THE BASEMENT BLU-RAY REVIEW: Doctor Who: The Christmas Specials

My first memory of Doctor Who was watching Tom Baker after school in the 1970s. The show was short-lived here and to be honest, I kind of forgot about it. When the show was relaunched in 2003, with Christopher Eccleston in the title role, I quickly became hooked. With greatly improves special effects and exciting storylines, this became must-see tv for me.

Doctor Who follows the adventures of the title character, a rogue Time Lord with somewhat unknown origins who goes by the name “the Doctor”. The Doctor fled Gallifrey, the planet of the Time Lords, in a stolen TARDIS (“Time and Relative Dimension in Space”), a time machine that travels by materializing into, and dematerializing out of, the time vortex. The TARDIS has a vast interior but appears smaller on the outside, and is equipped with a “chameleon circuit” intended to make the machine take on the appearance of local objects as a disguise; due to a malfunction, the Doctor’s TARDIS remains fixed as a blue British police box.

Across time and space, the Doctor’s many incarnations often find events that pique their curiosity, and try to prevent evil forces from harming innocent people or changing history, using only ingenuity and minimal resources, such as the versatile sonic screwdriver. The Doctor rarely travels alone and is often joined by one or more companions on these adventures; these companions are usually humans, owing to the Doctor’s fascination with planet Earth, which also leads to frequent collaborations with the international military task force UNIT when Earth is threatened. The Doctor is centuries old and, as a Time Lord, has the ability to regenerate in case of mortal damage to the body, taking on a new appearance, personality and (from 2017 onwards) gender identity. The Doctor’s various incarnations have gained numerous recurring enemies during their travels, including the Daleks, their creator Davros, the Cybermen, and the Master, another renegade Time Lord.

One thing that became a staple of the show were the Christmas episodes, often broadcast on Christmas day on BBC One. For me, these episodes have become a staple of the holiday season and even though I have the complete series featuring Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi, I was glad they released a collection just on the Christmas episodes. This collection features ten classic episodes.


The newly regenerated Tenth Doctor, suffering side effects from his regeneration, crash lands the TARDIS in London. He exits to meet Jackie and Mickey, and collapses in front of them. They take him to Jackie’s flat where they put him to bed. The Doctor tells them that his regeneration has gone wrong and theorizes that the energy of his regeneration is luring an unseen foe to him. He passes out again and is returned to bed.

The Mars space probe Guinevere One is intercepted by a giant spaceship heading for Earth. When the probe’s broadcast is shown on Earth, the face of a Sycorax appears. He demands Earth’s surrender and uses blood control to cause a third of the world’s population to go into a hypnotic state. The Sycorax threatens to make these people commit suicide unless half of the world’s population is given to the Sycorax as slaves. Harriet Jones, the Prime Minister, attempts further negotiations with the Sycorax, and finds herself teleported aboard the ship.

Rose, Mickey, and Jackie evacuate the Doctor to the TARDIS as the Sycorax ship approaches London. Before Jackie can return with additional supplies, the TARDIS is detected by the Sycorax and is teleported aboard their ship. Rose buys enough time for the Doctor to finally recover, after inhaling the fumes from a dropped flask of tea. The Doctor shuts down the Sycorax blood control and then challenges the Sycorax leader to a duel for the Earth, during which the leader severs the Doctor’s hand. Since the Doctor is still within the first 15 hours of regeneration, he re-grows his hand and then forces the Sycorax leader to surrender. The leader attempts to attack the Doctor from behind. The Doctor hits a sensor with a satsuma he found, triggering part of the wing to fold and dropping the leader to his death.

The Doctor orders the Sycorax to leave Earth and never return before taking Rose, Mickey, and Harriet back to Earth. As the Sycorax ship moves away, Harriet orders Torchwood to destroy the ship. The Doctor becomes furious with Harriet, who tries to justify her actions by reminding the Doctor that he is not always there to save them. The Doctor threatens to bring down her government with six words, before whispering to her aide: “Don’t you think she looks tired?”

After choosing a new outfit, which includes a pinstripe suit and a brown duster coat, the Doctor joins Rose, Jackie, and Mickey for Christmas dinner. They watch Harriet on television fending off rumours about her health, with a vote of no confidence looming.


