Consider the dilemma for your average Doctor Who showrunner. Given the immediate success and broad-spectrum appeal of the program, you’re rewarded with the task of the ultimate crowd pleaser, the Christmas special. And it’s all on you. RTD and Steven Moffat have penned every Christmas story since the phenomenon began in 2005 and presumably, Chris Chibnall will get his turn in 2018.
Now comes the ‘real problem’ of getting multiple attempts to work in this very particular space. How Christmassy should it be? Should you go for small or large in terms of pure spectacle? Should it tie in to the previous series themes or just stand on its own? They’re all considerations and it started right from the jump with The Christmas Invasion.
David Tennant had five Christmas specials–quite specifically excluding but not really excluding The End of Time Pt II as it aired on New Years Day.
5. Voyage of the Damned. Spectacle for its own sake. Other rankings of Christmas specials seem to rate this quite a bit higher than we do. It’s a definite crowd pleaser. Just not for Tour Honchos.
4. The End of Time Pt I. At best it should be graded as an incomplete as it only part of a larger story, we love the Wilf–Doctor interactions, but a whole world of Simm, resurrected by the flimsiest of story turns, is tiring at best. This would get better in The End of Time Pt II, just not here.
3. The Next Doctor. We think time has been very kind to this story to the point where it is now underrated. The CyberKing at the end was an unnecessary story turn for the larger audience, but if anything this is smallest and most quiet of Christmas Specials, and all the better for it.
2. The Runaway Bride. Another story which time has been kind to, mostly due to the reclamation of Donna’s character which would take place in Series 4. Runaway is loud and proud but Christmas in name only, but the highway rescue of Donna is such a triumph we can forgive some its other excesses.
1. The Christmas Invasion. What can we say, you never forget your first special. The first of the modern run of Christmas Specials not only had to entertain the masses, it was the first post-regenerative story in the modern era and had to educate viewers in that as well.
Then RTD made the bold decision to work against viewers expectations by withholding Tennant’s full appearance until the last third of the story. But what sets this story ahead of all others in our opinion is its sense of scale. While very much a Christmas story, the invasion as the title suggests was massively global, and the way the cast reacts seems very in keeping. Rose’s increasing helplessness and courage in the face of the threat make the story work. Piper was probably never better than here. And Tennant showed in his brief twenty minutes many of the manic qualities which defined his early run of stories.
A quartet of Smithmas follows …