Doctor Who: Every Christmas Day Special Ranked

After Russell T Davies rebooted the show in 2005, Doctor Who became a traditional staple on Christmas Day telly. But when Chris Chibnall took over the reins of the popular sci-fi show in 2018, the Doctor was sidelined to New Year’s Day with episodes that were, let’s be honest, not very festive and mostly quite disappointing!

Thank goodness then for the return of Davies, who, in 2023, will be making all of our Christmas dreams come true with the arrival of a new Christmas Day special on the 25th of December. Ncuti Gatwa, last seen in the final anniversary episode, The Giggle, will be in charge of the Tardis, alongside new companion Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson). 

Will the new Christmas Day special be any good? If you are reading this article after the episode has aired, you will know more than this writer does at present! Here’s hoping it’s as good as the ‘best’ episodes on the following list.

We have ranked all of the Doctor Who Christmas specials in order of quality. As they are all pretty good, there are no real stinkers on this list, but we have still tried to rank them from least best to the best of the best regardless. 

Do you agree with our list? Would you rank these episodes differently? Let us know in the comments below.

#13: The Return Of Doctor Mysterio (2016)

Considering the popularity of superhero movies in recent years, it’s little surprise that the world of Doctor Who eventually crossed over with a comic book-style story. The result is this enjoyable outing for Peter Capaldi that sticks to classic superhero tropes while telling a time-old story about the Doctor looking into the activities of a sinister corporation doing unspeakable things to the human race. 

Peter Capaldi’s Time Lord is as grumpy and pessimistic as ever so thank goodness for the return of Nardole (Matt Lucas) who injects a fair bit of humour into this entertaining episode. With more originality, this would have ranked higher. But despite coming at the bottom of our list, this is still a fun tale that should please Doctor Who and superhero fans alike. 

#12: The Doctor, The Widow, And The Wardrobe (2011)

This doesn’t rank among the best episodes in the long-running show but if you’re looking for a story that will make you feel Christmassy, this will likely tick that box for you. 

In this World War II-set story, which takes its cue from the Narnia books, the Doctor tries to give a grieving widow and her children a happy Christmas. Of course, with this being a sci-fi show, we don’t stay on Earth for very long. One of the children enters a portal which leads to a winter planet where a group of harvest rangers are trying to eliminate a forest. This doesn’t bode well for a society of Tree people so thank goodness for the Doctor and the widowed wife who are able to come to their rescue. 

This episode’s story isn’t the strongest on this list but it’s memorable for its heartwarming ending that delivers a Christmas miracle for the family who are reunited with the father and husband they thought had been killed. 

#11: The Next Doctor (2008)

This isn’t the multi-Doctor story everybody expected. While it does include a character named Jackson Lake (David Morrisey) who claims to be the Doctor, it turns out he’s an amnesiac human who started to believe he was the Time Lord after handling a data-storage infostamp created by the Cybermen. 

The subplot about Jackson becoming ‘the Doctor’ isn’t completely satisfying but so good is Morrisey as the so-called Time Lord, it’s a pity that he never became the next incarnation of our favourite space traveller!

Outside of his performance, there is much to enjoy in this story, including a Godzilla-sized Cyberman and a scene-stealing Dirvla Kerwan as the wicked Miss Hartigan. As is so often the case in Doctor Who, this Christmas special is also tinged with a little bit of sadness due to Jackson’s tragic backstory, so don’t forget your box of hankies if you ever decide to rewatch this one. 

#10: The Voyage Of The Damned (2007)

In this Christmas special, the Tardis winds up on the Titanic but rather than this being the ‘unsinkable’ ship that came to blows with an iceberg in 1912, it’s actually an outer space replica that is on a collision course with Earth. 

It’s up to the Doctor to stop the ship’s captain Max Capricorn from causing this extinction-level event, alongside waitress Astrid (Kylie Minogue) who acts as his companion in an episode that pays homage to disaster movies of old (not that we remember there being murderous robotic angels in those classic films).

This is an exciting episode with a dependably stand-out turn from Tennant as the Doctor. However, it’s Minogue who you’ll most remember, or rather her character Astrid, who has a rather bittersweet ending when she finally gets the opportunity to explore the universe. 

