Have you ever seen a Doctor Who Christmas special? Whilst we haven’t had one since 2017, the Time Lord has clocked up an impressive back catalogue over the years (13 specials at the last count.) And with most of us facing a more ‘indoorsy’ Christmas this year due to the pandemic, what better time to settle down for a marathon session with our favourite Time Lord?
So hold onto your sleigh. Here’s Lovarzi’s guide to every Doctor Who Christmas special ever, reviewed in one sentence. Carol singers will be criticised, so save room for a tangerine…
1) The Christmas Invasion
This is the Tenth Doctor’s debut episode and it’s a modern-day epic involving blood-controlling aliens, killer Christmas trees and murderous Santas, with an extra helping of Penelope Wilton and the debut of an exclusively-written and rollicking Christmas number by the estimable Murray Gold, blasting into the TARDIS wardrobe.
2) The Runaway Bride
This Doctor Who Christmas special guest stars Catherine Tate in a battle against a giant spider who’s been playing a long game, and whilst it’s a bit thin on plot, it is big on laughs, and it’s a great introduction to the world of Donna Noble, who would later return as a permanent companion in 2008.
3) Voyage of the Damned
‘Voyage of the Damned’ is almost movie-like in its premise and production values and it’s all set on board a replica Titanic (in space) and whilst it’s the longest Doctor Who Christmas special to date, it also guest stars Kylie Minogue, Bernard Cribbins and Geoffrey Palmer – amongst others – in an episode that went on to achieve one of Doctor Who‘s largest-ever viewing figures, with a UK audience of 13.1 million.
4) The Next Doctor
This Doctor Who Christmas special also pulled in a large audience, probably because of the rampant speculation as to who would be David Tennant’s successor (the actor having recently announced that he’d be departing from the role) and whilst it’s not the greatest Doctor Who story ever told, it does feature a giant Cyberman and a superb performance from ‘the next Doctor’ himself David Morrissey.
5) The End of Time
Told over two parts, this Doctor Who Christmas special sees David Tennant regenerate into Matt Smith, and whilst it aims to give the Tenth Doctor a thumping finale, it does tread water at times (clocking in at over two hours) and this is in spite of the superb performances from John Simm, Bernard Cribbins and Timothy Dalton, plus the surprise inclusion of some familiar faces from the past.
6) A Christmas Carol
This is potentially the weirdest Doctor Who Christmas Special of them all owing to its inclusion of flying fish in an otherwise traditional festive setting, but its grounding in the classic Dickens novel is evident and beautifully exploited, comprising wonderful performances from guest stars Michael Gambon and Katherine Jenkins, plus of course the superbly zany Matt Smith as Doctor number 11.
7) The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe
Sadly, this is my least favourite Doctor Who Christmas special because I find it rather dull – despite the obvious nods to the classic novel by C.S. Lewis – although there are some lovely visuals in this episode and a strange but welcome nod to a classic Fifth Doctor adventure, plus an amusing guest appearance from comedian Bill Bailey.
8) The Snowmen
I’ve no idea why it took Doctor Who so long to do a story about killer snowmen, but I’ll take it, and I’ll also take the funky new title sequence, the funky new TARDIS set, the funky Richard E. Grant (who chews the scenery) and the sort-of funky debut of Jenna Coleman as the new companion, who turns out not to be the new companion in a surprise twist, making for a very enjoyable, action-packed episode that nicely sets up the second half of Series Seven.
9) The Time of the Doctor
A personal favourite, this Doctor Who Christmas special is dripping with festive loveliness, being set in a snow-covered town called Christmas, although you might have to look past the hoards of invading aliens – and the death of the Eleventh Doctor – if you’re to get the full dose of seasonal cheer, but there’s plenty of good humour and merriment in the midst of this melancholic (and equally dramatic) episode.
10) Last Christmas
This Doctor Who Christmas special is an impressive mash-up of Inception, Alien and The Thing, plus all of the usual festive trappings including the surprisingly logical inclusion of Nick Frost as Santa Claus, although you’ll definitely want to hide behind the sofa for this one, as it’s arguably the scariest of all the festive episodes, matching the tone set by the Twelfth Doctor’s preceding season.
11) The Husbands of River Song
I love this Doctor Who Christmas special for the way in which it neatly wraps up River Song’s journey, linking almost seamlessly to the Tenth Doctor episode ‘The Forest of the Dead’ (shot some seven years earlier) and, in addition, this special is big on humour and festive cheer – in stark contrast to the previous year’s ‘Last Christmas’ – and I think it’s fair to say that this episode is nothing short of a highly enjoyable “romp.”
12) The Return of Doctor Mysterio
Quirky title aside, this Doctor Who Christmas special is actually okay, particularly if you’re a fan of the super hero genre, although I have to say that – overall – I find it a somewhat lacklustre offering, especially when I compare it to some of the great specials that preceded it, although the production team did a stellar job of recreating the New York city atmos from the comfort of their Cardiff home.
13) Twice Upon a Time
The First Doctor returns in this one, and whilst it was a bold (but necessary) move to recast the part, David Bradley does a reasonable job of imitating the late William Hartnell (and even looks scarily like him at times) in a heart-warming and somewhat gentle end to the Peter Capaldi years – gentle because this Doctor Who Christmas special doesn’t contain any real baddies as such, although it does tell a gripping story overall.
So there we are – every Doctor Who Christmas special, reviewed in a sentence! Which one is your favourite? And will you be having a marathon session over the festive period? Let me know in the comments below.
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