08 January 2018

Doctor Who: The Best and Worst Christmas Specials

By // TV

Christmas is a time filled with excitement, presents, love, and a delicious meal, a time families spend together singing carols around the tree. But, let’s face it, Christmas is really a time for Doctor Who, when the beloved show returns to the small screens with a feature-length special, which is the highlight of the holiday season for Whovians all over the world.  Let’s take a look at the best and worst Christmas specials since the return of the series in 2005.

Last Christmas (2014)

A “masterpiece” of the Capaldi era, combining all-too-familiar elements taken from classic movies like Alien, The Thing, Inception, and… Santa Clause? While the episode did have some memorable moments (not too many, to be honest), its attempts to be eclectic and original failed right from the start.

The Return of Doctor Mysterio (2016)

Perhaps the best word to describe this Christmas special is “forgettable”, with a vaguely interesting superhero plot mixed with some Doctor Who mythology. If you don’t remember it, don’t be surprised.

The End of Time (2009)

The 2009 Christmas special was aired at the end of a year with only sporadic Doctor Who appearances on screen – David Tennant has left the series, and he only showed up in a bunch of specials instead of a normal season. His last year was marked by a special that pit him against his nemesis The Master, returning from the dead to wreak havoc on Earth. The special comes with an enormous emotional load – the notorious “I don’t want to go” and the tears on Wilf’s face. But not even the monstrous Master and the hate-filled speech of Timothy Dalton could save the special from its mediocre plot.

The Time of the Doctor (2013)

The Time of the Doctor sure had a handful of memorable moments, like the wooden Cyberman, the Dalek tech hidden in the humans’ skulls, and the emotional farewell of Handles. It is an interesting mix of Dickensian characters and high-speed sci-fi action, which culminates in us not finding out the Doctors name (what a surprise) who then gets a new set of regenerations and quickly turns into Peter Capaldi.

The Snowmen (2012)

2012’s The Snowmen marks the return of a classic Who villain (The Great Intelligence), introduces us to one of the best incarnations of Clara Oswald, scares us with an ice monster governess (let’s face it, a governess is usually pretty scary even without being made of sentient ice), and reunites the Doctor with the Paternoster Gang, one of the most exciting and unique (not to mention funny, especially Strax) set of characters that would deserve their own series. While story-wise this wasn’t the most brilliant special of them all, it was one of the funniest ones.

The Christmas Invasion (2005)

After a painful farewell to Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor, this was the first time we had a chance to meet one of the best regenerations of the character, played by David Tennant. The story of the episode is pretty good, with an alien species trying to pillage Earth for its resources and population through the creative use of blood control technology. It has quite a few memorable moments, like the killer Christmas tree, the robot assassins disguised as a brass band dressed in Santa costumes, and the loss of the Doctor’s hand that became an important plot element later in the series.

The Next Doctor (2008)

An exciting and touching story of a man who loses his family but gets imprinted with all the available information about the Doctor by a Cyberman data storage device. The special has a distinct steampunk look and feel, and has one of the most intellectually challenging female antagonists the Doctor ever had. And David Morrissey plays a good role in the show.

The Husbands of River Song (2015)

This is perhaps the most entertaining special of the Capaldi era. Aside from reuniting the Doctor with his wife, River Song, in her natural “habitat” (a heist, of course), this special was the perfect end to River’s story arc within the Doctor Who universe. We have this episode to thank for Nardole as well as the perfect delivery of the classic “Hello sweetie” by Peter Capaldi himself.

Voyage of the Damned (2007)

Another classic from the Tennant era, a mix of the Poseidon Adventure with the usual Doctor Who antics with a splash of Kylie Minogue to make it a bit tangier. It is an episode filled with action, fun, adventure, and humor, as well as a healthy dose of drama.

The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe (2011)

A special admittedly similar to the Chronicles of Narnia, “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe” involves kids, sentient forests, instantaneous interstellar travel, and an amazing collection of fun moments with Matt Smith’s Doctor. Besides, it ends on a hopeful note, showing that Christmas can be a miraculous time when an old time traveler alien is also involved.

A Christmas Carol (2010)

A Whoish take on Charles Dickens’ classic and a perfect treat for Christmas. It is one of the most emotional specials in the Whoniverse, involving the heir to a massive business empire being taught about love and compassion by a girl who is terminally ill, having just a few days left to live. A wonderful story with fish swimming in the air, Michael Gambon, and true Christmas spirit.

The Runaway Bride (2006)

The Runaway Bride marked Catherine Tate’s entry to the series, which makes this one of the best Christmas specials Doctor Who ever had. While the actual story of the special is pretty forgettable, the constant banter between the two characters makes it one of the most entertaining ones ever made. No wonder Catherine Tate later returned as Donna and was great at it.

Twice Upon a Time (2017)

This year’s Christmas special comes with more variables than a slot machine at, as it marks the end of the Capaldi era, the coming of the first female Doctor, as well as the swan song of showrunner Steven Moffat, who will be replaced by Chris Chibnall, known for his work on ITV series Broadchurch and Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood. The Doctor returned on Christmas Day, bringing back Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) and David Bradley (the first Doctor), and introducing Jodie Whittaker (the first female Doctor).

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