#9: Last Christmas (2014)

If there’s something strange lurking in the North Pole, who’re you gonna call? Santa Claus, of course! Yes, this is the one where the Doctor meets Father Christmas, as does Clara when the red-suited fellow crash lands on her roof during the festive season. 

There’s not a lot of time for gift giving, however, as the Doctor whisks Clara away to a North Pole facility where a group of scientists are fighting a race of face-hugging telepathic crabs that wouldn’t look out of place in one of the Alien movies. They wouldn’t look out of place in Inception either, as they induce their victims into a dreamlike state where the poor folk are unable to distinguish between illusion and reality.

This episode successfully incorporates elements of horror and fantasy, as well as a few moments of sadness in the scenes involving Clara coming to terms with her grief after losing Danny. It’s not all doom and gloom, however, thanks to comical interactions between the Doctor and Santa and a sprinkling of joy as the story draws to a close. 

#8: The Runaway Bride (2006)

Killer Santas, exploding baubles, an alien spaceship shaped like a giant star… it can only be a Christmas episode of Doctor Who! 

Just when the Doctor is in danger of becoming all morose after losing Rose Tyler, he is given reason to brighten up a little when the titular bride (Catherine Tate) mysteriously ends up in his Tardis. The Doctor returns her to the wedding which, as you’d expect from an episode of the show, has more to offer viewers than a bunch of people celebrating and eating wedding cake. Arachnophobes might want to steer clear!

This episode is highly entertaining, with a wild car chase involving the Tardis and a bunch of Santa Claus robots causing a scene. Catherine Tate steals the show as the hilarious Donna Noble, so it’s little wonder that she later became a fixture in the Tardis following Martha Jones’ departure. 

#7: The Christmas Invasion (2005)

Not only was this the show’s first Christmas special but it was also our first proper introduction to David Tennant as the Doctor. Surprisingly, we don’t see a lot of him during the episode’s first half but when Jackie’s tea causes him to wake from his post-regeneration slumber, he springs into life and reassures both Donna and the viewers that he is a worthy successor to Christopher Eccleston’s version of the Time Lord.

The story isn’t particularly special – it’s the usual tale about aliens trying to dominate the human race. But it deserves its place higher up on this list thanks to Tennant’s glorious performance, a few wonderful moments between Jackie and Rose, a welcome appearance from Harriet Jones, and a spinning Christmas tree that is more troublesome than a tree which sheds pine needles!

#6: The Snowmen (2012)

The beginning of this Christmas special sees Matt Smith’s Doctor travelling alone after the sudden departure of Amy and Rory in the previous season. His friends Jenny and Vastra, and fan-favourite Sontaran Strax, do their best to raise his spirits while his invisible Tardis is tucked away in the clouds, but it’s the return of Clara (last seen inside a Dalek) that calls him back into action after his temporary retirement.

Clara isn’t the only one to return to the show in this episode. It also marks the return of the Great Intelligence, a mysterious entity that first made its presence known in the 1967 serial The Abominable Snowman when Patrick Troughton was the Doctor. There are no Yeti robots wandering around London in this episode though. Instead, the Doctor is forced to take up arms against a bunch of sharp-toothed snowmen that are guaranteed to give your children nightmares. 

With the welcome return of an old enemy (voiced by Ian McKellan) and a chilling tale that is colder than the episode’s snow, this is a memorable episode that is capped off with a shock ending involving Clara’s surprise demise. 

#5: A Christmas Carol (2011)

The first Christmas special for Matt Smith’s Doctor is, as you can gather from the title, a reworking of Charles Dicken’s festive classic about miserly old grump Ebenezer Scrooge. The miser in this story isn’t Scrooge, however. Instead, we are introduced to Kazran Sidick (Michael Gambon) who is in control of the planet Ember’s atmosphere and refusing permission for a luxury space liner to land. 

