There may be no “Doctor Who” Christmas Special this year, but we’ve got a pretty good back catalogue to keep us occupied until New Year’s Day. So, to pass the time, while you’re letting your Christmas Dinner slowly digest and contemplating cracking open that tin of Quality Street to see if there are any purple ones left, here’s my rundown of the 13 “Doctor Who” Christmas specials from my least to most favourite (it’s not like any of them are terrible, unlike the only previous Doctor Who New Year’s Day special…)
13. The Return Of Doctor Mysterio (2016)
A weird mish-mash of superhero tropes and a maudlin Doctor, this was the point where Steven Moffat clearly started to struggle to come up with ideas for Christmas “Doctor Who”. The Ghost’s costume looks cheap and stupid and it suffers from trying to tell two incompatible stories. Humbug!
12. Twice Upon A Time (2017)
If nothing else, “Twice Upon A Time” proves that Steven Moffat was moving on at the right time. Unfocussed, indulgent and ultimately pointless, there’s no real story, a bunch of disparate ideas, some lazy and hit-and-miss generational comedy and a feeble end to the 12th Doctor’s reign. In like a lion, out like a lamb, Capaldi’s Doctor seemed bored and ready to move on yet was trapped in a story trying to push the exact opposite.
11. The End Of Time Part 1 (2009)
By the time the 10th Doctor reached the end of the road, I was more than ready to see him go, especially after two specials had fully let rip this incarnation’s egotism and arrogance. The ‘Timelord Triumphant’ had been teasing his regeneration and replacement since the breathtaking cliffhanger of “The Stolen Earth” but the teasing had worn thin as had the 10th (actually, as we would learn, the 12th at this point) Doctor’s welcome. Would rank lower on the list if I was including “The End Of Time Part 2” but this list is only for episodes which broadcast on Christmas Day.
10. Voyage Of The Damned (2007)
One of the first Doctor Who Christmas Specials to focus on homaging/ spoofing Christmas staples, this time skewering “The Poseidon Adventure”, a perennial UK Christmas TV feature, with a quest for survival through the decks of a wrecked space liner. The weird insurance scam subplot feels tacked on and tacky, though and the special is far too pleased with itself for having Kylie as a guest star, almost as in love with the idea of having her in the episode as Russell T Davies was with the 10th Doctor by now.
9. The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe (2011)
Full of Christmassy Christmasness, this special ends up feeling a lot less than the sum of its parts. The alien parts of the story feel oddly disconnected, both from the main story and from each other. The guest cast feel very ‘special guest’-y and it feels like it wastes the potential of the Doctor as a crazy caretaker of a house over Christmas by transposing the action to an ethereal forest which bogs the story down in the escape of an ill-defined alien race to the time vortex through possessing one of the people the Doctor has allowed to find their way into the alien forest. It’s super-child focussed, which is its greatest strength and its biggest weakness but this is too convoluted a story to be enjoyed while drowsily digesting a Christmas dinner.
8. The Husbands Of River Song (2015)
Another underwhelming story which doesn’t use its guest cast to the best extent, it’s salvaged significantly by the poignant end to River Song’s timey-wimey story and the wonderful chemistry between Peter Capaldi and Alex Kingston. This is the one that should have been called “Last Christmas” and the recent movie which did use that title could only wish to be as romantic as this caper.
7. The Time Of The Doctor (2013)
Probably the last (at least for the foreseeable future) of Doctor Who’s experimenting with epic, cinematic storylines, The Time Of The Doctor has the important job of resolving the last remaining limitations on the series’ longevity: the regeneration limit. It does so with some nifty footwork although it’s a more mixed bag when it comes to answering all of the big questions posed during Matt Smith’s tenure. It does tease the return of the Time Lords but on the other hand: wooden cybermen. Handles is a particular highlight though and I wish he’d appeared more often before this single adventure.
6. The Runaway Bride (2006)
A brash and deceptively grating introduction to someone who would become one of the 10th Doctor’s greatest companions, it’s a breezy romp which amuses and entertains in equal measure. Although the Queen of the Racnoss’ plan is a bit bonkers, it’s classic RTD.
5. A Christmas Carol (2010)
Charmingly Christmassy, sci-fi spin on the classic Dickens tale, it suffers a little for having to include yet explain the absence of Amy and Rory but the core story is solid, Michael Gambon and Catherine Jenkins are superb and the shark is as impressive as it is slightly nonsensical.
4. Last Christmas (2014)
It’s The Doctor and Santa Claus. And if that weren’t enough, it’s “Aliens”, “Inception” and “The Thing” too in a wonderfully magical seasonal adventure. Unfortunately, it’s also saddled with the need to abruptly retain Clara due to Jenna Louise-Coleman’s change of heart which, unfortunately, put the kibosh on clearly-intended-new-companion Shona.
3. The Next Doctor (2008)
Expertly timed to coincide with rampant speculation on David Tennant’s future successor as the Doctor, this is a crazy yet wonderfully Dickensian steampunk tale of Christmas Cybermen and giant killer robots. David Morrisey is delightfully credible as a potential Doctor and the adventure has some fantastic moments, even if the reason nobody remembers a giant marauding Cyberking in downtown Victorian London feels like a bit of a cop-out.
2. The Christmas Invasion (2005)
The first and nearly the best, David Tennant’s first episode mixes classic Who post-regeneration tropes with a decidedly festive spin, creating iconic monsters from Christmas trees and robot Santas. The Sycorax are great one-and-done villains and it’s a sensational introduction to the new, gregarious and mercurial 10th Doctor. There’s a savage satire to the finale, from the spin-off-setting-up mention of Torchwood to the removal of Harriet Jones as Prime Minister, demonstrating this Doctor’s moral limits. The macabre joke at the expense of the cliche of snowfall in TV Christmas specials remains a series high-point, so much so that Banksy picked it up again thirteen years later.
1. The Snowmen (2012)
The Doctor in a top hat, a mysterious ladder into the sky, the unexpected return of Clara Oswald, a returning foe and some of the creepiest Christmas Monsters ever in the Snowmen, made from actual snow but no less abominable than the ones the Great Intelligence sent into the London Underground. There’s a real feel of magic and spookiness, tapping into the grand tradition of Christmas ghost stories as well as delivering a new-look TARDIS and a welcome return for the Paternoster Gang.
So there you have it, I wanted to build up to The Snowmen. So all that’s left to say is, “A happy Christmas to all of you at home!”