The Tenth Doctor is shocked when Donna Noble, in a wedding dress, appears within the TARDIS while in flight. The Doctor returns Donna to her wedding. At the reception, the Doctor determines that Donna must have absorbed a great deal of Huon particles that drew her to the TARDIS. The reception is attacked by robots dressed as Santa Claus. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to manipulate the sound system to destroy the Santas, and discovers something is controlling them remotely from space.

Learning that Donna and her fiancé Lance work for a locksmith company owned by the Torchwood Institute, the Doctor asks Lance to take them there. Underneath the building the Doctor finds a long tunnel under the Thames Barrier, and a secret laboratory producing Huon particles, along with a pit that leads to the center of the Earth. Their presence brings forth the spider-like Empress of the Racnoss. The Empress, who had been hiding in hibernation at the edge of the universe, awoke and used the Torchwood company to gain the equipment to make Huon particles. Lance reveals he was working for the Empress and purposely fed Huon particles to Donna (by adding them to her coffee) to help free the Empress’ children. Donna and the Doctor escape, and the Empress decides to use Lance as a substitute, force-feeding him Huon particles and then throwing him into the pit.

The Racnoss, one of the most ambitious of creature creations on Doctor Who.

The Doctor takes Donna to his TARDIS and travels back billions of years to discover that an inert Racnoss ship became the core of the Earth as the planet formed around it; the Empress is now trying to wake her children aboard that ship with the huon particles. The Doctor and Donna return to the present as other Racnoss start emerging from the pit. The Empress uses her ship to start firing on Earth. The Doctor attempts to offer a peaceful solution but the Empress refuses, and the Doctor is then forced to remotely detonate explosive baubles used by the Santas at the walls of the base, flooding the pit with water from the Thames. The Doctor is prepared to die, but Donna urges him to escape with her, just as the Empress teleports to her ship to try to escape. However, this has weakened its defences, and the ship is destroyed by human forces. The Doctor offers Donna the opportunity to travel with him. She declines, but suggests he needs a companion to keep his temperament in check.


The TARDIS has collided with a ship called the Titanic. To investigate further, the Tenth Doctor runs the TARDIS’s self-repair program and boards the Titanic, which the Doctor discovers is a nuclear-powered interstellar cruiser from the planet Sto. Modelled after the Earth ocean liner of the same name, the ship is orbiting present-day Earth to observe “primitive cultures”–specifically, Christmas. The Doctor decides to stow away, and joins a party of aliens, including the waitress Astrid Peth, on a brief excursion to London. However, the populace of London fled in fear because of extraterrestrial attacks over the previous two Christmases.

After the party return from the excursion, the ship’s captain sabotages the ship by engineering its collision with a three large meteors. The resulting collision kills most of the passengers on board and draws the ship to an extinction level collision with Earth. The Doctor makes contact with Midshipman Alonzo Frame, a crew member who survived the collision, to help him stabilize the ship. Enroot to the bridge, the Doctor’s party are repeatedly attacked by the Host, androids resembling angels who were programmed to kill the survivors. The Doctor breaks from the party and attempts to reach the control point for the Host. He is taken to the Host’s leader, former cruise line owner Max Capricorn, who is a head attached to a mobile life support unit. Capricorn was bitter about being forced out of his own company and plotted the Titanic’s inevitable collision with Earth to bankrupt the company and frame the board of directors for murder. To save the Doctor, Astrid rams Capricorn with a forklift, which sends both of them over a ledge to their deaths.

The Doctor uses the Host to reach the bridge, where he uses the heat from entry into the Earth’s atmosphere to restart the ship’s engines (which helps prevent the ship from crashing into Buckingham Palace). After stabilizing the ship, the Doctor realizes that the teleport bracelet Astrid was wearing backed up her molecular pattern. However, the damaged system can only partially regenerate Astrid. The Doctor reluctantly allows her to dissipate into atoms, so she can fulfil her dream of exploring the universe.


The Tenth Doctor lands his TARDIS in London on Christmas Eve, 1851. Overhearing cries for help, he encounters a man calling himself “the Doctor” and his companion Rosita, attempting and failing to capture a Cybershade. The Doctor believes the man, who is suffering from amnesia, may be a future incarnation of himself. The man, dubbed the Next Doctor, takes the Doctor to a nearby house of a recently deceased reverend, believing him tied to a series of disappearances around London and the Cybershade. Inside, they discover a pair of Cyberman data-storage infostamps, which the Next Doctor recalls holding the night that he lost his memories.

