After thirteen Doctor Who Christmas Specials, it would seem that the cornucopia of Christmas plots has finally run dry, as Chris Chibnall has moved the modern-day Christmas tradition to New Years day instead. With every Christmas Day since 2005 playing host to a festive-themed episode, even in years that did not see a regular series, it comes as no surprise that the show’s writers are running out of ways to link Doctor Who to Christmas.
Former showrunner Steven Moffat has already commented on how difficult it was to come up with Christmas-related episodes, with some of Capaldi’s later specials seemingly ignoring the Christmas theme entirely – the last Christmas Special, 2017’s Twice Upon a Time, briefly featured the 1914 Christmas Truce but was otherwise devoid of festive cheer. Moffat, the head writer for Doctor Who between 2010 and 2018, said: “I sort of think we might have mined, and possibly over mined, every single thing we could about Christmas in Doctor Who and the last time we more or less ignored it.” (Quote from the Mirror)
This may come as somewhat of a shock to newer fans of the show, many of whom have grown up with the tradition of having a new Doctor Who at Christmas, but older fans will recognise that the Specials are hardly a longstanding tradition – the Classic Series only ever aired one episode on Christmas Day, Part 7 of 1965’s The Dalek’s Master Plan, which was only aired that day because Christmas happened to land that Saturday.
Since 2005, however, Doctor Who writers have found themselves trapped by the restrictive festive-themed episodes, which has been reflected in their quality. Many of the Christmas Specials are considered to be among the worst episodes of the series – episodes like Voyage of the Damned and The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe being particularly notorious examples. Although early Christmas Specials like The Christmas Invasion are looked back on fondly by fans, many will agree that as a general rule the Christmas Specials are neither scary or engaging enough to be anything more than sub-par episodes.
So what does this mean for the future? The loss of the ‘Christmas Doctor Who’ may seem like the end of an era for the series, and many Brits may lament the fact that the tradition of the festive episode is a thing of the past. However, there are many benefits for the show that could come from this decision. As Doctor Who has moved towards a more cinematic style, with the Christmas Special sometimes being viewed as the true finale of the series, a morbid issue arose in recent years in that the last few Doctors have died and regenerated on Christmas Day. By moving the special to New Years, this creates some great opportunities for future Doctors as having the regeneration take place on New Years Day is far more appropriate.
But what kind of episodes could we see in the New Year’s Day time slot? The last New Year’s Special to air was the divisive The End of Time, Part 2, which brought the reign of the Tenth Doctor to a climactic end but was considered by fans to be over-indulgent and melodramatic. Under Chibnall’s reign, the fact that the New Years Special can branch out to tell stories without being bogged down by the obligatory Christmas theme can only be a good thing, and it lends itself to some fresh new ideas that can move the yearly Doctor Who special away from a tired tradition and towards an optimistic new era as Series 11 draws to a close. With recent rumours that the Daleks are returning in the New Years Day Special, titled Resolution, 2019’s New Years Special could set an exciting precedent for future specials in the years to come.