After teasing the return of Doctor Who’s traditional Christmas special, the BBC and Disney have confirmed that Ncuti Gatwa’s debut episode as the Doctor will air on Christmas Day 2023—the series’ first holiday broadcast in six years.
In a new press release for its festive programing slate, Disney+—the new international streaming home of Doctor Who going forward—confirmed that Doctor Who’s next Christmas special will stream on the service (and, presumably, broadcast simultaneously on the BBC in the UK and Ireland) on December 25. The episode, titled “The Church on Ruby Road,” will mark Ncuti Gatwa’s official debut as the 15th Doctor and, judging by the title, will introduce Gatwa’s first companion, Millie Gibson’s Ruby Sunday.
“The Church on Ruby Road” will be Doctor Who’s first Christmas broadcast since Peter Capaldi’s final episode, “Twice Upon a Time,” in 2017. In one unpopular move among many during the tenure of former Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall, with Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Doctor the series moved to airing new special episodes on New Year’s Day instead of Christmas Day.
Although a week’s difference may not seem like much to many, the breaking of a 12-year tradition proved to be something of a mistake for the series—New Year’s Day is not only a significantly less-lucrative day in the calendar in terms of TV ratings compared to Christmas Day in the UK, Doctor Who’s run of specials under Chibnall didn’t really capitalize on New Years itself in the way prior specials capitalized on Christmas, lending them an air of spectacle that drew in the wide family audience Doctor Who had cultivated since its return in 2005.
The series had made a name for itself in the festive TV canon with big adventures that attracted high-profile guest stars, like Catherine Tate in “The Runaway Bride,” leading to her eventual return as full-time companion Donna Noble, and popstar Kylie Minogue in “The Voyage of the Damned,” one of the most-watched episodes of Who’s modern era. The New Year’s specials, in contrast, were all relatively understated affairs—and for the most part, focused on the return of perpetual series villains the Daleks, which gets significantly less special when they return multiple times across the series anyway.
The return to a festive time slot is just one of many former staples of Doctor Who returning showrunner Russell T. Davies is bringing back—including stars David Tennant and the aforementioned Tate, who will return as the Doctor and Donna starting November 25 on BBC One and Disney+ for a trio of weekly special episodes celebrating the show’s 60th anniversary.
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