Why isn’t Doctor Who on Christmas Day, and where can you watch the best Christmas episodes?

Jodie Whittaker’s Time Lord won’t be touching down on December 25th – but there’s a very good reason for it

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Since it began with David Tennant in 2005, the Doctor Who Christmas special has become a mainstay of the BBC’s festive programming – but if you’re looking for it on the big day this year you’ll be disappointed, because just like last year the Tardis won’t be touching down on Christmas Day itself.

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Still, not to worry – a brand new series for Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor kicks off just a week later on January 1st, and some sort of special is planned for 2020 – and there are plenty of other Doctor Who Christmassy options to keep you occupied on December 25th itself anyway…


Why is there no Doctor Who Christmas special this year?

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For the first time since the series returned to TV in 2005, there will be no festive special at all – instead, following last year’s New Year’s Day special the opening episode of series 12 will air on New Year’s Day.

In other words, fans are functionally getting the hour-long Doctor Who episode they want – it just won’t be festive, and it’ll be followed by the rest of the series a few days later. Not the worst situation to be in!

As for why the special has been dropped this year well, it’s harder to say. Former Doctor Who boss Steven Moffat had previously suggested that coming up with new Christmas special ideas had become a challenge after 13 years, so it may have been that Chibnall decided to give himself a break this time around after experimenting with last year’s New Year’s Day special.

Alternatively, it may have been that Chibnall realised that he could kill two birds with one stone by swapping the special for an opening episode.


Where can I watch the other Doctor Who Christmas specials?

12 Time Lords leaping...at Christmas!
12 Time Lords leaping…at Christmas!

If you do still fancy watching a festive Who-letide adventure this year, then there’s plenty of places where you can check out the specials that already exist.

Every episode of the modern Doctor Who series (2005-present) including every special is currently on BBC iPlayer, and all of them (bar Peter Capaldi’s final episode Twice Upon a Time) can also be viewed on Netflix UK (albeit in sometimes hard-find places at the beginning or the end of various series’ episode lists).

Meanwhile, overseas fans can take a look at some old favourites on Amazon Prime Video or iTunes, where every Doctor Who festive special to date is available for purchase.

And if you’d rather watch the specials “live” on TV, well, that’s an option as well. UKTV channel W, which regularly shows repeats of the series, will be featuring various Doctor Who Christmas episodes over the festive period.


Which old Doctor Who Christmas special SHOULD I watch?

According to a 2018 RadioTimes.com poll, 2010 Matt Smith episode A Christmas Carol is the most popular Christmas special with fans, which might make it a good adventure to revisit this Who-less 25th December.

The full ranking of episodes from most to least popular can be read below.

  • A Christmas Carol (2010)
  • The Husbands of River Song (2015)
  • The End of Time (2009/10)
  • Twice Upon a Time (2017)
  • The Christmas Invasion (2005)
  • The Time of the Doctor (2013)
  • Voyage of the Damned (2007)
  • The Runaway Bride (2006)
  • Last Christmas (2014)
  • The Snowmen (2012)
  • The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe (2011)
  • The Next Doctor (2008)
  • The Return of Doctor Mysterio (2016)
  • The Feast of Steven (1965)

Will the Doctor Who Christmas special ever come back?

Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor in Doctor Who (BBC, HF)
Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor in Doctor Who (BBC, HF)

From the sounds of it, yes! During a 2019 press call Chris Chibnall said that there would be another special after the 2020 series, which seems likely to be a Christmas or New Year adventure.

“You will get a special – at the end of the series, yes,” Chibnall told RadioTimes.com and other journalists when asked if there was a Christmas special coming up.

But even if there isn’t, not to worry – there’s still that big Christmas back catalogue to revisit…

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Doctor Who: Spyfall airs on BBC1 on Wednesday 1st January 2020