Doctor Who Christmas Specials Ranked

For the Whovians and Whooligans of the world, few things exemplify the Christmas spirit and Christmastime more than the Doctor Who Christmas Specials. Marrying this franchise with this holiday may have at first seemed an odd choice back when Russell T. Davies made it a staple of the series. Yet, upon further inspection, no coupling of a TV show and a holiday makes more sense. The Christmas ideals of hope, forgiveness, family, and friendship are just as prevalent in Doctor Who as they are in the holiday. Before Chris Chibnall unceremoniously ended this longstanding tradition, fans were gifted 13 incredible specials that many rewatch yearly to this day. Some fans even claim it’s not Christmas without The Doctor. In celebration of this series and this holiday, please enjoy this highly subjective ranking of the Doctor Who Christmas Specials.

13. “Last Christmas”

Doctor Who Christmas Specials

While none of these Christmas specials are bad by any stretch of the imagination, the one that qualifies the most for the least compelling is, without question, “Last Christmas.” The other specials married multiple concepts, franchises, and genres into their narrative to make something unique. “Last Christmas” attempts to do this with the Alien and Inception franchises. Face-huggers that make you hallucinate Santa Claus are a little too far out there, even for Doctor Who. The character moments within the special are still phenomenal and, as always, compelling. However, the baseline concept comes across as too erratic.

12.The Return of Doctor Mysterio”

Doctor Who Christmas Specials

While Doctor Who and Christmas have become synonymous, Christmas and Superman seem like strange bedfellows. It’s a pity that one of the greatest Superman depictions of the last decade came within a one-off Doctor Who Christmas Special. “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” gives audiences the ever-hopeful and pure-hearted Superman that has been lacking from screens. This hopeful and pure-hearted nature melds perfectly with both Doctor Who and Christmas, resulting in an emotionally compelling story with riveting moments. Doctor Who is the master of bittersweet moments, and “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” features one of the best:

“Everything ends and it’s always sad, but everything begins again, too. And that’s always happy. Be happy.

11.The Next Doctor”

Doctor Who Christmas Specials

“The Next Doctor” holds a strange place, both narratively and in a meta sense, within the show. The implication of David Tennant’s regeneration coming this soon gives it an awkward will-they-won’t-they feel which comes across as more jarring than intriguing. The ever-present Doctor Who Christmas charming factor is still very present in this special. However, the narrative whiplash of “The Next Doctor” leaves an awkward aftertaste.

10.The Husbands of River Song”

Doctor Who Christmas Specials

River Song’s long and complicated story finally came to an end in “The Husbands of River Song.” This beloved character came full circle to when we first met her in the darkened halls of The Library. Even River knows that her death has come, and the moment she fears the most is soon upon her: the moment when she looks into The Doctor’s eyes, and he doesn’t know her. The narrative of this episode is very thin and relatively uncompelling. However, this one-off chemistry between Peter Capaldi and Alex Kingston is immediately riveting, making it the heart of this special. River’s defiant speech against the villains, where she declares The Doctor is always right behind her before she turns and recognizes Capaldi for who he really is, is a powerful moment that immediately rebuilds their relationship through the recast. Capaldi’s simple “Hello Sweetie” is all the audience and River needs to accept him as her Doctor in that moment. Even the bittersweet closing of the special with the knowledge of River’s soon death hanging over the characters is made all the more compelling by the revelation that their last night together will last 24 years beneath the ever-Singing Towers of Darillium.

9.The End of Time: Part One”

Doctor Who Christmas Specials

David Tennant’s run on Doctor Who is rightfully considered by many the greatest era in the show’s long history. “The End of Time” saw this beloved era come to a close; as such, much weighed upon this special to invest people in continuing to watch the show while also giving Tennant a fulfilling goodbye. Most of that weight, responsibility, and successful execution comes in part 2. However, part 1 still manages to be a fun and compelling story with classic moments, such as The Doctor telling Wilfred what it’s really like to regenerate. Some of The Master’s scenes drift too far into cheesiness, such as his strange abilities and over-the-top resurrection. Luckily, none of these weird scenes derail this special from holding an important place in the hearts of fans.

