Since 2005, Doctor Who has given us a Christmas special every year.
While some have been the perfect gift, there are some that we’ve wanted to exchange for something else in the Boxing Day sales.
Yes, it’s currently May, but it’s always a suitable time for a Christmas feature when you have a TARDIS. Here’s how I’d rank the twelve festive Doctor Who specials so far…
‘The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe’
My least favourite Christmas special is ‘The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe’. So much of this story really annoys me. Like the attempt at cheap humour, the Doctor putting his spacesuit on backwards (“I got dressed in a hurry”), bumping into a lamp post and opening a “real” police box mistaking it for the TARDIS. They do know that police boxes didn’t really look like that, right? Certainly not in 1940.
Alexander Armstrong, Bill Bailey and Arabella Weir are all completely wasted, the Ponds are shoehorned in because Tumblr would break down if they weren’t, Claire Skinner acts like she’s wondered through the wrong audition and her children are incredibly annoying and lacking in character.
Possibly the saddest part is that, purely as a story, it’s serviceable enough. However, it fails because it’s too much like a comic strip story you’d find in a 1980’s Doctor Who annual rather than an actual TV story as well as being far too soppy and, because it’s Christmas, it has to have a happy ending.
‘The End of Time’
This story is controversial among Whovians if for no other reason than its depiction of regeneration but for me, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The Doctor is far too sombre and the second part did NOT need to be 75 minutes. The Master is shoehorned in purely as a diversion from Wilf. The Master’s plan is utterly ludicrous (though, this could be a homage to the classic series where it seemed just about all of his schemes were just that), and seriously, if you’re going to regenerate, just f*#king regenerate already!
Tennant’s final year as the Doctor had so many forced emotional beats and tried to make the audience cry so badly, but by the end we’re not so much crying that Tennant’s leaving but crying because he hasn’t left already.
‘The Time of the Doctor’
2013’s festive special had a hell of a job, not only providing closure to all the loose plot threads of the previous three seasons but also giving the eleventh Doctor a fun and suitable exit, all within 60 minutes.
I don’t “hate” this episode, in fact, there is a lot to like: Matt Smith’s performance, his makeup throughout the whole second half and I personally love the scene where Clara’s gran is talking about first seeing her husband on a pier.
However, all of this is buried by a very rushed plot, cheap “nude” and Swedish jokes, and what is effectively a discount River Song in Tasha Lem. The “bald Matt Smith” was really cringe-y and the inclusion of Amy Pond, if only for a small cameo, was, much like using Smith in ‘Deep Breath’; unnecessary.
But, praise must be awarded to the fact that the Doctor having a “pet” Cyberman head was not nearly as annoying as it could easily have been. While I do prefer Smith’s regeneration to Tennant’s, it’s still not anywhere near my favourite.
Coming immediately after ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’ (an episode I greatly dislike), ‘The Snowmen’ had to do a lot to restore my faith in Doctor Who and it partially succeeds.
Victorian Clara is fun and Richard E Grant is a great villain. He and Ian McKellan are slightly underused as the two main villains, but I can live with that. However, Strax is incredibly irritating in this episode and the ice woman repeatedly saying, “That’s the way to do it” isn’t so much scary as just annoying.
The plot very quickly falls apart as soon as Clara falls from the cloud choosing to focus more on her than properly explain the Great Intelligence’s plan and origins. But, it does energetically highlight Clara’s seeming impossibility making the audience at least partly excited for the next season.
‘The Husbands of River Song’
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t excited for this episode. It seemed like another opportunity for Steven Moffat to shove River into yet another adventure for no real reason. But, to his credit, it works.
Okay, so Greg Davies is slightly underused, and Matt Lucas even more so, but the chemistry between Alex Kingston and Peter Capaldi is fun to watch, Greg Davies, when he is on screen, steals the show and River using her archaeological knowledge of the past to escape dying is kinda neat. Plus,
who didn’t at least smile when the Doctor pretended to see the TARDIS interior for the first time? The Doctor being responsible for the building of the Towers is a bit convenient and the final five minutes feels like it’s trying too hard to make us all cry, but overall this episode leans towards the top of the pile.
‘Voyage of the Damned’
I’m going to confess something: I really wasn’t looking forward to seeing Kylie Minogue in a Doctor Who episode. But actually, it’s pretty decent. Unlike the majority of Moffat Christmas specials, RTD specials don’t end on quite a “happy ending”. Yes, the Titanic doesn’t crash into Earth and yes, it’s the Doctor’s ingenuity that saves the day, but the vast majority of the Titanic’s passengers and crew are killed as is Astrid and the survivors no doubt scarred for life.
