I’m Dreading Christmas Without ‘Doctor Who’

James McMahon
TV Doctor Who
TV Doctor Who

I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but I’m not taking the news that there won’t be an episode of Doctor Who on Christmas Day this year very well at all. How badly? Well, almost half-a-packet-of biscuits badly, which admittedly isn’t quite as badly as University Of Portsmouth student Niall Moran has reacted to the news that for the first time in 13 years there won’t be any Christmas Doctor Who. 20-year-old Niall, if you haven’t heard, has started a petition, over 2,500 signatures strong, to get the BBC to reinstate the Christmas episode.

What we’re getting instead, we’ve been told, is an episode on New Year’s Day that’ll be written by showrunner Chris Chibnall and directed by Wayne Yip, who previously was at the helm for the really quite good Ice-Warriors vs. Victorian soldiers themed episode “Empress Of Mars” in Series 10.

The logic for the move appears sound. It’s unlikely that the Thirteenth Doctor’s second series will air any earlier than 2020, meaning 2019 now won’t be completely Doctor-free. Not only that, but in recent years, New Years Day has often seen better viewing figures than Christmas Day. In 2017, Sherlock episode “The Six Thatchers” pulled in 7.7 million viewers in the UK on January 1 — which is pretty high. That’s more than popular comedy series Mrs Brown’s Boys, UK soaps Coronation Street, EastEnders and even The Queen’s Speech a week prior. Like the recent decision to move Doctor Who from Saturday evening to Sunday night to get more eyes on it, the Doctor Who reboot continues to be bold.

It’s worth noting the comments of previous showrunner Stephen Moffat on the matter too: “I sort of think we might have mined, and possibly overmined, every single thing we could about Christmas in Doctor Who and the last time we more or less ignored it.”

For me, who refuses to accept there aren’t ever new ideas in the ether, that doesn’t wash. At the same time, if it means we don’t get, oh I don’t know, James Corden fannying about as Santa in it, then that’s fine with me.

DREAMING OF A SONIC SCREWDRIVER

Still, I’m not sure I’m ready for Christmas Day without Doctor Who. My dad falling asleep by the end credits. My mum gamely trying to get invested in it, before realising she doesn’t really understand what’s going on – during the Moffatt years, who can blame her – and walking off to endlessly wrap food in bits of tinfoil. Not only that, but during a decent swathe of my adult life, the Christmas Day episode of Doctor Who was more than just a television show to me and my family.

I’m lucky to have many happy memories of being a child at Christmas. There was the year I got my Commodore Amiga (and carpet burns on my knees as I skidded across the ground with excitement). The year I sleepily left my bedroom in the middle of the night to get a glass of water, somehow missing my dad, dangling from the loft door above me, removing the presents we’d tear open in the morning. Yet my favourite memories concern a small, really quite tatty, ornamental robin.

As long as I remember, to the extent I cannot ever remember it not being so, in the run-up to the 25th, my parents have hidden said robin in the living room for me and my brother to find. Sometimes it’s taken me the entire Christmas period to track it down. Normally it’s taken him a couple of minutes. Every year I forget that the robin is normally hidden somewhere on the fireplace. I should let you know that I am, at the time of writing, 38 years old.

Nothing entertains my dad more than my frustration in not being able to find it. My dad is the last person on earth who still enjoys You’ve Been Framed. Misfortune is his comedy catnip. Nothing makes him laugh like a fat kid falling into a hole. Or a fat kid failing to find a decorative robin.

WEEPING ANGELS

Doctor Who Weeping Angel
A terrifying Weeping Angel from Doctor Who.

Something changed when I got older. When I left home. In truth, lots of things changed when I left home. I left thinking I had it together. I returned with an anxiety disorder, though that would take some time to actually diagnose. Then when I would return home for Christmas, somehow, every year, without fail, my family would row long before I ever started looking for the robin. Awful rows. The type where things that are said take years to fade from view. What was the happiest memory for me became soured by the fact that now when I did look for the robin, I’d do so through raw, wet eyes. I’m ashamed to say I actually started to hate the robin.

It took enough time, but eventually I realised that I, or rather my anxiety was to blame. I’d come home, so tightly wound, so het up with fears and worries, unmotivated, monosyllabic, so sensitive to something being said that might dislodge how perfectly buttoned up I was, that it was the introduction of my angst to such a stressful time of year that was what caused so many flare-ups and so many rows. It took both me and my parents a long time to recognise this. In recent years, things have been a lot better. I can manage my anxiety better. We’ve had a lot of fun together. I really love my family.

FACE OF WOE

Yet Doctor Who has long been the armistice to these rows. Always the moment when we’d stop, we’d try to reset, we’d try to see things more clearly. After all, things could be worse, right? At least the universe wasn’t actually under threat. The thing with anxiety though, and more so with trying to manage it, is that routine is key. Over the years I’ve learned how we can do Christmas Day now and not clash, and knowing that Doctor Who would be there as a time-out has been key to that. I’m worried what will happen without it. It’s going to be a test. I don’t want to go back to how things were. There comes a point, when you’re raw from rowing, where you just can’t do it anymore. Where you just think, “we’re wasting our lives here”. Also, what on earth is the Doctor going on about? I can’t hear it over all the shouting.

What are we going to do when we would be watching Doctor Who? I don’t know. I’m going to have to consult the TV guide. Maybe I’ll have to have the Eleventh Doctor’s classic “A Christmas Carol” on standby. Maybe Michael Gambon can referee our bickering if we fall into our old ways. Or maybe we can come through it unscathed and discover those days – those awful, unfair, tormented days – have gone forever. I’m hoping for the latter. As long as we don’t have to replace it with an enormous ding-dong on New Years Day.

This Christmas, there might not be any Doctor Who, but I am going to do everything I can to enjoy the day with the people in the world I love the most. And I’m very excited to see what the New Year holds for Thirteen, a Doctor who’s rapidly becoming a favourite.

But don’t worry, Dad, I’m going to find that bloody robin.

James McMahon
James McMahon is a journalist from the north of England, though he currently lives in east London with his wife and Ramones records. He was formerly the editor of Kerrang! magazine for absolutely ages, and now writes for Vice, The Big Issue and The Observer. He likes Bigfoot, Xbox and crisps.
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