Doctor Who Christmas Specials: Ranked

As we’re not getting a Christmas Special for the second year running, I’m taking on the challenge of ranking every one from worst to best.

I am a massive fan of Doctor Who and have been since its revival in 2005. Since then, it has, once again, become a staple of British culture and tradition. This mainly centres around the famous Doctor Who Christmas Specials; an annual tradition that the BBC blessed us with right up until Chibbers took over.

13. The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

BBC

Yes, this is the worst Christmas Special. Personally, I don’t mind this episode. It’s pretty forgettable but it has its moments of magic. But the fact that it is so forgettable is why it is the worst. It’s supposed to be what we all look forward to tuning into on Christmas Day, but it’s just silly, unengaging and riddled with bad acting.

12. The Return of Doctor Mysterio

BBC

Once again, very forgettable. I remember being excited to see this episode because it was branded as a “Doctor Who-superhero crossover”. Steven Moffat described it as “a superhero story with added Doctor Who”. Actually, it was more like the other way round. A poorly written Doctor Who episode that made no sense and had a pointless superhero tagged onto it. The Doctor is the superhero in this show. You can’t just add another one in and pretend that he’s interesting.

11. Twice Upon a Time

BBC

Yes, I know what you’re thinking: “This is way too low on this list!” You’re wrong. This episode was a pretty unsatisfying waste of time that served no purpose other than to drag out the Twelfth Doctor’s death and give Mark Gatiss an acting role. The entire plot was nonsensical and I had to look at the Wikipedia page on it just to remind myself of what happened. It didn’t help.

10. A Christmas Carol

BBC

So, we’re into the Top 10. This episode got a lot of flack for how disappointing it was. I can understand why people don’t like this episode. There was pretty much no motivation for the Doctor to do anything. Supposedly, Amy and Rory were in a crashing ship and the Doctor was trying to save them. But every time we saw Amy and Rory on the crashing ship, not much was happening and everyone seemed pretty calm about the whole thing.

However, I did like the idea of exploring what would happen if you actively changed somebody’s past in front of them. The reason this episode isn’t lower on the list is because it’s the first one to actually be based on good ideas, even if they were poorly executed.

9. The Snowmen

BBC

Ugh. Clara. Uninteresting, annoying and bad at accents. I have nothing against the idea of killer snowmen. I think if any show can pull that off, it’s this one… but only back in the camper days of Tennant. You can’t have killer snowmen controlled by a giant snowglobe and make the scenes all dark and angsty. That would be like replacing robot faces with emojis and have them harvest humans for sustenance.

The only redeeming factors of this episode were the Paternoster Gang and Richard E. Grant.

8. Last Christmas

BBC

As much as I loved Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, he never managed to pull off the Christmas Specials. ‘Last Christmas’ was not well acted and I really didn’t like the dialogue between the characters. The idea of the Dream Crabs was good and I have no problem with it taking heavy visual reference from the ‘Alien’ Facehuggers. They managed to instil fear. Then Nick Frost turned up as Santa and the whole thing got a bit weird. This episode should have been outside of Christmas. I think it could have worked.

7. The Husbands of River Song

BBC

Again, Capaldi at Christmas. There was no real chemistry between Twelve and River. Twelve is so wise and thoughtful by this point that River’s style of saying “f*** you” to the rules and tearing it up just doesn’t bring anything out of Twelve. The humour in this episode was cringey at best, with Greg Davies being the only good reason to watch this episode.

6. The Time of the Doctor

BBC

This is a tricky one to write about, as I still don’t know how to feel about it. To be fair to Moffat, he had to work out how to break probably the most well-established rule in Doctor Who: 13 lives. The Doctor fighting off enemies and defending this town for the rest of his life was a very good idea. I believed, at that point, that that was something the Doctor would do.

