“The Return of Doctor Mysterio” will be the twelfth Christmas special since the show returned in 2005. It’ll be the seventh that’s been penned by current show runner, Steven Moffat, and it’s fair to say the festive episodes he’s produced have received a mixed reception. I’ve asked three Doctor Who fans to share their thoughts on Christmas specials. The Gallifrey Stands Podcast, Rob MacLeod and Ian McArdell have had their say.
Firstly I asked if the Christmas specials are just as good as normal episodes from series.
Gallifrey Stands Podcast: That really depends on the Christmas episode and the series. I would put any Christmas special up against ‘Love and Monsters’ or ‘Fear Her’. But like any episode the Christmas episodes can be good or not so good, but on average I would say they have been great. It’s usually an excuse for the writers to swing for the fences with ideas.
Rob: Generally speaking I’d say yes, although obviously that is always going to be down to personal taste and the Christmas episode you happen to be discussing. I don’t think there have been any absolute stinkers when it comes to the Christmas episodes, but then I’ve even got a few good things to say about “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe”. The thing is that you really can’t compare an episode like “The Runaway Bride” to an episode like “The Time Of The Doctor”. The fact they were both broadcast on December 25th is pretty much all they have in common. As such, you can’t judge all the Christmas episodes on that one fact alone. There’s just too much variety in the episode contents and quality. But at the end of the day, I don’t ever remember feeling let down by any episode I watched after eating vast amounts of turkey.
Ian: They can be, but I think by their nature they have a different audience – it is not just the regular Who fans watching, but a much broader range of casual viewers and even those who are not too keen. The best Christmas specials for me have been those with a straightforward story given a thoroughly Who-ish twist.
Do you think Steven Moffat has done a good job of scripting and producing Christmas specials?
Gallifrey Stands Podcast: I like most of Moffat’s Christmas episodes. I would put “A Christmas Carol” or “The Time of the Doctor” (especially the last 15 mins) against any other Christmas specials by Russell T. Davies. I wasn’t as keen on “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe”, but it was still good, if not great. Also “Last Christmas” with Nick Frost as Father Christmas was outstanding.
Rob: I make no secret of the fact I’m a Moffat fan so it won’t come as a surprise that I’m going to answer yes here. I really loved the Russell T. Davies episodes but the ones I look forward to rewatching the most come Christmas are from the Moffat era. Particularly “The Snowmen”, “Time of the Doctor” and “Last Christmas”. “The Husbands Of River Song” also became something of a favourite after a recent rewatch. There’s some really amazing dialogue in that episode where Peter Capaldi and Alex Kingston were brilliant together.
Ian: Like any writer’s work, some have been better than others. “A Christmas Carol” was a brilliant twist on Dickens, blessed with a starry guest cast and it just seemed to flow. For all its wonderful ideas, “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe” seemed not to come together as well. (Re)introducing Clara in “The Snowmen” was fun, but I struggled with the continuity-fest that was “The Time of the Doctor”, which seemed to give itself too much to do and paled against the rather wonderful 50th special which preceded it. “The Husbands of River Song” suffered the same problems I think, though as a fan I loved seeing the end of River’s story.
Should Christmas specials be reserved for big events such as regenerations or new head writers?
Gallifrey Stands Podcast: That one is simple, no. Every year they do one and every year they have managed to do something different. Regenerations, magical world, re-workngs of classic stories and killer Christmas trees. Whilst they still have new ideas, why not have this amazing tradition that gives us a new episode of Who on Christmas day?
Rob: No, I wouldn’t say so. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with having big events going on in the Christmas episodes, but that really needs to be because the Doctor’s story has come to a point that demands that event happening, rather than forcing an event into the storyline just because it’s Christmas. I’m just as happy to sit and watch something like “A Christmas Carol”, written with pretty much no connection to the larger story, as I am watching a gamechanger like “Time of the Doctor”. Again, it’s all about the needs of the bigger picture.
Ian: While I understand the desire to site a regeneration at Christmas, to get the most exposure for the fateful moment, I really feel they belong in series finales. For my mind, Russell T. Davies’ greatest was ‘The Christmas Invasion’ which built anticipation for seeing a new Doctor in action – and then delivered in spades in the final few minutes! Perhaps a post regeneration tale works place? As for writers, again it’s understandable that you might want the head writer, the safest pair of hand scripting the Christmas special, but it must be tough year on year. It would be nice to see a what Mark Gatiss, or Toby Whithouse Christmas special would look like.
Are you looking forward to this year’s Christmas special?
Gallifrey Stands Podcast: Yes! I love the idea of using a Superhero, as they are so in vogue at the moment. I must admit the trailers haven’t completely grabbed me, but that doesn’t always mean anything as some shows are better when watched in full, rather than reduced to a minute of clips. One would hope it would be. I also look forward to how they will flesh out Matt Lucas’ role now he is set to be in a few episodes.
Rob: Oh yeah, I really am! To be fair, I always am, so it’s not exactly unusual, but having just gone through a whole year without any new episodes I’m all the more ready to see the Doctor again. Not to mention the fact that it actually looks like a really fun episode, and I get the feeling that I’m going to enjoy it a great deal.
Ian: I was lucky enough to be at the premiere this year, reporting for Cultbox, and was blown away by the reaction to the story. For me, the superhero theme, combined with the Doctor’s long awaited return to our screens, has managed to hit the seasonal vibe spot on. There’s also a couple of terrific performances from the guest cast too.
Finally I asked, should Christmas specials be scrapped, or stay?
Gallifrey Stands Podcast: Well, I may have given the game away on this earlier, but of course they should stay. Who wants less Doctor Who?
Rob: They should most definitely stay. From an entirely selfish point of view, it guarantees me an extra episode each year, but to give a more practical reason, the Christmas episodes are the best opportunity the BBC has for keeping Doctor Who in the public eye, where it belongs. As part of the Christmas schedule it will continue to get a lot of extra exposure. It reminds the perhaps less dedicated viewers that the show is still around, something that the BBC has largely failed to do in the last few years, generally speaking. People who might have drifted away from watching the regular series are a lot more likely to watch the episode on Christmas Day, and then hopefully like what they see enough to want to pay attention to the next series. Basically, the Christmas episodes are the best advertising the show has on offer, so I’m all for them sticking around. Besides, what else is Christmas Day for if not for watching Doctor Who?
Ian: Keep them absolutely! They have become part of the Christmas furniture on BBC One and something to look forward to in the gap between series. I wouldn’t want to be without them now.
Are you looking forward to “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”? Let me know what you think. Thank you to the Gallifrey Stands Podcast, Rob and Ian for their contributions. If you want to follow them on Twitter, their handles are below. I’ll be back on Christmas Day with a review of this year’s special. Have a super Christmas!
Gallifrey Stands Podcast: @DoctorSquee
Check out the podcast’s Chirstmas play for charity here: http://tinyurl.com/GSDAC
Ian: @IanMcArdell Here’s a link to Ian’s spoiler-free preview of this year’s Chirstmas special for CultBox: https://t.co/NJS5Ydlq0L