Since it’s revival in 2005 the Doctor Who Christmas Special has become a staple part of Christmas. Now whilst there may not be a Christmas Special this year (look out for ‘Resolution’ on New Year’s Day instead) there’s no reason we shouldn’t celebrate the best of Doctor Who Christmas past. Now I won’t be including ‘The End of Time: Part 1’ on this list, because it isn’t really a Christmas episode, rather the first part of David Tennant’s finale. As always I’d love to hear what your favourite Doctor Who Christmas specials are.
12) The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe – Whew this one was baaad. Really bad. It was one of the most boring and bland episodes in the history of Doctor Who’s revival, and the less time spent on it the better. So swiftly moving over this garbage pile an on to the rest of the list.
11) The Return of Doctor Mysterio – Another stinker, although with more redeeming qualities than ‘The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe’. This was an attempt to blend Superman into a Doctor Who episode and it just didn’t work. I am a great lover of Superhero stories, particularly Superman, but it doesn’t really mesh with the world of Doctor Who. The episode was built around the idea that The Doctor accidently created a superhero (the second time that Moffat used a similar idea during Capaldi’s time after the character of Ashildr). It was actually a plausible explanation for a superhero in that world, but tonally it just didn’t work.
10) The Snowmen – Honestly this was just utter forgettable. I have no strong feelings either way on ‘The Snowmen’ because I don’t really remember it, or what happened. The only thing that I really recall was that this was the second time that Jenna Coleman had appeared in the show and when it became apparent that Clara was more of a plot device than a character, something that would go on to really hurt large parts of the show during her time.
9) Last Christmas – There’s been a frequent criticism of Steven Moffat’s time as showrunner on Doctor Who that he had a tendency to get overly complicated, and for lack of a better term, up his own arse. And the one time I thought that was a justified criticism was in ‘Last Christmas’. The episode featured The Doctor attempting to save a North Pole based scientific base from dream crabs, creatures that put their victims into dream states so they are able to kill them. As a way to play around having Santa appear, without ever having to say he is real or offer up a plausible explanation for his existence it was a good idea. But the story just got so overly complicated and hard to follow, certainly too much so for a Christmas evening when you’re full of too much food and drink.
8) The Next Doctor – It is always a better idea to have a weak start than a weak ending, because if an episode ends badly it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth. And that’s the problem with ‘The Next Doctor’. I remember thoroughly enjoying the story of Cybermen in 1851 London, whilst the Doctor encounters a man who has absorbed the memories of The Doctor and believes that he is the time lord, wonderfully played by David Morrissey. And then the episode had to go and end with giant Cyberman dubbed the ‘Cyberking’. It was such a ridiculous ending to episode, and it’s the main thing I remember about it.
7) A Christmas Carol – ‘A Christmas Carol’ was Matt Smith, and showrunner Steven Moffat’s first time tackling a Christmas special, and they picked one of the most iconic Christmas stories, that has been told and retold time and again to do so. But Moffat and Doctor Who managed to bring a new twist to this well worn story. Whilst Amy and Rory are mainly sidelined for the episode we do get Michael Gambon as the miserable old man Kazran that The Doctor tries to change, and Katherine Jenkins as Abigail a woman he falls in love with through The Doctor’s meddling in his past. Both are great, and this was a really strong start to Moffat’s Christmas special run, one that he could unfortunately not sustain.
6) The Voyage of The Damned – ‘The Voyage of the Damned’ seems to divide people, and I was a big fan. The titanic in space with Kylie Minogue, I don’t get what isn’t to love. It pays homage to classic disaster films with The Poseidon Adventure arguably being an even bigger influence that Titanic, although there is certainly a number a direct and more subtle parallels to be drawn there. It also introduced a fun gag the population of London had all left the city for Christmas in fear of another invasion or attack after the two previous Christmas specials. This was just a fun ride, and David Tennant as always managed to elevate the material to even greater heights.
5) Twice Upon A Time – Peter Capaldi’s final episode as The Doctor sees him tired and refusing to regenerate, he encounters the very first Doctor (played by the wonderful David Bradley) who is similarly refusing to regenerate. And this was really their story and journey to accept that they needed to. The actual plot featuring the Testimony, who preserve the memories of those who are about to die, was fairly forgettable. It was a nice way of bringing Bill back for one last adventure, and even the reveal about who the First World War Captain was worked. Oh and as a hardcore fan of the Russell T Davies era it was cool to visit the weapon factories of Villengard.
4) The Runaway Bride – After the heartache of losing Rose in ‘Doomsday’ we had this big tease for the Christmas finale as Catherine Tate, in full wedding attire inexplicably stood in the TARDIS. This led into ‘The Runaway Bride’ and our first introduction to future companion Donna Noble. I don’t think too many people expected Catherine Tate to be so brilliant in the role, but she absolutely blew everyone away, and in ‘The Runaway Bride’ she was responsible from bringing The Doctor back from the brink during his final confrontation with the Racnoss Empress, and encouraging him to continue living. It was a blast of an episode, and packed with emotion left from the fallout of the previous season finale.
3) The Christmas Invasion – The very first Christmas special is packed with nice festive nods, like murderous Christmas trees and robotic Santas. But more importantly it was also out very first time getting to see David Tennant in the role of The Doctor. Whilst he may be bed bound for much of the episode when he finally recovers from his regeneration it was something special. For a lot of viewers, myself included, this was the first time we’d experienced regeneration and Tennant had to come in and make a big impact, something he absolutely does with his speech on the Sycorax ship. It perfectly imbued everything Tennant was as The Doctor, and as such deserves a high place on this list.
2) The Time Of The Doctor – Matt Smith’s final episode of Doctor Who had a lot resting on it. Not only did it have to be a great Christmas episode, but it had to tie up numerous plot threads that had been left dangling from Smith’s entire time as The Doctor, and provide a reasonable explanation for The Doctor receiving extra regenerations. Featuring The Doctor protecting a town called Christmas on the planet Trenzalore from a host of invaders, including all manor of Doctor Who villains that we have seen throughout the series, in order to protect a crack in the universe which leads through to the pocket universe in which the Time Lords were sealed. It was a fitting end for Smith as it allowed to really show of his acting chops, although the Christmas theme doesn’t really come through at all.
1) The Husbands of River Song – I spoken before about my great love of River Song as a character, and so to see her get one final episode was fantastic. However ‘The Husbands of River Song’ actually started really poorly. Once you get into the more traditional Doctor and River Song back and forth the episode began to shine. But it was the ending that catapulted this to the top of the list. It is slowly revealed as the episode reaches it climax that this is actually the last time The Doctor and River will ever see one another before the events of ‘Silence In Library’ and ‘Forests of the Dead’. It a beautiful and emotional end to one of the my all time favourite character’s time on the show.