No winter season would be complete without holiday specials, and science fiction and fantasy series are no exception.
From the macabre to Christmas camp, these magical holiday specials from SFF shows are carefully curated to warm up your socially-distanced winter.
"How the Ghosts Stole Christmas," The X-Files
Want to believe in the holiday spirit? This Christmas episode is a festive standalone treat.
FBI Agent Dana Scully reluctantly agrees to stake out a haunted house with her partner Fox Mulder.
The house is haunted by a young couple, who died from a lover’s pact on Christmas Eve. Scully and Mulder discover the pair of lovelorn specters, and the ghosts manipulate them against each other through grisly illusions. The episode becomes a desperate drive to escape the house alive, as the partners must rely on their trust for each other to break the spell.
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The X-Files writers created this episode primarily as a vehicle for Lily Tomlin, who is stellar as Lydia the ghost. Her spectral lover Maurice is played by Ed Asner, whom you might recognize as Santa Claus from another holiday classic, Elf.
Featuring the smallest cast of any X-Files episode ever, this monster-of-the-week episode offers a perfect blend of horror, comedy, and a hint of romance.
"Corpsicle," Pushing Daisies
Pushing Daisies is always full of both cheer and macabre energy, and this holiday episode is no different.
Ned the Piemaker is endowed with a magic touch that brings the dead to life. Now, he's investigating a series of bodies that have been discovered in snowmen around town.
Ned's having a bit of a gloomy Christmas – he just told his reanimated girlfriend, Chuck, that his magic touch is responsible for killing her father years ago.
Meanwhile, Olive (a delightful Kristin Chenowith) dwells on her unrequited love for Ned, and bonds over boozy pies with Chuck’s aunts, who still believe Chuck to be dead.
Pushing Daisies always has a colorful aesthetic, and this is fully evident in their Christmas-themed episode. Despite its grisly premise, the show’s wit keeps up the Christmas cheer – the standout moment is when a coroner gives a hilarious speech about the futility of Christmas sweaters.
Written as the Season 1 finale, this episode also features a juicy reveal about Chuck's true parentage.
"Amends," Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy—a supernaturally powered vampire slayer—and friends plan for a quiet Christmas together, hopefully one free of killing. But their friend Angel is haunted by dreams of his violent, demonic past. He sees visions, waking and sleeping, of Jenny Calendar, a woman he killed when he was soulless.
When Buffy starts to share Angel's dreams, gets the whole gang involved, and they research different forms of evil magic throughout the holidays, desperate to find a solution.
After Jenny goads Angel to murder Buffy, he decides to commit suicide by sunlight—vampires, you know?—to keep his loved ones safe. At the same time, Buffy identifies the cause of Angel’s curse and races to stop him.
Will she reach him in time? Will her Christmas be jolly or deadly? When you're celebrating the holidays in a Hellmouth, it's anyone's guess.
"The Christmas Invasion," Doctor Who
There’s something special about an original. Not only is this the first specially-produced Christmas special for Doctor Who, but also it’s the first episode written for fan favorite David Tennant as the show’s Tenth Doctor.
In the previous episode, the Doctor died and regenerated after sacrificing himself to save his companion Rose. In this episode, he struggles from regeneration’s side effects, crashing his TARDIS into Rose’s yard. The Doctor collapses just in time for a bloodthirsty alien race to invade Earth.
These aliens call themselves the Sycorax, and threaten to kill off a third of the Earth’s population unless humanity agrees to enslavement. Rose must figure out how to revive the Doctor, fend off a fleet of evil Santa robots, and defeat the Sycorax’s blood hypnotism spell. Keep an eye out for how a good fresh cup of English tea saves the day!
Fans love this episode for its blend of whimsy and pathos, and for its introduction to David Tennant’s take on the Doctor. Newcomers can watch the episode with minimal knowledge of the series’ plot and history, and get to know this new Doctor along with the other characters.
"A Solstice Carol," Xena: Warrior Princess
Anyway, this is the episode where Xena creates Santa Claus.
Xena and Gabrielle arrive in a town ruled by an evil warlord, King Silvus, who hates the solstice season – not just the single holiday, the whole season!
Silvus has outlawed all solstice celebrations. However, a ragtag team of orphans show Xena their tree, which they carefully decorated in secret before their orphanage was closed down by a former toymaker. Of course, Xena, Warrior Princess, defender of the defenseless, must save
Christmas the solstice.
Xena discovers Silvus is so scroogey because he believes his wife Analia died on the solstice thirty years ago.
But Xena knows his wife to be alive, and disgusted by her husband's miserly ways. Xena decides to give Silvus a Christmas-Carol-esque lesson in the solstice spirit, featuring wacky costumes and creepy dolls.
She also convinces the former toymaker to sneak into the condemned orphanage to deliver toys to the children. He climbs down the chimney while she distracts guards by wielding the solstice tree’s ornaments as ninja stars.
The miser ends up changing his life for the better and reunites with his wife; the toymaker dons a familiar-looking red suit to continue delivering toys to the children; and Xena runs into Mary, Joseph, and a newborn baby Jesus on the road home, the trio crossing over fresh from their tie-in episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.
This is the best SFF holiday special to have ever aired in the history of television, bar none.