save Clara from the Dream Crabs, the Doctor shocks her back into reality by telling her multiple times that although the real world is a hard place to be, it is better than never getting to experience the real world at all. After escaping from their encounter with the Katrofarri, the Doctor and Clara realize that this is a dream within a dream. By the time they awake, Clara has become an old woman and the Doctor is still the same age. This connects to the previous Doctor’s regeneration episode, Matt Smith’s last episode as the Doctor, where the Doctor becomes an old man and Clara is still a young person. The Doctor then realizes that he is still dreaming and is able to go back in time and wake Clara up, before the events of his nightmare can occur. 

I greatly enjoyed this episode of “Doctor Who”, not just because I enjoy time travel and outer space, but because of how it relates to average people. In my opinion, this episode was actually about dealing with loss and loneliness during the holiday season. During a time of the year where it seems that everyone is gathering together, feelings of loneliness are often amplified. At that point in the “Doctor Who” television series, Clara was dealing with the loss of her fiance and the regeneration of the Doctor. She felt alone and didn’t know how to cope with how different her world had quickly become. The Dream Crabs represent unhealthy coping mechanisms that consume their users and ultimately only hurt them. The holidays are often seen as a time for people to come together, but this is not the reality for everyone. If someone you know is struggling with loneliness this holiday season, take a bit of time to check on them. 

“The Christmas Invasion”

“The Christmas Invasion” is an example of a “Doctor Who” Christmas special that directly followed a regeneration episode. This episode, which aired in December of 2005, was David Tennant’s first full episode as the Doctor. In this episode, the Doctor’s companion, Rose Tyler, played by British pop star, Billie Piper, takes the lead in protecting the Earth as the Doctor appears to be down for the count after a few issues occur during his regeneration. While the Doctor is struggling to regain control of himself after his regeneration, the Earth gets attacked by aliens from outer space known as the Sycorax —wow, this never happens! Due to finding a sample of human blood on a “message to the stars” the Sycorax manage to take control of ⅓ of Earth’s population. 

Rose and her Earth friends and family work together to protect the Doctor while he is completing his regeneration, but the excess energy from the Doctor’s regeneration only attracts the aliens more, causing them to send killer Christmas trees and “Santa Scouts” out to look for him and attack him. 

At the end of the episode, the Doctor is once again able to defeat the aliens threatening Earth, but he is conflicted with his decision when England’s  alien-interacting branch of the government, known as UNIT, decided to shoot down the Sycorax’s spaceship, even when they surrendered and were returning home. The Doctor is then disappointed in the human race and says that he fears for the aliens across the galaxy who don’t mean to do harm to the Earth, as the humans would most likely kill them anyway. At the end of the episode, the humans celebrate their victory while “snow” falls over all of London. The Doctor then enlightens them that it is not snow, it is the burned remains of the Sycorax and their ship. 

This episode is one that I remember watching reruns of with my Dad near Christmas time, so it holds quite a bit of nostalgic significance for me. I have also come to enjoy this episode due to its commentary on how hostile humans are, even during times of peace. The humans interest in the destruction of the Sycorax while they were retreating demonstrates the innate human traits of vengefulness and hypocrisy. While conversing with the Sycorax, the humans state multiple times that this season, the holiday season, is a time of peace on Earth, and they would like to extend that peace to the Sycorax. Yet, just minutes later, they were ready to shoot the Sycorax’s ship out of the sky. People often expect others to follow their rules and societal norms, but then are not willing to try to understand those of others. This episode describes this phenomenon perfectly. 

“The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe”

My personal favorite of the series’ Christmas specials is “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe”, featuring Matt Smith as the 11th face of the Doctor. In this “Narnia”-themed Christmas special, the Doctor takes over as the caretaker of a large mansion in London in 1941. When a widow and her two children come to stay at the mansion for their wintertime vacation, the Doctor intends to show the children a snowy wonderland full of naturally occuring, self-decorating Christmas trees, but his plans go awry when the young boy ventures into the world alone. Upon going to look for the boy, the Doctor learns that the now sentient trees are about to be melted down with acid rain from the snow planet’s version of miners who wish to take the planet for themselves. The sentient trees take the young boy and make him their voice. After the Doctor and the boy’s mother and sister arrive, the trees reject the boy as their voice, as they believe he is not strong enough to understand what they are going through. The Doctor and the boy’s sister are also rejected by the trees. The trees express that only the child’s mother is strong enough to understand their pain, as it has just been revealed to the children that their mother has been dealing with the supposed death of their father who is a soldier in World War Ⅱ. The tree creatures then connect themselves mentally with the children’s mother and give her the minds of all the trees that are about to be melted by the acid rain, and she flies them through the time vortex that they came through back to Earth. The children’s father, who was believed to be dead, is also pulled through the time vortex and the whole family is reunited —just in time for Christmas. 

The “Chronicles of Narnia” novel series was written by C. S. Lewis in the 1950s and has been adapted to film in recent years by various television and movie companies. This series depicts the stories of groups of children who were sent away from their homes in London during the 1940s to live in the English countryside in order to escape the war’s dangers. These children all stumbled upon a magical world known as Narnia, where the children fight evil to defend the kind creatures of Narnia and the good name of the world’s king, Asland, a magical, talking lion. “To date, the Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies” and are still a raving success. 

One of the main themes of Narnia is understanding the bond between family, specifically siblings. During the holiday season as families gather together, old rivalries and problems are often unearthed, and the frustration of having to spend long, cold days with people you may rarely see is felt more frequently than most of us care to admit. In both the “Chronicles of Narnia” and this “Doctor Who” special, the children learn that although the situations they may have found themselves in may be less than pleasurable, they can still stay strong together. Being strong doesn’t mean not having feelings or assuming the position of a tyrant to try to get your crew through to the next day, it means understanding that the times are hard, but the only way to get through them is by sticking together. I love the message of this Christmas special and how closely it relates to the “Narnia” series, even the title is a spin off of the title of one of the “Narnia” books, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The actors in this special did an excellent job conveying their roles, and I especially enjoyed Matt Smith’s interpretation of the Doctor in this episode. 

The Future of Who

New episodes of “Doctor Who” are still coming out today. The Doctor will regenerate into his newest face, that of Ncuti Gatwa, who will serve as the 15th face of the Doctor. He will be the first Black Doctor and will be accompanied by the show’s first transgender companion, Ruby Sunday, who will be played by Millie Gibson. Before Ncuti Gatwa fully resumes his role of the Doctor, David Tennant, the 10th Doctor, will play the Doctor again, as the 14th face of the Doctor, for a few 60-year anniversary specials. These specials will air in 2023. 

I hope that you enjoyed this article and will enjoy a few episodes of “Doctor Who” for yourself. You can currently stream “Doctor Who” on HBO Max, Amazon Prime, and Brit Box. Thank you for reading and tell me your favorite “Doctor Who” adventure in the comments below! Happy Holidays!

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