Well, it’s that time of year again. Christmas is only a week away, and we’re in for a massive Doctor Who episode this year. The Twelfth Doctor and the First Doctor along with Bill and of course, the first appearance of the Thirteenth Doctor. So let’s look back on the Doctor’s previous festive specials-
12. The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe
To quote the Cybermen from World Enough and Time- “Pain…pain…pain.” Matt Smith may be my favourite Doctor but he did have his fair share of bad or disappointing stories (although I seriously regret my list of bad Matt Smith stories I did back in 2013. How did Cold War, The Girl Who Waited, A Town Called Mercy and A Christmas Carol end up there but Curse of the Black Spot or Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS didn’t? Let’s scrap that entire list except for this story, Hide and the Ganger story) This is easily the worst Matt Smith story, and between this and In the Forest of the Night Doctor Who really needs to avoid tackling trees. It’s just extremely dull and childish with no real plot and it just meanders around doing nothing. I do like Steven Moffat’s fairy tale approach to the show but this was going way too far. I mean “mothership”, seriously? Most stories I dislike now I enjoyed when I was younger, but I didn’t like this one in 2011 and I don’t like it now. Avoid.
11. Last Christmas
This is just incredibly disappointing. A story involving layers of dreams sounds like something Steven Moffat can do easily, and Futurama did a similar concept brilliantly in The Sting (my favourite Futurama episode). The problem with this story is that once again, there’s no real plot or anything of consequence. Having a more subdued story and a story dealing with grief and the idea of dreams has so much potential, but it just fizzled out completely. Was having about five layers of dream really necessary? This isn’t like Extremis where the simulation reveal happens towards the end and changes the viewer’s perspective on the story, this is just twist after twist after twist from the beginning. It’s confusing and the Dream Crabs are a very weak villain and cannot sustain the plot. Add on top of that a completely wasted base under siege plot and confused tonal shifts and we have a very underwhelming story which is ultimately pointless due to Clara staying for Series 9, making her “ending” in this story mean nothing.
10. The Runaway Bride
Now this is more like it. The low placement of this story doesn’t mean this story is bad, it’s just not as good as the other specials. This is a much better story in hindsight, as whilst Donna is annoying in this story, the fact that she became the best New Series companion and the events of the amazing Turn Left pivot around this story make it an important and much better story than it was at first. I just love the absurdity of this story and whilst it has many problems such as really jarring tonal shifts and a nonsensical plot, it’s so entertaining and watchable that the flaws just fly by. A flaw that cannot be ignored however is the Racnoss. She looks cool and has a brilliant backstory but does nothing but yell and is barely in the episode. What a waste of a cool monster and I hope the species returns some day. There’s also a lot of recycling from the Christmas Invasion but like I said, when a story is entertaining I don’t mind problems as much as I would with a boring story. Flawed but fun.
9. The Next Doctor
Dumb? Yes. Wasted premise? Yes. Do I care? Not really. Once again we have a story that could be better but could be worse. There’s a lot to like about this story such as a great villain, Cybermen storming around Victorian London and a fun dynamic between the Tenth Doctor and who he believes to be a future incarnation. I will agree that the core premise is wasted (and done better in the Big Finish story The One Doctor) but the Cyberman plot is incredibly fun and engaging and it’s just a fun time. Keeping in mind that the previous stories were the incredibly dark Midnight, Turn Left and Journey’s End, it’s good to have an old fashioned adventure where the Doctor gets a victory and saves the day. As the start of David Tennant’s final run of episodes, it’s a good slice of psedo-historical adventure that never fails to entertain me.
8. The Husbands of River Song
Another story that’s better in hindsight- who would have thought a relatively minor character from this story would end up as a companion in the following series? I’ve always liked River Song and it was great to see her story end and end well (I’m looking at you Clara). This story is hilarious, from the scene above where the Doctor gets to pretend he’s a companion as well as many of River’s quips. The story is simple but it works, and I really enjoy King Hydroflax as a villain. After a series of disappointing original villains, to have one so entertaining to watch was great. The story’s imaginative, fast paced and gets surprisingly poignant at the end. It’s a very jarring shift from slapstick comedy to an emotional goodbye, but River and the Doctor’s final scene together was the first time since The Day of the Doctor where I was completely invested in a story. It makes other stories better, sets the stage for Series 10 and also provides a fun time. What’s not to like?
7. The Return of Doctor Mysterio
After a whole year off air, Doctor Who returned with a really fun and lighthearted adventure that brilliantly homages superheroes as well as doing a great job of continuing the Twelfth Doctor’s arc. This is a very entertaining story. There’s humour, heart and some fantastic character moments as well as intriguing villains. Nardole is awesome, the Doctor is having so much fun and it’s impossible not to be swept up in the adventure. I’ve heard people complain that this is too silly, and to them I say watch The Romans or The Unicorn and the Wasp then tell me this is too silly. I cannot stress how much fun this story was and it was great seeing the Twelfth Doctor travel with someone who wasn’t Clara. My favourite aspect of the episode is how it constantly makes fun of itself and is perfectly aware it’s a silly superhero romp. As an appetiser before Series 10, I can safely say this episode was a return to form for the series and the series that followed was even better.
