Like garlanded trees, delicious turkey and simmering familial resentments, the Doctor Who Christmas special has become part of the festive furniture since it was first launched in 2005, with various Time Lords embarking on Yuletide adventures for the entertainment of millions every 25 December.
But as rumours suggest that this year the BBC is putting the Christmas episode back on the shelf (or returning it to a shop with the receipt, if that’s a better seasonal metaphor), we try to separate the fact from the fiction about the possible end of Who-letide action.
Wait, isn’t there going to be a Christmas special this year?
Well, that’s the rumour. Reports have been swirling around this year suggesting that for the first time since 2005 there won’t be a Doctor Who episode airing on Christmas Day, with Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor skipping the festive fun for the first time in 13 years. Humbug!
So there won’t be an episode at all after the finale?
Woah, hold your horses (or reindeer) – we didn’t say that. Chris Chibnall confirmed earlier this year that an extra episode WAS being made after the 10 episodes of the main series, and official listings information has since confirmed it.
“I would definitely think there’s another episode after the end of the series, yeah,” Chibnall concluded.
The question is whether this extra episode will air at Christmas itself, or on a different date. Currently, a lot of people think it might air on New Year’s Day instead.
What does the BBC say?
The BBC declined to comment on any speculation about the existence (or non-existence) of the 2018 Christmas special, telling RadioTimes.com that it was too early for them to confirm their festive scheduling at this stage.
Why would they move the festive episode from Christmas Day?
Well, Doctor Who has done rather a lot of Christmas specials over the years, and it could be that new showrunner Chris Chibnall just doesn’t think there are any more festive sci-fi stories to tell (while still wanting to do SOME sort of special for the season).
Ex-showrunner Steven Moffat (who doesn’t work on the show anymore, so wouldn’t have had anything to do with this decision) suggested as much when RadioTimes.com visited the Doctor Who set for last year’s Christmas special, telling us that the series may have “over-mined” the Yuletide adventures.
“I think it was a brilliant idea [in 2005] and it lasted a very, very long time,” he 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 [in 2016’s The Curse of Doctor Mysterio] we more or less ignored it.”
Moffat also revealed at the time that Chibnall actually turned down the chance to have Jodie Whittaker’s first episode be the 2017 Christmas special.
“Chris didn’t want to start at Christmas, which I think makes perfect sense and I can understand why,” he explained.
“I didn’t really want to end at Christmas. But we were going to end up not having a Christmas episode and we would just lose the slot if we did that.”
At the time, it made perfect sense – it’s a lot of pressure to introduce a new Doctor properly in a Christmas episode, and it would have been a LONG wait before her main series started airing – but with the benefit of hindsight, it could also have been the first hint that the Christmas specials would be on their way out under Chibnall’s tenure.
Alternatively, the BBC might just want to try out the episode on another day, even if it is still Christmas-themed. Most TV series’ Christmas specials air before or after the big day, after all – maybe we’re in for a Christmas Eve episode, or one airing on the 23rd (in Who’s usual Sunday-evening slot).
Is there any hope it WILL still be on TV at Christmas?
Oh, definitely! Despite the rumours of the New Year’s Day move, RadioTimes.com understands that internally the BBC were referring to this extra episode as the “Christmas special” earlier this year, suggesting it will be a traditional festive adventure.
This could rule out the New Year’s Day airing and suggests the usual 25th December slot – though it also could mean the episode is shifting to another less prestigious day that’s still close enough to Christmas for the story to hold up.
On the other hand again, it might be that the episode was planned to be a Christmas story, but the plot was changed later on.
Is this a bad sign for Doctor Who?
Matt Lucas in Doctor Who’s 2017 Christmas special, YouTube, SL
Moving the special to a different day is unlikely to change anything much about the viewer experience – we’re getting an episode regardless of when it airs – and if it does turn out to be on New Year’s Day, there’s some potential for interesting storytelling. What better time for a Doctor Who story than when time itself changes?
If the episode airs on neither Christmas Day nor New Year’s Day, there’s an argument that there may be less of a captive audience for it – but so far Whittaker’s run has had no problems attracting viewers, and in a year where there’s a weekend right before Christmas there’ll be more people in the mood for a festive story in the days before anyway.
And of course, there’s the very real possibility that all this gossip is just that – gossip – with Doctor Who still set to air on Christmas Day as usual.
Doctor Who continues on BBC1 on Sundays
This article was originally published on 9 November 2018