The two Doctors regroup with Rosita at the Next Doctor’s base. The Doctor comes to realize that the Next Doctor is really a human, Jackson Lake, the supposed first missing person. The Doctor suspects that Jackson had encountered the Cybermen and used the infostamps, containing knowledge of the Doctor, to ward them off. Jackson’s mind then entered a fugue state from the trauma of the Cybermen killing his wife, and as the infostamp had infused his mind with knowledge of the Doctor, he came to believe he was the Doctor. The Doctor and Rosita set off to try to find the source of the Cybermen.

The Doctor and Rosita find numerous children, pulled from workhouses around the city by Miss Mercy Hartigan, are being put to work at an underground facility under Cybermen guard. The Cybermen betray Miss Hartigan, and convert her into the controller for the “CyberKing”, a giant mechanical Cyberman powered by the energy generated by the children. She also gains control over the Cybermen. Jackson remembers encountering the Cybermen on moving into his new home. The Doctor discovers another entrance to the Cybermen’s base under Jackson’s house. Within the complex, as the CyberKing starts to rise to the city, the three rescue the children, including Jackson’s son, who was abducted in the initial attack that triggered Jackson’s fugue state. The CyberKing starts to lay waste to the city. When Miss Hartigan refuses the Doctor’s offer to leave the planet, the Doctor uses the infostamps to sever her connection to the CyberKing, exposing her to the raw emotion of what she has done. The emotional feedback destroys both the Cybermen and Miss Hartigan. As the CyberKing starts to topple, the Doctor draws it into the Time Vortex with technology from Jackson’s cellar, saving London. The episode ends with the Doctor and Jackson heading off to attend Christmas dinner in remembrance of those they have lost.


A narrator states that in the last days of humanity, everyone had bad dreams of the Master, but only Wilfred Mott remembers them, and as a result is searching for the Doctor. A cult resurrects the Master in a prison, but his ex-wife, Lucy Saxon, imprisoned for killing the Master (“Last of the Time Lords”), sabotages the ceremony. The resultant explosion destroys the prison, killing everyone inside, while the Master is reborn with great strength but constant, ravenous hunger.

On the home planet of the Ood, the Doctor is warned of the Master’s resurrection, as well as the imminent “end of time”. Returning to Earth, the Doctor encounters Wilfred and explains the prophecy that he will hear “four knocks” before his death. The Doctor finds the Master in the wastelands outside London. The Doctor learns that the sound of drums the Master hears, previously assumed by the Doctor to be a symptom of the Master’s insanity, is real and has been implanted externally. Before the Doctor can learn more, the Master is captured by armed troops and placed in custody of billionaire Joshua Naismith. Naismith has recovered a broken alien “Immortality Gate” and wants the Master to fix its programming.

The Doctor regroups with Wilfred, who identifies Naismith. Wilfred prepares to go with the Doctor, but a mysterious woman warns him to arm himself to protect the Doctor before departing. At Naismith’s mansion, the Doctor and Wilfred meet two Vinvocci disguised as humans, who assert the Gate is a harmless medical device from their homeworld. The Doctor is too late stopping the Master from activating the Gate, which he has reprogrammed to replace all of humankind’s DNA with his own, making humanity doppelgängers of him; the only humans unaffected are Wilfred, protected in the Gate’s control rooms, and the Doctor’s former companion and Wilfred’s granddaughter Donna Noble, due to Time Lord biological traits she has (“Journey’s End”). Donna begins to remember her travels with the Doctor, which the Doctor had made her forget to save her life. The Master and his doppelgängers taunt the Doctor, who can only look on in horror.

Elsewhere, the Lord President of the Time Lords (revealed to be the narrator of the episode) observes the situation and declares to the Time Lord Senate that Gallifrey will return.

The Doctor and Wilfred become fugitives from the Masters and escape to the Vinvocci spacecraft. Donna is saved by a fail-safe implanted by the Doctor, which stuns her and several doppelgängers via a release of energy, causing her to forget the Doctor again.