6. Voyage of the Damned
This is a massive guilty pleasure for me. It’s one of my fondest memories of the Tennant era and I distinctly remember watching this on Christmas Day 2007 at my grandparent’s house being completely memerised throughout and then excitedly reciting the plot to my mum afterwards. Putting nostalgia aside, this episode is pretty dumb, but it’s so entertainingly dumb I can’t help but love it. I mean, this is a story where the Doctor is on a space version of the Titanic only for it to hijacked by a cyborg and his army of robotic angels. If that isn’t Doctor Who, I don’t know what is. It has flaws, don’t get me wrong, and on a scripting level it’s a pretty poor story, but if all bad scripts were this entertaining we wouldn’t have a situation where Kill the Moon exists. The direction is fantastic, the episode is full of awesome moments and the scene where the Doctor flies the Titanic away from Buckingham Palace and being thanked by an obvious Queen impersonator is perhaps the stupidest awesome scene in the show’s history. I love this one.
5. The Time of the Doctor
Yes, this story is a mess. But considering the circumstances Moffat was in having to write Matt Smith’s final story as well as writing the 50th anniversary, it’s a miracle this story wasn’t a total disaster. Whilst a lot of the story could have been improved, such as making the villains seem like actual threats, fixing some plot holes and establishing a better motivation for the Siege of Trenzalore, it works so well on a character level. The Eleventh Doctor’s arc is about running, and here he settles down and defends a small town for 900 years. It’s perfect and as a farewell to my favourite Doctor I couldn’t have asked for a better ending. I loved the way the cracks and the Silence were reintroduced and whilst this story is no War Games or Caves of Androzani, we once again have to consider the immense pressure Moffat was under whilst writing this, as Matt Smith was originally planned to stay on for Series 8. This story could have failed so hard, and on a plot level it does to an extent, but as a character piece it’s phenomenal.
4. The End of Time
An epic story that I remember fondly, The End of Time gave David Tennant a brilliant send off that while flawed succeeded in telling a fantastic story. Whilst the Master can get too over the top in this story, he is a great villain and Rassilon’s presence gives the story weight and adds to the mythos of the show. Practically everything about this story works, from the Doctor and Wilf’s dynamic to the amazing action and story that was overblown I agree, but also had time to have incredibly quiet moments and gave time to give every Russel T Davies character goodbye. I could watch the scene where Rassilon, the Doctor and the Master face off all day- it’s a stunningly good scene. It has flaws- I’m not a fan of the mysterious woman who may or may not be the Doctor’s mother, the Doctor’s refusal to regenerate, whilst justified given Time of the Doctor, was handled poorly and there’s massive leaps in logic. Despite this, I still find this story immensely satisfying.
3. The Christmas Invasion
From Tennant’s last story to his first. This is a very enjoyable and well told story that introduces the world to the Tenth Doctor perfectly. Taking the Doctor out of the action was genius, as it put other characters such as Rose, Mickey, Jackie and Harriet Jones (yes we know who she is) in the forefront whilst building anticipation for the Doctor’s grand entrance. There’s a very strong alien menace in the Sycorax, who are surprisingly fleshed out and given depth for a one story villain. I love how this story builds- there’s the crisis over the new Doctor, then the robot Santas attack, then the Sycorax arrive and enslave the world. By the time the characters are captured on the Sycorax ship, you are waiting for the Doctor to wake up and save the day, and his entrance is so satisfying. He defeats the Sycorax and after Harriet Jones destroys the spaceship, the first signs of the Time Lord Victorious emerges and he sets up her defeat in office, leading to the Master being able to take over. It’s great how this story set the stage for the entire Tennant era.
2. The Snowmen
Not the best story ever but one of the most entertaining ever. Everything that should be in a Doctor Who episode is present here and this is without a doubt the best version of Clara. Why couldn’t this one travel with the Doctor? The Great Intelligence makes a welcome return, Matt Smith is at his best and the Paternoster Gang are brilliant. Spin off! The script is incredibly well put together with the story focusing on the Doctor recovering from the loss of the Ponds and Clara’s inquisitive nature and the compelling mystery about the snowmen bringing him back to saving the day. It’s endlessly rewatchable and hugely quotable with every character standing out. There are problems- the solution is a bit too convenient and the snowmen themselves don’t do much- but the positives far outweigh the negatives in my opinion and the result is a story that had me completely hooked on first viewing. As a scene setter for Series 7 Part 2 it’s flawless and whilst the show would experience a slight dip in quality when Clara joined full time, this story still holds up.
- A Christmas Carol
OK, how did I dislike this in 2010? Why did I put this on my worst Matt Smith stories? One of the stories I’ve changed my mind on the most, this has gone from a boring talky episode to the best Christmas special ever and one of my favourite stories in general. It’s a perfect retelling of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and retells it with a brilliant Doctor Who twist. This is just evidence that Steven Moffat’s strengths as a writer is when he writes subtlety- the universe isn’t at risk and there isn’t really a villain in this episode, just a man who can be changed by the Doctor. Sardick is a fantastic character and one of the best written Moffat characters and the time travel in this story is just genius. Having Sardick be his own Ghost of Christmas Future is one of my favourite reveals in the show and the whole story just oozes originality, from the unique steampunk designs to the sky sharks and the idea of people as currency. There’s so many ideas thrown in here but none of them feel underused and they all service the story magnificently. A true masterpiece and one I rewatch every Christmas.
So, how will Twice Upon a Time hold up? Let’s hope it’s near the top of the list and not at the bottom, as I’d hate Peter Capaldi’s era to end on a whimper when The Doctor Falls was so good. We’ll find out in a week.