Donna Noble in a wedding dress as the Doctor raises an eyebrow at her.

4 of the Best Doctor Who Holiday Specials

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With Christmas growing nearer and nearer, it’s almost time for the annual Doctor Who holiday special, which will air this time around on New Year’s Day 2020. The upcoming special, titled “Spyfall,” will serve as the series 12 opener, and the first action-packed trailer promises tons of Doctor Who’s signature sci-fi madness, inspired by the iconic James Bond franchise. However, if New Year’s Day sounds like too long to wait to get a taste of Doctor Who holiday magic, I’ve rounded up a list of some of the best Christmas and New Year’s specials to tide you over until series 12 begins.

“The Runaway Bride” – Series 3

If you’re looking for a lighthearted, comedic romp with one of the most dynamic duos in Who history, look no further than the series 3 opener, “The Runaway Bride,” which acts as the introduction to Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble. It’s the first episode of new Who to feature a companion that isn’t Rose, and for many fans, it was difficult to get over her emotional departure. However, “The Runaway Bride” is so vibrant and full of humor that you can’t help but laugh through the pain as you watch David Tennant drag a bewildered, wedding dress-clad Catherine Tate all over London.

“The Runaway Bride” sees fed-up temp worker Donna Noble caught up in an alien plot to harvest humanity that just so happens to be on the same day as her wedding. Luckily for Donna, though, she ends up accidentally materializing in the TARDIS, and quippy, fun-filled chaos ensues as Donna and the Doctor race to save humanity (and get Donna back to her wedding).

While “The Runaway Bride” may not be the most hard-hitting Doctor Who Christmas special, it’s certainly one of the most fun. It was the first episode to introduce the world to the legendary companion that is Donna Noble, and her banter with the Doctor alone is more than enough to make me want to revisit it over and over again.

The Doctor says, "I don't want to go" on Doctor Who.


“The End of Time” Parts 1 & 2 – Series 4

On the other hand, If you’re interested in bawling your eyes out before you open your presents this Christmas, then grab your loved ones, cozy up by the fire, and take a look at David Tennant’s final two-part episode as the Doctor, “The End of Time.” This tear-filled two-parter is a grandiose “goodbye” to the 10th Doctor, and as such, it’s filled to the brim with the greatest species, characters, and moments from all across Tennant’s run.

Featuring the return of John Simm’s sinister version of The Master, “The End of Time” follows the Doctor and Wilfred Mott as the world is once again at the mercy of the maniacal white-haired maniac. Seeing as The Master has historically been the Doctor’s singular greatest foe, it seems only fitting that he be the villain of David Tennant’s final outing.

“The End of Time” has everything: horror, dama, but most of all, heart. It’s a deeply emotional (and at times tragic) sendoff, which makes it the perfect episode to watch if you need a good cry.

Clara in front of the word "dying" written a bunch of times on blackboards in BBC's Doctor Who.

“Last Christmas” – Series 9

If you’re looking for a more recent episode to rewatch this Christmas, look no further than the modern classic “Last Christmas.” Although most holiday specials merely use the time of year as a backdrop for the story, “Last Christmas” goes all-in on the holiday theme. The episode features Clara coming face to face with Santa Claus (or so she thinks).

However, under the cheery, Christmas-colored coating of “Last Christmas” is a mind-warping episode that reminds us just how great Doctor Who can be. The episode is riddled with classic sci-fi and horror references, making it a beautiful homage to the greats of the genre, while also taking a close look at Clara—a companion who frequently faced fan criticism for being “too perfect.”

In “Last Christmas,” Clara struggles with coming to terms with grief, the realities of moving on after death, and having to make the choice between living in a fake bliss or coming to terms with her own flawed reality. Peter Capaldi is also in full force as the 12th Doctor, his constant grouchiness and weird uncle vibes lending the episode some of the series’ best comedy.

The Doctor shouts, "I don't know!" in BBC's Doctor Who.

“The Christmas Invasion” – Series 2 

Maybe instead of a more modern special, you’re on the hunt for some of that sweet, sweet nostalgia. Not to worry, I’ve got you covered! For those of us who want to relive the doctor-companion duo that defined modern Doctor Who for so many viewers, consider looking back at “The Christmas Invasion.”

Taking place immediately after the 9th Doctor’s regeneration, “The Christmas Invasion” follows Rose (along with her boyfriend Mickey and her mother Jackie) as she struggles to come to terms with the Doctor’s new face, as well as taking on killer Christmas trees and, of course, the titular invasion.

This episode marked the beginning of a truly iconic series, thanks in major part to Billie Piper’s iconic portrayal of the blonde, working-class teenage heroine Rose Tyler. “The Christmas Invasion” is not only a delightful treat for longtime fans, but it’s also a perfect jumping-on point for new viewers, so if you’re looking for a hit of nostalgia and a way to introduce your disgruntled relatives to the Christmas miracle that is Doctor Who, consider giving it another watch.

(images: BBC)

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Lauren Coates
Lauren Coates (she/her)is a freelance film/tv critic and entertainment journalist, who has been working in digital media since 2019. Besides writing at The Mary Sue, her other bylines include Nerdist, Paste, RogerEbert, and The Playlist. In addition to all things sci-fi and horror, she has particular interest in queer and female-led stories. When she's not writing, she's exploring Chicago, binge-watching Star Trek, or planning her next trip to the Disney parks. You can follow her on twitter @laurenjcoates