Doctor Who Christmas specials: the real blockbusters?

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For my money, the best Christmas special thus far is 2007’s Voyage of the Damned. And I mean the best special, if not the best episode. Davies tackles the disaster movie genre with gusto, and creates a ripping, action-packed adventure that also boils down to one audacious logline; “the Titanic, in space!” 

It’s got a huge guest star, in the form of the surprisingly good Kylie Minogue, and it evokes memories of The Poseidon Adventure in all the right ways. It’s an episode that comes in for quite a bit of undue flak, considering how it perfectly sums up the idea of these episodes being so big as to rival the movie premieres. If you think it’s too cheesy, you’re not looking at how cheesy Doctor Who can be during the rest of the year! 

2008’s outing, The Next Doctor, was the first of the specials leading up to David Tennant’s exit from the show, with another following in 2009. With lots of publicity friendly speculation about David Morrissey, and that title, there was as much anticipation brewing as for any contemporary blockbuster. Still, the bombastic spectacle of Cybermen and giant robots was tempered by the truth behind Morrissey’s character Jackson Lake, and the mental fugue into which he had lapsed. 

I would see The Next Doctor as the exception that proves the rule of Doctor Who Christmas specials. One of Davies’ main talents as a writer and producer on Doctor Who was to make the massive, yet potentially distant sci-fi elements integral to a relatable human relationship, and in his Christmas episodes, he usually pulled out all of the stops. That was certainly the case in the following year’s Christmas/New Year twofer, The End of Time, Parts One and Two. 

Just as David Tennant’s Doctor had arrived on Christmas Day, he reached the end of his adventures around the same time, coinciding with the same massive ident campaign that honoured Wallace and Gromit for A Matter of Loaf and Death, in 2008. For better or worse, nobody watching BBC One that Christmas could fail to notice that Doctor Who was the main attraction in the channel’s schedule. 

With the transition from Davies to Moffat in the writer’s chair transpiring just as Matt Smith materialised in Tennant’s suit and trainers in The End of Time, Part Two, so began a transition in style, especially where the Christmas specials were concerned. Moffat’s first Christmas episode was his warmly received take on A Christmas Carol, which drew on his own short story Continuity Errors, by showing the Doctor changing a miser’s personal history, and future, in order to save the day, at Christmas. 

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