In the grand tapestry of time and space, few television series have captured the hearts and imaginations of audiences quite like Doctor Who. With Ncuti Gatwa creating an unforgettable beginning to his era on Christmas Day, let’s delve into the festive spirit that has become a tradition in the Doctor’s adventures and regenerations. The Christmas specials, spanning back to 2005, have become an annual gift to fans, blending the magic of the season with the brilliance of the sci-fi that defines the series.
From heartwarming moments to epic showdowns, each special is a unique chapter in the Doctor’s ever-expanding chronicles. As we unwrap the adventures each Doctor has undergone on Christmas, we’ll explore the highs and lows, the comedic brilliance, and the tear-jerking emotions that these episodes bring. Grab a cup of hot cocoa, wrap yourself in your favourite blanket, and let the journey through time and space commence! Here are the Doctor Who Christmas specials ranked.
14. “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe” (2011)
Ranked at the bottom, yet far from being a poor episode, is Matt Smith‘s “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe.” This special stands out as a stellar Christmas episode in the Doctor Who adventures, weaving a story of enchantment and emotion that captures the spirit of the holiday season with a delightful blend of adventure, delight, and emotion.
Set during World War II, the episode follows the Eleventh Doctor as he promises to return recently widowed Madge Arwell’s (Claire Skinner) husband for Christmas. The Doctor takes Madge and her children to a mysterious forest planet where they discover a portal to an enchanting world. Unbeknownst to them, the trees hold a dark secret. As they navigate the magical landscape, the Doctor faces a perilous dilemma that requires the Arwells’ courage and kindness. With its heartwarming narrative, dazzling visuals, and a perfect blend of sci-fi and Christmas magic, “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe” is not one to miss.
13. “The Next Doctor” (2008)
“The Next Doctor” is a delightful addition to the show’s Christmas lineup. Set in Victorian London, the story follows the Doctor on Christmas Eve as he encounters a man named Jackson Lake (David Morrissey) who claims to be the next incarnation of the Doctor. However, the man suffers from memory loss and believes he is a Time Lord. Together, they investigate the mysterious Cybermen threat in the city whilst also searching for the truth behind the man’s past. The real Doctor must help Jackson overcome his delusion and confront the CyberKing, a massive Cyberman warship threatening to destroy London.
The 2008 Doctor Who Christmas special blends emotion and humour, showcasing the ability of David Tennant’s Doctor to adapt to different people across time and space.
12. “Voyage of the Damned” (2007)
David Tennant returns for his third Christmas special during his run in Doctor Who as the Tenth Doctor. “Voyage of the Damned” incorporates three vital aspects: brilliant storytelling, dynamic characters, and suspenseful plot. In this action-packed episode, the Tenth Doctor finds himself aboard the spaceship Titanic, a luxury liner navigating through space. The Doctor discovers that the ship is on a collision course with Earth, and he must rally a diverse group of passengers to prevent disaster. Amidst chaos and betrayal, the Doctor forms a surprising alliance and deeper connection with one of the survivors, Astrid Peth (Kylie Minogue), causing challenges and heartbreak throughout the special.
“Voyage of the Damned” is a standout episode in the Doctor Who series, combining heart-wrenching moments with exhilarating action, which resonates with both longtime fans and newcomers alike.
11. “A Christmas Carol” (2011)
“The Christmas Carol” episode of Doctor Who is a festive tale that seamlessly blends the show’s trademark science fiction elements with the warmth and spirit of Christmas. The clever incorporation of A Christmas Carol’s timeless narrative allows for a compelling and emotional storyline.
In the Doctor Who Christmas special, the Doctor arrives in Victorian London on Christmas Eve, where he encounters a miserly old man named Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon). The Doctor learns that Sardick is being tormented by ghostly apparitions who show him the consequences of his selfish and heartless ways. As the Doctor investigates, he discovers that an alien entity is manipulating time to teach Sardick a lesson about compassion and redemption. With the help of the TARDIS and some timey-wimey adventures, the Doctor works to break the alien’s influence and guide Sardick towards a path of kindness.
