We asked you to vote for your favourite tinsel-tinged instalments of small screen sci-fi & fantasy, and here are the (occasionally surprising) results. Words by Dave Golder, Jayne Nelson, Rob Power, Will Salmon, Jordan Farley and David Bradley
35 Journeyman “Home By Another Way”
2007 • Broadcast 15 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? Nope.
How Christmassy? It depends on your point of view: if Christmas to you is about resolving family issues, and jumping back in time to the ’70s in order to save your job, then yes, this is as Christmassy as baby Jesus in a Santa suit. However, if you prefer your Christmas episodes heavy on the presents, baubles, mince pies and turkey-based oblivion, this episode of Journeyman is probably not for you. Admirable in its dedication to character over seasonal contrivance, you can’t help but feel slightly cheated at the total lack of ho ho hoing. Damn you and your yuletide cool Journeyman .
34 Space: Above And Beyond
“The River Of Stars”
1995 • 8 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? No. He’s even dismissed as a marketing gimmick by one character. Naughty boy. No presents for you.
How Christmassy? Mentions and allusions to Christmas throughout, but – until the final scenes of festive cheer – they’re not of the tinsel, pressies and snow variety prevalent elsewhere in this list. Instead the episode kicks off with newsreel footage of that famous World War One Christmas Day incident when German and British troops called a temporary truce and played soccer in No Man’s Land… except, oddly, the voiceover makes no mention of soccer, but instead says they exchanged autographs, which brings to mind bizarre images of Tommy and Fritz swapping signed photos of HG Wells and Kaiser Bill. This suggests that we’re going to get a similar tale here – especially when our heroes become stranded in a broken-down spaceship in a neutral zone on Christmas Day. But sadly there are no scenes of the stars playing footie (or, indeed, swapping autographs) with the alien Chigs. But there is some present giving (one guy even gets socks), some ice (well, it is cold in space and heating’s not working properly) and some discussion about faith. Oh, and a seriously icky final caption (below).
33 The Six Million Dollar Man
“A Bionic Christmas Carol”
1976 • 13 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? Steve Austin dons the suit to become the Six Million Dollar Santa. As this is a winter special, does that make him a stone cold Steve Austin?
How Christmassy? Well, seeing as this is yet another end of year special imitating Dickens, it’s got solid Christmas DNA. And being made in the ’70s before every damn show going jumped on the Scrooge bandwagon, Lee Majors scores relatively well on the scale of Christmassy goodness. The plot follows Bionic Man Steve Austin’s attempts to change the skinflint ways of Horton Budge, a supplier to a NASA space program who is putting the program in danger through his cheapskatedness. So, top marks for appropriation of everyone’s favourite festive tale, and you’ve got to love the idea of a bionic Christmas carol. It’s just as Dickens would have wanted it.
32 The Dead Zone
“A Very Dead Zone Christmas”
2005 • 21 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? Yes indeed – but is he the real deal or a bad Santa?
How Christmassy? On the basis of the appearance of the fabled turducken (that’s a chicken, stuffed in a duck, which is then stuffed in a turkey like some ghoulish meat based Russian doll), A Very Dead Zone Christmas is a meaty triumph. Throw in a story that involves saving children, a concussed Santa spreading joy, ruthless present hunting and plenty of “Christmas is about more than just the presents” type moralising, and you’ve got a Christmas Special worthy of its place at the head of the Dead Zone table come 25 December. Right, time to start stuffing animals into one another for that tri-force of bird-based Christmas meal goodness…
31 Millennium “Omertà”
1998 • 7 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? This is Millennium , a show so dour Father Christmas would shrivel up and die merely watching it. No.