8.Twice Upon a Time”

Doctor Who Christmas Specials

The Peter Capaldi era was rife with constant ups and downs. Its erratic quality drove many fans away before the doomed Chibnall era had even begun. Despite this, Capaldi always brought his A-game, delivering timeless performances, and few of his performances were stronger than his last outing in “Twice Upon a Time.” This special is a befitting end to an era and sees The Doctor asking if he’s too tired to endure any longer, this mirroring the show also getting long in the tooth. The primary criticism of this episode comes from its treatment of the 1st Doctor, William Hartnell. “Twice Upon a Time” unnecessarily criticizes and mocks him too often for comfort, but it still shows The Doctor’s spirit within him. There are several emotional scenes within “Twice Upon a Time,” but the greatest of them comes at its end, as both the 1st and the 12th Doctors accept their future lives upon a battlefield of peace. The timeless tale of the World War One Christmas truce is one that frighteningly few modern people know. “Twice Upon a Time” brings this event to life in a beautiful way, providing thematic commentary in the best and most creative way possible.

7.The Snowmen”

Doctor Who Christmas Specials

“The Snowmen” is the special that featured the best Clara that never was. Jenna Coleman delivers her best performance in Doctor Who as a one-off Victorian governess who simply endeavors to do the best she can for those in her life. This special fires on all cylinders with an exceptional cast, great characters, and a fun narrative despite its heavy themes. It’s hard to imagine something as cool as an army of fanged snowmen chasing The Doctor at the behest of the immutable Ian McKellen. One of the most quotable moments in the episode comes when Clara finally enters the TARDIS for the first time before racing out and circling the TARDIS to verify its small dimensions. It’s then that she surprisingly inverses the famous phrase by saying, “It’s smaller on the outside,” befuddling Matt Smith.

6. The Time of the Doctor”

Doctor Who Christmas Specials

Despite the only Christmas aspect of “The Time of the Doctor” being the fact that the town is called Christmas, it’s hard to dislike this awe-inspiring special. The scale and emotional impact of this story hit home even a decade later. “The Time of the Doctor” sees the final moments of the fan-beloved Matt Smith Doctor as he accepts his fate, going from the young and ever-boisterous Doctor to the war-weary old man always trying to put a smile on everyone’s faces. The final conflict of the episode against the Daleks may be over the top and a tad unbelievable, but the epicness of it perfectly puts a bow on the end of this era. Few fans can resist shedding a tear as 11 shares his final thoughts before regeneration:

It all just disappears, doesn’t it? Everything you are, gone, in a moment, like breath on a mirror. But times change, and so must I. We all change, when you think about it. We’re all different people all through our lives. And that’s OK, that’s good, as long as you keep moving, as long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this, I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.”

5.The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe”

Doctor Who Christmas Specials

“The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe” is not known for a complicated plot or an interesting antagonist. It is the wholesome family dynamic at the heart of this special that makes it so endearing. The tree people are strange and off-putting, but the simple joy the family expresses upon their reunion far outweighs such criticism. Wholesome entertainment is so lacking in modern Doctor Who and Hollywood, in general, these days that a simple family story that puts a smile on your face is all the more impactful.

4.The Christmas Invasion”

Doctor Who Christmas Specials

Having the first episode of a new Doctor’s era that features only a few minutes of the new Doctor may seem risky at best. Yet, “The Christmas Invasion” pulls it off beautifully, choosing instead to focus on Rose and her struggles with coming to terms with The Doctor’s new face. The audience gets to see Rose without The Doctor, forcing her to take the initiative in opposing the Sycorax. While the first 3/4 of this special are beloved and feature some incredible character development for Rose and the other supporting characters, it’s the last 15 minutes that raise “The Christmas Invasion” to greatness. “The Christmas Invasion” featured the first baton passing from one Doctor to another after the show’s revival, and many fans were worried about how Doctor Who would endure such an early change. Those fears were set to rest the moment those TARDIS doors opened to reveal David Tennant’s 10th Doctor as he asked, “Did you miss me?” Fans’ concerns about the recast were mirrored by Rose throughout the episode, and they were assuaged at the same moment by seeing David Tennant banter his way around an alien warship in his nightie while striking fear and confusion into the invading hordes. Even the clunky and cheesy sword fight at the climax of “The Christmas Invasion” has become a beloved moment in the show’s history. Of all the Christmas specials, “The Christmas Invasion” carried the most risk, as it was both the first independent special from the main season and the first recast of the new era. “The Christmas Invasion” blew away expectations, delivering a heartwarming and fun story that all fans remember fondly.

