Doctor Who's TARDIS with a Christmas wreath on the door, in front of a Christmas tree

Every ‘Doctor Who’ Christmas Special, Ranked

Doctor Who produced Christmas specials from 2005 right up until 2017. After that, they were replaced by New Year episodes. However, this year the Christmas specials are triumphantly returning with “The Church on Ruby Road“, starring Ncuti Gatwa as the new Doctor. In honor of that, let’s take a look back at the years of festive timey-wimey fun and rank the Christmas episodes from worst to best.

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13. “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” (2016)

Justin Chatwin as The Ghost in Doctor Who: The Return of Doctor Mysterio

Doctor Who plus a superhero sounds great on paper, but “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” just falls short of making it work. There’s nothing it does particularly badly—and Peter Capaldi is great as usual—the episode just fails to really take off.

It doesn’t help that none of the main companions are in this episode, just Matt Lucas’ Nardole, and Lucas was already a controversial figure thanks to his history of Blackface, yellowface, and generally offensive humor. (Unfortunately, he would stick around on Who for a while.)

12. “The Time of the Doctor” (2013)

Matt Smith as the Doctor in Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor

I’m sorry, I know this is Matt Smith’s regeneration episode, but I just don’t like “The Time of the Doctor” all that much. I’ve tried. I think some of it is down to the 11th Doctor doing that gross thing he did so often and kissing a woman on the lips without permission. (This time, it’s the character Tasha Lem, played by Orla Brady.)

Still, this episode has lots of good moments for Clara (Jenna Coleman) and a touching scene between the Doctor and his old, beloved friend Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), so it’s not like there’s nothing to love about it. I just wish it wasn’t so full of Steven Moffat-isms.

11. “The Next Doctor” (2008)

David Morrissey as Jackson Lake in Doctor Who: The Next Doctor

The Doctor, still reeling from the loss of Donna, encounters what he thinks is his future self. But he’s wrong! This person is Jackson Lake (David Morrissey) and something weird has happened to him. Something involving the Cybermen, in fact.

“The Next Doctor” is one of the more forgettable Christmas specials, but it’s still a very fun episode with some twists and turns along the way.

10. “The Snowmen” (2012)

Jenna Coleman as Clara and Matt Smith as the Doctor in Doctor Who: The Snowmen

A Christmas episode that aired mid-season, a departure for Doctor Who. Could it work? Well … nearly? The trouble with this episode is that the Clara we’re following isn’t the “real” Clara, and although she’s a good character it’s hard not to feel a disconnect there.

“The Snowmen” set up many important things for part two of season 7, but it’s a bit of a middling episode on its own. Jenna Coleman’s performance is absolutely charming, though.

9. “The End of Time, Part One” (2009)

Bernard Cribbins as Wilf and David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor in Doctor Who: The End of Time part 1

The only reason “The End of Time, Part One” isn’t higher up the list is because technically it’s only half a story, with the second and last part airing on New Year’s Day. It also has to do a lot of heavy lifting setting things up for the big finale of Tennant’s regeneration.

But all in all it’s an exciting Christmastime with the Doctor that takes us to some places we haven’t been before, alongside beloved companion Wilf (Bernard Cribbins). Oh, and the Master (John Simm) is back … and now he’s eating people! Merry Christmas!

8. “The Husbands of River Song” (2015)

Peter Capaldi as the Doctor and Alex Kingston as River Song in Doctor Who: The Husbands of River Song

River’s timeline is very wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey. In her first story—you know, the one where she dies—she makes reference to something called the Singing Towers of Darillium, and in “The Husbands of River Song” we finally get to see what happened there.

This episode is a great send-off for River Song. Alex Kingston clearly loved playing her and that shines through in every moment.  And the ending River gets in this episode makes me smile (albeit slightly sadly, knowing what’s coming) every time.

7. “Twice Upon a Time” (2017)

Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts, Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor, and David Bradley as the First Doctor in Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time

Here’s Bill Potts, beloved companion of the 12th Doctor. But didn’t she get converted into a Cyberman, I hear you cry? Well … no, not quite. It’s complicated, okay? And “Twice Upon a Time,” Peter Capaldi’s last episode, makes it even more complicated as the Doctor puts off his inevitable regeneration.

