There is not Christmas Tradition I love more than the Doctor Who Christmas Special. Sure, presents are great, cookies are yummy, but Doctor Who on Christmas Day is really what rings in the holidays. In preparation for the upcoming Doctor Who and the Return of Doctor Mysterio, here is the Nerdophiles’ definitive ranking of Doctor Who Christmas specials!
P. S. End of Time part 1 is not listed because it’s not so much a Christmas episode as it is a regeneration episode. And if you’re watching it for the holidays, then please tell us why you consider to be holiday cheer!
10: The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe
I have watched this episode at least three times and I still can’t tell you what’s going on. Something about the Second World War, killer trees and a big house. Moffat loves to change up classic fairy tales and bedtime stories.
After his successful attempt at A Christmas Carol, it makes sense he would attempt a repeat the same trope. It doesn’t work, and every ranking I saw, this episode was somewhere in the bottom three. So let’s all forget this one happened and just pass on it in our Netflix queue.
9: Next Doctor
This was my least favorite for years! Jackson Lake (David Morrissey) was actually a fun Doctor and I would love if he came back as 13, another related face in the Doctor’s memory. But the story itself is slim and the giant Cyberman in Victorian London was more camp than Christmas.
8: Time of the Doctor (AKA A Town Called Christmas)
Ugggh, I hate this one. But it deserves credit for tying up many of the loose ends that had been left answered for literally years (the Tardis is exploding, where do The Silence come from, why are they seeking the Doctor, etc). It gives us reason for how the Doctor can move on after 12 regenerations, which is a whole different ball game.
But for Matt Smith’s departure, it was a dud. He spent much of his time on the series running around with frenetic energy. The Power of Three was a whole episode dedicated to how he couldn’t stay in one place. So for him to be so stagnant in his ending was just, well, boring.
Sure he got to be young in the end and we got to see Karen Gillian one last time. It’s more holiday-themed than End of Time Part One, but it seems to me that Regeneration-Christmas episodes just don’t seem to work.
7: Last Christmas
The Red Herring Christmas. The one we all thought Clara was going to leave and at the last moment it was all a dream. Aside from that very frustrating turn of events, this was a solid Christmas episode.
I mean, Nick Frost as Santa? That’s brilliant casting. The weird dance from Faye Marsay (aka the Waif from Game of Thrones)? The terrifying creatures that ate your face? This episode was a great mix of what makes Doctor Who so fun: fear and fun all mixed into one.
6: Christmas Carol
I’ve never understood what was so appealing about this episode. Was it the timeline travel? The song? The curmudgeon? It’s a fun episode and it ranks very highly on all the other lists.
Michael Gambon and Katherine Jenkins are simply delightful and the story is enjoyable. And the song is beautiful. And for a companion-lite, it’s quite fun. But for some reason, this episode has never grabbed me. For those of you who love this episode, please comment below and tell me why?
5: Voyage of the Damned
Imagine if Kylie Minogue had been a long-term companion? How much fun would we have? This is done in classic Doctor Who style: Suspense, mystery, flirtation, and aliens. I love a good base-under-siege episode and this was it, no doubt.
4: The Snowmen
Okay, I don’t love Clara Oswald, the Impossible Companion. But I LOVE Clara in her earlier iterations. Oswin was too much fun and holds up even after the reveal wears off. And Victorian Clara was also delightful.
We never learn why she lives two different lives or why she knows two different accents. And frankly, I don’t care why! She makes a great companion in this episode. A perfect partner. She’s not co-dependent or bossy or controlling. She’s smart, sassy, and full of life.
We also have a Classic Who villain in the form of the Great Intelligence (when is that going to come back?) And amazing guest performances from Patrick Stewart and Richard Grant. There’s even a hint of Sherlock thrown in (though not in an obnoxious way. Simply in a Victorian way).
There’s love, there’s loss. There’s mysteries and children. Its a wonderful Christmas episode, if you don’t mind a few killer Snowmen.
3: Husbands of River Song
If you didn’t cry during this episode, then you need to get both your hearts checked out! I literally burst into tears at Emerald City Comic Con in 2014 because Alex Kingston suggested that she’d like for River to meet Twelve. And you know what, this episode was worth the wait.
It’s a style of episode that Moffat does well. He reels you in, adds something questionable (like killing the king), but in the end you don’t care because someone will deliver an incredible monologue that just takes the cake. In this one, it’s River. Matt Lucas’ cameo was superb and I can’t wait to have him back and the little adventure with the king was oddly dark for a Christmas episode.
But River’s monologue was gut wrenching. If you’re invested in the River-Doctor relationship, this episode was it! You realize how much pain this woman is in because no matter what she does or who she marries, the man of her dreams is never going to equally return his affection. At least, not in the way she understands.
There’s no long lasting love affair to be had with the Doctor. It’s not part of his nature. And River knows that. She states it in various episodes. But this episode, that cool demeanor drops and you see how truly torn she is about her love of this man.
This episode, like “Town Called Christmas,” is one that wraps up some plot-holes that have been sitting around for literal years. The Singing Towers of Derilium have been a part of Doctor Who lore since Dr. Song’s first episode in 2008. Seven years later, we finally take that last trip.
2: Runaway Bride
Donna is my favorite companion, hands down. Her season (Series 3) is my favorite season. And her singular Christmas episode, which aired a year before she officially joined the Tardis crew, is a great episode. It ties in the Christmas themes of family and celebration. It introduces her overbearing mother, Sylvia, and our favorite Grandpa, Wilf.
It also deals with two very troubled, desperate people. Donna is so desperate for love that she marries a man willing to feed her to a giant spider. (And she hounds him to get married too.) And the Doctor has just lost Rose. He’s so angry that he lets his power and rage go his head. Donna manages to pull him back, but it becomes a theme with Ten (See: “Waters of Mars.”)
Catherine Tate and David Tennant have incredible chemistry. Just watching, we can see how much fun they’re having. They’ve reunited onstage and in sketch since doing Doctor Who together and all of that starts here.
1: Christmas Invasion
This is by and large my favorite Christmas episode. It’s the first one of the reboot, and it’s the first of David Tennant. While you may consider this one a Doctor-lite episode, it’s still pretty heavy on the drama. That ending with the sword fight? Come on! The Lion King references? Yes! Rude and not ginger?
This episode is sprinkled with lines that would eventually become classic lines and Hot Topic t-shirts. You also have the return of Harriet Jones, now Prime Minister and guest appearances of Jackie and Mickey.
Even though the series has morphed into a different beast, this episode encapsulates what Davies wanted to accomplish with the reboot: camp, fun, aliens, and morals.