Meanwhile, the Lord President, following a prophecy about the future of the Time Lords after the Time War, implants the sound of drums in the Master’s head as a child; in the present, the billions of Masters amplify that signal. The Lord President orders a Gallifreyan diamond to be launched to Earth for the Master to use to create a strong link that allows the Time Lords to bring Gallifrey out of the “time lock” they were stuck in and move in close orbit to Earth. The Doctor jumps from the Vinvocci ship into Naismith’s mansion, armed with only Wilfred’s gun, as the Lord President appears with a small ensemble of Time Lords and reverts the human race to its original form.

The Doctor tells the Master that Gallifrey cannot be allowed to return due to the horrors of the Time War, its corrupting effect on the Time Lords, and the Lord President’s plan to end time itself and ascend to a state of pure consciousness, but the Master is unmoved. The Doctor finds himself torn between shooting the Master or the Lord President to sever the link and return Gallifrey to the “time lock”. Among the Lord President’s ensemble, the Doctor spots the same woman in white Wilfred had seen. The Doctor then fires the gun at the diamond instead, destroying the link. As Gallifrey is pulled back, the Lord President, revealed to be Rassilon, attempts to kill the Doctor, but the Master intervenes, saving the Doctor and seeing his act as revenge for what the Time Lords had done to him. Soon after, the Master, the Time Lords, and Gallifrey have disappeared.

The Doctor considers himself victorious until he hears four knocks. He sees Wilfred, who knocks a further four times and then waves to him, and learns Wilfred had come to help him, but is now trapped in one of the Gate’s isolated control rooms that is about to be flooded by a lethal dose (500,000 rads) of radiation. The Doctor sacrifices himself to free Wilfred by absorbing the radiation, meaning he will soon regenerate.

After dropping Wilfred back home, the Doctor visits past companions and acquaintances. He then regenerates in the TARDIS into the Eleventh Doctor, causing an explosion that destroys the control room. Subsequently, the wrecked TARDIS begins to plummet back to Earth.


A space liner carrying more than four thousand passengers loses control when passing through strange electrified clouds over a human-inhabited planet. The Eleventh Doctor discovers the clouds are controlled by the bitter old man Kazran Sardick, who refuses to allow the ship to land safely. Discovering Kazran’s fear of his father, the inventor of the cloud controlling machine, and his wish to never be like him, the Doctor travels to Kazran’s past to change it. Meeting Kazran as a young boy, the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to summon a shark that swims in the clouds and fog. The shark eats the screwdriver, wounding it, and is unable to swim back to the clouds. To save the shark, Kazran takes her to a cryogenics storeroom where Kazran’s father has kept people in storage as “security” for loans, including a woman called Abigail. Abigail, once released, sings to soothe the shark while the Doctor uses Abigail’s cryo-unit to transport the shark back to the skies. As the Doctor and Kazran return Abigail to storage, Kazran promises her they will see her every Christmas Eve. The Doctor keeps this promise, and romance blooms between Kazran and Abigail. However, after one such visit, Kazran requests the Doctor end the practice, keeping Abigail in storage indefinitely as Abigail has an incurable illness and one day left to live. Though old Kazran in the present is pleased with his new memories, he remains bitter at Abigail’s fate and refuses to help save the ship.

Old Kazran is soon visited by holographic images of the ship’s crew and passengers in the present, imploring Kazran’s help, but he waves away the holograms. The Doctor appears, bringing young Kazran with him to show the child Kazran his future; the realization of how much his bitter future self now resembles his feared father causes Kazran to change his mind and decide to save the ship. The Doctor finds his changes to Kazran’s past have locked him out from the controls of Kazran’s father’s machine. The Doctor instead has Abigail sing through one half of the broken sonic screwdriver; the other half, still in the shark, resonates in the atmosphere, disrupting the storm to allow the ship to land safely. Kazran releases Abigail knowing this will be the last time, but Abigail understands and believes it is time for them to share a Christmas Day.


In England on Christmas Eve 1941, the Doctor becomes caretaker to Madge Arwell and her children, Lily and Cyril, as a favor to Madge for helping the Doctor find his TARDIS. Madge has received a telegram that the children’s father Reg disappeared over the English Channel a few days earlier, but decides not to tell her children yet, hoping to keep their spirits up through the holiday.

