The Doctor Who Christmas specials have always had a bit of a split personality. The first one ("The Christmas Invasion") was an integral part of the overall Whovian mythology as the first appearance of the Tenth Doctor, the introduction of the Torchwood Initiative, and the episode with one of the most badass (and chilling) moments of insight into the nature and extent of the Doctor’s power (“Don't you think she looks tired?"). The next special ("The Runaway Bride") was a bit less important (though it did introduce Donna Noble, who would eventually take on her more prominent role), and those that followed ("Voyage of the Damned," "The Next Doctor," and "A Christmas Carol") were essentially one-off romps for the Doctor, usually without his companions, to have a bit of holiday fun.
This Christmas, however, the special has returned to its initial prominence as the episode that (re)introduces a new main character, and sets up the mystery/conflict for the (half) season ahead! We aren’t going to summarize the episode, just bullet point the awesomeness, but this is officially the last stop before SPOILER JUNCTION (Seriously, if you haven’t seen the episode, go watch it before you read on, because the rest of this post isn’t going to make a bit of sense to you anyway).
1) The implication that this episode takes place decades after the last episode is brilliant! It allows for all sorts of major and minor alterations to the Doctor’s character, and little return-to-form moments like the bow tie.
2) A lot of folks (ourselves included) have complained about the fact that the Doctor's new companion is going to be another young, attractive, clever, human woman. It was delightful to see Steven Moffat acknowledge that by giving the Doctor and old, potato-looking, easily confused, Sontaran male companion—even if we do all know he's not likely to be around for too many of the episodes.
3) The Mary-Poppins-is-a-Time-Lord meme has popped up more than once in the last few years—the clever nod to that was also a welcome treat.
4) The "answer with only one word" scene was a cool reminder of the clever Steven Moffat dialogue games we know and love. It still doesn't live up to the stuff in “Blink," but it's something we didn't get enough of from Moffat in the last few episodes.
5) Speaking of which, the episode was filled with clever little one-liners. “It’s smaller on the outside.” “It’s taller on the inside.” “I don’t know why, I just know who.” That’s the kind of stuff that keeps t-shirt makers in business.
6) The kiss! The Eleventh Doctor/Amy relationship got a lot of mileage out of the ambiguity of the romantic attraction between them (an area that was already pretty well worn by the Ninth Doctor/Rose and Tenth Doctor/Rose relationships). It was wonderful to see that will-they-won’t-they tension completely obliterated within the first few minutes the character share on-screen (To be fair, who knows how this will play out in the future since Clara Oswin Oswald may not always be the same person).
7) People are going to love or hate the new TARDIS. It's a big departure from the last two designs, but it feels familiar to people who have watched episodes of the old series.
8) Finally, in a sense most importantly, we like the mystery. An undying (or constantly re-dying) being who exists throughout different parts of time and space makes for some really cool possibilities. Who knows if we'll still be on board with the mystery once it gets solved but for now, we're in!
Yes, the main plot line wasn't really that different than others that we've seen on the show. And yes, there were some groan-inducing moments that jumped the fence from heartwarming to schmaltzy. Overall though, we think this episode suggests great promise of the season ahead and we're looking forward to seeing old friends and new characters wrestling with mystery and monsters in the months to come. Also, the preview of the upcoming season that we saw after the episode had a lot of fantastic makeup/monster designs, so hopefully even though Christmas is over there are still some treats to come!
New companion, new TARDIS, (in a way) new Doctor—what did you think?