How Christmassy? A plot involving a long-dead mafia hit man who is resurrected by a pair of strange wood-dwelling women doesn’t exactly smack of festive cheer, but maybe that’s just how they do things in Vermont, which is where Frank and Jordan find themselves for the holidays. No Santa, no reindeer, there’s aren’t even any carol singers in this one, and with the main thrust of proceedings concerned with the dead Mafioso's determination to protect the women who have given him a chance to live again, it’s hard to see what Millennium was thinking. May their mince pies all be tasteless and their trees tattered.
30 Lois And Clark “Season's Greedings”
1994 • 21 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? Yes, he’s handing out gifts to orphans again.
How Christmassy? As a pair of scheming toymakers (it really is amazing just how many toymakers turn bad around Christmas… who knew?) reduce the adult population of Metropolis to the mindset of greedy, spoiled children thanks to a chemical implanted in their Space Rat toys, we’re once again asked to consider the real value of Christmas. Is it all about Space Rats, or is it actually about giving nice things to orphans and listening to people warbling carols? Well, according to Superman, it’s the latter, but SFX ’s stash of Space Rats begs to differ.
29 Sliders “Season's Greedings”
1996 • 5 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? Yes – John Rhys Davies looking like a seasonal Gimli.
How Christmassy? How bizarre – another episode with that weird title. Infused with the Christmas spirit, we’ll presume it was a coincidence and not sneaky plagiarism… The intrepid Sliders find themselves on an Earth that has been overrun by rampant consumerism and is now one huge mall, with folks living in slave-like devotion to the shopping gods and Christmas reduced to nothing more than a marketing campaign. A crafty and well executed swipe at the growing commercialisation of Christmas and the loss of all the fuzzy, heart-warming good stuff that makes the whole thing worthwhile, “Seasons Greedings” succeeds where so many Christmas specials fail by managing to make us think about what Christmas is really all about. And it’s not chocolate. Sadly.
28 Xena: Warrior Princess “A Solstice Carol”
1996 • 16 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? Sort of – the king’s scribe Senticles was a famous toymaker, and comes to resemble Saint Nick throughout the episode.
How Christmassy? A sword and sandals take on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol , the classic tale of yuletide redemption is given a Xena overhaul and is consequently about as festive as you can get without actually mentioning Christmas. With Winter Solstice celebrations cancelled by a bitter king who lost his wife on Solstice Eve, Xena takes on the role of the three fates (representations of - you guessed it – past, present and future) in order to stop him closing an orphanage that defied his order to celebrate. A happy ending and some great toy-based fight scenes make for a fitting Xena-based Christmas special.
27 Ghost Whisperer “Holiday Spirit”
2007 • 11 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? Oh yes. He’s this week’s ghost. No, don’t panic. It’s not the real Santa!
How Christmassy? Very, very, very. As over-the-top in the Christmassy department as the show always was in the sentimental pap department. There are extras lurking round the set, hoping they don’t get spotted for fear of getting gift-wrapped. It looks like ever shot should be framed in tartan like a shortbread tin lid. So, full marks for getting into the spirit of things but as for the episode itself…? We’ll just reprint the review from SFX #166: “‘Holiday Spirit’ is about a ghost who thinks he’s Santa. However bad that sounds, it’s worse.” But hey, clearly some people out there loved it.
26 Millennium “Midnight Of The Century”
1997 • 6 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear: Briefly – he’s ringing his bell with a Salvation army band. We never see what becomes of him, but this being Millennium he was probably gored by a reindeer at some point.
How Christmassy? Well, it tries, god bless it, but this is Millennium , so a little event like Christmas can’t truly get in the way of the doom and gloom. So there is a bit of present swapping; Frank Black’s little helper buys him Black Christmas and Silent Night, Deadly Night on video (“Nothing will put you more in the mood for the holidays than a serial-killing Santa!”). There are some Santa hats. There’s a tree. But Christmas Eve is also the anniversary of Frank’s mother's death, so it’s not exactly his season to be jolly. He starts having visions of angels, and, meeting up with his estranged dad, he learns that it was similar visions that drove his mother to suicide. Fra la la la la, la la la lah!
