Since its triumphant return to television in 2005, ‘Doctor Who’ has become a staple of British television, particularly during the festive season. Each year, fans eagerly anticipate the Doctor Who Christmas Special, a unique blend of sci-fi adventure and holiday cheer that has become as much a part of Christmas as mince pies and mistletoe.
These specials, featuring everything from sinister snowmen to heartwarming reunions, not only offer a seasonal twist to the iconic series but also introduce pivotal plot points and character developments.
In this article, as we look ahead to the next Christmas Special featuring newly-crowned Doctor actor Ncuti Gatwa, we take a TARDIS trip down memory lane to rank these yuletide adventures, examining how they capture the essence of both Doctor Who and the spirit of Christmas (with minimal spoilers).
15. “The End of Time, Part One” (2009)
This dark and emotional episode is David Tennant’s penultimate appearance as the Doctor. While impactful, its somber tone is a departure from the usual festive spirit. “The End of Time, Part One” is a pivotal episode in the Doctor Who series, marking the beginning of a major transition for the Tenth Doctor, portrayed by David Tennant. This episode is filled with mystery and foreboding as the Doctor faces ominous prophecies and reunites with familiar faces. The story is set against a backdrop of strange and unsettling events on Earth, leading to a climax that sets the stage for an epic and emotionally charged conclusion. With its blend of suspense, drama, and the series’ characteristic sci-fi twists, this episode is a key part of the Doctor Who saga, leading to a significant moment in the series’ history in “Part Two.”
14. “Spyfall, Part One” (2020)
More of a season opener than a traditional Christmas special, this episode brings excitement and intrigue but doesn’t fit the usual Christmas mold. In this episode, the Doctor and her companions are thrust into a globe-trotting spy adventure, complete with espionage, mysterious agents, and high-stakes missions. The story cleverly intertwines classic spy thriller elements with the show’s signature sci-fi twists. As the Doctor and her friends encounter unexpected challenges and enigmatic characters, they begin to unravel a complex plot that poses a significant threat. The episode is noted for its fast-paced narrative, intriguing mystery, and a cliffhanger ending that sets up the thrilling continuation of the story in “Spyfall, Part Two.”
13. “Twice Upon a Time” (2017)
Culminating in Jodie Whittaker’s introduction, this special is significant but ranks lower for its slower pacing and less festive atmosphere. It features Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor in his final appearance, alongside the surprise return of the First Doctor, portrayed by David Bradley, recreating the role originally played by William Hartnell. The episode is a beautifully crafted story that intertwines the journeys of these two incarnations of the Doctor as they confront an unusual situation amidst a frozen World War I landscape. Filled with emotional depth, introspective moments, and the series’ trademark wit and sci-fi intrigue, this episode not only provides a poignant farewell to Capaldi’s Doctor but also sets the stage for the introduction of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor, heralding a new era for the series.
12. “Revolution of the Daleks” (2021)
Featuring the Daleks, this episode is key for the Thirteenth Doctor’s storyline but received a mixed reception due to its less traditional Christmas elements. Set after the dramatic events of the previous season, this episode sees the Doctor’s companions on Earth grappling with the absence of the Doctor and the emergence of a new, sinister threat. The narrative skillfully blends political intrigue with the return of the Doctor’s most iconic adversaries, the Daleks, in a contemporary setting. The episode is notable for its intense action, clever plot twists, and emotional character arcs, culminating in significant changes for the Doctor and her team. It strikes a balance between high-stakes sci-fi adventure and the personal journeys of its central characters, making it a memorable addition to the Doctor Who saga.
11. “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” (2016)
This superhero-themed episode offers a unique Christmas story but garners mixed reviews for its different approach. Featuring Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor, this episode is a delightful homage to superhero comics and movies, blending the whimsical and adventurous spirit of Doctor Who with the tropes and excitement of a superhero narrative. Set in New York City, the story follows the Doctor as he teams up with a mysterious vigilante superhero, leading to a series of thrilling and humorous encounters. The episode is characterized by its light-hearted tone, witty dialogue, and a storyline that cleverly intertwines superhero elements with the show’s science fiction themes. It provides an entertaining and heartwarming adventure, complete with emotional depth and the show’s signature imaginative storytelling.
