– “What exactly are we looking for in here?”
– “Clues, evil plans, candy cane stash. The usual.”
So, now we know: there’s no Doctor Who Christmas special on telly yet again this year. Good job, then, that we’ve had Titan Comics’ Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor Holiday Special to fill that gap this time round, and tide us over nicely until the new series starts on January 1st.
Over the years, the Doctor Who Christmas specials have varied in how heavily they’ve dipped into all the seasonal trimmings. Sometimes it’s been the case that the story happens to be set during the festive period, and that’s just the backdrop to the action; in other cases, they’ve literally done a remake of A Christmas Carol (even using the title), or brought us Santa himself (although – spoiler alert, if you’re several years behind – it wasn’t actually him. Nice touch having someone with a suitably wintry name – Nick Frost – play ‘Santa’, though).
Steven Moffat would say that he’d usually be writing the Christmas Day episode in the height of summer, so he’d end up trying to get himself in the right mindset by listening to carols or other Christmassy music. Well, looking at the plot of Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor Holiday Special, it seems that writer Jody Houser must have been mainlining eggnog since July, because you couldn’t get anything more completely befitting the time of year. One thing’s for sure: this tale has most definitely put the ‘advent’ in ‘adventure’. And quite right, too.
I can sometimes be the sort of po-faced fanboy who gets all huffy and harrumphs loudly when Doctor Who veers in a certain direction, and gets too silly or unrealistic (although exactly how grounded a show featuring a time-travelling, gender-swapping alien can really be is up for debate). For example, when Steven Moffat turned the Doctor into a wacky caretaker who filled a house with self-propelling furniture and taps which produced lemonade in ‘The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe‘, I was just about ready to turn in my (imaginary) fan card. Too silly, I clucked (chiefly to myself), too puerile and fantastical.
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However, I’d like to think that I’ve grown as a person (or, at least, mellowed somewhat), because at face value, Houser’s two-part special could’ve been accused of similar levels of silliness, particularly as the first half brought us a villain who appeared to be Santa (even though we all know it’s not really him), and minions who look like those Nutcracker Soldiers you normally find dangling from people’s trees, or patrolling their mantelpieces. Always one to go big or go home, Houser’s doubled down for the finale, and while some could argue that it’s overkill, it actually works out beautifully, given the initial setup.
In the words of Queenie from Blackadder’s Christmas Carol, “Christmas is a time for tricks and japes and larks of all kinds”. With those same words in mind, you’d really have to have a heart of stone not to be won over by the charm of Houser’s story, which has been complemented by Roberta Ingranata’s art bringing to life the fantastical settings, as well as perfectly capturing the series’ regulars, as ever. It wouldn’t properly be Doctor Who without having some menace in the mix, and what we get here brings to mind (albeit in a sanitised, family-friendly way) the Inside No. 9 special ‘The Devil Of Christmas’.
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For the fans, there’s a couple of rather lovely continuity references (one of which appropriately ties in to the episode ‘Last Christmas’, and is a nice payoff to what was a rather silly joke). All in all, Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor Holiday Special is exactly what was needed to get this holiday season off to a flying start, not just when it comes to anyone having withdrawal symptoms from the show not being on TV this December 25th, but also for readers of Titan’s Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor series. If this doesn’t put a shine in your baubles, then you may as well be Krampus.
It just goes to show that, to slightly misquote Mariah Carey, all we want for Christmas is Who.
Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor Holiday Special #2 is out on 18th December from Titan Comics, and is available digitally and from comic shops.