As Christmas approaches, the risk of reaching saturation point with Christmas standards like “A Christmas Carol” and “A Christmas Story”, especially for science fiction fans. Fortunately, the years have brought a number of sci-fi Christmas shows to binge on while your relatives drag out yet another airing of “Miracle on 34th Street.” Here are some of the best:
Doctor Who- “Voyage of the Damned” and “The Christmas Invasion”
The British love their Christmas specials, as shows like “Downton Abbey” and “Call the Midwife” draw big ratings with them. But it’s the annual tradition of the “Doctor Who” Christmas special that sustains many a nerd through the holiday seasons. There have been a number of good ones during the Davies/Moffat era, but two stand above the rest. The first is “The Christmas Invasion”, the first full episode to feature David Tennant. As The Doctor recovers, Rose Tyler must cope not only with the new face of The Doctor but repel an alien invasion.
Even better is another of David Tennant’s Christmas episodes, “Voyage of the Damned.” Trapped aboard a doomed spaceliner called The Titanic, The Doctor must save not only the ship’s passengers but also Earth before the ship can crash into it. Assisting him is a motley crew of companions, including guest star Kylie Minogue. But the true sell here comes from veteran character actor Clive Swift in the role of a clueless “Earthologist” who tells the tale of the “kingdom of UK, who worship the god Santa, who has huge claws but is reported to be quite jolly” and who “goes to war with Turkey every Christmas, then eats the Turkey people for dinner.”
Mystery Science Theater 3000- “Santa Claus” and “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians”
Mystery Science Theater 3000 made ten seasons (and soon to produce an eleventh) out of mocking really bad movies. Two of the best came from the series’ two Christmas specials. “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians”, the first holiday special featuring original host Joel Hodgson, was already well known on many “worst movies ever made” lists, but is elevated by the two of the series’ best invention exchanges, the Wish Squisher and new contributions to the Island of Misfit Toys such as an Easy Bake Foundry, and Crow T. Robot’s timeless Christmas Carol “Let’s Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas.”
The second MST3k Christmas episode came about during Mike Nelson’s turn as host and, unlike “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians”, came out of nowhere. An American dub of a Mexican film called “Santa Claus”, the film is a weird blend of Santa myth and Christian theology. Add in a prancing demon in pantaloons, some hilariously stereotypical racial stereotyping, and a leering Santa who outcreeps any mall Claus you’ve ever seen, and you have an episode where the host segments are weaker than the first, but the movie riffs were much stronger.
The Twilight Zone- “The Night of the Meek”
“The Twilight Zone” was one of the best shows at delivering a message in a way so entertaining that you don’t care that you are being preached to. That ability was superbly demonstrated in the series’ holiday episode “The Night of the Meek”. Featuring Art Carney as a department store Santa who becomes disillusioned by the season’s commercial nature and cruelty to the poor, gets drunk on his break and eventually fired. While weeping outside, he finds a bag that magically produces any gift a recipient wants. Being “Twilight Zone”, there’s the usual plot twist to finish the episode.
Eureka- “Do You See What I See”
Syfy’s “Eureka” was always a show happy to revel in its weirdness, so it’s no surprise that they went completely off the rails with their holiday special “Do You See What I See?” After a mysterious color wave bathes the town, the characters find themselves turned into animated characters. As the characters try to figure out how to change back, they morph through multiple cartoon styles, with each style coming with its own rules of physics, or lack thereof. The capper is Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons, who makes a hilarious cameo as Carter’s Jeep.
Blackadder- “Blackadder’s Christmas Carol”
A Christmas Carol has been made and remade so many times that the “elderly miser learns the true meaning of Christmas” trope is a tired one. Leave it to Rowan Atkinson and the “Blackadder” crew to turn the trope on its head with “Blackadder’s Christmas Carol.” In the episode Ebenezer Blackadder, the “nicest man in England” gets taken advantage of at every turn. His life is changed when The Spirit of Christmas, played by future Harry Potter star Robbie Coltrane, shows up to congratulate him for his ways, only to accidentally convince him that the key to success is to be as evil as possible.