So, since 2005, each year the BBC has produced a special Christmas edition of the longest running science-fiction television series. Usually full of snow that isn't snow, Christmas themed enemies such as snowmen and robot Santa's, they are (as with the show its self) usually of very high quality and worth watching. But which episodes are must see and which should you only watch if you are a show completionist? Well, this week I'm going to rank all 12 Christmas episodes from my least favourite to my favourite.
Warning: Opinions below. You have been warned.
12. The Time Of The Doctor (2013)
This is the only Christmas special I don't like. I found it rather boring and the story rather lacklustre, especially considering that this episode was Matt Smith's swansong as the Doctor and had been built up to over 3 series. I said at the time this episode felt like they wanted to do too much for the time they had and had to scale back, but in doing so they scaled back too much and ended up with not enough to fill the time they had. The removal of Clara and the audience from what is going on with the Doctor half way through left us removed from the action when we did finally return, which didn't help and the end went slightly too long and dragged. However, it did have good moments. The beginning up to Clara being sent away was a very fun romp and the Daleks were a great primary antagonist, even if the Cybermen/ Weeping Angels/ Sontarans were mostly wasted. All in all, the least essential Christmas episode and one of the weaker New Who episodes.
11. The Husbands Of River Song (2015)
Ok, the negatives out of the way first for this one. I don't like Greg Davies as a villain, I don't like Matt Lucas period and I didn't get Scratch's motivations to get the diamond that was already in King Hydrofax's possession (all-be-it inside his head) for King Hydrofax. Ok, so that's the negatives out of the way, now for the rest of it. Well, the plot wasn't as strong as many of the other Christmas episodes, so that's why it's so low, but Capaldi and Kingston more than make up for it. Whilst she doesn't have as much chemistry with Capaldi as she did with Tennant or Smith, Alex Kingston is always welcome as River Song, a character who was the Doctors equal not because she needed some plot convenient reason for a season finale (though they did do that) but because she was the Doctor's equal from the start. And it was a good way to end Kingston's tenure as an on/off companion, bringing her character's story full circle. Not a bad episode by any means, but not on the level of some of the other episodes on this list.
10. The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe (2011)
Now, this episode. It had very little wrong with it. Yes it had all of the over gooey sentimentality of a Christmas episode but it was a Christmas episode so that point is moot. However, it never really went above and beyond in my opinion. Matt Smith is his normal self (i.e. he's excellent) and all the guests are decent enough, but there's very little in the way of Doctor Who moments in this episode. It's a middle-ground episode for me, it doesn't do anything wrong, it just doesn't have that great memorability.
9. The Runaway Bride (2006)
Ok, now we start getting into really difficult territory. All of the episodes that I have ranked from 9 to 6 are all really good episodes, so choosing who to rank where was really difficult, but someone had to get the short straw and unfortunately it was this episode. Now, I still maintain that Catherine Tate as Donna Noble was the best companion the Doctor has ever had, but this was her first episode and there were teething problems. You could see the chemistry Tate and Tennant had, but it wasn't quite there yet (especially considering the first episode they did with Donna as a full time companion). Tate was still in her comedy British lower-class act at the time and considering where she would take Donna as a character, this episode is somewhat of an anomaly. Still, she has her moments in this episode where you can see what the character would become. Also, marking this episode down is the main villain. The costume looks amazing but the over-acting is real on this one. I can't take her seriously as a threat when she's doing school pantomime monster level acting throughout, sorry. But still, it's a David Tennant episode, and whilst the series hadn't matured past the "for kids" blinkers that most people had of the revived series at the time, Tennant is on form.... actually, that sentence is redundant isn't it, he was never off form. Despite it's low ranking here, it's still at least a 4/5 episode.
8. Voyage Of The Damned (2007)
Much like The Runaway Bride, this was a tough one to place. It contains some of the best moments of any recent Doctor Who and has some of Tennant's finest moments (possibly top 3 best Tennant performances from the series). Kylie Minogue is a fantastic foil for Tennant and I'm sure nobody would have been adverse to seeing her carry on as the companion for another series. And the production value is above and beyond, even for a Doctor Who episode. However, there are a few things holding it back. The number of pointless character sacrifices in this episode is ridiculous, out of the 8 episode characters introduced 3 kill themselves to save other people, including 2 in the space of 2 minutes, and one character dies by accident. It is a bit silly. And the ending is really cheesy. Like it's gorgonzola levels. Astrid's sacrifice is so, so overdone it completely undermines the frankly excellent back and forth the Doctor and Max Capricorn had been having shortly prior. But still, not a bad episode by any means.
7. The Next Doctor (2008)
This is one of the Christmas episodes I tend to forget about, alongside The Doctor The Widow and The Wardrobe. However, it has to rank higher because it's a better episode. There is the standard Russel T. Davis Christmas cheese selection, but it isn't invasive as it is in Voyage Of The Damned. Both of the main guest stars, David Morrissey and Dervla Kirwan, are excellent, Morrissey as the amnesiac who believes he is the Doctor and Kirwan as the villainess who despises humanity for its weaknesses. The story is compelling and you are drawn in by Morrissey's plight. Oh and it has the Cybermen, who are pretty reliable villains.