It’s a great adventure about survival and fighting against improbable odds. Plus, the extended run-time is welcome as the episode doesn’t drag as a result (it’s nearly as long as the second part of ‘The End of Time’, would you believe?) The Hosts are quite unsettling and despite Max Capricorn himself being slightly pantomimic, he thankfully doesn’t quite manage to undermine the threat of the situation.
‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’
Doctor Who does a superhero movie. It’s not spectacular, but it’s pretty good. Peter Capaldi knocks it out of the park and Matt Lucas, although relegated to the comic relief, is fun enough. The Ghost looks the part and seeing how the teenage Grant deal with his superpowers is quite funny.
The villains (the same ones from ‘The Husbands of River Song’) are more or less sidelined, but their return was so obviously signposted that they can’t not come back now. The references to River and the 24 years the Doctor spent with her are nice.
‘The Runaway Bride’
Lots of people don’t like this story, and honestly, I can see why. Donna is very annoying, but we need this episode to appreciate how much she changes throughout Season 4.
Personally, I find the episode quite enjoyable. The aftermath of Rose Tyler wasn’t quite as depressing as I’d anticipated and despite not being the most terrifying of creatures, the Empress of the Racnoss is a very cool design. Donna having to make the Doctor leave was a little distressing and, let’s all be honest, the sonic screwdriver in the sound system was pretty cool.
I remember disliking this one on first view but I suspect because of the bad taste that Season 8 left in my mouth. On every subsequent re-watch, I’ve loved it.
OK, so the ending with Clara is a little fluffed and including Danny yet again is groan-worthy, but the rest of the episode is great. Nick Frost as Santa is fantastic and Dream Crabs are suitably creepy. The dialogue that explores dreams and how our brains construct and react to them is very interesting. And even if all of that weren’t enough, there’s an Alien reference.
‘The Next Doctor’
I never really understood why so many people dislike this episode. Sure, the Cyberking is rubbish but everything else is perfectly serviceable and quite enjoyable.
The mystery of Jackson Lake is, at first, interesting and the solution to it, I think is quite clever. The Cybermen aren’t used quite as much as I’d like (they are my favourite villains, after all) but the slightly redesigned Cyber-Leader helmet is awesome and the Cybershades are an interesting addition to the Cyber Creature Collection. Dervla Kirwin knocks it out of the park as Miss Hartigan especially after becoming the Cyberking as does David Morrissey who is both bold and brave, and sad and sombre. The scenery helps create a realistic impression of the past and David Tennant tries to fight off Cybermen with a cutlass.
‘The Christmas Invasion’
Easily one of the best episodes of modern-Who. ‘The Christmas Invasion’ had the unenviable task of introducing its brand new audience to a new Doctor. It does so by sidelining him for more than half it’s runtime. Risky, but it works. The return of Harriet Jones is nice (aside from the already old “we know who you are” joke), and the Sycorax are among the most wished-to-return villains of the new series.
The immortal line “Did you miss me?” is incredibly exciting. This episode hits just about every note it needs to when it needs to. The final scene of our heroes standing in the snow/ash of the murdered Sycorax is the perfect “happy ending but not really” that I feel Russell T Davies really nailed in his Christmas specials.
‘A Christmas Carol’
2010’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ is just magical. Usually, I have a problem with the Doctor using the TARDIS to change the past so that he wins in the present, somehow that just seems far too convenient and slightly lazy to me. But ‘A Christmas Carol’ uses that idea in such a way that it seems OK. With the Ponds to all intents and purposes sidelined, the Doctor needs to make use of others on the ground.
Here he finds young Kazran Sardick, who is a loveably naïve kid, teenage Kazran Sardick, who is a loveably sheltered sociophobe and Abigail Pettigrew, who is a loveably sweet and beautiful singer who gets swept up in the Doctor and Kazran’s quests to save a sick shark and a future Christmas.
What I love most about this episode, though, is how well each of the seemingly separate story strands come together at the end. And the icing on the cake for me is the ending. Similar to the RTD specials, ‘A Christmas Carol’ has a happy, but not quite all happy, ending that leaves one warm and fuzzy on Christmas, but dramatically satisfied in the days afterwards.
Which is your favourite Christmas special? Let us know below…