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Ranking the best ‘Doctor Who’ Christmas specials

Nearly eleven years ago, we were treated with the first Doctor Who Christmas special with the episode “The Christmas Invasion.” Now, Doctor Who fans eagerly wait for the holiday season to celebrate the Yuletide with the Doctor. So, which of the Christmas episodes are the the best Doctor Who Christmas specials? Read our list to find out!

11. The Next Doctor

BBC

Christmas in a Victorian setting is clearly a favorite for both of Doctor Who’s showrunners. While it’s fun to see the Doctor play the companion and let someone else take the lead, “The Next Doctor” isn’t a very memorable episode. David Morrissey is charming as Jackson Lake, or the next Doctor, and the Victorian versions of all of the Doctor’s gear are entertaining, but overall, this episode is a bit boring.

10. The Snowmen

BBC

There’s a lot to love in this episode – terrifying snowmen monsters, the TARDIS parked in the clouds, and the return of Vastra, Jenny, and Strax. However, one major issue with this episode is Clara and the development of the Impossible Girl arc. Until Jenna Coleman’s second season, we don’t really learn anything about Clara. She remains a pretty, clever girl that needs to be figured out. A puzzle rather than a person. This made what could have been an amazing episode, a frustrating one.

One other frustrating thing about this episode is the role Ian McKellen played. If you’re saying to yourself, hold on, I don’t remember Ian McKellen being in this episode, that’s because you don’t actually see him. He was the voice of the Great Intelligence. If you’re going to have Sir Ian McKellan on the show, you need to make use of his considerable talents – not cast him as a giant, talking snowglobe.

9. The Time of the Doctor

BBC

“The Time of the Doctor” was disappointing as a Christmas special and as a send-off to Matt Smith, who had a spectacular run as the Doctor and deserved so much more. Matt Smith, as always, is brilliant in this episode, but the amount crammed into this hour-long episode doesn’t give him enough time to shine, compared to David Tennant’s send-off, the two-parter, “The End of Time.”

The episode attempts to do too much in a short amount of time. It sets up a new conflict with the town of Christmas on the planet Trenzalore, it introduces new characters, it brings back all of the big-bads of this Doctor’s run – the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Weeping Angels, the Silence, even the Crack in Time we see in Smith’s first episode, and it is meant to be our and Clara’s goodbye to this version of the Doctor. As a result, the episode ends up being a confusing spectacle. The Doctor and Clara do share a nice, quiet conversations up on the bell tower, but that’s really the only meaningful moment we get between the two of them.

8. The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

BBC

There’s a lot to love in this episode like Matt Smith’s unfiltered glee over the hammocks and all of the toys he arranges for the children. There’s also a beautiful line of dialogue the Doctor delivers that’s especially poignant during the holidays. In a conversation about Madge’s children, he tells her, “What’s the point in them being happy now if they’re going to be sad later. The answer is, of course, because they are going to be sad later.”

More so than the regular episodes, the Christmas specials almost always focus on characters who have lost someone, whether it’s the Doctor or the characters played by the guest cast. While the theme of loss is explored, this special ends on a happy note for everyone, which is admittedly a little cheesy. But sometimes cheesy is necessary, especially given how depressing some Doctor Who specials can be. The Ponds invite the Doctor over for Christmas dinner, telling him that they always set a plate for him, and the Doctor begins to cry happy tears.

7. The Christmas Invasion

BBC

The first Christmas special of the new Who holds a special place in fans’ hearts, despite the shoddy effects and the fact that David Tennant is asleep for a good chunk of it. That said, Tennant’s Doctor is fully realized, as if he’d been itching to play this part for years, and it’s a joy to watch him have at it. Other highlights from the episode include watching the Doctor pick out his new outfit, Converse and all, and Jackie cowering in a corner, screaming, “I’m gonna get killed by a Christmas tree.” It doesn’t get more Christmas-y than that.

