Book Review: ‘Twelve Doctors of Christmas: A Doctor Who Anthology’

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We’re in the final stretch of 2022’s holiday season, with Christmas almost upon us and New Year’s Eve following quickly behind. With just a few more days, there’s still plenty of time for a bit more holiday cheer. If you’re a Whovian and looking for a replacement for the Christmas special this year, I have a fantastic book recommendation for you, Twelve Doctors of Christmas: A Doctor Who Anthology.

Riffing off of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” song, this novel consists of twelve festive stories, with each featuring one of the Doctors. Fans of either Classic Who or NuWho can’t go wrong with this novel, with fan-favorite Doctors and companions from all 60 years. So grab yourself a nice cup of hot chocolate and your favorite Christmas cookie as we dive into Twelve Doctors of Christmas: A Doctor Who Anthology

[Warning: Spoilers from Twelve Doctors of Christmas: A Doctor Who Anthology are below!]

Mini holiday adventures for the First and Third Doctors

Arranged in numeral order beginning with the First Doctor, Twelve Doctors of Christmas brings readers small, easily digestible tales all involving the holiday season in some way. None of the stories have huge reveals or significant impacts on the already established storylines of the BBC series, but they are adorable little glimpses into the life of the Doctor during the most wonderful time of the year. While I could break down each individual story, a better use of time might be to talk about a few that stick out to me as some of the best. 

“All I Want for Christmas” by Jacqueline Rayner, features the First Doctor along with his companions Barbara, Ian, and Vicki. The first story in the anthology was an enjoyable holiday romp that set the tone for the rest of the adventures to come. In “All I Want for Christmas”, Barbara is missing her life on Earth, specifically Christmas. She and Ian lament about their childhood Christmases with their families and traditions that they still carry on every year even now when they’re adults.

Twelve Doctors of Christmas First Doctor
LtR: The Doctor (William Hartnell), Ian (William Russell), Vicki (Maureen O’Brien), and Barabra (Jacqueline Hill). Doctor Who (BBC).

Waking up the next morning, it seems that the TARDIS had landed in England on Christmas 1963, to the excitement of Ian and Barbara. The Doctor is more skeptical than the humans, for he thinks something is off with their arrival in the snowy town. Is there something sinister going on, or is the Doctor just being an old grump? That’s for the reader to discover in the later part of “All I Want for Christmas”.

“The Christmas Inversion” also written by Jacqueline Rayner, features the Third Doctor with his companions Jo Grant and Mike Yates. What makes this story so interesting that that “The Christmas Inversion” is running parallel to the Tenth Doctor’s first episode, “The Christmas Invasion”. In this story, the Doctor receives a message from a woman he doesn’t know begging for his help. Well, at least he doesn’t know her yet. The message is from Jackie Tyler, Rose’s mother, who is desperate for help from the Doctor as the world is seemingly falling apart.

This story struck me hard because as a fan, it showed me the impact that traveling with the Doctor has on other individuals who are left behind. Jackie is first and foremost a mother, who has seen her child take off in a disappearing police box. If I was in her shoes, I would be anxious constantly. Jackie is also confronted with the reality that the Doctor has had many companions prior to Rose and chances are he’ll have new ones long after she’s gone.

These deep confrontations of the realities and fears of traveling with the Doctor were just as impactful to Jo, who maybe hadn’t thought of the repercussions as well. This is exactly why this story stuck out to me.

Stories of hope from the Eighth and Ninth Doctors

“Ghost of Christmas Past” by Scott Handcock is a bit different than some of the others in Twelve Doctors of Christmas. The story focuses on the Eighth Doctor, who has been embroiled in the mess of the Time War for quite some time. He’s tired and alone, feeling mildly hopeless with all the horrible things he has seen in this war. Somehow, the TARDIS gets stuck between two conflicting timelines, because time is constantly in flux due to the Time War.

Eighth Doctor. Doctor Who
Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor. Doctor Who (BBC).

Getting stuck in a time loop results in things within the TARDIS getting a bit creepy. The Doctor hears a knocking sound on the door of his spaceship, however when he opens the door no one is there. There are also sounds from within the ship that draws him to his companion’s old rooms, a place he doesn’t like visiting because it reminds him of the loss. Eventually, he finds a hypercube on the TARDIS console with a message from Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter. 

It’s a heartfelt moment for the Doctor, one that brings him hope again. It’s an interesting way to bring a bit of closure for the grandfather/granddaughter relationship that ended when Susan left her time traveling in the TARDIS.

The final one that struck me was “The Red Bicycle” by Gary Russell, featuring the Ninth Doctor. The story takes place between adventures with Rose Tyler and is framed by the Doctor as a sort of experiment. Rose points out to The Doctor that sometimes small changes in the past have no bigger implications but can impact the person’s life they help change. Testing this, The Doctor decides to get twelve-year-old Rose the bright red bike she wanted for Christmas.

Things are complicated a bit when Jinko the Junkman, who has a grudge against The Doctor steals the bicycle, attempting to trap The Doctor. What I love is the extent that The Doctor is willing to go to get this bike back for Rose, really showcasing the budding feelings he has for her. It’s also a great change of pace for Doctor number nine, who traveled with Rose his entire run on the sci-fi series.

The good and the bad of Twelve Doctors of Christmas

There is so much to love about this anthology. All of the authors involved in this process did a fantastic job of capturing the essence of both Doctor Who and the holiday season. What I have always enjoyed about the Christmas episodes of Doctor Who is that most are simple adventures that bring the joy of Christmas alive. Every story did this so well, with some featuring Christmas in a larger part of the story, while others just use the joyous time as a backdrop.

I also liked that it provided me, as someone who hasn’t seen much of the Classic Who era, with microdoses of each Doctor through Capaldi. I found myself excited to jump into more adventures from its initial run, which will definitely be my goal for 2023 leading up to the 60th anniversary. This is the perfect sampling plate of Doctor Who for someone who is a fan but isn’t as familiar with certain incarnations of the Doctor yet. It’s the best of both worlds, a fantastic entry point to discover a new love for a different Doctor and so not as much commitment as an entire season if you aren’t feeling that specific iteration.

As I stated above, there are no deep connections or revelations that will change the shape or scope of Doctor Who. While I am okay with that, I can understand if others wouldn’t be. With a show and universe this massive, you have to be slightly picky about which media from the franchise you consume. So if you’re looking for a franchise-altering novel, this isn’t the one for you.

That being said, I think this is one of the best novels from Doctor Who that I’ve read because it truly encapsulates everything I love about the show. So if you’re willing to set aside the world-building, I think this could be the right book for you this holiday season.

My rating: 9/10

Twelve Doctors of Christmas is available now. Have you read it? What did you think? Let us know on Twitter or in the Cosmic Circus Discord. And if you haven’t already, check out our review of The War Master: Self-Defence, another stellar piece of media from Doctor Who.

Review: The War Master: Self-Defence from Big Finish

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