09 January 2018

Doctor Who at Christmas: Twelve Doctors of Christmas

Hardcover, 318 pages
Published 2016

Acquired and read December 2017
Doctor Who: Twelve Doctors of Christmas
by Jacqueline Rayner, Colin Brake, Richard Dungworth, Mike Tucker, Gary Russell, and Scott Handcock

This set of twelve Doctor Who Christmas tales, a worthy successor to the old Big Finish Christmas Short Trips collections, was my Doctor Who Christmas read for the season, though it slipped in a little late (I think I finished it up December 30th). With twelve Doctor and twelve days of Christmas, things lined up quite nicely.

The stories are an odd assortment, which is kind of always true of these Doctor Who Christmas anthologies. Some are genuinely Christmassy; others just happen to be set on Christmas, but are pretty much standard Doctor Who runarounds. The most Christmassy is definitely the first, Jacqueline Rayner's "All I Want for Christmas," where the first Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki end up in a perfect 1963 Christmas: it beautifully captures the wistfulness and nostalgia of Christmas, of a yearning for a time that's slipped away. Rayner has always demonstrated a sympathy for the first Doctor era, and Ian and Barbara are exceptionally written here. I also really enjoyed Rayner's other story, "The Christmas Inversion," where the third Doctor, Jo Grant, and Mike Yates pick up a distress call from the future and end up in the middle of the events of "The Christmas Invasion"; it's as hilarious as "All I Want" is touching. Jackie Tyler meets the third Doctor! Brilliant.

Many of the others are fine, but not particularly noteworthy, and sometimes the Christmas links are tenuous at best. I didn't really get the point of Richard Dungworth's "Three Wise Men," where the fourth Doctor meets the Apollo astronauts (nothing happens), and Gary Russell's "Fairy Tale of New New York," where the sixth Doctor and Mel meet the Catkind, seemed to have potential, but there's no plot. I did enjoy "Ghost of Christmas Past by Scott Handcock," where a Time War-era eighth Doctor is trapped in the minute before Christmas and ends up finding a mysterious message in the TARDIS. (It is a little weird from a continuity standpoint, though; it's consistent with the Big Finish stories in giving the Doctor a great-grandson named Alex, but given what happened to Alex in To the Death, it's hard to believe the Doctor would find comfort in thinking about him!)

Sort of weirdly, the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth Doctor tales all feature the Doctor teaming up with kids. I wonder why that approach was taken up for three of the four new series Doctors? Each would probably work on its own, or even in a different sequence, but since the stories come back-to-back-to-back, it's a bit repetitive. ("Loose Wire" by Richard Dungworth, the story for the tenth, was the best of them, because Dungworth captures the Doctor exceptionally well here.)

There are a lot of unexpected continuity nuggets, with the Catkind of New Earth, the Master, the Meddling Monk, Rose's red bicycle, the Slitheen, Jackie Tyler, and the Wire (from "The Idiot's Lantern") all popping up-- plus one really unexpected but fun reference in the last story. Even in the weaker stories, the Doctor's voice(s) is well captured, and the whole package is great looking; the cover looks gorgeous in person, and there's a full-page color illustration for each story. This is one of those anthologies whose theme makes it greater than the sum of its parts. Read it on a cold winter night under thick blankets and time travel to your own Christmases past and future.

Next Week: Back to Oz, to discover the debut of a new Royal Historian in The Royal Book of Oz!

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