By Paula Hendrickson
Doctor Who fans get a special Christmas gift each year in the form of a special, stand-alone Christmas-themed episode. It began when David Tennant became the 10th Doctor in 2005. His first full episode, “The Christmas Invasion,” was set on Christmas Eve. The Doctor was still regenerating when aliens disguised as scary Santa robots attacked crowds of holiday shoppers.
The Doctor revived in time to challenge the alien invaders — intent on enslaving earthlings — culminating in a sword fight on the rocky spaceship as it hovered over London. The fact that The Doctor was still regenerating came in a little handy, if you will, a plot point that would play out a few years later. (Doctor Who writers are great at planting little seeds that pay off eventually.)
Despite that experience, The Doctor returned to London a year later and encountered the Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) for the first time. (She later became one of his most popular companions.) That episode included the same robotic Santas, spinning Christmas trees and utter mayhem of the previous holiday special, but had a different alien. Donna’s Christmas wedding may have been ruined, but at least the world was saved. Again.
The third Doctor Who Christmas special kicked off with a mid-space collision between the TARDIS and a spaceship replica of the Titanic filled with passengers on a tour to experience primitive cultures. (Pay attention to the historian’s explanation of Christmas tradition, it’s priceless.) This time, the evil plot was to crash the Titanic into the earth, and naturally, The Doctor saves the day. And the planet.
The following year’s Christmas episode was called “The Next Doctor.” The title is a slight misnomer; the would-be Doctor in this episode, set in 1851, was David Morrissey (The Walking Dead), not the actual next Doctor, Matt Smith. The Doctor and his namesake team up to defeat the dreaded Cybermen — and save Christmas.
In 2009, the Christmas episode, “The End of Time, Part 1,” was bittersweet as it was the 10th Doctor’s penultimate episode. This episode ramped up the action for the return of several major characters in Tennant’s final episode, and paved the way for the 11th Doctor (Matt Smith) to appear.
Smith’s first Christmas episode was Doctor Who’s take on A Christmas Carol, where The Doctor used time travel to play the Ghost of Christmas past, present and future to get a Scrooge-like man to rethink his ways — and save a spaceship full of people from certain death.
In last year’s Christmas episode, The Doctor tried to fulfill a wish by giving a war widow and her children a happy Christmas, but there’s a slight glitch with one of his gifts.
This year, The Doctor encounters a chilling menace: snowmen. Hey, they’ve already made Santa scary, so I, for one, can’t wait to see what they do with snowmen. I’ve already got my DVR set.
BBC America will also air several previous Doctor Who Christmas episodes — and a “best of” special — throughout Christmas Day, with the new episode, “The Snowmen,” debuting at 8 p.m. Central.
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Dec. 19-25, 2012, issue