I actually think this story was quite well-paced. The soul reason I have to keep this out of my Top 5 is because CLARA HAD TO SAVE THE DOCTOR AGAIN! *SMASHES KEYBOARD*

5. The Next Doctor

BBC

Sandwiched between big stories, this Christmas Special feels a bit out of place. Christmas Specials were usually independent, ‘island episodes’, but so much had happened in Series 4 that the change between terrible loss and the whole fun, festive adventure feels a bit jarring.

That said, if you watch this episode without the context of Series 4, it actually works quite well. The idea of the Doctor coming across his future self and following him around like a fan was amazing. The twist to reveal who this new man was was also amazing. The ridiculously mad and evil villain was over-the-top but not cringey. The Doctor’s Deus ex Machina to save the day was also established throughout the episode. It was still a Deus ex Machina, but it didn’t come out of the blue.

Overall, I think this episode deserves more credit than it receives. It would be higher up on this list if there weren’t superior episodes.

4. The End of Time, part 1

BBC

Oh, boy. This is a big’un. This was Russell T Davies’ farewell to Doctor Who (well the first part, anyway, as part 2 was released a few days later). There was a lot of unnecessary stuff in this episode and its sequel. Why was the Master shooting lighting from his hands? And why was he blond? A lot of the plot didn’t make sense; from the White Point Star being somehow sent to Earth from Gallifrey to the Master randomly turning into a glowing, blue crash-test dummy.

Silly details aside, RTD made this episode and its sequel absolutely legendary. I believe that he gave David Tennant the opportunity to really say his goodbyes as the Doctor and for it to be incredibly painful. There were some shoddy plotlines, but, when I press play on this episode, I know I’m going to be just as moved as I was the first time.

3. Voyage of the Damned

BBC

I believe this to be the most underrated Christmas Special. It has fantastic dialogue, believable characters and a plot that actually makes sense. Okay, a group of people slowly being picked off by powerful adversaries with bad aim isn’t original, but the charm in the direction, set design and performances make you not care that you’ve seen this routine before. Kylie surprised me. She somehow had great chemistry with both the Doctor and Bannakaffalatta. Also, her sacrifice at the end felt earned and was genuinely heart-breaking.

If there was any Christmas Special that I’d recommend to any person ever, it’d be this one.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s the best.

2. The Runaway Bride

BBC

Donna Noble is my favourite companion in NuWho. Hands down. Catherine Tate and David Tennant have such good chemistry and there’s no weird sexual undertones or looking at the Doctor through rose-tinted glasses. Donna sees the Doctor as a lonely man who needs a friend and also he has a time and space machine so basically infinite holidays.

The Doctor gave Donna so much meaning to her life without being in love with this magic man from outer space. No episode shows this more poignantly than ‘The Runaway Bride’.

The first time she meets the Doctor, she is already in the middle of getting married. She is not happy to see him and isn’t suddenly falling head-over-heels for this undeniably good-looking man. It’s very well established, throughout the episode, that Donna is just putting up with him so she can get back to getting married. Obviously, it’s all ruined by her stupid, selfish fiancĂ© and a giant, red spider with a phlegm problem.

I love this episode for how bonkers it is and how well the two main cast members work on screen together. Absolutely brilliant.

1. The Christmas Invasion

BBC

And here we are at number 1. I was surprised at my own opinion on this. When I listed all the Christmas Specials and shuffled them around until it looked right, I wasn’t expecting this one at the top. I was thinking, “surely, there must have been a superior episode in the later series… the production values shot up!” Then I thought about it and realised that this story isn’t great because of high production values.

This episode is great because it doesn’t faff about. It does everything it needs to. It sets up the threat, creates tension and then builds to the Doctor actually fighting the enemy to save the day. Brilliant. We have our good story and we have our hero. Top marks.

Along with the engaging story and great performances were some absolutely iconic moments that you just won’t see in TV these days. Doctor Who had some brilliantly camp humour and slapstick back in the noughties. It just fits so well with the characters and there’s no pretentious B.S. about the meaning of life or what it means to be a Time Lord etc. It’s just great quality telly and, in my opinion, THE Christmas Special.

Featured image BBC/RadioTimes.

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