Since the rebirth of Doctor Who in 2005, the Christmas special has become as much a part of the modern festive period as – to quote Sir Clifford – mistletoe, wine, logs on the fire and gifts on the tree were in yuletides of yore, engrained into the national psyche as the perfect way to round off a day of prandial excess. But while some of the show’s Crimbo stories are a delicious roasted feast with all the trimmings, others are very much in need of stuffing.
We’ve sifted through the wrapping paper, crumbs and horrendous knitted jumpers from well-meaning but misguided elderly relatives in search of Doctor Who’s best Christmas episodes…
1: A Christmas Carol (2010)
A heartbreaking story of loss and redemption featuring giant space sharks, lots of trademark Steven Moffat timey-wimey plotting and the incomparably beautiful Katherine Jenkins, Matt Smith’s first yuletide outing as the Doctor is almost too good to be a Christmas episode.
Somehow, A Christmas Carol manages to keep a complex plot simple enough for the food-and-drink-befuddled festive audience and balances the gloomy tragedy of Kazran’s pre-redeemed life with a succession of superb set-pieces and the Doctor’s wide-eyed, boyish enthusiasm for pretty much everything – even Hollywood starlets. ‘I just accidentally got engaged to Marilyn Monroe!’ he bellows during a story to delight even the Scroogiest of hearts.
2: The Unquiet Dead (2005)
Originally broadcast in April, but riddled with as much seasonal cheer as supernatural sci-fi spookiness, Mark Gatiss’sThe Unquiet Dead sees the Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and Rose (Billie Piper) joined by Simon Callow as Charles Dickens in an adventure featuring reanimated corpses, excessively Welsh accents, discorporeal aliens from the Time War and Eve Myles as Gwen Cooper’s great-great-grandma (possibly).
‘What the Shakespeare is going on?’ quips the mercurial Callow at one point during a wonderful frolic through Victorian Cardiff that is far more deserving of a place in this list than some of the episodes that have actually aired on the 25th of December itself.
3: The Christmas Invasion (2005)
Back in the days when shoehorning Santa Claus into stories that had nothing to do with the festive period wasn’t a tired trope, the first proper Doctor Who Christmas special has surprisingly little to with the time of year but is very enjoyable nonetheless.
David Tennant, in his first full outing as the Doctor, parades around in his pyjamas to the delight of Jackie Tyler before showing his mettle (steady there) by dispensing with the invading Sycorax and bringing down Penelope Wilton’s government with just six words. Disappointingly, anti-coalition protestors and opposition MPs have yet to try saying ‘Don’t you think he looks tired?’ about David Cameron.
4: Voyage of the Damned (2007)
Anything featuring Geoffrey Palmer and Kylie Minogue can’t be all bad, and the opulence of the spectacle presented in David Tennant’s third seasonal knees-up as the Doctor, in which the Titanic is reborn as a space cruiser, is certainly worthy of marvel.
Unfortunately, Russell T Davies’ story itself is pretty tepid and the ending – featuring the Queen wishing the Time Lord the compliments of the season – is as embarrassing a sop to the establishment as the Doctor’s assertion that ‘Only Britain is Great.’ Given that he’s not from this planet, let alone this country, it’s a proclamation that is as mystifying as it is dubious.
5: The End of Time (Part One) (2009)
Scraping into the top five by virtue of being not quite as bad as The Next Doctor or The Runaway Bride, the first half of David Tennant’s swansong as the Doctor contains plenty to like – the always enjoyable June Whitfield joining Bernard Cribbins as part of a senior citizens’ army (you-knit?) and the jaw-dropping sight of Timothy Dalton spitting out his words like a Rassilonish Roy Hattersley – but also enough of the clichés that had become tedious during the latter part of Tennant’s tenure to leave most of the enjoyment to be derived from a sense of relief that change was on the cards.
It’s pretty grim going, too, with very little in the way of light relief, although Wilf’s pithy reaction to the TARDIS – ‘I thought it’d be cleaner’ – is worthy of a wry smile.
Which Christmas episode of Doctor Who is your favourite? Let us know below…
Watch the trailer for this year’s Christmas special…