That aside, this a lovely episode featuring the First Doctor (now played by David Bradley, as William Hartnell passed away in 1975) and a plot involving the Christmas Truce, a well-documented moment in World War I, when British and German troops alike put down their weapons and had fun for a few precious hours.

6. “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe” (2011)

Claire Skinner as Madge Arwell in Doctor Who: The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe

“The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe” is a World War II-set, Narnia-inspired Christmas adventure starring Claire Skinner as Madge Arwell, a woman who hasn’t been able to tell her two children that their father is missing in action. Then one of the kids climbs inside a massive gift box and finds himself in another world…

By the end of this episode the Doctor is healed from the events of the season 6 finale, “The Wedding of River Song,” and ready to meet up with Amy and Rory again. He has his Christmas dinner with his beloved friends the Ponds, and I cry happy tears.

5. “Voyage of the Damned” (2007)

Kylie Minogue as Astrid and David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor in Doctor Who: Voyage of the Damned

Wait, is that KYLIE MINOGUE? It is indeed! The world-famous Australian singer stars in “Voyage of the Damned” as Astrid, a waitress aboard a floating replica of the doomed ocean liner Titanic. And if you think that sounds wild, well, we’re just getting started.

Things soon turn into a space-set take on The Poseidon Adventure, with plenty of characters getting lost along the way. For a Christmas episode, “Voyage of the Damned” has a surprisingly high body count, and the Doctor emerges from it all decidedly saddened. But hopeful.

4. “Last Christmas” (2014)

Jenna Coleman as Clara, Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor, and Nick Frost as Santa in Doctor Who: Last Christmas

A Christmas outing for Clara. In “Last Christmas” she has an adventure with the 12th Doctor, some innocent bystanders, and … Santa Claus? Yep, Santa himself is in this episode, played by Nick Frost. You don’t get much more Christmassy than that.

This episode was originally Clara’s final one, but then Coleman decided to stay on (can’t blame her, can you?) and so the script was rewritten. If you love Clara—and I do!—this is a great showcase for her.

3. “The Runaway Bride” (2006)

David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor and Catherine Tate as Donna Noble in Doctor Who: The Runaway Bride

Believe it or not, when Catherine Tate first popped up at the end of “Doomsday,” right after the touching farewell between the Doctor and Rose, some fans were furious. How DARE this annoying comedian lady ruin Doctor Who?! (You may have noticed, if you’ve been in the fandom for long enough, that every new thing ruins Doctor Who.)

Well, “The Runaway Bride” made those fans shut up. Tate’s Donna Noble was an amazing character and a breath of fresh air. The sibling-like relationship between her and the Doctor was fantastic … and it survives to the present day.

2. “A Christmas Carol” (2010)

Michael Gambon as Kazran, Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor and Katherine Jenkins as Abigail in Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol

Well, no prizes for guessing the plot of this one! The spaceship Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) are honeymooning on is crashing, and only a bitter old man called Kazran (Michael Gambon) can save it. But he won’t. Unless the Doctor goes back in time and ensures he emerges from Christmas a changed man?

“A Christmas Carol” has everything you could possibly want in a Doctor Who episode: a romance, a song, a redemption, and a massive flying shark.

1. The Christmas Invasion (2005)

David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor and Billie Piper as Rose Tyler in Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion

The first Doctor Who Christmas Special is still the best. In “The Christmas Invasion,” the Doctor has just regenerated from Christopher Eccleston’s Nine into David Tennant’s 10, but he’s suffering from the aftereffects and out of action … juuuuust as Earth gets invaded.

This was everybody’s introduction to David Tennant as the Doctor and WHAT an impact he made. Christmas Day television was never the same again.

(featured image: BBC)

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Sarah Barrett
Sarah Barrett (she/her) is a freelance writer with The Mary Sue who has been working in journalism since 2014. She loves to write about movies, even the bad ones. (Especially the bad ones.) The Raimi Spider-Man trilogy and the Star Wars prequels changed her life in many interesting ways. She lives in one of the very, very few good parts of England.