10. “Twice Upon a Time” (2017)
“Twice Upon a Time” serves as Peter Capaldi‘s farewell and introduces Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor, admirably navigating the complexities of time travel and regeneration. The narrative weaves together multiple timelines, showcasing the rich history of the show while offering a poignant exploration of identity and change, and with its thoughtful writing, humour, and emotional resonance, “Twice Upon a Time” makes a fitting tribute to the show’s legacy while propelling it into a new era.
The episode follows the Doctor as he finds himself at the South Pole, encountering his first incarnation (David Bradley) who is refusing to regenerate. Simultaneously, a World War I British Army captain mysteriously appears, resisting his inevitable death. The two Doctors, along with their companions Bill (Pearl Mackie) and Nardole (Matt Lucas), discover they are trapped in a moment frozen in time. As they unravel the mystery, they encounter enigmatic beings known as Testimonies, who record the memories of the departed. The Doctors must confront their fears and make crucial decisions that will shape their destinies.
9. “The Christmas Invasion” (2005)
David Tennant has earned his place as one of the most beloved Doctors in the 60-year history of Doctor Who, and “The Christmas Invasion” serves as the inaugural chapter of his remarkable era. This Christmas special not only marks the uniting of the Tenth Doctor and Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) for the first time but also encapsulates everything needed to infuse the holiday season with merriment.
After the Ninth Doctor’s (Christopher Eccleston) regeneration, the newly appointed Tenth Doctor must save Earth from an alien threat during Christmas. The Sycorax, a warrior race, hijack the Earth’s satellite network, demanding a duel to decide humanity’s fate. The Doctor is incapacitated, leaving companion Rose Tyler and her family to negotiate. With Earth on the brink, the Doctor awakens and confronts the Sycorax leader in a dramatic sword fight, ultimately saving the day.
8. “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” (2016)
“The Return of Doctor Mysterio,” released as the 2016 Christmas special, marks a refreshing departure from the traditional holiday tone by incorporating superhero elements into the beloved sci-fi narrative. The writing by Steven Moffat seamlessly integrates the Doctor’s quirky brilliance with the superhero genre, resulting in a captivating and entertaining storyline.
“The Return of Doctor Mysterio” follows the Doctor’s encounter with a superhero named the Ghost (Justin Chatwin), a mild-mannered nanny who became the Ghost after accidentally gaining superpowers in New York City. The Doctor, along with his companion Nardole, investigates an alien threat involving brain-swapping aliens called the Harmony Shoal. Meanwhile, Grant has his challenges juggling his superhero identity and personal life. This Doctor Who Christmas special is a testament to the show’s ability to reinvent itself while staying true to its core, making it a memorable and delightful addition to the Doctor Who legacy.
7. “The Runaway Bride” (2006)
Catherine Tate makes her first appearance in “The Runaway Bride,” infusing dynamism into the Tenth Doctor’s character and creating a lasting impression through their palpable chemistry as an iconic duo. Despite “The Runaway Bride” deserving a higher position on the list, its placement as the sixth-best Doctor Who Christmas special is influenced by the extensive narrative history of the show.
The episode combines suspense and humour as the Doctor helps Donna navigate an alien threat on her wedding day after she mysteriously appears in the TARDIS wearing a wedding dress. She discovers that her special day has been interrupted by the Empress of the Racnoss (Sarah Parish), an alien spider creature plotting to flood Earth. The Doctor and Donna must work together to destroy the Empress’s plan and save the planet, whilst facing new challenges and uncovering secrets along the way.
6. “The Time of the Doctor” (2013)
“The Time of the Doctor” stands out as a remarkable Doctor Who episode due to its poignant storytelling, emotional depth, and the brilliant performance of Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor. Serving as Smith’s farewell, the episode skillfully weaves together complex narrative threads, resolving longstanding mysteries surrounding the silence and the cracks in time.
“The Time of the Doctor” is a pivotal episode in the Doctor Who series, featuring the Eleventh Doctor stranded on the planet Trenzalore as he must confront a mysterious message echoing through time that signals the end of his life. The planet is overtaken by various alien races seeking to prevent the Doctor from answering the message, which turns out to be the Time Lords trapped in another universe. As the Doctor faces his final moments, he is granted a new set of regenerations, transforming into the Twelfth Doctor, portrayed by Peter Capaldi.
