If rumors of a surprise Doctor Who Christmas special next month are true, it would be a fantastic move after the divisive response to Jodie Whittaker's debut season. Festive episodes have become somewhat of a tradition in the land of Doctor Who ever since the iconic science fiction series was regenerated in 2005. For 12 uninterrupted years between 2005 and 2017, Britain's favorite Time Lord joined viewers for their Christmas Day celebrations in adventures such as "The Runaway Bride" and "The Time of the Doctor," also popping up on New Years Day 2010 for the second part of David Tennant's swansong, "The End of Time." Although an episode wasn't aired on Christmas Day in 2018, Jodie Whittaker's first festive outing wasn't too far behind, with "Resolution" premiering on New Year's Day.
As things stand, there is no Doctor Who episode lined up for the 2019 Christmas and New Year period whatsoever. Skipping the holidays in 2019 would be a first for Doctor Who since it returned in its modern incarnation, and would be a highly unusual move considering the already lengthy gap between seasons 11 and 12. Consequently, there are strong rumors that a Doctor Who special for 2019 has been plotted in secret. With filming for Doctor Who's upcoming season taking place throughout 2019, it would certainly be possible to simultaneously shoot a Christmas/New Year episode without being immediately discovered. These rumors have been encouraged by Doctor Who's official social media, which continues to tease an imminent big reveal.
Although it would be a highly unusual move for Doctor Who to drop a Christmas episode without the usual months of build-up, trailers and speculation, the move would actually be a fantastic marketing strategy after the partisan reaction afforded to Doctor Who's most recent season. The arrival of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor was preceded by over a year of anticipation, and while this helped boost viewing figures for the season 11 premiere, that intense scrutiny perhaps didn't help the first female Doctor in the long run. The Thirteenth Doctor's first season divided the fandom, with many loving the new approach, but others taking issue with the significant departure from the traditional Who format. Predictably, the "political correctness gone mad" crowd also dogged Doctor Who season 11 with less constructive criticism.
Whether because of Chris Chibnall's reinvention, the intensified discussion or morbid curiosity regarding a female Doctor artificially inflating viewing figures (likely all three played their part), the numbers fell over the course of Doctor Who season 11, winding up roughly back where they were during the Capaldi era.
Because of this, the absolute last thing Doctor Who needs heading into its next chapter is an extended period of fan speculation over a single episode. With no new Who season in 2019, the announcement of a Christmas special would be immediately seized upon and picked over, all the criticisms and accusations leveled at last season would be dredged up once again and, inevitably, the standalone offering (as is traditional with non-regeneration Christmas specials) would likely fail to meet the immense hype placed upon it. And it's for this reason that a surprise announcement only weeks before the big day would make total sense.
Doctor Who has reached a point where it doesn't necessarily need to be widely advertised in advance. Doctor Who fans have been instrumental in rediscovering lost episodes from the 1960s that were assumed missing forever; they're hardly likely to overlook a Christmas special announced only a few weeks in advance. Furthermore, festive TV tends to attract an increased casual audience, meaning that a shortened marketing period is unlikely to negatively impact viewing figures for a Christmas episode too heavily.
More importantly, a surprise announcement would allow a 2019 Doctor Who Christmas special to be judged more upon its own merits, without the burden of exaggerated expectations and away from the lingering ill-feeling towards the previous season. Without much time to overthink, viewers would be more likely to watch the episode with a fresh perspective, effectively allowing Doctor Who a clean slate ahead of its forthcoming twelfth season. Whether this will be enough to win around detractors of the Chris Chibnall era, however, remains to be seen.
Doctor Who is confirmed to return in 2020 (unless..) on BBC and BBC America.