Doctor Who’s 10 Absolute Best Holiday Specials

Holiday specials have become a cherished tradition on modern Doctor Who. Established in 2005’s “The Christmas Invasion,” which served as David Tennant’s first full episode as the Tenth Doctor, Doctor Who went on to claim a coveted Christmas Day slot every year from then until 2017. While the more recent seasons under showrunner Chris Chibnall have continued the tradition, they have moved the holiday specials from Christmas to New Year’s.

Different writers have taken different approaches to Doctor Who‘s holiday specials. Some have been typical alien-fighting Doctor Who epics with Christmas-themed additions, such as Robot Santas and killer Christmas trees. Others have taken the opportunity to tell more uplifting and festive Doctor Who stories; while some of the New Year’s specials have placed very little emphasis on the holiday setting at all.

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10 Resolution

Doctor Who Resolution Dalek

Jodie Whittaker’s first season as the Doctor didn’t feature any classic enemies at all. Her first holiday special, “Resolution,” which aired on New Year’s Day 2019, officially brought the Daleks back to Doctor Who.

“Resolution” only featured a single Dalek and, in a twist on most Dalek stories, the Dalek mutant spent the majority of the episode without an armored shell. That was until it was able to build one from scrap metal. It was a thrilling reintroduction for the Doctor’s oldest foe, but there was very little here to make the episode feel like a true holiday special.

9 Revolution of the Daleks

Genetically modified Daleks in Doctor Who Revolution of the Daleks

Doctor Who‘s 2021 New Year’s special, “Revolution of the Daleks,” acted as a sequel to “Resolution.” The shell of the Reconnaissance Dalek featured in the 2019 special had been discovered by the less-than-trustworthy businessman Jack Robertson.

Robertson had used the shell as the basis for a new range of “Defense Drones” — robots that later became shells for a new race of Daleks. In addition to a war between two races of Daleks, the special also saw the return of Captain Jack Harkness, who finally got to meet the Thirteenth Doctor. Jack had previously missed her during his appearance in Season 12’s “Fugitive of the Judoon.”

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8 The Runaway Bride

The Tenth Doctor Stands in front of the TARDIS with Donna Noble in Doctor Who The Runaway Bride

“The Runaway Bride” aired on Christmas Day 2006 and introduced Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble to Doctor Who. Although on this occasion Donna would turn down the Doctor’s offer to join him in the TARDIS, she would eventually seek him out again and become his traveling companion in Doctor Who Season 4.

“The Runaway Bride” saw the return of the Robot Santas that had featured in the previous year’s “The Christmas Invasion.” This time, they possessed a new weapon in the form of remote-controlled, explosive, flying Christmas tree baubles. The episode also introduced the Empress of the Racnoss, an impressively huge spider-like foe, hailing from the Dark Times.

7 The Time of the Doctor

Doctor Who The Time of the Doctor

2013’s “The Time of the Doctor” was the story of the Eleventh Doctor’s last stand. Following up on Doctor Who Season 7’s finale, “The Name of the Doctor” (which introduced the Doctor’s grave on Trenzalore), the 2013 Christmas special saw the Doctor return to Trenzalore to face what he thought was destined to be his final battle.

Outside of its setting in a town called Christmas — as well as a few visits to Clara’s home on Christmas Day — the special didn’t lean too heavily into the holiday theme. However, the Eleventh Doctor overcoming the laws of regeneration to start a brand-new regeneration cycle made for a truly epic Doctor Who story.

6 The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

Doctor Who The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe

On Christmas Day 2011, Doctor Who delivered a festive story inspired by The Chronicles of Narnia. “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe” saw the Doctor meeting Madge Arwell and her family during World War II. Madge helped the Doctor when he fell to Earth a few years earlier and to repay her kindness, he attempts to give the family a Christmas to remember.

Things go awry when the Doctor’s planned excursion to a planet he believed to be safe proves to be anything but. This fun adventure in a wintry wonderland also featured guest appearances from popular British comedians Alexander Armstrong and Bill Bailey.

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5 Last Christmas

Doctor Who Last Christmas

After earlier Doctor Who Christmas specials featured Robot Santas, “Last Christmas” introduced the real deal. Brought to life by Nick Frost of Cornetto Trilogy fame, Santa Claus himself became an unlikely ally to the Doctor and Clara in this adventure that took the time-traveling duo to the North Pole.

This Christmas adventure took Doctor Who into the realm of Inception, featuring crab-like aliens called Kantrofarri that trapped their victims in dreams within dreams. While the episode’s various layers of dream worlds got a little hard to keep track of, the inclusion of Santa Claus certainly made it one of Doctor Who‘s most Christmasy Christmas specials.

4 Voyage of the Damned

Doctor Who Voyage of the Damned

Doctor Who Season 3 ended on a shocking cliffhanger when the Titanic suddenly crashed into the TARDIS. At the start of that year’s Christmas special, “Voyage of the Damned,” it was revealed this wasn’t the original famed ocean liner, but a spaceship based upon it. However, this Titanic almost shared a similar fate to its namesake when its creator attempted to crash it into Earth to destroy the company that had ousted him.

“Voyage of the Damned” was a classic Christmas disaster movie — something along the lines of “Doctor Who does The Poseidon Adventure in space.” It also featured pop star Kylie Minogue as one-off companion Astrid Peth.

3 The Next Doctor

Doctor Who The Next Doctor

The 2008 Christmas special, “The Next Doctor,” delivered all the intrigue its title promised. After the Tenth Doctor found himself traveling alone again at the end of Doctor Who Season 4, he soon ran into a new friend on Christmas in 1851 — a mysterious, swashbuckling hero called the Doctor.

The mystery of this other Doctor — whom the Tenth Doctor believed might be his next incarnation — was set against a battle with the Cybermen in their first appearance since 2006’s “Doomsday.” The special, which took place in a traditional Dickensian Christmas, saw the Doctor fight off a towering CyberKing as he restored the true memories of the man who believed himself to be the Time Lord.

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2 The Snowmen

Doctor Who The Snowmen

After Jenna-Louise Coleman made her first surprise appearance on Doctor Who on Season 7’s first episode “Asylum of the Daleks,” she returned as a new character on “The Snowmen.” However, the 2012 Christmas special came with another surprise twist for her new character of Clara, as she was killed off by the episode’s end, despite having been confirmed to be the Doctor’s next companion.

The Clara mystery endured for the second half of Season 7, which followed the Doctor’s brief retirement and return to action in “The Snowmen.” The episode brought the Great Intelligence back to Doctor Who for the first time in 44 years, pitted the Doctor against a horde of killer snowmen and delivered a Victorian Christmas mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes.

1 A Christmas Carol

Doctor Who A Christmas Carol

The first Doctor Who Christmas special featuring Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor and written by Steven Moffat, “A Christmas Carol” shook up the formula for Doctor Who on Christmas. Until this special — airing on Christmas Day 2010 — Doctor Who‘s holiday specials had been action-adventure stories with a Christmas twist. “A Christmas Carol” put a Doctor Who twist on Charles Dickens’ classic novel of the same name.

The episode saw the Doctor using Dickens’ work as inspiration in his mission to convince an old miser to help a crashing spaceship land safely on his planet. In an effort to save the soul of Kazran Sardick (played by Harry Potter star Sir Michael Gambon), the Doctor traveled into his past, fostering a love between Kazran and a young woman named Abigail Pettigrew. The episode is a heartwarming and bittersweet love story through time.

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