While the (mostly) good-natured debate about Die Hard‘s status as a Christmas movie rages on, there is one thing we can agree on: Doctor Who became a Christmastime fixture from 2005 to 2017. Although the title character (as played by William Hartnell) famously broke the fourth wall to wish the viewers at home a happy Christmas in 1965’s “The Feast of Steven” — which was broadcast Christmas day that year — The Doctor was not particularly known for his Yuletide adventures until the BBC and Russell T. Davies debuted a new Doctor in 2005’s “The Christmas Invasion.” For a decade and change afterward, watching The Doctor at Christmas became part of the holiday ritual. And, frankly, we miss it even if we still get a New Year’s Day special in the current era. But let’s set the TARDIS for a trip to the past and consider which of the specials reins supreme. Keep in mind, this is an off the cuff list relying on the author’s memory of the episode or lack thereof.
13. “The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe” — To be honest, this is the least memorable of the bunch. I’ve seen it at least three times and can’t tell you anything about it beyond the wood monsters and The Doctor visiting Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) at the end. Also, it’s Narnia-esque title promises something it clearly never delivers on.
12. “Last Christmas” — The Twelfth Doctor’s (Peter Capaldi) unwillingness to let Clara (Jenna Coleman) go starts here and while it might be better on a rewatch, my recollection of it is not favorable.
11. “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” — This might be unfair as I’ve only watched it the once, but I also recall enjoying it while it was happening. It has Matt Lucas as Nardole and that always helps.
10. “The End of Time Parts 1 &2” — While a worthy close to David Tennant‘s time as The Doctor, not all the elements work satisfactorily (why is there a human villain when you already have The Master and Rassilon?) or adhere to the Christmas theme. That said, Wilf’s (Bernard Cribbins) farewell to The Doctor is a genuine tear-jerker moment, as is the rest of The Doctor’s “reward.”
9. “A Christmas Carol” — While absolutely solid, it’s not one I’m ever in a rush to revisit. Like “The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe,” the lack of the Ponds make it less inviting.
8. “The Time of the Doctor” — Like Tennant’s final bow, Matt Smith‘s last episode is a bit of a muddle, even if the emotions are in the right place. In its favor, Smith nails his final speech and Peter Capaldi‘s first moment as The Twelfth Doctor serves as a worthy cliffhanger.
7. “Voyage of the Damned” — A genuinely fun disaster movie with The Tenth Doctor as its star, but it is also middle-ground at this point.
6. “The Christmas Invasion” — Hampered, perhaps, by technical limitations and the march of time at this point, it still has Tennant’s debut going for it. It’s also a strong tale in its own right as Rose (Bille Piper) tries to sub in for a recuperating Doctor.
5. “The Next Doctor” — This one, meanwhile, aged extremely well with special guest David Morrissey doing a bang-up job as a would-be Doctor. Also, the image of a giant Cyber King rising in Victorian London is the sort of thing every Doctor Who Christmas special should strive for.
4. “The Snowmen” — Like “The Next Doctor,” taking The Doctor out of the modern era helps a great deal. Backed by the Paternoster Gang and performances from Ian McKellan and Richard E. Grant, it is the strongest Smith-era Christmas special. Also, we kind of wish Moffat had stuck to his initial idea of the Victorian Clara as The Doctor’s new companion. Coleman is just plain better as this version of the character.
3. “The Husbands of River Song” — Alex Kingston‘s one and only appearance opposite Capaldi makes us wish he’d been the Eleventh Doctor. They’re absolute great together! But at the same time, the special is a superlative wrap-up to the tale of River Song as it gives you the moment teased back in “The Silence in the Library” regarding River’s screwdriver. Also, it’s just a fun adventure as The Doctor gets to see what his wife is like when he’s not around.
2. “The Runaway Bride” — While the debut of Catharine Tate‘s Donna Noble was controversial ahead of the special’s premiere, the story does a great job of making her a worth companion — even if she doesn’t join The Doctor for another season. But just as important, the episode establishes the more filmic qualities of the Christmastime episodes as the show finally had the budget for bigger chases, a large villain realized with mostly practical effects, and even bigger emotions.
1. “Twice Upon A Time” — I’ll be honest, I’m a sucker for Multi-Doctor stories, but this one really packs a punch with both The Twelfth and First Doctors fearing their impending regenerations, a library of souls, Mark Gatiss‘s best Doctor Who character so far, and one last adventure with Bill (Pearl Mackie). Also, David Bradley‘s take on the First Doctor is extraordinary and it’s remarkable to see him commenting and what he will become by the time of Capaldi’s Doctor. And, really, The Doctor’s monologue about the Christmas Truce is one of the most cathartic things to ever occur on the show — to say nothing of the “be kind” speech.
Of course, this is a highly subjective list based on memories of the episodes, but isn’t that the fun of it? Your opinions are just as valid and I think we can celebrate that. Incidentally, a happy Christmas (if you celebrate) to you at home.