10. “The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe” (2011)
A heartwarming tale with a touching ending, this special is less acclaimed than others but still offers a festive charm. Inspired by the classic C.S. Lewis tale “The Chronicles of Narnia,” this episode weaves a fantastical and enchanting story set during World War II. It centers on a war widow and her two children, who encounter the Doctor and are soon swept into a magical adventure in a wintry, otherworldly landscape. The episode beautifully blends the wonder of a fairy tale with the sci-fi elements of the Doctor Who universe, creating a family-friendly, festive tale. It’s characterized by its touching narrative, whimsical charm, and the Doctor’s unique blend of humor and empathy, making it a memorable and heartening entry in the series’ holiday tradition.
9. “The Next Doctor” (2008)
Notable for its intriguing plot and exploration of the Doctor’s legacy, this special is a unique addition to the Christmas lineup. “The Next Doctor” is a captivating episode of Doctor Who, with David Tennant portraying the Tenth Doctor. Set in Victorian London, this episode presents an intriguing mystery when the Doctor encounters a man who also claims to be ‘the Doctor’, leading to a series of unexpected twists and adventures. The story masterfully blends the historical setting with the show’s science fiction elements, featuring classic Doctor Who adversaries in a 19th-century context. The episode is notable for its exploration of identity and memory, coupled with the charm and excitement characteristic of the series. Filled with action, emotion, and a touch of holiday spirit, “The Next Doctor” stands out as a memorable and enjoyable installment in the Doctor Who saga.
8. “The Runaway Bride” (2006)
Catherine Tate’s first full appearance as Donna Noble brings humor and action to this holiday special. This episode introduces Donna Noble in a whirlwind of unexpected circumstances when she mysteriously appears in the TARDIS on her wedding day. The story takes the Tenth Doctor and Donna on a high-energy adventure through London, combining humor, action, and the show’s signature sci-fi elements. The episode explores themes of love, loss, and destiny, all while unveiling a sinister alien plot. “The Runaway Bride” is notable for its engaging narrative, the dynamic chemistry between the Doctor and Donna, and its blend of festive cheer with the intrigue and excitement of the Doctor Who universe. It’s a compelling introduction to Donna Noble’s character and sets the tone for her future appearances in the series.
7. “The Snowmen” (2012)
Featuring Jenna Coleman’s introduction as Clara, this visually stunning episode presents a unique and engaging storyline. Featuring Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor, and set in Victorian London, the episode introduces Clara Oswald, played by Jenna Coleman, in a story that perfectly blends the historical with the fantastical. The narrative revolves around mysterious, sentient snowmen, which pose a chilling threat to the city. The Doctor, initially in a reclusive state, is drawn back into action as he and Clara embark on a magical and suspenseful adventure. This episode is noted for its fairy-tale-like quality, witty dialogue, and the introduction of new elements to the Doctor’s world, including a redesigned TARDIS and a fresh take on the Doctor’s allies. “The Snowmen” is a visually stunning episode that combines humor, intrigue, and heart, making it a memorable and festive addition to the Doctor Who series.
6. “The Husbands of River Song” (2015)
Cherished for its humor and the dynamic between Peter Capaldi and Alex Kingston, this special balances light-heartedness with emotional depth. In this episode, the Doctor unexpectedly reunites with the vivacious and enigmatic River Song. Set on a futuristic human colony, the story unfolds with a mix of comedy, romance, and adventure as they embark on a wild chase across the galaxy. The episode showcases the unique and playful chemistry between the Doctor and River Song, while also delving into the complexities of their time-crossed relationship. Filled with witty banter, unexpected twists, and heartwarming moments, “The Husbands of River Song” is a standout episode that adds depth and laughter to the holiday season, making it a delight for fans of the series, and likely serving as the send-off for River Song’s character.
5. “Voyage of the Damned” (2007)
An action-packed adventure with the Tenth Doctor, known for its exciting plot and memorable characters. Set aboard the starship Titanic, an interstellar luxury liner named after the famous Earth vessel, this episode blends disaster-movie suspense with the show’s sci-fi elements. The Doctor finds himself among a diverse group of passengers and crew as they face a series of catastrophic events threatening the ship. The story is a thrilling adventure, filled with moments of danger, heroism, and the Doctor’s trademark wit. As the situation aboard the Titanic becomes increasingly perilous, the episode explores themes of sacrifice, bravery, and the human spirit. “Voyage of the Damned” stands out for its intense narrative, memorable characters, and the way it combines the festive setting with high-stakes drama, making it a unique and exciting entry in the Doctor Who Christmas special lineup.
