The first ‘true’ Doctor Who Christmas Special in six years brings the concept–in the British sense–and purpose of the ‘special episode’ into stark relief once again.
Whether by design or circumstance of timing–mostly the former we suspect–regeneration (either pre-or-post) has featured heavily at this time of year. Tennant in, Tennant out. Smith and Capaldi out and out. And why not? Christmas is the busiest, and most competitive, day of the British televisual calendar, and those programs which are scheduled are doing so in the hopes of getting as large an audience as possible on the largest audience day of the year.
All of which is why it’s necessary to grade Christmas, or Holiday, episodes on a bit of a curve, as we ourselves have done so many times in the past. Story ‘excesses’–our term to be sure, and yes we are looking at you Voyage of the Damned–which would otherwise seem out of place in ‘cozy’ Doctor Who could be ‘tolerated’–again our term–when they otherwise might be disdained.
Thus, with a bit of trepidation, do we discuss The Church on Ruby Road. Any fan who wandered through the wilderness years and wondered what it would be like to have ‘real money’ lavished on Doctor Who have had this question answered more often than we would like to admit. Amongst the oddities which formed impressions of the 1996 TVM was seeing an on-screen budget staring right back at them–and not quite sure how to feel about it. Fast forward 24½ years to this series of four specials and the feeling has returned, not in the overall notion of ‘franchise stability’–that’s no longer in question, but rather what to do about seeing an impressive–albeit Disney enhanced–budget, and by extension storytelling, coming right back at’cha.
And here at the Tour we think it’s okay to be in a bit of an odd place about it.
To be clear it’s not a show-stopper. That hono(u)r belongs to the mid-story breakout into song by all involved preventing an infant from being conveyor-belted into RTDs own version of Jabba the Hutt. It’s there to be a 2023 Christmas crowd-pleaser–showing what the Nu-iest and money-showiest of nu-Who can do. A glorious diversionary tactic, no question about it.
And it left us with an indifferent shrug.
It’s our hope that the more fully budgeted Doctor Who presents that money more in terms of solidity than spectacle. The old chestnut about ‘showing and not telling’ should benefit RTDs vision for Doctor Who 60+ years on rather well.