It’s as much a Christmas tradition as turkey and Dickens. Doctor Who needs a visiting schedule as clockwork as Santa’s. Sometimes, he’s good. Oh so very good. But when the Doctor Who Christmas specials are bad, oh they’re horrid. So what will be waiting for us under the Timelord’s tree this year?

Personally, what makes a good Christmas special for me is a fun story, a bit of emotion and plenty of Whovian magic. Last year’s dull affair was too dark, leaving many viewers out in the cold. This year, from the word go, there’s plenty of winter wonder in the air.

It’s Christmas Day on a distant planet in the year 5343. Peter Capaldi plays the Doctor on the ropes, but never shy of a good comeback. He seems to have taken to being a recluse, following the events surrounding the departure of Clara.

But adventure soon finds him, in the form of Matt Lucas’ bumbling character seeking “the surgeon.” Close enough, indeed, and the miscommunication leads to The Doctor running into River Song once again – though this time, she doesn’t recognise this face.

In fact, it gets a little soap opera-y here, because The Doctor has been called to save the life of River’s husband. No, not himself, but the tyrannical dictator King Hydroflax. This overlord, with the body of Big Hero 6‘s Baymax on steroids and the head of a shouty Greg Davies (so, Greg Davies) is not one to be messed with, and is ready to blow the planet’s Christmas cheer sky high if he doesn’t get his way.

In that classic River fashion, she’s in this one for the long con. She needs The Doctor to remove a diamond from her newest husband’s head, one that’s worth an awful lot of money, in order to sell it on to some shady characters. There’s crosses and double-crosses, miscommunications and twists and turns worthy of The Doctor at his best.

There are creatures galore as the episode goes on, and getting to figure out where we’re at on River’s timeline is a real treat for Whovians. Where they go with it (no spoilers, of course) is very satisfying as well, with the diary and a few other key character moments making a poignant return. This is exactly what River needed, as her last few appearances have been rather sub-standard.

This is exactly what Doctor Who should be at Christmas. As necessary as a jucy turkey, this fun, gripping adventure finds Moffat on top form, and the future very bright indeed for the Timelord.

Phil Robinson

Watch the Doctor Who Christmas special on BBC iPlayer now