3.The Runaway Bride”

Doctor Who Christmas Specials

Catharine Tate’s Donna Noble is perhaps the most unique companion ever to join the TARDIS. Her obliviousness and aggressive banter with The Doctor set her apart. Many fans were at first put off by her in “The Runaway Bride,” but later came to love her when she became the companion for series 4. This special is hers, crafting a character everyone should hate yet cannot resist loving. “The Runaway Bride” is fast-paced and quirky in true RTD fashion, making the most dire situations fun and interesting.

2. Voyage of the Damned”

Doctor Who Christmas Specials

David Tennant is heralded by many as the greatest Doctor in the show’s long and varied history, and “Voyage of the Damned” is a perfect example of why. This special’s ability to rapidly develop new supporting characters for a one-off special is unparalleled. Every single one of the Titanic passengers that survives with The Doctor is immediately understandable and compelling. Few viewers can forget the comedic genius of an alien trying to describe human traditions, mistaking the country of Turkey with actual turkeys, while David Tennant’s reactions through this explanation perfectly mirror the audiences’ reactions. Additionally, the dark and masculine speech given by The Doctor as he convinces them that he will save their lives is considered by many to be the greatest speech in Doctor Who history. “Voyage of the Damned” delivers high stakes and emotional payoffs in so many top-tier ways. While the customary clichés of the Christmas spirit may not be the central focus of this special, as with “A Christmas Carol,” “Voyage of the Damned” is still very much Christmassy in the same way that Die Hard is a Christmas movie; compelling action in a fun Christmas environment.

1.A Christmas Carol”

Doctor Who Christmas Specials

Christmas is a magical time for many; the ephemeral and ill-defined nature of Christmas is something that all participators in this holiday understand in their souls. No Doctor Who Christmas Special exemplifies this Christmas spirit more than “A Christmas Carol” does. This science fiction retelling of Charles Dickens’ phenomenal A Christmas Carol sees The Doctor trying to save the lives of 4000 people aboard a crashing ship not by violence or overpowering an enemy but by changing his enemy’s soul. What is more Doctor Who or Christmas than that? The audience gets an intimate look into Kazran’s life, understanding completely how he became the jaded and broken man shown in the episode’s opening moments. Michael Gambon sells his character beautifully, giving one of the best performances in all of Doctor Who and perhaps the best performance of his career. Scenes as simple as him sitting on the ground remembering new events from his childhood as The Doctor goes back to give him love and hope in his childhood are sold masterfully by Gambon’s subtle performance.

“A Christmas Carol” sees Matt Smith in his prime and firing on all cylinders, giving one of his best performances in the series as well. It might be cliché to admit, but audience members will struggle not to laugh, cry, and burst into song through “A Christmas Carol’s” compelling narrative.

Doctor Who Christmas Specials

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year, and Doctor Who has always managed to make it even more so. It’s doubtful that RTD will be able to regain the magic of these specials in his resurrected Christmas specials, but it’s always a possibility. The magic of Christmas and the magic of Doctor Who used to repeatedly create something extraordinary and special. That magic has managed to endure even the hardship that this franchise has undergone in the past years.

Comments (1)

December 24, 2022 at 12:27 pm

For me, the Doctor Who christmas specials go as follows:

1. A Christmas Carol
2. Voyage of the Damned
3. Last Christmas
4. The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe
5. The Runaway Bride
6. The Snowmen
7. The Husbands of River Song
8. The End of Time
9. The Time of the Doctor
10. The Christmas Invasion
11. The Return of Doctor Mysterio
12. The Next Doctor
13. Twice Upon a Time

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