To be fair, he does make up with his dad, and there are lots of positive messages about the value of family. It also has the usual Frank Black longueurs that fans of the show seemed to like so much, and moments of almost visual poetry. But we’re not sure it would be the first thing we’d stick in the DVD player on Christmas morning.
25 Lois And Clark
“Was The Night Before Mxymas”
1996 • 10 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? Oh yes – Perry White plays Santa for a bunch of wide-eyed orphans.
How Christmassy? It’s Christmas Eve in Metropolis, the staff party is in full swing and everything is going swimmingly until Clark gets called away to deal with some seasonal superhero business and meets Mister Mxyzptlk, the spell-check-breaking imp from the fifth dimension. With world domination in his sights, Mxyzptlk establishes a time loop so that as the clock strikes 4pm, Christmas Eve is re-set, causing Groundhog Day resentment that Christmas will never arrive. It’s down to Clark and Lois to return a bit of festive cheer to Metropolis in an episode that creates a warm glow thanks to its Christmas message of hope (or makes you want to barf depending on your level of cheese tolerance).
24 Hercules, The Legendary Journeys
“A Star To Guide Them”
1996 • 16 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? No.
How Christmassy? It’s basically a re-enactment of the Nativity, only with considerably more super-powered bad-guy-thumping going on and more New Zealand ferns than we suspect were in that little town of Bethlehem. Iolaus has a prophetic dream which tells him to travel to a town where the Evil King™ has ordered all the baby boys murdered in case they grow up to steal his throne – we’re sure we’ve, ahem, “Herod” that story before. After that there’s the obligatory baby, three men following a star and an ending which appears to feature the stable containing little baby Jesus.
It’s all a bit half-hearted, really, because whenever Hercules tackles Christianity it never really works – there’s way more fun to be had with the Greek gods (and Xena always did the Christian thing better anyway). So, all in all, follow another star and avoid this cheese.
23 Eureka “O Little Town”
2010 • 18 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? Two of them – one fake, one real.
How Christmassy? Very. The episode revolves around Taggart's study of Santology and ends with him and Carter actually flying a rocket-powered sleigh over the town. Family, friendship and how “everybody needs more magic in their lives” are the themes. The town of Eureka threatens to shrink out of existence when Taggart's miniaturisation ray (built to demonstrate how Santa Claus might be able to carry so many presents) malfunctions when used on Vincent’s Christmas cake. While the real Santa Claus, posing as a bow-tie-sporting physicist, dishes out sage advice, Sheriff Carter figures out how to regrow the town. A “secret Santa” subplot about everybody receiving a mysterious but oddly appropriate gift delivers some great character moments. It's sweet, action-packed and silly – but then that just about sums up Eureka most weeks.
22 Doctor Who “The Feast Of Steven”
1965 • On Christmas Day
Does Santa appear? Don’t think so. Probably not. It’s difficult to be 100 per cent sure as this is one of the ’60s episodes of Who the BBC junked, so hardly anybody has actually seen it. Presumably the people who voted for it have very long memories or access to pirate download site with some very special booty.
How Christmassy? Barely at all, except that the show suddenly goes all panto and (in a rare example of the show breaking the fourth wall) the Doctor turns to the camera at the end and says, “Incidentally, a happy Christmas to all of you at home!” (Some rumours suggest this was an unscripted piece of ad-libbing by William Hartnell, which may be true as he doesn’t actually stumble over line for once). This was, episode seven of the 12-part “The Dalek Masterplan” and pretty dumps the main storyline for a comedy chase through time, including a Keystone Cops-inspired slapstick sequence which may be hilarious (we don’t know, we’ve never seen it) but sounds a bit naff.
21 Warehouse 13 “Secret Santa”
2010 • 18 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? Many, many times. And he’s a right old b**tard.