That night, Cyril is lured into opening a large glowing present under the Christmas tree, revealing a time portal to a snow-covered forest. The Doctor shortly discovers Cyril’s absence and follows him with Lily; they eventually track Cyril to a strange lighthouse-like structure. Madge, finding her children missing, soon follows them into the forest, but is met by three miners in space suits. The miners tell Madge that the forest of the planet they are on is scheduled to be melted by acid rain within minutes, killing anything within it. At the lighthouse, Cyril is met by a humanoid creature made of wood; it places a simple band of metal around his head like a crown. Lily and the Doctor arrive, followed by another wood creature, but find the creatures have rejected Cyril as he is “weak”, as they do the Doctor. The Doctor concludes that the life forces of the trees in the forest are trying to escape through a living creature, with the crown acting as an interface.

Madge safely reunites with her children as the acid rain starts. The wood creatures identify her as “strong”, and the Doctor realizes they consider her the “mothership”, able to carry the life force safely. Donning the band, Madge absorbs the life force of the forest, allowing her to direct the top of the lighthouse as an escape pod away from the acid rain and into the time vortex. Reg’s plane follows the light of the pod through the time vortex and safely arrives outside the house at Christmas, reuniting Reg with his family. The life force of the forest have converted themselves to ethereal beings within the time vortex. Believing that Amy and Rory still think he is dead, the Doctor joins them for Christmas dinner.


The Doctor has retired from saving people and uses his allies Vastra, Jenny, and Strax to keep people away from him while he lives in the clouds above Earth. In 1892, barmaid Clara Oswin Oswald follows the Doctor and the two of them are surrounded by snowmen created from snow with psychic properties. The Doctor realizes that Clara’s thoughts are creating the snowmen and ends the threat by instructing her to think of them melting.

Clara returns to her other job as governess for Digby & Francesca Latimer. Francesca has been having horrible dreams about their previous governess returning from the dead. Clara realizes that the pond that contains the old governess’ body is the only thing still frozen around them. She attempts to track down the Doctor, and is taken to see Vastra. Vastra tells Clara she gets only one word to impress the Doctor with if she wants his help. Clara chooses the word “Pond”, which arouses the Doctor’s interest.

The Doctor visits the Latimer family’s pond. He realizes that the Great Intelligence, the entity controlling a man called Dr. Simeon since he was a boy and the snowmen, is using the old governess’ body as a DNA blueprint to form an ice creature that will retain its form and not melt. While Clara puts Francesca to bed, the frozen body of the governess breaks into the house. The Doctor tries fleeing with Clara, but Clara is mortally wounded by the ice governess, which is also shattered before Simeon can get the blueprint.

The Doctor tricks Simeon into opening a tin holding a “memory worm” inside, which latches on to him. The Doctor states that the Great Intelligence, which has been existing as a mirror of Simeon’s thoughts, will vanish with the erasure of Simeon’s memories by the worm. Instead, the Intelligence takes control of Simeon’s body. The influence of the Great Intelligence quickly wanes, and Simeon falls dead. Outside, a salt-water rain has started, and the Doctor sees that another psychic ability has taken control of the snow from the Great Intelligence: the Latimer family, crying for Clara. At her funeral, the Doctor reads Clara’s full name on her tombstone and realizes she is the same woman as Oswin, who died on the Daleks’ Asylum planet. The Doctor announces that a person dying twice is an impossibility and departs in the TARDIS to investigate and find Clara.


Thousands of aliens orbit the planet Trenzalore, from which a message is continually being broadcast across time and space. The Church of the Papal Mainframe constructs a force field around Trenzalore. The Eleventh Doctor and Clara are offered the opportunity to explore to find the source of the message on the planet by the church’s head, Tasha Lem.

They discover the message is coming from a human settlement called Christmas. The message originates from a crack in reality in the clock tower and is being sent by the Doctor’s people: the Time Lords. The Doctor deduces the Time Lords are trying to escape the pocket universe they are in and want the Doctor to announce his name as a sign that it is safe to emerge. A stalemate is in place; the other aliens cannot attack at the risk of the Doctor letting the Time Lords out, while the Doctor cannot risk abandoning Trenzalore as most of the forces in orbit will burn it to stop the Time Lords’ return.