It’s up to the Doctor to change his mind (and soften his heart) and he does this by visiting Kazran at various points throughout the man’s timeline to turn him into a better person. While this story is all rather lovely, complete with a magical song sung by Katherine Jenkins, it does have a rather debatable premise – the Doctor manipulating someone’s life and therefore changing the course of history. Surely that’s off-limits for a Time Lord, right?

Regardless, this is still an enjoyable episode that is sure to evoke feelings of the Christmas spirit within you.

#4: The Husbands Of River Song (2015)

Christmas is supposed to be a happy time, right? But in Doctor Who, the festive season is sometimes one of sadness instead of joy and such is the case in this emotional episode of the show. This is the one where the Doctor spends Christmas on the planet Mendorax Dellora, where he bumps into River Song, who enlists his help in removing a precious jewel from the head of King Hyrdroflax.

The plot involving the King isn’t what’s of real interest here. Rather, it’s the fact that this is the Doctor’s final encounter with River, in his timeline at least, before she meets a younger Doctor and dies. River doesn’t recognize him at first, mainly due to his change of face, which is frustrating for both the Doctor and the viewer. But when she does, the reunion is rather sweet and her story arc in the show is brought to a very satisfying end. 

#3: The Time Of The Doctor (2013)

Time is running out for the 11th Doctor. The story takes place on the planet of Trenzalore, where a prophecy states the Doctor will spend the last of his years. It turns out this prophecy was right, kind of, as he is drawn to the village of Christmas where he lives out the remainder of his current regeneration protecting the townsfolk from Daleks, Cybermen, and other deadly foes. 

But to say that these are his final years would be an understatement as he spends centuries keeping his enemies at bay. He grows older and weaker with each passing battle until he is on the cusp of dying of old age.

Of course, the Doctor doesn’t die. The Time Lords grant him a new regeneration cycle so he is able to live on in the form of Peter Capaldi. But before Matt Smith makes his departure from the show, he gives an intensely moving performance that reminds us why we fell in love with his version of the Doctor in the first place. 

#2: The End Of Time (2009)

The End Of Time is actually a two-parter with the first part arriving on Christmas Day in 2009 and the second part arriving at the start of the new year. We’re taking this story as a whole rather than ranking the first chapter only, as it’s made more memorable by the concluding instalment in which David Tennant says his goodbyes as the Doctor. 

To say that this episode is fan-pleasing is an understatement. While many fans were distraught by the prospect of Tennant’s departure from the Tardis, they were consoled by a story that saw the return of the Master (John Simm), the resurrection of the Time Lords (who hadn’t been wiped out after all), and a plethora of familiar faces, including Captain Jack, Sarah-Jane Smith, and the man who ultimately caused the demise of the Doctor (although we can forgive him), Wilfred Mott. 

This story has many thrilling moments but it’s the extended ending that fans remember most with the Doctor stopping off at various places to say his final farewells to his loved ones. Then there’s the “I don’t want to go” scene, one of the saddest moments in Doctor Who’s history, that will have all but the most hard-hearted blowing into their hankies and shouting “I don’t want you to go” at their TV screens.

#1: Twice Upon A Time (2017)

The Doctor doesn’t want to go…again! In this Christmas special, the Doctor is approaching the end of his 13th life but he’s trying to hold off the regeneration for as long as possible. He isn’t the only version of the Doctor trying to resist regeneration as the first Doctor (played by David Bradley) doesn’t want to go either.

Of course, the two regenerate eventually but not before joining forces to help a World War 1 soldier (Mark Gatiss) who has mysteriously become lost in time. The storyline is linked to the real-life Christmas truce of 1914 when British and German troops laid down arms in honour of the festive season. This event’s re-creation here is quite special but what makes this episode particularly memorable are the interactions between the two Doctors, who bounce brilliantly off one another. 

Wrapping up this story is the touching end when Nardole, Bill, and Clara show up to say farewell to Capaldi’s departing Doctor. We then get one of the Doctor’s famous speeches instructing his next self to “be kind” and “never cruel or cowardly” before he finally gives in to regeneration. It’s a fabulous scene and a tear-soaked end to Capaldi’s final adventure as the Doctor. 

Do you agree with our list? Would you have ranked these Christmas specials differently? Let us know in the comments below. 


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