Look, I’m bored, it’s a slow news week, and I don’t feel like writing about the Sony hack or about how the cancellation of The Interview is a blow to free speech and the terrorists have won and yada yada yada. There are far smarter people than me to tackle that issue and write about it eloquently. I’m more of a simple guy; I like lists and I like ranking things based on some arbitrary standards that I’ve set for myself. And seeing as Christmas is two days away, I figured I’d rank all the modern Doctor Who Christmas specials. Thursday brings us Peter Capaldi’s first Christmas episode as The Doctor and it will also feature Nick Frost…as Santa Claus. God, it pains me to even write that sentence. I’m looking forward to it about as much as I look forward to being hit by a train. The Christmas episodes are never Doctor Who’s best and truthfully, I find it a little presumptuous on the BBC’s part that they just assume we’re so in love with stories about a time traveling alien in a phone booth that we’ll stop whatever we’re doing on Christmas day and watch. I guess if you make it into a family event, it’s a cool thing but I’m not putting aside my food and alcohol to sit through whatever nonsense Steven Moffat has cooked up for us this year. I’ll watch it hungover the next morning.
The problem with the specials is that they’re usually (1.) overlong, (2.) too concerned with trying to please everyone, and (3.) suffer from a terminal dose of whimsy. Moffat’s main weakness as a writer is his over-reliance on forced sentimentality and manipulative tugs at the heartstrings so having him write a Christmas special is particularly dangerous. It’s like asking a heroin addict to go pick up some needles for you. Anyway, here are my rankings of all the modern Doctor Who Christmas episodes from worst to best and some thoughts on how I think Thursday’s hour is going to stack up. Spoilers. Duh.
The Doctor, The Widow, and The Wardrobe
GAHHH, BARF. Bunch of bullshit about sentient trees. There’s also some obnoxious kids who lost their father in World War II (but then he comes back because CHRISTMAS MAGIC) and a mystical crown. It’s boring as hell, none of the fairy tale elements work, and it portrays The Doctor as a total DICK. I like episodes that expose his darker nature but here he’s just a stupid asshole who should have minded his own business. “Leave the kids alone!” you want to keep shouting at him throughout the whole hour. And then that ending where he sits down to Christmas dinner with Amy and Rory and has to wipe away a tear of joy?! GAHHH, BARF.
The Runaway Bride
Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble is my favorite companion but this was a BAD introductory episode. The Doctor is reeling from the loss of Rose (we are too) and suddenly this shrill, obnoxious, unfunny women shows up in his TARDIS and starts barking orders at him. It was so GRATING. Thank god they eventually wrote a character for her. If you had told me at the time that she would eventually become an even more compelling protagonist than The Doctor and that the conclusion to her arc would make me weep like a baby, I would have had you committed. Also, the plot here was total lazy sci-fi BS. “What kind of alien haven’t we seen yet”, I imagine the writers saying to each other,”a spidery woman thing?” “Yeah, that works.” No, it doesn’t.
The Next Doctor
David Morissey is great and his insistence that he’s The Doctor (love his ‘TARDIS’) is hilarious and sad but overall this episode is pretty damn dull. There’s a giant Cyberman wreaking havoc in Victorian London and I was sitting there yawning. If any episode proves that Cybermen are one of Who’s least compelling villains, it’s this one.
The Time of the Doctor
Matt Smith’s final few minutes as The Doctor are touching and effective but let’s face it folks, this episode is a goddamn mess. It felt like Moffat was racing around trying to tie up every loose end he’d left hanging during Smith’s run. Decades pass in seconds, major plot points happen off screen, there are Cybermen, Daleks, lost Time Lords, Weeping Angels, The Silence, and one very confused audience. And I just hated, HATED, that Moffat had to call the town ‘Christmas’. What, you just had to have The Doctor literally save Christmas? Up yours. And don’t put anymore Doctors in old age make-up. It never looks convincing.
A Christmas Carol
A sort of retelling of the Charles Dicken’s story but with flying sharks. The whole thing is too weird to be entirely successful but there are elements that work. Michael Gambon is great as the Scrooge character and the romance across different time periods works surprisingly well, even if it is a Girl in the Fireplace ripoff. Decent. Amy and Rory are totally underused though. They may as well not be in the episode at all.
Voyage of the Damned
Another whacky one. Basically The Posieden Adventure in space, this hour showed that Russell Davies is a little more adept at dealing with unbelievably absurd ideas than Moffat is. The main reason it works is because of strong supporting characters, especially Kylie Minogue as the doomed Astrid Peth. It’s a rousing and moving adventure that comes dangerously close to being maudlin but never quite gets there. I shudder to think what would have happened if Moffat had written it.
The Snowmen provides a much better introduction to Jenna Coleman than the dreadful Asylum of the Daleks (which is the worst episode of the entire series) does and is a great deal of fun. The Snowmen are creepy villains and the hour does a good job of allowing both us and The Doctor to fully process the loss of Amy and Rory. It was the first episode that featured Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax as a Victorian gang of sleuths and they are delightful. I will never ever tire of Strax constantly trying to solve problems by blowing stuff up. That scene where he keeps losing his memory is fall on your face funny. Also, TARDIS in the clouds? That was pretty cool.
The End of Time
I’ve never been able to fully deal with this episode. It’s too damn emotional. Yeah, it’s basically an extended goodbye to David Tennant but goddamnit if Russell Davies doesn’t earn every tearjerking moment. It’s the perfect sendoff for every character, wrapping up all their story lines in a way that MAKES SENSE (take note Moffat) before giving us one of the most brutal goodbyes to any Doctor ever. Those words, “I don’t want to go”, still hurt.
The Christmas Invasion
And the first modern Doctor Who Christmas special is still the best. It is perfectly constructed, introducing a new Doctor and then keeping him unconscious for half an hour. We, like the characters, wonder what the hell he will be like all while aliens are threatening to wipe out the Earth. Then he wakes up, doesn’t shut his mouth for twenty minutes, and takes total command of the situation. With Smith and Capaldi, it took a few episodes for us to get used to them. Not the case with Tennant. He won us over as The Doctor right then and there.
So we’ll see on Thursday how Capaldi’s first Christmas special goes. I’m not particularly hopeful. Need I remind you that Nick Frost is playing fucking Santa? I don’t know though. Maybe it will be good. The show is coming off its best season in years. And the aliens look kinda creepy. At the very least, it will be better than The Doctor, The Widow, and The Wardrobe. I swear to god though, if one character says anything along the lines of, “last Christmas I gave you my heart”, I will murder people.