Please forgive the long, overly-descriptive title. I just wanted everyone to have no doubts about, well, what this post was about. No, this is not an official ranking. It is merely a list of Christmas specials, listed from the one I liked the least (but I still liked) to the one I loved the most. I am not numbering the episodes as I list them, because I want everyone to forget about numbers and positions. This ranking is based on my feelings, on the emotions I had when I first watched the episodes and how they make me feel years later when I think about them. I don’t rank technical aspects, script coherence or other things -although I must admit that, if a script is worse than others, that tends to affect the overall perception of an episode, doesn’t it?
Please, enjoy my personal views and feel free to have opinions that can differ from my own as much or as little as you want.
The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe (2011)
I don’t know if I saw this one on a bad day, but I haven’t watched it since it was broadcast, and I want to write this based on my feelings when I first watched the episodes, so I will just confess that this episode left me indifferent. It wasn’t bad, of course it wasn’t, but it doesn’t rank high on my list of favourites, especially since it came after the memorable ‘A Christmas Carol’.
Voyage of the Damned (2007)
Can I admit I didn’t love this one? I know it has the epic of, well, the Titanic, and the story starts strong, and the Doctor is as cool as he can get in this one, and you have Kylie! And yet, I don’t know if this is because we had just come from a whirlwind of an adventure with John Simm (and Simm and Tennant had wonderful chemistry), but I didn’t care enough for Astrid. Sure, her death was poetic and beautiful, but other than to rewatch the Doctor being carried up by angels (and finally meeting an Alonso!) and saying one of his short, yet powerful speeches, I see no reason to revisit the whole episode.
The Return of Doctor Mysterio (2016)
Even though this one doesn’t add much to the overall story (not that Christmas specials often do that), I enjoyed the chang of direction here. The story is certainly different than what we are used to when it comes to Christmas episodes, and Doctor Who took advantage of the superhero trend and used it in its favour, creating complex characters with a sweet backstory. The usual.
The Next Doctor (2008)
This one was tough, because we know that, when a Doctor Who series ends on a sad note, the special needs to be cheerful in some way. Since we had come from quite some trauma (Donna’s memory being erased, Rose staying back with the other Doctor…), I was too depressed to enjoy anything, but I appreciate that they tried. After all, I am quite fond of David Morrissey and I find him engaging when he does both drama and comedy, and Victorian England has to be one of my favourite Doctor Who settings, so I give it points for that.
The Snowmen (2012)
This ranks higher than the previous one because, although they both have the bonus point of Victorian England, I welcomed the addition of Jenna Coleman as the companion. She was witty and quick with her replies to Eleven. Add Madame Vastra, Jenny, and one of my favourite characters, Strax, and you get the perfect mix. It’s not higher up because I think they underused Sir Ian McKellen and Richard E. Grant -I’m trying to decide whether he is more misused here or in The Rise of Skywalker.
The Runaway Bride (2006)
I dare you not to love the pairing of David Tennant and Catherine Tate. After the overwhelming sadness of losing Rose, Donna Noble showed up to lift up our and the Doctor’s spirits. They had chummy-like chemistry instead of romantic one, which was just what we needed, and it proved so fruitful that it was only a matter of time before she came back. After all, the Doctor needs a mate (not to mate).
Last Christmas (2014)
I found this special to be brilliantly filmed, almost like a movie. I was restless when I watched it, because I genuinely didn’t know if Coleman was leaving at the end of the episode. She didn’t, which I eventually thought was a bit of a mistake, because the dynamic of Clara and the Doctor’s relationship hurt the following series. But she grows old at the end of the special, which killed me inside (it never fails), so I still find this one to be one of the best Capaldi episodes in general.
And please, forget what I said about the dynamics the following series, because they redeemed that problem with the whole memory-wipe plotline. That twist toyed with my feelings and it smashed them to bits, and then it smashed them even more when he regained his memories of her right before regenerating. But let’s stop talking about this or else I will never end.
The Husbands of River Song (2015)
Don’t get me wrong here. When River first showed up with Ten, their chemistry was intriguing: she knows everything, he knows nothing. Then, we got to see the whole development with Eleven, where the relationship fully formed. But weirdly enough, it was her last turn, with Twelve, where the chemistry exploded. Alex Kingston simply worked with Capaldi. There was a trust, an understanding. There was also impending tragedy, because we knew we were going to have to see one day how the Doctor took River to the Singing Towers of Darillium. I just didn’t know it was going to be so fulfilling. And of course, I cried. Just assume I cried with all of them.
Oh! And Nardole shows up for the first time! I know some people complained about the character, but I always saw him as a welcome comic relief.
Twice Upon a Time (2017)
Continuing the comments I began with ‘Last Christmas’, this is the perfect cap to Twelve’s life. First, I need to mention David Bradley’s appearance as the First Doctor, because I want to use this space to mention how grateful I am that An Adventure in Space and Time exists. Here, Bradley’s Doctor perfectly encapsulates how times change, like an old man talking to his teenage grandson. This reunion gives us comedy, but it gives us drama in abundance, too. Drama also comes from the return of Bill and Nardole, only to say goodbye to the Doctor again. And then, Clara shows up and he remembers her. And everything is depressing, because a Doctor is leaving us again and I won’t stop crying, and Capaldi gives us a perfect speech and he transforms into the gloriously-accented Jodie Whittaker. Being a fan of Capaldi before this thanks to The Thick of It, this culminated three series where I discovered a side of him I didn’t know, and I’m thankful for it.
The Time of the Doctor (2013)
As it happens whenever a Doctor leaves, I cried the whole time, which means I could barely contain my emotions. This always sets an episode to become one of my favourites, and yes, this episode’s plot was messy and solved the regeneration problem way too easily, but who cares? A Doctor’s final speech is always sweet and sour, and Smith nailed it, broke the fourth wall and then had a vision of Amy Pond. And that is all I need.
The End of Time (2009)
I can’t really talk about this one, because I might start crying. Which is exactly what I did as Ten spends the last few minutes of the special saying goodbye to all his friends, to then culminate with a brief exchange with pre-Doctor Rose. And then that regeneration. I still can’t cope.
A Christmas Carol (2010)
This is my favourite Matt Smith Christmas special for several reasons. Firstly, because I am partial to stories that have to do with old people. Secondly, because anything based on a book gets my attention. And last, but not least, because Michael Gambon and Katherine Jenkins give outstanding performances. I think this might be, by far, the special where I have cried the most -yes, even more than with ‘The End of Time’.
The Christmas Invasion (2005)
If this is my favourite of them all, I must point out that the reason behind this decision is purely emotional. Growing up in Spain, Doctor Who was not a constant -besides, I was a toddler in the 90s, so it didn’t even exist. During that decade, I caught random showings on TV, but nothing that would allow me to have my “Doctor.” So for me, the moment came when I was a teenager thanks to David Tennant. I though Eccleston was a brilliant Doctor, but he wasn’t there long enough for me to choose him as my own. Therefore, Ten(nant) became my choice, with his charisma, his wit and his I-would-die-and-or-kill-for-you devotion to Rose. So if I have to pick a favourite episode, the first one starring (not appearing, because he shows up in the previous one) Ten is the one to go.
Also, never forget the Sycorax posing like Queen.