How Christmassy? “Secret Santa” is so full of joys of the jolly season that it revamps its opening credits to add little Christmassy touches – “adorable” just about sums it up (unless you’re feeling particularly Scrooge-like, in which case you probably think it was a waste of money). Presents. Turkey. Decorations. Giant toys. Honestly, there isn’t a Christmas cliché left untouched. There’s superpowered mistletoe, too. Be careful who you stand under that with.
The story’s your bog-standard tale of a businessman (former Dresden Files star Paul Blackthorne, always good value for money) who’s too busy to see his kid over Christmas and needs to be taught a lesson about what’s really important in life. In this case, it’s a ghostly Santa Claus who gives him a kick up the arse while Myka and Pete try to figure out what’s created him. After a ton of good-natured fun, it all ends happily with a big Christmas dinner, making this a bizarrely successful Crimbo treat.
20 Smallville “Gemini”
2007 • 12 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? No. But a few Santa hats
How Christmassy? Not spectacularly. It’s a memorable episode because it reveals that Clark has been replaced by Bizarro, but the seasonal elements are mostly mere tinsel dressing on a decent, but pretty standard slice of Smallville . There is a secret Santa session, in which Chloe is given a decidedly un-Christmassy bomb as a present by a clone who’s escaped from LuthorCorp; the clone recalls some Christmas memories which he claims are all artificial implants; and Chloe and Jimmy talk about last year’s Christmas party; but there’s little more substantial than that. Unless you count Clark being stuck on ice back at the Fortress of Solitude.
19 Roswell “A Roswell Christmas Carol”
2000 • 7 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? Yeah, but only in passing.
How Christmassy? How Christmassy do you want? This episode of the high school soap with added aliens (if you don’t recall it, it’s like an SF The Vampire Diaries without the eye-rolling), is the full five-course Christmas feast with all the trimming. Yeah, the central plot is another variation on A Christmas Carol (how come SF shows never use Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer as an inspiration?) with Max being interrogated by the ghost of a man whose life he failed to save. It ends with him using his healing powers on the children's ward at a local hospital (get the sick bags ready). But balancing the corny elements are Isabel acting like a Christmas Nazi, Christmas trees, present nightmares, family get-togethers, sing-a-longs and a $7.95 All You Can Eat Turkey Dinner at the Crashdown Cafe.
18 Quantum Leap “A Little Miracle”
1990 • 4 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? Yeah, but only as an extra. He should get a new agent.
How Christmassy? Extremely. And we bet you’re getting excited about the episode title, aren’t you? Hurrah! It’s not another take on A Christmas Carol, it’s clearly going to be Quantum Leap’s version of A Miracle On… Sorry? What’s that? Oh, it is another take on A Christmas Carol? Time to fire a letter off to the Advertising Standards Authority…
But that would be churlish, because this is a great little episode, overbrimming with the Christmas spirit (well, Al looks like he is, anyway) and, as ever with Quantum Leap , managing to keep its emotional scenes from slipping over into mawkish sentimentality with a skill a few other shows on this list could learn from. Sam laps into the body of a valet to the episode’s Scrooge, and has to turn his life round to stop him from demolishing a Salvation Army mission (the Salvation Army gets some good publicity out of US Christmas TV, doesn’t it?) This involves grouchy hologram Al taking on the guise of the Ghost of Christmas future, and the results are genuinely hilarious.
17 Tru Calling
“’Twas The Night Before Christmas… Again”
2005 • Not applicable
Does Santa appear? Yep, he’s dead in the morgue.
