When Chris Chibnall took over Doctor Who, one of the strangest decisions to come out of his era was a simple programming change: the Doctor Who Christmas specials, a tradition since 2005, were suddenly no more, replaced by New Year’s Day specials. Now, five years later, we know that the change is being reversed.
Previously, the BBC had quietly confirmed an episode “over the festive period” in 2023 with its announcement that Doctor Who would return in November next year for three specials celebrating the series’ 60th anniversary. However, in the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine, Russell T. Davies explicitly acknowledged a return to Christmas specials, confirming that he was currently working on his second special of his returned tenure as showrunner, which will broadcast in 2024.
“For the first time ever, I’m writing a Christmas Special… at Christmas!” Davies wrote in his new regular column for the magazine. “The 2023 script has been long since signed off. The new one is for end-of-year 2024!”
Bringing a seasonal Doctor Who special forward a week may seem like a small thing, but not only is it an easy move for Davies to make—the decision to end the tradition in the first place was far from well-met by fans—it’s a simple one to return Doctor Who to a ratings prominence it has struggled to meet in its current form. Christmas Day is a major broadcast ratings day in the United Kingdom in a way that New Year’s Day simply isn’t, and it offers a chance to hook the wider family audience Doctor Who had expertly cultivated in the earliest days of Davies’ first tenure as showrunner in 2005.
The Christmas special was a tradition that endured for 12 years, enshrining Doctor Who in a festive canon for a generation of its audience, and also giving it the opportunity for big, bold stories, silly and seasonal but capable of attracting major talent, like Catherine Tate and Kylie Minogue in “The Runaway Bride” and “Voyage of the Damned,” respectively. The New Year’s Day specials, in comparison, while overall pretty solid—largely thanks to a copious amount of Dalek-shaped spectacle—never really managed to grab the same kind of unique feeling, simply feeling like another episode of the show rather than an event. Like much of what’s exciting to come in Doctor Who’s future, we’ve got to wait a bit to see it, but it’s already good to have something to look forward to under next year’s potentially killer Christmas tree.
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