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The definitive ranking of the Christmas Doctor Who episodes

14 mins read

At least in my family it wasn’t Christmas without a Doctor Who Christmas episode. Now although Doctor Who episodes now feature on BBC One on New Years now is the time to look back at all of them over the years and decide once and for all what the best episode is. A disclaimer before we launch in, I have not included Jodie Whittaker’s episodes in the list because those are technically New Years Day episodes.

13. The Next Doctor 
A slight sense of mystery is at the centre of this episode with Doctor Who encountering another man claiming to be the Doctor (David Morrissey) who also runs rounds with a companion and knows everything about his life. Together they must stop an invasion of Cybermen who are working with workhouse matron Miss Hartigan. The Cyberman are of course a classic nemesis trying to upgrade 1800’s London. Unfortunately for this episode it’s a little forgettable in comparison to many other Christmas episodes and Cybermen episodes alike.

Image credit – BBC

12. The Return of Doctor Mysterio
Harmless Christmas fun from the 13th Doctor. Set in New York City, The Doctor accidentally gives a child superpowers and 24 years later they must work together to save the city. It’s funny, it’s sweet and Matt Lucas is only a little bit annoying. Nothing wrong with the episode, just the American accents are quite annoying. It’s quite separate to the overall Doctor Who timeline and therefore makes it a little more disjointed in retrospect to the other episodes.

Image credit – BBC

11. A Christmas Carol
A slightly haphazard episode where killer fish terrorise a city clouded by fog. When the Doctor only has an hour to save a ship with 3000 people including Amy and Rory we launch into the ghost of Christmas past, present and future to persuade Kazran Sardick (Micheal Gambon) to allow the ship to land safely. I think what is quite off putting about this episode is the timeline. The Doctor only has an hour before the ship crashes but there is a lot of going back and forth. It’s all a bit confusing. Not trying to diminish the beauty of the wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff but it doesn’t make much sense. I find the kindled relationship between Sardick and Abigail quite bizarre considering he is a child when she first meets him and an old man at the end but she never ages. The Christmas Carol story is still timeless and with some actual Christmas carols thrown in there you can almost ignore the weird timeline. 

Image credit – BBC

10. Twice upon a Time
Peter Capaldi’s last episode opens with an interesting set up as he meets The Doctor that refused to regenerate guest starring David Bradley as a very politically incorrect Doctor. As both the 1st and 13th Doctor are refusing to regenerate in the same timeline it freezes time right in the midst of World War One getting a British soldier (Mark Gatiss) caught in the middle of it all. Despite Capaldi and Bradley’s ability to bounce off each other the episode is, well, a little boring. Even with the inclusion of a dalek there’s nothing incredibly exciting throughout. The ending must be said to be excellent, featuring the Christmas Truce and Peter Capaldi doing what Peter Capaldi does best for the last time, a good old monologue.

Image credit – BBC

9. The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe
Doctor Who does love a good wartime episode. After discovering her husband has died on the front line Madge Arwell (Clare Skinner) takes her children to the countryside for Christmas where The Doctor, owing her a favour, appears as the caretaker. A Christmas present gone wrong takes the whole family to a different planet about to be destroyed. A wooden alien which bar creates problems for the sonic screwdriver doesn’t create too much tension. It’s an easy family watch (that will have mums around the country looking very smug) that allows Matt Smith to go charging around fixing Christmas for another family. 

Image credit – BBC

8. Voyage of the Damned 
A Classic David Tennent episode. The ability to create high stakes and emotional connections to all of the characters making it an hour of intense watching. Kylie Minogue features rather excitingly and performs really well as a makeshift companion for the episode. That is before she is brutally killed like all the other likeable characters in the episode. David Tennant episodes tend to be darker and in particular this episode conveyed the frustration of sometimes it’s not the good people that survive and prosper in life sometimes it is the selfish people. Normally David Tennant revealing harsh truths while strutting around a flying titanic with fire blazing behind him goes down a hit. However on Christmas it doesn’t quite have the same impact when you want some Christmas cheer. 

