I think this is the only Doctor Who book I've ever read that was explicitly aimed at children, rather than having a sort of default young-adult feel tI think this is the only Doctor Who book I've ever read that was explicitly aimed at children, rather than having a sort of default young-adult feel to it; between that and the short-story format, these are much simpler tales than the ones I'm used to, and as a veteran reader of sci-fi tie-in books, I can attest to their usual state of simplicity. But I can't claim I wasn't aware of this - it's published by Puffin, after all - and if there's ever a time for a few sweet and simple stories, it is at Christmas. This was a gift from my grandparents, being the sort of thing you'd happily put on your wish list because you'd probably never get around to buying for yourself at the age of 26, and made a very nice switch-your-brain-off read to take me through New Year's.
Every story in this collection ends with either a vague moral (something along the lines of "giving a gift turned out to be the best Christmas present ever", as used almost word-for-word in "The Gift") or a punchline (see "Sontar's Little Helpers", a bit of a shaggy-dog tale literally building up to the use of that one phrase). This was what marked it out most strongly as a children's book. However, some of the stories - many of the stronger ones, in my opinion - required a quite heroic amount of background knowledge of Doctor Who spanning right back to the first series in 1963. I know I, primarily a New Who viewer with a sporadic knowledge of Old Who, had to look a few things up, so I imagine small children reading this collection will be a bit nonplussed (and quite possibly just skip to the New Doctors); while older kids will probably be asking for the entire Who back-catalogue on DVD so they can understand all the details, which I've just now realised may have been an excellent marketing move.
Some of the stories were really impressive in the emotions they explored: the first one, "All I Want For Christmas", looked not only at the consequences of travelling with the Doctor before he had control over the destination of his TARDIS (meaning the companions at the time spent Christmas genuinely wondering if they'd ever see their families again); but also made detailed use of the fact that Barbara and Ian would have been children during World War Two, and explaining how rationing and the absence (or even loss) of family members affected the way Christmas was celebrated by children in the 1940s. This was immediately followed by "A Comedy of Terrors", which despite some fun ideas about how Shakespeare might be performed in the far future literally revolved around a kiddie-humour fart joke, and was probably my least favourite in the book.
The rest of the collection maintained a much more even keel: special mention goes to "The Christmas Inversion" for making use of the format by having characters from New Who turn up in a Third Doctor story (and explaining a bit of off-screen action for some secondary characters during "The Christmas Invasion" special from 2005), and to "Ghost of Christmas Past" for doing the same in reverse, having (view spoiler)[the Doctor's granddaughter (hide spoiler)] briefly cameo in an Eighth Doctor story. "The Persistence of Memory" does something similar by exploring the origins of a more minor character (and I'm a sucker for expanded-universe origin stories), and has fun establishing its 1970s setting with a reference to Slade's "Merry Xmas Everyone", but loses points by having almost nothing to do with Christmas other than that one (rather shoehorned-in, on reflection) reference. Several stories in the collection are really only vaguely Christmas-adjacent to be honest, but finishing on this note with the Twelfth Doctor's story made it stand out more.
Other than that, three more stories had at least one outstanding feature for me: "Three Wise Men" was not overly Christmassy, but made great use of historical domain figures by featuring the often-overlooked in science fiction crew of Apollo 8. "Fairytale of New New York" featured three of my favourite things: a title referencing my favourite Christmas song (even though it really didn't come up in the story itself); a message about using medicine and technology to promote tolerance and social unity; and a reminder that cats are nice to have around but also insensitive gits most of the time. And finally, "The Grotto" is set in Macy's department store in New York, which pleased this fan of SantaLand Diaries no end.
As another reviewer has pointed out here, it would have been lovely if the War Doctor had been included in this collection, but I understand that it would have messed up the themed numbering system a little bit, so I can forgive him not getting his own story; still a bit disappointed, though, that with so many cameos flying around, he didn't turn up at all.
The book itself is beautiful: each story has a full-colour illustration by artists with very different styles; and the book itself (unexpectedly) turned out to be cloth-bound, which is fancy and super pretty if a bit easily destroyed (I managed to rub the edges of the binding raw while reading it mostly on my book-stand, so I dread to think how it'll hold up for its intended audience). Overall, though, it was a nice and relaxing - and ultimately very festive - read, that has me keen to seek out its sister book Doctor Who: Time Lord Fairy Tales (combining an existing passion of mine with a format that might even be more receptive to the children's short story style) the next time I'm looking to read something easy, seasonal, and almost relentlessly cheering....more