How Christmassy? Moderately Christmassy. It’s set on Christmas Eve, there’s a dead guy in a Santa costume and a secret Santa session and other bits of seasonal dressing. But it’s a bittersweet tale in more ways than one. Because as well as being a Christmas episode, it was also the last episode of Tru Calling to be shot before cancellation, and originally, it wasn’t even shown on TV. It first cropped up on the DVD, before belatedly getting a TV airing on Syfy as part of a Tru marathon in 2008 – three years after it was made. It wasn’t worth the wait to be honest. Sorry, Eliza Dushku fans (but congratulations on getting the episode this high in the list) but this is fairly humdrum fare. It might have been better if the Santa in the morgue had been the guy who asked for Tru’s help (corpses would wake up and send her back in time a day so she could help prevent their death, if you don’t recall) but sadly not. It’s all too bogged down an arc plot about Tru’s nemesis, Jack, with whom she’s forced to team up. It’s not bad, exactly, just a bit bland for a final episode (though admittedly it wasn’t planned that way) or Christmas episode (which presumably was planned).
16 Doctor Who “Voyage Of The Damned”
2007 • On Christmas Day
Does Santa appear? No. But there are a lot of angels.
How Christmassy? Ish. Certainly there is a tradition of disaster movies airing over the festive period, and “Voyage” channels the spirit of The Poseidon Adventure . But other than a few bits of tinsel, and the evil angelic Hosts, the festive elements are fairly restrained. If only the rest of this episode was...
Kylie! The Titanic! Earth! Space! Explosions! It’s an episode that tries to cram in lots of different elements and rather makes a mess of all of them. The dialogue, usually Russell T Davies' greatest strength, is clumsy. It looks weirdly cheap, with the Host robots looking every bit the men in suits that they are and a surfeit of CGI backdrops. And at well over an hour the script feels baggy. Plus, Max Capricorn – a head in a box on wheels, executing a retirement plan – may well be Doctor Who ’s dullest ever villain. A disaster movie in more ways than one. In a typically annoying piece of irony, this is also the episode that’s had the biggest viewing figure since the show came back in 2005.
15 Smallville “Lexmas”
2005 • 17 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? A suicidal Santa is saved by Clark.
How Christmassy? The scriptwriters’ imagination ran wild once again with this Smallville Christmas special, in which Lex is shot by some muggers and visited by ghosts from his past, present and fu… oh no, hang on, it’s A Christmas Carol again. Lex’s Dickensian problems aside, Clark saves a despairing and quite clearly pissed Santa from jumping from a rooftop by reassuring him that the Christmas spirit is alive and well. What with the snowy ending, Santa’s saviour and Lex’s Christmas journey (although he admittedly ends us being a bit of a git in a riff nicked Blackadder ), Smallville enjoys one hell of a Lexmas.
14 Doctor Who “The Unquiet Dead”
2005 • 260 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? No.
How Christmassy? Surprisingly so, given that it wasn’t really a Christmas episode at all, and was first broadcast in early April! Still, with snow on the streets, Charles Dickens and sleigh-bells on Murray Gold's soundtrack, you can't help but think it was perhaps intended as a dry run for the now traditional Christmas Day specials. Finding themselves in Cardiff in 1869, the Doctor and Rose become embroiled with a spooky tale of the walking dead, blue phantoms and Dickens finding something to live for again (cruelly, just before his death in 1870). It’s not quite the match of the two episodes that preceded it, but it’s still Mark Gatiss’s most enjoyable script for Who , and one that effortlessly invokes the spirit of mid-period Tom Baker. And there’s always been something oddly festive about a good old-fashioned ghost story. Ignore the odd clumsy moment (the Doctor telling Dickens to “shut up” comes out of nowhere) and this makes a rather fine first attempt at bringing the festive spirit to New Doctor Who .
13 Chuck “Chuck Versus Santa Claus”
2008 • 10 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? Oh yes. As the title would suggest. Big Mike looks like it was the part he was born to play. Morgan doesn’t look quite so comfortable in his Elf outfit. But you have the slow motion shot of Big Mike in full costume tackling the bad guys.
