Classic Doctor Who never really had to deal with Christmas – except for 1965.
Some context. The story that was running at the time was “The Dalek Masterplan” – a 12 episode epic which was to continue until the end of January 1966, and had been preceeded by “Mission to the Unknown”, a one-episode prologue introducing some of the necessary characters. As episode seven of “Masterplan” was to air on Christmas Day, the production team decided that it should be a lighter, comedic instalment, not really involving the original plot. They thought that viewers would either not be watching or wouldn’t want to see the next part of the dark Dalek adventure.
The result, by all accounts, is daft, and included a slapstick chase scene through a Charlie Chaplin film set, as well as a chance meeting with Bing Crosby, but it finished with a rare breaking of the “fourth wall”, with the Doctor turning to the camera in the closing moments to wish everyone at home a merry Christmas. This was a Christmas episode meant to bring a little cheer, a relief from the dramatic and controversial events (companions, DYING, on telly!) in the story. This, it achieved.
Since then, the show has been constantly searching for a Christmassy balance between continuing the story and just being fun.
When the show came back in 2005, television had changed – Christmas specials were no longer simply for light entertainment, they were for everything that was big news. And Who was finally big news once again.
We’d had a brand new Doctor, who’d already been and gone, with a new one unveiled. Christmas day was when we’d find out about him. It was like an extra present – it immediately became event TV. But goodness it was a mixed bag – exciting (A new Doctor! Sword-fighting! With aliens! On a spaceship shaped like a rock!), shocking (Oh, Harriet Jones – Prime Minister), and intriguing (blood-control, girl having to confront nasty aliens on her own). There was a satsuma to save the day. There were plenty of ideas to keep us going, and it was fun.
The next few years have brought varying results – 2 relatively lean years with a shouty cockney runaround with added big spidery things (The Runaway Bride) and the slightly underwhelming pinching of a Douglas Adams idea (Voyage of the Damned). Then there was The Next Doctor – an interesting and fun story, the shine taken off only by the impotence of the modern cybermen and their ridiculous Statue-of-Liberty-from-Ghostbusters-2 moment (and the assumption that the people of London should be grateful for their benevolence – just before they had their houses crushed by a falling giant metal thing).
The End of Time. Was bonkers. That’s all. Properly bonkers.
But then. Oh, then. A Christmas Carol. With it’s token inclusion of the companions as a reason to get the Doctor into the story, and a beautiful snowy mix of morals and lack of morals. Yes, there are questionable bits, and a non-acting singer as a guest star, but it looks lovely, there are floating sharks, and it is suitably Christmassy.
Then we get to 2011, and the Doctor’s Wardrobe. There are problems, of course there are. But for all the annoyed criticism it received, I really rather enjoyed it. It probably won’t appear in anyone’s Top 10 lists, but it wasn’t as bad as all that. It was fun, fairly meaningless in terms of the main show, and a bit magical – which is what Christmas telly is all about.
I’ll post something more about that one tomorrow, maybe.
Last year we got a better balance – probably partly because the Doctor himself was at a crossroads. The Snowmen was a rollicking ride through a Victorian Christmas tale, which also pulled together a monster from the past AND a new companion’s story. And lord alone knows what Moffatt’s kitchen has cooked up for us this time round.
But it better be Christmassy.