When it comes to Christmas, it’s not all the films or the songs that come to my mind. It’s the promise of Christmas specials that truly awaken the festive spirit in me. My television interests tend to focus on the ‘nerd-range’ of science fiction and fantasy. So instead I’ll be sharing with you some of my favourite Christmas specials.
The Christmas Invasion (Doctor Who)
Doctor Who is one of the few television series that release a Christmas Special (pretty much) every single year. No matter who the Doctor is. But of all the Christmas specials, the first one they released (since the show returned in 2002) was the most memorable. it had a lot to get right. Not only was it the first episode after series 1, the first Christmas special since its return, but also the introduction of a new Doctor. Even though David Tennant was rarely on screen for the episode, every word he spoke was memorable and it was enough to impress fans with their new Doctor. But beyond that, this episode features flame thrower wielding Santa Clauses and Killer Christmas Trees. Pretty much what Christmas is about, right? That and satsumas.
Do you need to watch the rest of the show to appreciate it? Honestly, not really. This episode would actually be a fairly decent introduction to Doctor Who. Not that I think you should start before Nine (you shouldn’t), but being Ten’s first episode it’s a good introduction to the character and the nature of Doctor Who.
How the Ghosts Stole Christmas (the X Files)
Growing up, my mum used to let my brother and I watch the X Files, but she used to dictate which episodes we were allowed to watch and How the Ghosts Stole Christmas quickly became one of our Christmas watches. Sure we don’t recommend letting your 7 year old watch this (my mum once caught my brother watching an episode of the X Files, when she turned the TV off partway through, his response was to say “thank you”), but if you’re happy with horror for Christmas I’d recommend this. The X Files is a classic series, that will be returning to the small screen next month, and for those who don’t know, it involves FBI agents who investigate unexplainable cases that often have paranormal explanations (ghosts, aliens, vampires or sometimes something worse – people). In this episode Mulder and Scully investigate a haunted house, where someone once killed their partner and then themselves, now each Christmas they replicate these deaths in any couple who visit the house and Mulder and Scully become their latest victims.
Do you need to watch the rest of the show to appreciate it? Like with most of the X Files ‘monster-of-the-week’ episodes you can pretty much jump in right here, but I wouldn’t recommend watching the entire show from anywhere but the beginning. Especially compared to the X Files’ other Christmas episode, the Christmas Carol, which you definitely cannot jump straight to.
A Very Supernatural Christmas (Supernatural)
Back in its prime, like the X Files, Supernatural followed a similar ‘monster-of-the-week’ format. Brothers Sam and Dean spend their time hunting demons and in this episode they stumble across a Christmas themed case. Including someone dressed as Santa pulled up the Chimney. But what’s Christmas without a little Pagan sacrifice?
Do you need to watch the rest of the show to appreciate it? Probably not. The importance of Sam and Dean’s relationship, the reason Christmas is so important to Dean this year, yes you need to watch the rest of the show to fully appreciate – but you don’t need that to appreciate the series in all.
Amends (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Despite it’s 7 season run, Buffy the Vampire Slayer only had one Christmas themed episode. The vampire Angel (who recently came back from dead with his soul intact after losing it and going evil) is guilt-ridden and haunted by the First Evil. It is using the forms of his past victims in an attempt to convince him to kill Buffy.
Do you need to watch the rest of the show to appreciate it? Yes, definitely. A lot of Buffy is ‘monster-of-the-week’, but this particularly episode focuses a lot on what Angel did during season 2, when he didn’t have his soul. The introduction of the First Evil in this episode is also pretty poignant, considering the First returns as the main villain in season 7 that truly draws an end to Buffy’s story.
Twas the Night Before Christmas… Again (Tru Calling)
Tru Calling is a show rarely mentioned or even remembered. It’s about medical student, Tru, who works in a morgue and every now and again a dead body asks her for help and she is forced to relive the day in an attempt to save them. It was cancelled 6 episodes into the second season and this was that episode. Not only a Christmas special but a promising episode of a show that was only getting better. This episode set up some interesting chemistry between Tru and Jack (another person who relives the day with Tru, only instead his aim is to make sure the person who died stay dead). When instead of working against each other they work together to find out why a woman who died months ago, asked Tru for her help.
Do you need to watch the rest of the show to appreciate it? Yes you really do. The whole point of this episode was more a development in the relationship between Tru and Jack. It set up both of their story in a way that could have made the rest of the show incredibly interesting. Without understanding the animosity between Tru and Jack and the fact they are opposing players in a game of death, it’s difficult to grasp the full impact of the episode.
Cape Town (iZombie)
So this is the newest edition to the list and I’m just biased by my love for this show, but it has Santas, Christmas and superheroes. Sure the guy dressed as Santa is a crime boss, the Christmas tree has a body decorating it and the superheroes are idiots. When Liv (zombie) eats the brain of a ‘superhero’ she finds herself with a compulsion for vigilante justice, so dons the cape and tights (figuratively speaking) and decides to take on mobster boss, ‘Mr Boss’, all by herself. This episode is lacking in Christmas cheer and for an episode that focuses on the silliness of superheroes actually ends on quite a low note, although really what more can you expect from a midseason finale?
Do you need to watch the rest of the show to appreciate it? Well it is a midseason finale, so yeah. Mr Boss is a rising antagonist through the series, Liv and Major’s relationship is an ongoing matter as well. Even though iZombie follows a murder-of-the-week format, too much continues on between episodes, especially as Ravi’s development for a cure to Liv’s zombie-ness is constant a factor.
Running to a Stand Still (The Flash)
On the note of superheroes, I’d like to draw everyone to this year’s superhero special. It has everything a Christmas special could want; presents, villains dressed as Santa Claus, family and friendship turmoils. This episode saw the return of previous Flash villains, as Weather Wizard breaks Captain Cold and the Trickster out, while the villains run off for Christmas evil. Of all the villains to have unleashed near Christmas, the Trickster whose introduction in the series included balloon present bombs, is the perfect choice.
Do you need to watch the rest of the show to appreciate it? Like iZombie, this was another midseason finale. Even the opening which shows the seasons villain wishing ‘Merry Christmas’ shows that you really need to be up to speed (pun unintentional) to keep up (sorry couldn’t help myself). It’s a great show of the villains, but there’s a lot more going on that belongs in the continuity of the show.
What are some of your favourite Christmas television specials?