Doctor Who Season 11 has been an adjustment for longtime fans, as several things have changed about the franchise in the current season. The Doctor's a woman, the show looks different, and there will a New Year's special in place of a new adventure on Christmas Day. I angrily stomped my feet after reading the headline and thought showrunner Chris Chibnall had gone too far, but now, I'm not only ok with the decision, I think it's a good idea.
Granted, it will be quite an adjustment. Hunkering down to watch Doctor Who has long been one of my favorite parts of Christmas Day, whether it was with my father during the Matt Smith era or with my confused, but intrigued in-laws when Peter Capaldi's Doctor regenerated into Jodie Whittaker. Moments like that stick with me even now, so I certainly understand the disappointment and frustration of some who realize they'll be denied that same tradition during their holiday.
That said, there's still going to be a lot of Doctor Who to enjoy during Christmas festivities, as BBC America has planned a big celebration to lead up to the New Year's Day special. In addition to every Doctor Who Christmas special airing in a marathon that begins Monday, December 24 at 12 p.m. ET, every episode from Christopher Eccelston's Doctor on will run up until the special in 2019. Surely that makes up a little for a lack of a Christmas adventure.
We don't officially know why Chris Chibnall has opted to skip the Doctor Who Christmas special this year, but when the initial report surfaced, it said that top brass had "run out of ideas" to turn into a special. As disappointed as some may be to hear that, it stands to reason skipping a Christmas special would've been better than forcing the writers into a room and trying to write an episode where there was no inspiration.
A lack of holiday special ideas may be why so many Doctor regenerations have been saved for Christmas specials. The event of a new Doctor is exciting and meaningful enough to dominate a bulk of the plot and often justifies Christmas taking a bit of a backseat in the adventure. Matt Smith's "The Time of the Doctor" is a perfect example of this, where the word "Christmas" is thrown around, but didn't really capture the spirit of the holiday.
Doctor Who was able to get away with another Christmas special that largely revolved around the Doctor's regeneration last year, but that obviously wasn't on the table for Season 11. So instead of an action-packed adventure that only lightly references Christmas, the drama is shaking things up and doing a New Year's Day special. What's better is that the episode is set on New Year's Day, which is a much less stressful day to deal with story-wise.
It's also a holiday that doesn't cater to a specific holiday and audience, and while there's nothing wrong with doing that, it doesn't jive too well with the inclusive nature of Season 11 thus far. Doctor Who has made a concerted effort to put more of an emphasis on women, other cultures and breaking from tradition. Losing a Christmas episode may have just been a natural consequence of this, and it was substituted for a holiday people celebrate worldwide.
There's also a possibility that the decision to drop the Christmas special just came from Chris Chibnall wanting to switch up the Doctor Who status quo yet again. As frustrating as that can be for classic fans who have seen so much change already, it's hard to argue his results. Doctor Who's viewership has grown 54% from last season, which featured plenty of adventures with Peter Capaldi's Doctor steeped in tradition.
Those results will ultimately keep Doctor Who a long-running series and stave off any thoughts of cancellation by The BBC. Not that there was any indication the threat of that was looming, but throwing together season after season of the same old stuff hasn't been bringing many new faces to the franchise for some time now. Change is the only constant and, for now, it seems to have breathed new life into a show that was stuck in a rut.
Having said that, it will be interesting to see whether or not the Doctor Who New Year's special will perform like past Christmas specials. Peter Capaldi's had a sizable bump in viewership in the UK when compared to the overall numbers of his seasons, so it's possible Season 11 could've seen the same boost. That said, having New Year's Day off from work is not a rare occurrence, so perhaps this episode will have the same sort of turnout?
Plus, there's a lot of potential in moving the "Christmas Special" to another day of the week. Now that the tradition has been broken, Chris Chibnall could always rotate the special to another holiday where writers have other ideas. A Doctor Who special that takes place on Halloween would be fun, or maybe one that draws on a lesser celebrated holiday? Jodie Whittaker's Doctor seems like the type who'd celebrate an obscure holiday, maybe like Elvis' birthday?
Before I get too ahead of myself with themed episode suggestions, it's worth mentioning that this news in no way means Doctor Who Christmas specials are gone for good. The experiment could be a complete disaster, and this time next year there's could be a special in the works that's guaranteed to knock everyone's socks off. There's no need to fret about that now, because if nothing else, at least there will be a special for fans to enjoy!
Outside of holiday specials, Doctor Who airs on BBC America Sundays at 8:00 p.m. ET. Those who are wrapping up some of the fall's early offerings on television and are now needing to busy their schedules with other things to watch needn't fear, as CinemaBlend has the full lineup of what's on the way waiting at our fall and midseason premiere guides.