6. The Runaway Bride

BBC

The Donna here is slightly different from the Donna we meet in the fourth season. She’s slightly more brash, but beneath that, she’s still the hilarious and compassionate character we come to love. After a whole season of the Doctor and Rose making goo-goo eyes at one another, it was refreshing to see a potential companion who wasn’t immediately smitten with the Doctor. The best part of this episode? Catherine Tate’s delivery of the line, “Santa’s a robot!” Just another one of those amazing lines of dialogue that could only exist in a Doctor Who episode.

5. Voyage of the Damned

BBC

A spaceship version of the Titanic, killer angel robots, and Kylie Minogue – only Doctor Who could bring these elements together and make a coherent and enjoyable episode out of them.  Russell T. Davies does what he does best – creates characters you begin to fall in love with and then kills them, such as the cyborg Zocci, Bannakaffalatta. While it’s one of the sillier Christmas specials (apart from the killing), it’s still a lot of fun and has a whole lot of heart.

4. Last Christmas

BBC

A cross between Alien and Inception with Christmas trimmings, “Last Christmas” is a great episode for Clara. Unlike in “The Snowmen,” Clara is no longer the Impossible Girl. Her character is more defined, and she and the Doctor have real, personal conflicts that the show finally slows down to address.

Danny, who died in the previous season’s finale, appears in Clara’s dream and delivers a beautiful line of dialogue that really puts all of the previous specials in perspective: “Do you know why people get together at Christmas? Because every time they do, it might be the last time. Every Christmas is last Christmas, and this is ours. This was a bonus. This is extra. But now it’s time to wake up.” Many fans have issues with some of Steven Moffat’s writing (myself included), but when he’s good, he’s very good.  Oh, and Nick Frost plays Santa Claus – what more could you want?

3. The Husbands of River Song

BBC

“The Husbands of River Song” is the first time Capaldi and Kingston appear together on the show, and the chemistry between the two actors is as brilliant as fans expected it to be, as is their rapid-fire back-and-forth. The first 40 minutes of the episode are fun and lighthearted, but this is Doctor Who, and every bit of joy is tinged with some sadness. The last 20 minutes are beautiful and bittersweet and a satisfying lead-in to River’s final adventure, “Silence in the Library.”

2. The End of Time

BBC

“The End of Time” saw the end of David Tennant’s tenure as the Doctor and Russell T. Davies’ time as showrunner. Unlike Matt Smith’s send-off, Tennant’s Doctor gets a two-parter to wrap up his story. There is a lot going on in this episode. The Tenth Doctor has a lot of people to say goodbye to, but the two episode-long arc gives all of those scenes, including the final moments of this iteration of the Doctor, enough time to sink in and breathe. Tennant and Bernard Cribbins as Wilfred Mott, the Doctor’s companion in this episode, deliver incredibly moving performances. From the moment Wilfred quietly knocks on the radiation booth, the tears begin to flow and crescendo when the Tenth Doctor utters his final words, “I don’t want to go.”

1. A Christmas Carol

BBC

“A Christmas Carol” is definitely the best of the Christmas specials. This episode sees Moffat and Smith at their brightest. The writing is strong, the acting is stellar, and more than any of the other specials, it just feels like a Christmas episode (probably because it’s a retelling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol). Yes, Amy and Rory’s roles are significantly smaller in this episode, but the guest cast for this episode really brings it, particularly Michael Gambon as the Ebenezer Scrooge-type character. Also, the score for this episode is absolutely gorgeous. While Murray Gold always excels at inspiring a sense of adventure, he’s at his best when he scores the more bittersweet moments in the show – and that’s certainly present in this episode with Abigail’s song, sung by the brilliant Katherine Jenkins.

 

Let us know which Doctor Who Christmas special is your favorite, and tune in to the BBC or BBC America on Christmas day to watch the latest Christmas special, “The Return of Doctor Mysterio.”

(Image: BBC)

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Tamar Altebarmakian

Writer, fangirl, and cat-enthusiast. My work has appeared on The Mary Sue, The Portland Review, Ranker, and other websites. My favorite show growing up was Xena – I've tried to emulate the Warrior Princess in every way (see current hairstyle).

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