Christmas is nothing if not a checklist of moments – drawn from our past and collective experiences of just what the season implies – replayed and judged against our own temperament towards the season.
You love Christmas; chances are you’ll love the anticipation, the sentimentality and the chance to fall in love over the festive period. Alternatively, you hate Christmas and the chances are that you’ll be ranting about late night shopping and the crass commercialisation of the season.
And if you look through the history of the Doctor at Christmas; there are examples of all of these aspects and more – so join us as we look at The Ten Best Christmas Moments from the Whoniverse.
Oh, and Merry Christmas!
1. Getting Reacquainted with the Old Classics
Maybe it’s the Quality Street, maybe it’s the Buck’s Fizz but I always seem to lower my defences at Christmas in regards to the getting reacquainted with the old classics.
Christmas movies are usually a humdrum bag of easily-overcome family troubles and cheap sentimentality (usually with a fantastical element to spice everything up) but I love them.
Come one, come all – I’m the kind of person who will happily sit through rubbish like Jingle all the Way or mainline massive chucks of Christmas 24 – the 24 hour Christmas movie channel that seems to ensnare briefly fashionable actors on their way to obscurity with treacle thick tales of Christmas joy.
The reverse of this is that when there is a genuinely brilliant Christmas film, I tend to overlook its faults or go easy on it because; ‘Hey! It’s Christmas!”
It’s this same feeling that keeps Elf – the Will Ferrell comedy of an orphaned human who grows up believing he’s one of Santa’s elves – in DVD players across the season.
And it’s the feeling that pervades this meeting of great minds from Series 1 classic The Unquiet Dead.
The Ninth Doctor’s love of Charles Dickens goes beyond the realm of rational understanding – he clearly isn’t just appreciating his works – hell, he’s in love with the man and rightly so.
So much so that there’s gleefulness to his criticism of both Martin Chuzzlewit’s superfluous “American bit” and the excessive sentimentality of death of Little Nell – it’s this ‘warts and all’ love of Dickens that reminds me most of my unending love of the best and most tawdry aspects of the familiar tradition of rewatching Christmas films.
2. The Anticipation
It had to work. There was no two ways about it; Doctor Who had to prove to a modern audience unfamiliar with the process of regeneration that the show was still bigger than the actor who took on the mantle of the Doctor.
So with beautiful symmetry; young audiences, fresh from a morning of opening presents, had to wait yet again to see if this last one would be the best of the bunch.
And boy did it deliver.
The moment the Doctor awakes in The Christmas Invasion is a beautifully wrapped beginning to what is arguably the best moment of the Tenth Doctor’s reign.
There’s nothing wrong with getting a little sentimental around the holiday period and the Doctor himself isn’t averse to sharing his love of the season with everybody; including the audience.
In light-hearted The Feast of Steven, episode seven of The Daleks’ Master Plan, the First Doctor takes a moment to share a drink before matter- of-factly turning to the camera and wishing us, the audience, a happy Christmas.
It’s whole unnecessary and a little awkward but then again what sentimental gesture isn’t tether to these feelings – especially from a usually cantankerous guardian such as the Doctor – it’s a sweet, disposable moment and its all the better for it.
4. Unwanted Guests and Visiting Close Friends
We’ve all had them; be they relatives, passing friends or just acquaintances who overstayed their welcome – Christmas is the time of year to quietly tolerate others in the name of the season.
Someone who wasn’t tolerating unwanted guests over the holiday period was the Tenth Doctor who in The End of Time, was greeted by the returning members of his own race, the Time Lords.
However, unlike your unwanted guests they didn’t want to just eat mince pies and talk about Pat from work – they had planet-sized aspirations that forced an openly hostile Doctor to question his only steadfast rule; to never bear arms.
It was a Christmas special unlike any other so far; however it never really converged into a satisfying whole; rather it was more of a series of great moments. One such series of moments that stood out was the Doctor’s final visit to those that he did cherish; to offer that one last moment of assistance; that last act of kindness to know that they’ll be happy once he has gone.
And there’s something of the season in that too.
5. Crass Commercialisation
Christmas is all things to all men; speak to one person and they’ll tell you it’s a joyous, magical time of year that enchants children of all ages. Speak to another and they’ll tell you it’s an odious, farcical time of year that ensnares children of all ages though crass commercialisation.
While the Doctor is usually of the former, then is one example of the latter that’s worth examining just for how bizarre it is when Doctor Who attempts to break that fourth wall and address its own popularity.
Take for example A Christmas Story, a TV Comics tale and the first Christmas story in the Doctor Who universe where in which the First Doctor visits the planet where Santa has relocated his workshop.
Dr Who, John and Gillian arrive to discover a harried St. Nick, you see all the children of the world have thrown a spanner in his toy production line by requesting their own TARDIS toys.