Image Credit – BBC

7. The Christmas Invasion 
The first Christmas episode ever as well as our introduction of David Tennent. Interestingly he doesn’t do much for half of the episode as he recovers from his regeneration. His discovery of what kind of a doctor he is is an interesting turn of events while trying to get the Sycorax to leave planet earth on Christmas. The only really festive element of the episode is when Rose and Mickey get attacked by Santas in a marching band. David Tennent duelling aliens however does even out the lack of Christmas spirit. This episode would be ranked higher if The Doctor was more awake but unfortunately the regeneration really took it out of him.

Image credit – BBC

6. The Husbands of River Song 
Finally a Christmas episode with River! The twist is of course she doesn’t recognise the Doctor’s new face. An adventure surrounding the stealing of the most precious diamond in the world ensues with the added problem that it’s been impaled into the head of king Hydroflax (Greg Davies). Some snow thrown in throughout the episode to make it feel a touch festive, it’s the spirit of River Song that makes the episode feel somewhat Christmassey. A brilliant episode allowing the relationship and storyline of the Doctor and River to have a proper (sort of) end with the energy never ceasing throughout.

Image credit – BBC

5. The Snowmen 
The formal introduction of Clara Oswald, the impossible girl. Set in Victorian England where the 12th Doctor has given up helping earth but a mob of killer snowmen and a certain governess pulls him back into the fight. Fan favourites (Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint and Sontaran Strax) assist to stop Doctor Simeon taking over Christmas. Goosebump moments from just the single word ‘Pond’ being uttered and The Doctor pretending to be Sherlock Holmes stand out in the episode but overall it’s a classic 12th Doctor adventure. 

Image credit – BBC

4. The End of Time Part 1 and 2
The very best of Doctor Who, sort of average in terms of festivities. Before anyone cries on Christmas the 2 part extravaganza with David Tennent bowing out is still up here. David Tennents performance alone with a particular nod to his “I could have done so much more” speech has to score well. The return of John Simm as the Master as well and the biggest plot twist “how on earth are they back” moment in Doctor Who history. David Tennent’s slow regeneration paying homage to all of his previous companions and friends allowed for nostalgia to run rampant this Christmas. So you may call me a heartless Darlek for putting this higher but I do like my Christmas episode a little more well Christmassey. 

Image credit – BBC

3. The Time of the Doctor 
Darleks and Angels and Cybermen oh my. And The Doctor has to save Christmas and the Time lords from all of them. By Christmas I mean a town. Matt Smith’s regeneration is an emotional one but not before he gets one last 12th Doctor ramble in style. It’s more of a subtle Christmas energy but the goodwill of 12 always puts a smile on peoples face. Similar to the End of Time it has everything you want in a Doctor Who episode, plot twists, heartstrings tugged, a good laugh throughout and mentions of Gallifray which is always exciting. What sets apart the Time of the Doctor however was that is solved the great problem faced by the show, how can the Doctor regenerate again. Solving this conundrum alone pushed the ranking up without mention of Smith’s stunning performance.

Image credit – BBC

2. The Runaway Bride 
Possibly the best opening to any Christmas episode and best introduction to a companion ever. Catherine Tate as Donna Noble steals the show and that alone puts the episode high up on the list. The ancient Racnoss Empress is trying to take over the world on Christmas Eve but blushing bride Donna Noble holds the final piece. Not the most ‘Christmassey’ of episodes but Donna getting kidnapped by robot Santas deserves a nod. The villain is weaker in comparison to other episodes however which lowers the stakes throughout. However Donna and the Doctor never go amiss at any time of the year especially at Christmas.

Image credit – BBC

1. Last Christmas
Rewatching this episode I was shocked to see how brilliant it was. Peter Capaldi’s era always gets overlooked in comparison to Smith and Tennent but in retrospect his dry humour withstands the test of time. Featuring Nick Frost as an affronted and sarcastic Father Christmas the episode focuses on the deadly dream crabs, killing people while messing with their heads all while on the north pole. If you can keep up with dreams within dreams then this episode fully understands the true meaning of a Timelord’s Christmas. With brain sucking aliens mixed with a heartfelt subplot about grief it ticks all the boxes. I’d like to mention in particular the dynamic between Peter Capaldi and Nick Frost is brilliant. 

Featured Image – BBC

Image credit – BBC

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Film, Media and Journalism student who writes about things that catch her interest. Instagram @charlsutcliffe

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