6. A Christmas Carol (2010)
Matt Smith was always at his best when is character was faced with an enemy that made him get serious. But that is only because his character was so fun and this is a perfect example of the later. Taking on the worlds grumpiest Grandpa in Michael Gambon, we have a twist on the classic Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, where the Doctor takes the role of all three spirits in an effort to change a man's life for the better. It's classic Moffat/ Smith Who, layers of joy punctuated with an underlying darker undertone, it has the perfect balance that an adaptation of A Christmas Carol would need.
5. The End Of Time Part 1 (2009)
So, the top 5. If I were counting both parts to this as one episode, this would easily be number 1 because I think the End Of Time Part 2 is one of the best episodes in the history of the series. However, we're only counting the episodes shown on Christmas day, so End Of Time Part 2 is out. And that leaves us with just Part 1 and unfortunately that brings it down a bit. Not that this is a bad episode, Bernard Cribbins is sublime, seriously the dude is perfect, and John Sim plays his Master well (although more of a maniac than a mad genius). We also have some great moments, such as the café scene. However, this episode suffers purely because it is just setting up for the second part and as good as a part 1 to a story can be, it can never be perfect because it doesn't have a resolution. So, number 5 is as high as it can go unfortunately.
4. Last Christmas (2014)
What is more Christmassy than Santa? Nothing that's what. And I'm sure everyone was expecting a cringe fest. How were they going to have an episode with a person that no-one above the age of 8 believes is real, and actually set it in what is meant to be "the real world". But they did it, by not making it the real world (maybe, the ending makes it so that maybe he does exist or maybe they're still dreaming). Either way, it's the darkest Christmas episode, mostly a homage to The Thing and Alien, it takes a classic sci-fi trope of "what is real and what isn't" and utilises the horror setting and claustrophobic atmosphere to great effect. And then Santa and his elves turn up to throw the absurdity into the mix and remind us that "this is a Christmas episode". The juxtaposition should be jarring, but it works thanks to Nick Frost's excellent performance opposite Peter Capaldi, who really came into his own in this episode. Oh and Danny Pink was a great character who they killed off way too soon, so it was nice to see him back, even if he was just a dream.
3. The Christmas Invasion (2005)
The first Christmas special. It was an uncertain episode, the series was going through its first regeneration since being revived and everyone was wondering how the new guy was going to fare. Then he had a sword fight with an alien and beat him with a satsuma whilst referencing the Lion King. Oh and he was revived from his post-regeneration coma by a cup of Tea because Britain (God save our gracious Queen etc. etc.). Rose and family carried the episode admirably in Tennant's absence and there was a welcome return from Harriet Jones, former MP for Flydale North now Prime Minister of the UK. Yes, the Sycorax's scheme was silly, blood control and killing people by hypnosis, but overall the episode was the right balance of Christmassy without being cheesy and was a great way to introduce David Tennant to the series.
2. The Return Of Doctor Mysterio (2016)
This episode had no right to be as good as it was. Ok, dream sequence Santa was doable, but an actual Superhero? Plus there's Matt Lucas and Matt Lucas stopped being funny a decade ago. But... this episode was fantastic. The right amount of pastiche to make the silliness of the concept work, the correct amount of love to make the homage well placed, the correct amount of Matt Lucas (a.k.a sparring) to make it bearable. Basically, a love letter to the 70's Superman films with added Doctor, it had all the things you'd hope for. The Clark/ Lois love story (done in exactly the same way as the films basically), a villain that was basically Brainiac, a plot taken straight from The Watchmen, the Superman catching the plane spot, oh and a riff on Christian Bale's Batman voice. Peter Capaldi didn't do anything special in the episode, no big clever moments, no grand speeches (well, one) but he didn't need to. He just had to sit back and be the guy that connected everything back to the show whilst the story worked around him and it just worked. Sure it could have probably done with a few more minutes to properly work the love story but that's just picking at the smallest of nits. Go watch it.
And number 1, you should be able to work out by now.
1. The Snowmen (2012)
Before Clara the Mary-Sue school teacher, we had Clara the barmaid/ governess. We also had Matt Smith in a top hat living in the sky. And we had the pator-noster gang, which is always welcome. So, you take those elements, Matt Smith on the form of his life, Jenna Coleman as a character you really cared about and Strax and his desire to melt people with acid and his inability to catch a memory worm, and how do you improve? Well, Sir Ian McKellan (as in Gandalf and Magneto) is a good place to start, because he is excellent and even if he's just doing a voice over his voice is one of the best to listen to, voicing a returning classic villain in the form of The Great Intelligence. Then you add Richard E. Grant as the devious Dr. Simeon. Wrap it up in a story so compelling that it makes intelligent snow seem actually threatening rather than ridiculously silly and top it off with a properly tragic death and what do you get? Well, you get the best Doctor Who Christmas Special obviously. I mean it's number one, what else did you expect me to say?
So, that's my list. What do you guys think? What would you rate as the best Who Christmas Special since 2005?
And with that