For the Brits, Dec. 25 brings Father Christmas (Santa Claus to those of us on this side of the Atlantic) and paper crowns (so everyone gets to be king or queen for a day), among other rituals. But the UK yuletide tradition we envy most is gathering around the telly for special episodes of favorite shows, as the writers and cast up their game as they might for a season finale.
The TV bounty can spill into Boxing Day (Dec. 26 to the rest of us), yielding, over the decades, goodies like the Beatles' “Magical Mystery Tour” and the final special of “The Office” that took months or more to make it to these shores. The delays have lessened in recent years, with our increasingly connected media world and more mainstream Brit hits like “Downton Abbey” (even if it will be a while before the Christmas edition of the Crawley Family saga hits PBS).
That’s not the case, thankfully, with the annual “Doctor Who” Christmas installment, which arrives on BBC America the night of Dec. 25, hours after airing in the UK (so keep off the Internet and spend time with the family for at least one day, if only to avoid spoilers).
This year, fans get double gift: two doctors as Peter Capaldi replaces Matt Smith as the quirky Time Lord.
Sure, a mere two doctors might seem like a letdown after last month’s epic 50th anniversary episode, which treated us to a bevy of doctors as fans around the world tuned in at the same time. But Christmas gives us a chance to say a bittersweet goodbye to Smith, who taught us fezzes are cool during nearly four years of “Doctor Who” episodes and specials.
Like his popular predecessor, David Tennant, Smith gave the Gallifrey native a human, empathetic quality – we believed that he cared deeply about our world and his human companions Amy Pond and Clara Oswald in particular.
Smith, just 26 when he got his MD in time travel, was the youngest doctor, but proved himself an old soul. Capaldi at 55, is considerably older than the actors who have tackled the Doctor since the show was revived in 2005 and grew in popularity around the world. On Christmas, he'll pick up the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver and try to carve out his place in Who-story.
Capaldi’s debut as show’s 12th doctor (13th if you count John Hurt's "War Doctor," on whom last month's special turned), comes as the program’s latter-day success has created great expectations.
The Christmas special, written by Steven Moffat, also is shaping up as showcase for the program’s best villains – including the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Weeping Angels. But heart of the show is the Doctor’s two hearts, which allow him to regenerate into new forms, keeping the character alive as actors come and go.
It takes a big heart to give of yourself, even on Christmas. As we await Father Christmas – er, Santa – check out a preview of “The Time of the Doctor”:
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.