It’s an odd moment for sure and one that feels strange considering the toys themselves are never featured in the story itself – there’s no drawing, rather it’s a casual aside but not a cynical or a winking nod either.
Even the ending, where Santa thanks Dr Who for thwarting the attempts of the Demon Magician to stop the travellers from coming to Santa’s aid is strangely prescient. Santa riding his sleigh, writes in the night sky ‘Happy Journey to TARDIS’ which isn’t the last time that Dr Who is complemented during a Christmas themed adventure.
However unlike The Next Doctor, it’s not the people thanking him; it’s Santa himself. I can’t help feeling that even though it’s his show, The Doctor should be subservient to the season – the excitement should be in seeing the Doctor at Christmas, not fitting Christmas to suit the Doctor.
It might not be as crass as the Doctor shelling for the man but it’s still an odd grace note for what is ostensibly a knockabout comic farce.
6. Falling Asleep in Front of the Telly
Let’s face it. We’re only human and our soft spongy midriffs can only take so much alcohol, chocolate and Christmas turkey before we collapse into a snoring, dribbling mess in a paper crown on the nearest soft furnishing.
To some it’s much a part of Christmas as the Queens speech; so it’s no surprise that the Doctor succumbs to that most human of traits.
However, most peoples food based coma doesn’t result in a wonderful, meta, knockabout farce in Marc Platt’s Christmas Special – from the story anthology Short Trips: A Christmas Treasury.
After falling asleep in front of the television the Sixth Doctor finds himself sucked into the device; where in which he finds himself the star of a popular show facing cancellation before being rescheduled up against Coronation Street when it returns (where do they get there ideas?)
Not only does he find himself fighting for his survival, he also finds himself part of that other Christmas tradition, the Christmas special; when he appears on The Eric and Ern Show .
7. Last Minute Shopping
You’d think the Doctor wouldn’t be joining the queues at Christmas to grab something, anything for his loved ones. After all, all he has to do is swing on a star and capture moonbeams in a jar and that’ll beat anything from Marks and Sparks.
However, you can’t imagine him turning down an opportunity to see this curious aspect of human behaviour and so he did in the aptly titled Last Minute Shopping by Neil Perryman – again from the short story anthology Short Trips: A Christmas Treasury.
Who hasn’t felt like an otherworldly creature when pressed into the throngs of shoppers? Now imagine the difficulties faced by genuinely otherworldly creatures like the Fifth Doctor and his companions; especially if one of them winds up in an Ann Summers shop.
8. Getting Needlessly Patriotic
Call it The Queen’s Speech effect but there’s no other point of the year where we all feel as connected as at Christmas – and it’s this feeling of togetherness that sometimes makes fools of our gestures to make sure that feeling is maintained.
Take my family, who insist on watching The Queen’s Speech and then watching the recap on the late evening news as if somehow Her Majesty’s words had been lost on us the first time round or were so important a second hearing was required.
And Doctor Who isn’t above attempting to foster that same pride; take Voyage of the Damned where the Doctor, desperately attempting to save the S.S Titantic from crashing straight into Buckingham Palace, manages to narrowly avoid parking the stricken vessel on our gracious Queen – who in defiance of previous alien attacks on our capital has oddly chosen not to stay at Sandringham.
It’s one of those moments that you could only get away with at Christmas; it’s a cheeky, bold bit of storytelling that typified the RTD era.
And it could have been so different; in the original draft; the Doctor failed to stop the ship reducing the Palace to a rather expensive pile of bricks.
Imagine the outcry; especially the one from our sofa.
9. “O Christmas tree! O Christmas tree!”
Christmas decorations never hurt anyone; well except for that time when I was eight and decided to swing from the ceiling decorations before a mixture of gravity, physics and pride brought me crashing to the ground.
The nu-who Christmas episodes have done nothing if not inject a sense of peril into our Christmas paraphernalia; starting with the time the Tyler family tree swapped the requisite yuletide joy for tinsel covered death in The Christmas Invasion.
From here on out; it’s been explosive baubles, killer Santas and, in this year’s special, malevolent Mr Frosty creatures but it’s that original “Attack of the Decorations” that sticks in the memory the most.
10. Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Trees)
Maybe it’s just the mulled wine talking but with all that anticipation, the feeling of togetherness and the sense of a new beginning just over the horizon; Christmas is the perfect time for falling in love. And the Doctor is nothing if not an enabler; bringing couples together and even finding himself taking on a new companion.
Perhaps the greatest Christmas romance so far is between Kazran and Abigail in A Christmas Carol– while there was great potential between the Doctor and the late Astrid Peth (nothing like falling down off a platform in a large industrial zone to kill the mood), there wasn’t that same feeling of catharsis when Kazran finally found the courage to spend that last, final day with Abigail.
Christmas is made for such fleeting moments that live long in the memory; despite the personal cost that those moments may bring (yeah, it was definitely the mulled wine… and the Champagne breakfast.)