How Christmassy? All the way up to 11. Chuck blends the silly and the dramatic each week with consummate skill, so crafting a Christmas episode that’s both full of lightweight festive cheer while at the same time giving us a nailbiting, gamechanging climax is as easy for this show as falling off a Yule log. Buy More is turned into a glittering Santa’s grotto, when, on Christmas Eve, a criminal fugitive (who actually turns out to be a Fulcrum agent on the trail of the Intercept) drives his car through the shop’s main doors. What follows starts as a siege episode, before things get much more complicated. It all ends up with a gunfight amongst some snowy Christmas trees, where Chuck witnesses Sarah murder the Fulcrum agent in cold blood, making him reassess his whole opinion of her. That’s bound to put a downer on pulling the crackers.
12 Pushing Daisies “Corpsicle”
2007 • 13 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? No
How Christmassy? Bizarrely, despite some Yuletide trappings – snow, a frozen corpse, Lilly getting high on Olive’s spiked pie and hallucinating the decorations coming to life – this never feels much more Christmassy than any other episode of Pushing Daisies . This is probably because the show is usually so gaudy, hyperreal and whimsical anyway, it’s hard to make it any more like a festive fantasy. Decent enough episode (especially the revelation at the end) but come on… If any show should have Santa playing a major role, it’s this one. We was robbed.
11 Doctor Who “The Next Doctor”
2008 • On Christmas Day
Does Santa appear? No.
How Christmassy? A bit. There’s a lot of snow, and a lovely opening scene as the TARDIS arrives in the middle of a perfect Dickensian Christmas scene, but that's about it. These elements are just window dressing, really, and “The Next Doctor” could easily have fitted into any slot in the Who specials year.
It is, however, a very good episode in its own right. After the bloated “Voyage Of The Damned”, a smaller scale character piece – albeit one with Cybermen, and a giant stomping robot towering over London – is exactly what the show needed. There’s a deep vein of sadness running through the episode, for both heroic Jackson Lake, and the villainous Miss Hartigan – a genius, in many ways, who has suffered because of the Victorian age's attitude to women. The ending, with the CyberKing stomping across London before vanishing into another dimension, isn't quite as satisfying, but there's a lot to love here.
10 Wonder Woman “The Deadly Toys”
1977 • 5 days after Christmas
Does Santa appear? Yep, as a dashboard decoration / tracking device.
How Christmassy? Although it's a bit lacking in the tinsel and trimmings department, this is a belter of an episode: three top government scientists are replaced by androids as a dastardly toymaker teams up with an army major in an attempt to sell a top secret weapons programme to Johnny Foreigner. Fiendishly using toy soldiers to drug the unsuspecting egg heads, Wonder Woman steps in only to find that they've built an android to replace her, leading to a Wonder Woman versus Wonder Woman fight that more than makes up for the lack of snow and jingling bells throughout the rest of the episode and no doubt fulfilled a few Christmas wishes back in ’77.
9 Doctor Who “The End Of Time, Part One”
2009 • On Christmas Day
Does Santa appear? Yes, near the beginning, on a busy shopping street.
How Christmassy? The opening sequence aside, as loveable Wilf Mott wanders through the streets, surrounded by decorations, carol singers and a shop Santa, it’s not very Christmassy at all. Sure, there’s a brief sequence where the Nobles pass around their pressies, but there are bigger fish to fry here, what with this being Doctor Ten’s last stand.
For its first 15 minutes, “The End Of Time” is a noisy, borderline-incomprehensible mess. There's Ood, and the Master, and Lucy Saxon, and the strange old woman. Anyone tuning in who hadn’t seen “Last Of The Time Lords” must have been very confused indeed. But then there’s the scene with Wilf and the “Silver Cloak” and it settles down into a highly entertaining, emotionally-charged story. The scenes with the Master and the Doctor together have a Shakespearian intensity, and the final bonkers twist as everyone on Earth is turned into a copy of John Simm is both New Who’s weirdest and funniest moment up to that point. Then, just as you think the episode’s about to end, the Time Lords turn up!
8 Doctor Who “The Runaway Bride”
2006 • On Christmas Day
Does Santa appear? Yes – the killer robot Santas are back!
