Tomorrow, the BBC will air “The Husbands of River Song”, marking the 11th Doctor Who Christmas Special. It was a tradition that began in 2005 and they’ve had one every year since then. Some are stronger than others, but it’s been a treat for Doctor Who fans to get a special episode on Christmas day, no matter what. I’ve enjoyed them all, but I think you can objectively find one or two to be excellent and others a bit forgettable. Below is my obviously biased list of the specials from most disposable to instant classic. I’d love to hear your opinions on where you’d rank them!
10) The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe (2011)
Fun but forgettable. And kind of weird. The Doctor befriends a woman in 1938 and returns 3 years later to thank her. It’s WW2 and she and her children relocate from London due to the bombings to a house in Dorset that the Doctor is posing as a caretaker at. He plans to take them all to a wintery planet but then some miners are trying to harvest the trees with acid rain. And the trees are sentient. It’s pretty weird and the Doctor kind of creates the issue by taking them somewhere dangerous.
9) Last Christmas (2014)
Originally, this was planned as an exit for companion Clara Oswald but at the last minute the actress decided she wanted to stay for another year. The result is a scattered episode that builds up to a goodbye but then is not a goodbye at all. Santa Claus is a hero who helps the Doctor but it’s really because all the characters in the episode are trapped in a shared dream thanks to some evil crabs. Not making that up.
8) The Runaway Bride (2006)
A woman, Donna Noble, is transported onto the Doctor’s TARDIS on her wedding day. It turns out she’s somehow a tool for a huge alien spider with plans to give birth to offspring that will conquer the world. It’s a bit light but gets points for introducing Donna who would return to the show a year later and become one of the all-time great companions. Here, she’s a bit shrill and one-note as a sort of Bridezilla, though.
7) The Time of the Doctor (2013)
This deserves to be higher since it’s the final episode for Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor, but it isn’t really that epic. The Doctor decides to stay on a planet in a town literally called Christmas, where it’s always Christmas, to defend the people that live there. For some reason, his people from Gallifrey are stuck somewhere unknown but can send a signal from there. It brings alien threats who want to destroy the Time Lords so the Doctor spends thousands of years living there, alone. Finally, his companion Clara is able to get there but the Doctor is old and dying without any regenerations left. Clara convinces the Time Lords to give him a new cycle of regenerations which they somehow do. It’s pretty weird. Some emotional beats but kinda sad.
6) The Snowmen (2012)
Pretty fun episode featuring the Doctor living a quiet existence by himself in Victorian London after losing his former companions Amy and Rory. An enemy last seen fighting the Second Doctor, the Great Intelligence, is able to take the form of intelligent snow and form an army of evil snowmen and ice monsters. It’s pretty fun. The Doctor teams up with a barmaid, Clara, and three weirdo friends he has in Victorian London. He ultimately discovers Clara has a mysterious backstory and determines to make her a new companion and figure out her mystery.
5) Voyage of the Damned (2007)
A very fun take on 70s disaster movies. The Doctor’s TARDIS collides with the spaceship Titanic whose alien guests are observing modern-day Earth on Christmas. But the owner of the starship plans to crash it into Earth for unknown reasons and the Doctor teams up with Kylie Minogue’s waitress character, Astrid. It’s a very light, but fun and Christmasy adventure.
4) The Next Doctor (2008)
Visiting Victorian London (the Doctor really loves it there) for Christmas, the Doctor bumps into a man who claims he is the Doctor and our current Doctor (the 10th) believes him to be a future incarnation of himself. They team up to take on the Cybermen who have built a massive Cyber-King steam-powered robot with the exploited use of orphans. It’s a blast and the mystery of the next Doctor is a cool one.
3) The Christmas Invasion (2005)
It gets extra points for both being David Tennant’s first full episode as the 10th Doctor and for kicking off what would become an annual tradition of Christmas specials. The Doctor is having trouble adjusting to his new regeneration just as the Sycorax aliens are invading modern-day London at Christmas. There’s sword fights, evil robot Santas, and some of the Doctor’s most fun supporting characters: Rose, her mom, her boyfriend, Prime Minister Harriet Jones. It’s a great intro to the second Doctor we meet from the renewed Doctor Who.
2) The End of Time (2009)
Technically only the first hour was broadcast on Christmas and the second a week later on New Year’s. It’s a pretty epic send-off for the 10th Doctor as he faces the combined threats of the Master, his oldest enemy and fellow Time Lord as well as the Time Lords themselves, led by the evil Rassilon from the heart of the mysterious Time War we’ve heard mentioned for years but never really observed. The Doctor teams up with Donna Noble’s grandfather, Wilf, and it’s just a really great goodbye to one of the most favorite Doctors ever.
1) A Christmas Carol (2010)
Not just a great special, but a great Doctor Who episode. The 11th Doctor gets a distress call from his companions Amy and Rory who are on a honeymoon spaceship cruiseliner that’s crashing and the miserly Kazran Sardick on the planet below won’t let them land safely. So the Doctor visits Karzan throughout his past on every Christmas. It leads up to an amazing bit of time travel weirdness with the Doctor influencing Karzan (Michael Gambon) in a sneaky way. I don’t want to give it away. It’s too great. There’s also sharks swimming through the skies in this one. Just fun, super Christmasy, sad, exciting, and romantic. The woman that Karzan loves, the doomed Abigail, is played by singer Katherine Jenkins who has an amazing song in the episode.