Written by Mark Halyday
Christmas means trees, presents, family and Doctor Who. We count down our favourite festive episodes ahead of Twice Upon A Time, airing on iView at 6am on Boxing Day and ABC 7:30pm that night.
Here’s our ranking.
- THE DOCTOR, THE WIDOW AND THE WARDROBE
After the rapturous success of A Christmas Carol, Steven Moffat tries to twist C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe to mixed results. The companion is a sad widow in lieu of Amy or Rory save a sweet stinger at the end, so the script tries to offset this with an over-the-top silly Doctor. It still has high points – the wooden villain is novel – but for whatever reason, this doesn’t click.
- THE RETURN OF DOCTOR MYSTERIO
Doctor Who jumps on the bandwagon every now and again – pirates the same week as Pirates Of The Caribbean, vampires during the height of Twilight – and this filler episode has deliberate allusions to all the major comic book players. One of the cast is the guy from Shameless (US), which is very distracting, and while it has a good heart and a better companion in Nardole, it still misses the mark.
- VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED
Or the one with Kylie Minogue. A giant replica of the Titanic in space may or may not crash into Buckingham Palace and the Doctor does his best to stop it, with fleeting appearances by Bernard Cribbins and Being Human‘s Russel Tovey. It also features David Tennant’s best monologue ever.
- THE NEXT DOCTOR
As the title suggests, the audience and the Doctor aren’t sure for the majority of the episode whether or not this man running around England battling Cybermen is a future incarnation of the Doctor. After the mystery is solved, it’s still a fun story and one that that feels big, not in the least to the giant Cyberman stomping London.
- A CHRISTMAS INVASION
The introduction of David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor doesn’t give him much to til the final fifteen minutes, with the supporting cast off fighting killer Christmas trees for the bulk of the runtime. In the end, the Doctor fashions a peace treaty, has a sword fight, loses a hand and stands up for humans and aliens alike.
But more than anything it’s the debut of David Tennant and the debut of Ten/Rose that makes this episode special.
- THE SNOWMEN
After the fandom’s shock at the future companion appearing earlier in Asylum of the Daleks only to die, introducing her was going to be a challenge. Here the Doctor is grieving atop a literal cloud in Victorian England when a nanny seeks his counsel on murderous snowmen, a menacing nanny and somewhat sentient snow. Then she promptly dies and the plot promptly thickens.
- LAST CHRISTMAS
The first Christmas special of Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi’s run asks the question of: if a scientific base is under attack from Alien-esque facehuggers, what would happen if Santa arrived? It’s that bombastic approach that makes Christmas specials work. Nick Frost’s Santa is epic. Then it goes full sci-fi and asks whether this is all a dream and whether there are dreams within dreams within dreams, but ultimately it pulls it off four years after Inception.
- THE END OF TIME PART I & II
The Master is resurrected and Gallifrey returns for the first time since the revival for David Tennant’s final run as the Tenth Doctor beautifully. The twist ending broke the hearts of millions, but beforehand it stayed fun and sharp. It pushed the character of the Doctor to narrative places he never found himself in before.
- THE RUNAWAY BRIDE
Everyone loves different companions, but it’s safe to say that Catherine Tate’s Donna ranks amongst everybody’s top three. Her mania at being abducted on her wedding day gives the plot a real sense of urgency without a spaceship shooting up London… until, in Russell T Davies fashion, a spaceship does start firing down on London. It’s an epic standalone story that ticks all the boxes.
- TIME OF THE DOCTOR
There’s much prophesising that lead to this moment – Smith’s entire run dealt with the cracks in the skin of the universe (featured here) which were a result of the Silence (featured here) to stop the Doctor from answering the question on Trenzalore (featured here). It’s the climax to a lot of plot points and satisfies a lot of long-term answers. There’s Daleks and Cybermen and Weeping Angels and Silence priests, the big ominous Church and an awkward family dinner. It’s the big splashy finale to the Eleventh Doctor and it doesn’t disappoint.
- THE HUSBANDS OF RIVER SONG
When Steven Moffat introduced River Song he dropped a series of references that he would later check off. Before the fan favourite sacrificed herself, she described her wondrous final adventure with the Doctor, and ever since fans were waiting to see it come to life. It lives up to the hype.
The episode is an adventure from the perspective of breakout character River Song and it does not disappoint. It’s Alex Kingston’s final appearance on the show and it is the happiest ending a doomed character could ever have wanted.
- A CHRISTMAS CAROL
What makes other episodes work as Christmas specials is that they are big moments in the show’s history with Christmas dressing on them. That’s a great way to make satisfying television, but this is a list of best Christmas specials.
The Charles Dickens novella of the same name has been adapted thousands of times, but never before with flying fish. The Doctor means Kazran Sardick, a Scrooge if ever there was one, and messes with his timeline in the hope to save his companions and a ship full of passengers.
Kazran is played by Dumbledore, or rather Michael Gabon, and it is the best guest spot on Doctor Who ever (probably). There’s tragedy, comedy, mystery, an above average child actor, a Christmas dinner, snow, a sleigh, a Scrooge, and a great little analogy for Christmas… what more could anybody want?
It is the go-to Doctor Who Christmas special every time.
Where will 2017’s Twice Upon A Time land?