How Christmassy? Very, if you excuse the fact it was clearly filmed in the summer (So many leafy trees! So much sun!). It’s an unavoidable hiccup, however, and if you engage some willing suspension of disbelief you can see past that little issue... just.
What remains is a story in which writer Russell T Davies has a helluva lot of fun with Christmas clichés, from reusing those creepy robot Santas and exploding Christmas trees from the previous year’s special to having Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everybody” on the soundtrack. Again. Non-recycled Christmas ideas include a cheeky allusion to the star of Bethlehem, here reimagined as a star-shaped spaceship raining laser-fire down on Cardiff … London. Giant spiders aren’t especially Yuletidey, however, and neither is the Doctor’s heartbreak over losing Rose: “The Runaway Bride” works on many levels, young Padawans. Mostly, though, it’s just rollicking good fun.
7 Misfits 2.07
2010 • 6 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? Nathan dons the red and white to become a smoking, shagging Santa.
How Christmassy? When a bunch of young offenders break into a spontaneous (and rather sweet) rendition of Little Donkey , you know you’re going to be in for a festive treat. Selling off their powers for cold hard cash, the ASBO five are soon in trouble as a chap calling himself Jesus and wielding all sorts of powers starts causing trouble. In true Misfits style, there are killings, knob gags a plenty and an afterbirth is despatched in style by Nathan, but with the birth of a new baby, love in the air and at least one truly horrible Christmas jumper on show (alongside a sack full of hints at season three), this is exactly the present we were all hoping scriptwriter Howard Overman would deliver. And, judging by the number of votes it amassed in the scant few days between broadcast and the close of voting, you lot were impressed too.
6 The X-Files
“How The Ghosts Stole Christmas”
1998 • 12 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? No.
How Christmassy? Not really that Christmassy in the execution – it’s just a haunted house episode, to be honest – but there’s a Christmas theme that’s rammed down our throats with all the subtlety of a zookeeper shoving an antelope into a python’s gob. The theme is that Christmas is the perfect time to re-evaluate your life and Mulder and Scully should see that their lives are lonely and miserable. And then they should kill each other. Erm... okay, maybe that’s not very Christmassy after all.
Anyway, guest-star ghosts Lily Tomlin and Ed Asner have a lot of fun tormenting our favourite FBI agents and there are some classic lines, some neat tricks involving the house (doors leading into the same room over and again) and a lovely scene in which Mulder and Scully exchange presents. Sadly, though, by episode’s end everything gets reset and you’re left thinking, “Was there a point to that?”
5 Doctor Who “The Christmas Invasion”
2005 • On Christmas Day
Does Santa appear? Yes – several, in fact, though they are quickly revealed to be sinister robot “Pilot Fish” in disguise.
How Christmassy? Very. Eight months after “The Unquiet Dead”, New Who had its first and, so far, best Christmas special. The newly-regenerated Doctor is born on Christmas Day, but immediately collapses, leaving Rose and her family to deal with a global crisis created by the alien Sycorax. The first half of the episode, particularly, ODs on the festive elements, with an army of robot Santas (armed with flame-throwers, guns and rocket launchers in their brass band instruments), a remote control Christmas tree that tears up the Tyler’s living room, Christmas songs (Slade, natch), snow (of sorts) and a satsuma that saves the world. Like most of the specials that followed it, it’s a load of daft old toot that barely hangs together, but it's also very funny, surprisingly dark and thoroughly enjoyable. “The Runaway Bride” and “The Next Doctor” came close to matching it, but “The Christmas Invasion” is still the special to beat. Over to you, Steven Moffat...
4 Buffy The Vampire Slayer “Amends”
1998 • 10 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? Yes, collecting for charity in Sunnydale’s high street.
