The 14 Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy Holiday Specials
There are a few things I've learned while creating this list. 1) Britain likes Christmas more than America. 2) Not that many sci-fi characters are non-Christians. 3) Everyone loves ripping off Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol.
14. Xena: Warrior Princess - "A Solstice Carol"
[Credit: Renaissance Pictures]
[Credit: Renaissance Pictures]
Xena was my television role model in my pre-Buffy years, so I have a soft spot for her. In this holiday episode, Xena and her trusty sidekick, Gabrielle, try to prevent an orphanage from being shut down by impersonating the Fates. In the vein of A Christmas Carol, they take on a king who has become disillusioned with Solstice Eve because his wife died on that night years earlier.
13. Roswell - "A Roswell Christmas Carol"
[Credit: Warner Bros]
An unusually thoughtful episode of an often silly teen drama, this episode sees Max do nothing to save a man who is about to die in order to avoid exposing himself, and then spend the rest of the episode haunted by his angry ghost. Alongside this fairly dark redemption story is a fun subplot involving Isabel (a young Katherine Heigl), the "Christmas Nazi," roping everyone else into her meticulously planned activities.
[Credit: Warner Bros]
12. Chuck - "Chuck vs. Santa Claus"
Less of an homage to Christmas and more of an homage to Die Hard, this episode of the always charming Chuck saw a criminal crashing into the Buy More and keeping all of the main characters hostage. The episode received overwhelmingly positive reviews, with critics praising the humor and the satisfying character development.
11. The Flash - "Running to Stand Still"
Our only entry from 2015, the midseason finale of The Flash had a little bit of everything, from the return of Mark Hamill's delightful take on the Trickster to the beginning of a redemption arc for Captain Cold to romantic developments happening left and right. But the most exciting part of this episode was the introduction of Wally West, who is arguably the most popular version of Flash from the comics and contributes to the increasing diversity of the comic book adaptation landscape.
10. Doctor Who - "Snowmen"
Really, any of the Doctor Who Christmas specials could have made this list, but I tried to limit it to just a few. The introduction to the Doctor's current assistant, Jenna Coleman's Clara, was well-received by critics and featured the return of fan favorite couple Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint. Plus, who can resist the conceit of evil snowmen who build themselves and try to replace humanity?
9. X-Files - "Christmas Carol"
The whole "Emily" plot was a little underdeveloped, as the fallout from this tragic storyline was hardly explored in later episodes, but standing on its own this episode is a well-written and extremely well-acted piece of television. Scully, and especially Gillian Anderson's performance, was the best part of The X-Files by far, and it was always welcome to see Scully get more development and Anderson a chance to stretch her acting muscles. Plus, I'm in the minority of people who actually liked the X-Files mythos, so it was satisfying to see the pregnancy from her abduction come full circle.
8. Smallville - "Lexmas"
Another surprisingly touching episode from a mostly silly teen drama, Lexmas focused on its most interesting character, Lex Luthor, who often seemed to be fairly irredeemable in the later seasons, and gave him a believable and emotionally affecting redemption arc. When Lex goes into a coma, he sees what his life may have been if he had freed himself of his father, but chooses not to pursue it in order to save Lana's life.
7. The Twilight Zone - "The Night of the Meek"
This bittersweet holiday special sees a drunk, down-on-his-luck department store Santa Claus get fired on Christmas Eve, and make a cosmic wish that "the meek will inherit the Earth" and reap all the benefits of Christmas. It's a poignant, moving episode, and it ends with this wonderful closing narration: "A word to the wise to all the children of the twentieth century, whether their concern be pediatrics or geriatrics, whether they crawl on hands and knees and wear diapers or walk with a cane and comb their beards. There's a wondrous magic to Christmas and there's a special power reserved for little people. In short, there's nothing mightier than the meek."
6. American Horror Story: Asylum - "Unholy Night"
This is American Horror Story, so of course the asylum comes under attack by a serial killer dressed as Santa Claus. Of course.
5. Supernatural - "A Very Supernatural Christmas"
All the best cowboys have daddy issues. (Sorry, wrong sci-fi/fantasy show.) Supernatural is at its best when it focuses on the relationships between the brothers and their father, and this sad little Christmas episode delivered on that in spades. The monster-of-the-week plot that involves pagan gods making human sacrifices is funny as always, but the best part comes when the flashbacks show little Dean giving little Sam a barbie doll and a sparkly baton that he stole from a nearby house. Their father is absent for Christmas, as he's hunting demons yet again, but Dean is still determined to give his little brother a Christmas, and succeeds in the Dean-est way possible.
4. Doctor Who, "The End of Time"
Christmas was somewhat eclipsed in this episode by the departure of David Tennant, but it's still an amazing hour of television that has the bonus of ushering in Matt Smith's acclaimed Eleventh Doctor. A story about endings, Tennant's Tenth Doctor is running from his own mortality while trying to stop the Master from reviving the Time Lords. He's able to prevent this from occurring, but is killed in the process, and we all said goodbye to arguably the most beloved incarnation of the Doctor of all time.
3. The X-Files - "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas"
A classic monster-of-the-week episode, at which the X-Files always excelled, this streamlined episode featured only four characters: Mulder, Scully, and the suicide pact ghost lovers. They play a hilarious (and sometimes scary) cat-and-mouse game with the ghosts in which the ghosts try to trick them into killing each other. Gillian Anderson and David Duchovy killed it, the contentious and adorable relationship between Mulder and Scully is on display, and the two characters exchanging presents at the end, even though they said they wouldn't, melted hearts everywhere.
2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer - "Amends"
This is an unpopular opinion, but I thought this was one of the best episodes of Buffy. Joss Whedon cited the line, "It's not the demon in me that needs killing, Buffy, it's the man," as the best line of dialogue he'd ever written, and with good reason. The episode as a whole is a very Whedon Christmas, because what's more Christmas-y than opening old wounds, examining past regrets, and standing on a hill contemplating suicide? And yes, the snow contrivance at the end was incredibly sappy, but whatever, even Buffyheads need some holiday spirit every once in a while.
1. Star Wars Holiday Special
Just kidding, don't hate me.
1. Doctor Who - "A Christmas Carol"
Although, like I said, everyone rips off A Christmas Carol, Doctor Who's time travel conceit is actually the perfect vehicle for it. Between the genius casting of Michael Gambon as Kazran, the lovely vocal talents of Katherine Jenkins, and the well-written homage that perfectly balances fun and sentiment, most critics agreed that this was the definitive Doctor Who Christmas special.