The Doctor tricks Clara into being returned to Earth. Clara jumps onto the TARDIS before it returns to the Doctor, arriving 300 years later. The Doctor reveals to her that his body has no further regenerations left, and that he is prepared to die defending Trenzalore. The two discover that in the intervening time, the Papal Mainframe have renamed themselves the Church of the Silence, and that a chapter of the Silence broke off to try to interfere with the Doctor’s life, which includes them unwittingly creating the crack in the tower. After rescuing Tasha Lem from the Daleks, the Doctor tricks Clara again into being returned to Earth. As even more centuries pass, the Daleks remain the only aggressors against the Doctor and the dwindling forces of the Silence. Tasha eventually brings Clara back to Trenzalore as the siege finally comes to a conclusion. The Doctor is dying of old age and cannot stop the Daleks’ attack. After saying goodbye to Clara, he goes out to the top of the tower to face his enemies. The Eleventh Doctor, about to die from old age, is granted a new regeneration cycle by the Time Lords, subsequently preventing his death.

Clara speaks to the Time Lords through the crack, begging them to help the Doctor. The crack in the tower closes and reappears in the night sky. Regeneration energy flows from the crack and into the Doctor, granting him a new regeneration cycle. The Doctor uses the excess energy of his regeneration to destroy the Daleks, while the crack closes, ending the stalemate. In the aftermath, the Doctor sets the TARDIS in motion, and finishes regenerating. The Twelfth Doctor finds the TARDIS is crashing while Clara looks on in confusion.


On Christmas Eve, Clara finds Santa Claus stranded on her roof. The Doctor arrives to take Clara away. Santa tells the Doctor that he will need his help before the night is over. The Doctor and Clara arrive at a North Pole base where four of the crew in the infirmary are being devoured by Dream Crabs – blind aliens which induce dreams on their intended victims as a distraction whilst devouring the victims’ brains and which use telepathy to see the surroundings of people thinking about a crab. More crabs attack the Doctor, Clara, and the unaffected crew, only for Santa to rescue then. Clara reveals that during their last meeting, she lied to the Doctor about Clara’s boyfriend Danny Pink coming back from the dead. The Doctor says he lied about finding Gallifrey. The Doctor sends Clara to recover Santa’s crab specimen, but Clara, thinking about the crab, makes it come alive and attack her.

Clara reunites with Danny in a dream. The Doctor willingly falls victim to another crab to enter the dream. Clara still resists willing herself to wake up, until Danny tells her that she can miss him while also moving on with her life. Clara and the Doctor wake up, which kills the crabs devouring them. The Doctor deduces that they are not awake, but in a different layer of a multi-faceted dream and have been since the initial crab attack. He explains that Santa is the manifestation of their subconscious minds fighting back. Santa wakes the group up.

Clara reminds the Doctor that they met Santa before arriving, proving that everything else has also been a dream and none of the scientists are scientists. The affected personnel – manifestations of the Doctor, Clara, and the “scientists'” minds – attack and kill Professor Albert. The Doctor, Clara, and the “scientists” dream of Santa, who wakes them up to their real lives, one by one, until only Clara is left.

Upon waking, the Doctor traces the psychic signal linking their dreams back to Clara. He pulls the crab off, and learns that Clara is now an elderly woman. The Doctor regrets not coming back sooner, when Santa appears. Realizing he is still dreaming, the Doctor wakes up again. He frees Clara, now a young adult, from the crab. Offering her all of time and space, the Doctor implores Clara to join him. Clara accepts.

The Christmas episodes hold a special place in my heart. They are well written, charming and will easily become an annual viewing event. My favorite of these episodes by far is THE SNOWMEN. Though we have seen Clara previously, it is here where we actually get to know her. Her innocence is so touching and when she enters the TARDIS for the first time, it is one of the best scenes in the entire series. From the driving music to her exclaiming, “It’s smaller on the outside” the scene just really stands out to me.

I wanted to leave a link where you could buy this collection but it looks like it may be out of print, despite it coming out in 2015. If you can find it, it is a collection worth having and Doctor Who looks absolutely amazing on Blu-ray. Don’t forget to read the other blogs in my BASEMENT BLU-RAY REVIEW series.

~David Albaugh

To buy the Doctor Who series that feature these episodes, please click on the images below.

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