How Christmassy? There’s a flashback sequence set in old Dublin that comes complete with snow, Victorian outfits and carol singers, but once the action moves to Sunnydale the episode loses its Christmas feel. Sure, there are stockings, Christmas trees and fairy lights aplenty, but it’s California , ain’t it?
The story’s a sick twist on Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (again) with Angel haunted by his past transgressions – literally, as they all return from the dead to tell him how crap his life is – and almost driven to suicide before a tearful Buffy talks him out of it. The final scenes have snow falling on Sunnydale in some cosmic nod to the true spirit of Christmas, although as Buffy and Angel take a stroll down the street it looks so much like foam the entire episode is undone. Whoops.
3 The Avengers “Too Many Christmas Trees”
1965 • 13 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? Yes. And blimmin’ creepy he is too, appearing to Steed in his nightmares, with a twisted plastic face.
How Christmassy? Fairly, though most of the Christmas elements are restricted to Steed’s wonderfully surreal dreams. There’s a forest of (deliberately) fake Christmas trees, the spooky Santa and polystyrene snow. These scenes are lovely, and a great reminder of just how truly weird, even scary The Avengers often was. Meanwhile, in the waking world, publisher Brandon Storey is obsessed with Charles Dickens.
A classic episode this, from The Avengers ’ best season. Steed and Peel make for an unbeatable team, and there’s brilliant rapport between our saucy spies. “I’ve always rather fancied myself in one of these,” says Mrs Peel, looking at a four-poster bed. “So have I – I mean, I have, too,” Steed quips in return. A final dose of festive iconography comes in the closing scene as our heroes ride off together in a horse-drawn carriage, and Steed whips out a sprig of Mistletoe... Lucky sod!
2 The X-Files “Christmas Carol”
1997 • 18 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? No.
How Christmassy? Not very, considering that there’s a flashback scene showing young Scully accidentally smothering a poor bunny rabbit (Ho! Ho! Ho! indeed). It’s an interesting story, though, building to a hugely emotional climax in its second part, “Emily” (interestingly, there’s one other episode in this list that’s the first part of a two-parter – Doctor Who ’s “The End Of Time, Part One” – Christmas episodes more usually tend to be pretty much standalone).
The action focuses entirely on Gillian Anderson’s Scully (David Duchovny was off doing promotion for the movie Playing God ) as she receives a phone call from her dead sister, is led to investigate a murder and ends the episode with a small child she never knew was her own. Looks like Alien Santa abducted her just so that one day he could give her a sprog for Crimbo. How thoughtful!
It’s really not that festive, however, with a melancholic feel running through the script that’s not going to warm anybody’s chestnuts. But, hey, you lot clearly loved it enough to vote it into the runner-up position, so maybe all that false jollity and Christmas cheer in other Crimbo episodes leaves you feeling like you’ve had too much turkey? Bah, humbug (but that’s a different X-Files story).
“A Very Supernatural Christmas”
2007 • 12 days before Christmas
Does Santa appear? Yes, but not the real Santa, of course – rather men dressed in suits and Pagan gods dragging away their prey.
How Christmassy? More Christmassy than an eggnog bubblebath – stockings, reindeer, mistletoe, wreaths, mince pies and milk, trees, Yule logs, Rudolph PJs, bad jumpers, Santa travelling by chimney (even if it is being dragged up) and a festive twist on the opening titles with a bauble exploding... and that’s just in the first two minutes.
After a spate of victims are dragged up the chimney around Christmas, Sam and Dean believe they’re on the track of the “Anti-Claus”, until Bobby puts them on the right track. Turns out Pagan gods (the Pagan religion being the origin of much festive iconography today) are being attracted to the Meadowsweet in wreaths sold around the town and snacking on the nearest human.
Even after the first bloody confrontation with a pair of murderous Pagan gods, however, there’s still time for a heartwarming festive message with a flashback tale recounting a Christmas Sam and Dean spent alone in a motel waiting for their father to return. It’s enough to make Scrooge well-up.