18 Years Later, Doctor Who is Repeating a Brilliant Sci-Fi Trick — And Introducing a Historic First

Meet a new face this Christmas.

BBC Studios

The holiday season is a time of rebirth. One year morphs into another, the winter equinox passes and the days start to grow longer, and everyone reflects on the past and looks towards the future. Doctor Who has taken full advantage of this tonal shift with its Christmas specials, which became a holiday tradition starting in 2005.

But in recent years, the series has moved away from what made that first special so great — until now. Here’s how the 2023 Doctor Who Christmas special will make history.

Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday in Doctor Who’s 2023 Christmas Special, “The House on Ruby Road.”

BBC Studios

The first Christmas special, “The Christmas Invasion,” came at a pivotal point in Doctor Who’s evolution. Christopher Eccleston, who played the 9th Doctor in the 2005 reboot’s first season, left the show, so the Doctor regenerated into David Tennant, the 10th Doctor, in the season finale.

In the special, the Doctor isn’t the man we’re used to seeing. The regeneration took a toll on him, so he spends much of the episode in bed recovering, and even when he’s healed (by tea, because this is a British show after all) he conquers the alien Sycorax in a pair of pajamas.

But after that episode, we never saw a new Doctor introduced in a Christmas special. Instead, it became a pattern for the Doctor to regenerate in the Christmas special, and then the new doctor would be introduced in the next season premiere. That’s how it worked when the 10th Doctor regenerated into the 11th, and then the 11th into the 12th, and then the 12th into the 13th. But now, after the 14th Doctor (who is also played by David Tennant) briefly takes the torch for the 60th anniversary specials, Doctor Who is going back to basics: a Christmas special that once again follows a new Doctor — played by Ncuti Gatwa — as they adjust to a new form.

Doctor Who’s latest creature: The Goblin King.

BBC Studios

But that’s not all the special will contain. “The House on Ruby Road,” which the BBC recently teased with first look images, will also introduce Ruby Sunday, the 15th Doctor’s companion. Even though he’s freshly regenerated, the Doctor will be caught up in an adventure about Ruby’s mysterious past after she was abandoned as a baby.

These images also tease a new alien referred to as the Goblin King, an adorable-yet-freakish alien who will surely become a fan favorite. It seems like while this will be a Christmas special, the story, from the new Doctor, new companion, and new aliens, is shaped more like a season premiere. With the addition of Gatwa’s historic casting as the first Black Doctor (within the official numerical line), and with old showrunner Russell T. Davies at the helm, “The House on Ruby Road” is feeling more and more significant. The sooner the 15th Doctor’s adventures can start, the better.

“The House on Ruby Road” premieres December 25 on Disney+.

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