5. “Last Christmas” (2014)
The “Last Christmas” is a holiday gem that weaves together holiday cheer with gripping storytelling. The Doctor and Clara (Jenna Coleman) find themselves trapped in a dream within a dream, facing deadly creatures called Dream Crabs. The story unfolds in a snowy North Pole base where scientists are under attack by these parasitic creatures. The Doctor must navigate the dreamscape, confront the Crabs, and save his companions.
Along the way, he encounters Santa Claus (Nick Frost), who aids in the battle against the Dream Crabs as the layers of reality blur. The episode’s clever mix of genres, from horror elements to emotional character development, makes it a standout installment in the series.
4. “The Husbands of River Song” (2015)
“The Husbands of River Song” marks the return of the beloved character River Song (Alex Kingston), bringing a chemistry with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor that is both charming and electric. This heartfelt special revolves around River’s quest to steal a priceless diamond, leading her to encounter the Doctor, whom she initially fails to recognize in his new incarnation.
The episode explores their complex relationship and showcases their chemistry as they navigate a heist, face danger, and ultimately share a poignant moment of revelation and understanding. “The Husbands of River Song” is a perfect full-circle moment for both River Song and Doctor Who fans as it ends the ongoing, mysterious relationship and story between the Doctor and Song.
3. “The Snowmen” (2012)
“The Snowmen” is a memorable and enjoyable installment in the series that introduces a new and intriguing companion, Clara Oswald, whose chemistry with the Eleventh Doctor is both charming and compelling. The storyline captures the essence of the show’s versatility, featuring standout performances, particularly from Richard E. Grant as the villainous Doctor Simeon and the return of the beloved Silurian Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh) and her companions.
The Christmas special follows the Doctor, who is in self-imposed isolation, grieving over the loss of his companions. However, a threat emerges in the form of sentient snowmen animated by a mysterious force. The Doctor teams up with a governess named Clara, who possesses an uncanny resemblance to a previous companion. As they investigate the snowmen and an ominous organization called the Great Intelligence, they uncover a plot to take over the world.
2. “The Church on Ruby Road” (2023)
Ncuti Gatwa makes a groundbreaking entrance as the Fifteenth Doctor, marking the initiation of the New Who era in Doctor Who. “The Church on Ruby Road” introduces a cherished new companion, Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson), as she joins forces with the Doctor. Together, they embark on a mission to rescue babies from menacing goblins with an appetite for children.
The narrative unfolds with multiple questions — some of which remain unresolved, adding an element of suspense for the upcoming season. “The Church on Ruby Road” serves as a captivating installment that beautifully epitomizes the spirit of Christmas. It explores the warmth and love shared within families, the importance of a caring home, and, most significantly, how imperative it is to extend help to those in need during critical times.
1. “End of Time” Parts 1 & 2 (2009/10)
Taking its place as the best Doctor Who Christmas special is David Tennant’s farewell in “The End of Time” Parts 1 and 2. This two-part episode follows Tennant’s Doctor as faces his imminent demise and confronts the prophecy of his death. The Time Lords, thought to be extinct, are attempting to return from the Time War, led by the vengeful Lord President Rassilon (Timothy Dalton). Simultaneously, an ancient being known as the Master (John Simm) resurfaces, bringing chaos to Earth. The Doctor, aided by his companion Wilfred Mott (Bernard Cribbins), races against time to prevent the cataclysmic events that could destroy reality itself.
Russell T Davies’ writing combines wit, drama, and a touch of nostalgia, while the performances, especially Tennant and Simm, elevate the story to a captivating level. The visuals are impressive, with epic set pieces and a sense of scale befitting the grandiosity of the storyline, making “The End of Time” the best Doctor Who Christmas special.
Ncuti Gatwa Returns This May To Continue His New ‘Doctor Who’ Era
Doctor Who’s Christmas specials have become cherished traditions that blend the magic of the holiday season with the time-traveling adventures of the beloved Time Lord. These specials capture the essence of the holiday while delivering thrilling narratives that resonate with fans across generations, leaving an indelible mark on the show’s rich history.
As we celebrate the spirit of giving, these episodes remind us that, in the Doctor’s world, hope and compassion are timeless gifts. After Gatwa’s unforgettable addition to the Christmas specials, he returns this May as he embarks on his journey alongside companion Ruby Sunday.
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