4. “The Time of the Doctor” (2013)
Matt Smith’s final appearance as the Doctor, this special is significant for its emotional farewell and the transition to Peter Capaldi. This story finds the Doctor in a mysterious village called Christmas on the planet Trenzalore, where he faces a complex situation involving multiple alien species and a prophecy foretelling his impending doom. The episode is rich in series mythology, tying up various narrative threads from Smith’s tenure while delivering a story of sacrifice, resilience, and destiny. It showcases the Doctor’s unwavering dedication to protecting the innocent, set against the backdrop of an epic siege. “The Time of the Doctor” is notable for its emotional depth, as it navigates the Doctor’s journey towards a monumental regeneration, paving the way for Peter Capaldi’s entrance as the Twelfth Doctor. The episode balances action, humor, and heartfelt farewells, making it a memorable and significant chapter in the Doctor Who saga.
3. “Last Christmas” (2014)
This special blends horror and holiday cheer, standing out for its imaginative plot and deeper exploration of the characters’ relationships. This episode uniquely blends the festive elements of Christmas with a suspenseful, dream-like narrative. Set in a remote Arctic base, the Doctor and Clara, along with a group of scientists, encounter a menacing alien threat that challenges their understanding of reality. The story masterfully weaves elements of psychological thriller and sci-fi horror, drawing inspiration from classic Christmas tales and contemporary cinematic influences. “Last Christmas” is acclaimed for its clever plot twists, emotional depth, and the exploration of the characters’ inner fears and desires. It stands out for its ability to combine a traditional holiday setting with the intriguing and fantastical world of Doctor Who, resulting in a Christmas special that is both thought-provoking and entertaining.
2. “A Christmas Carol” (2010)
Praised for its creative adaptation of the Dickens classic, this episode features Matt Smith and is known for its emotional storytelling. “A Christmas Carol” is a critically acclaimed special, inspired by the classic Charles Dickens tale, this episode puts a unique sci-fi twist on the traditional Christmas story. Set on a distant, snow-covered planet, the Doctor faces a race against time to save his friends aboard a crashing spaceship. To do so, he must change the heart of a miserly old man who has the power to control the planet’s atmosphere. The episode beautifully blends the spirit of Christmas with time-travel elements, resulting in a narrative that is both magical and poignant. Praised for its imaginative storytelling, emotional depth, and festive charm, “A Christmas Carol” is considered one of the most memorable and touching Christmas specials in the Doctor Who series.
1. “The Christmas Invasion” (2005)
David Tennant’s debut as the Tenth Doctor in this special is often hailed as the best, setting a high standard with its engaging storyline and memorable introduction of a beloved Doctor. Set on Christmas Eve, this episode sees Earth threatened by an alien invasion, specifically by the sinister Sycorax. Amidst this crisis, the newly regenerated Doctor is incapacitated, leaving his companion, Rose Tyler, and her family to face the perilous situation with minimal help. The episode blends holiday cheer with high-stakes sci-fi action, showcasing the Doctor’s new personality and the challenges he faces in the aftermath of his regeneration. “The Christmas Invasion” is notable for establishing Tennant’s charismatic and energetic portrayal of the Doctor, while also exploring themes of trust, leadership, and resilience. It’s a thrilling and memorable introduction to the Tenth Doctor’s era, combining festive elements with the adventurous spirit of Doctor Who.
As we conclude our festive journey through the universe of Doctor Who Christmas specials, it’s clear that each episode holds a unique place in the show’s rich tapestry. From the heart-warming to the heart-wrenching (to the just kinda weird), these specials have not only provided us with annual doses of holiday spirit but also deepened our connection with the ever-evolving lore of the Doctor. They remind us that amidst the chaos of time and space, the values of hope, kindness, and the magic of Christmas remain eternal.
So, as we await the next thrilling adventure of the Doctor this Christmas, let’s cherish these special episodes that have become a beloved part of our holiday traditions, always leaving us with the timeless message: in the vastness of the universe, the greatest adventure is the warmth and joy we share with others.
Do you agree with our list? Let us know in the comments below!
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