Ever since the series was revived in 2005 Doctor Who has made a name for itself with festive specials, with the BBC sci-fi drama offering either a Christmas or New Year’s adventure every year that puts the Doctor through the seasonal wringer.
We’ve seen the Doctor battling deadly Christmas trees, escaping space-Titanic, defeating a Dalek on New Year’s Day, meeting Father Christmas himself (well, maybe) and generally bringing a sci-fi sheen to the usual festivities, and it’s always a highlight in the calendar for Whovians.
Still, we have often wondered… which special is the best? Which festive episode really jingles your bells, figs your pudding or sets off your party popper? Are you a purist who only considers the “proper” Doctor Who Christmas specials, or do Jodie Whittaker’s New Year’s stories float your boat as well?
Well, now we want to find out. This year we’re asking Doctor Who fans to vote for their absolutely favourite Doctor Who festive special, ranging from one-off Christmas curios to the regeneration blockbusters that see a beloved Doctor say goodbye.
The criteria is simple – to count as a festive special, the episodes have to air on or around the festive period (basically either Christmas Day or New Year’s Day), and also feature some sort of reference to the occasion.
In other words, while 2019’s Resolution counts, 2020 New Year’s Day episode Spyfall (which doesn’t acknowledge New Year and was really just an extended opening episode for series 12) doesn’t. We think it’s fair, please don’t write in.
Cast your vote for your favourite festive special now – and if you want a quick reminder of your options, check out the synopses below.
The Feast of Steven (1965)
This isn’t exactly a full Christmas special, but given that it’s technically the first ever Doctor Who festive episode we could hardly leave it out.
Broadcast as the third part of The Daleks’ Master Plan serial (footage of which is now mostly lost), The Feast of Steven ended up airing on Christmas Day so some Yuletide elements were included in the middle of the multi-part adventure, including First Doctor William Hartnell’s famous fourth wall break to wish a Merry Christmas to viewers at home.
Yes, it was just a brief interlude in the middle of an unrelated story – but it was definitely a small festive treat when it aired in 1965.
The Christmas Invasion (2005)
This episode gave us our first proper look at David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor – although he did spend most of the runtime conked out in bed after his regeneration. With killer Christmas trees, sword fights and a deadly satsuma it was a decidedly different take on Christmas – but introduced us to one of the most popular incarnations of the Time Lord.
The Runaway Bride (2006)
Another introduction here to companion Donna Noble (though at this time actress Catherine Tate was intended as a one-off guest star), who was beamed right into the TARDIS of a depressed Doctor. There were yet more killer trees, a TARDIS/car chase, a deadly “Christmas star” and some dark moments for the Tenth Doctor – but in the end, Christmas was saved again. Huzzah!
Voyage of the Damned (2007)
Doctor Who went all disaster movie in this adventure, which featured a guest appearance from pop star Kylie Minogue as Astrid Peth. We also learned a little more of how humans are perceived by other species, specifically as cannibals with a hatred for the people of Turkey – no wonder aliens seem to have such an axe to grind with Earth at Christmas.
The Next Doctor (2008)
At this time, speculation was rife as to who could succeed David Tennant’s confirmed-to-be-departing Doctor, only for the series to throw a curveball by actually framing an episode around the next incarnation – but was this Doctor (David Morrissey) who he seemed? Cybermen, the voice of the Marks and Spencer ads as a villain (Dervla Kirwan) and plenty of steampunk fun (including a huge rampaging Cyber-King) made this episode a Christmas to remember.
The End of Time (2009/10)
David Tennant got his brood on for his long-heralded exit from the show, which stands as the series' first (and currently, only) double Christmas and New Year's special, airing part one on December 25th and part two on January 1st.
Despite Wilf’s (Bernard Cribbins) antlers and a bit of gift-giving, there wasn’t too much Christmas cheer as the Master (John Simm) returned with his most extreme plan yet and the Doctor headed towards death. We didn’t want him to go either – but it was the end of the line for the Tenth incarnation of the Time Lord.
A Christmas Carol (2010)
Matt Smith’s Doctor rang in his first Christmas episode with an opera singer (Katherine Jenkins), a flying shark and a national treasure – Michael Gambon, as the Scrooge-like Kazran Sardick – who the Doctor attempts to cheer up through rewriting history in a Dickens-style structure, hoping to save his companions from a plummeting spaceship in the process.
The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe (2011)
The Eleventh Doctor went all CS Lewis for this particularly family-themed episode, set in an endangered forest where Christmas trees bedecked with ornaments grow for real – but who also had plans of their own. The special also gave us a taste of the Doctor’s interior design skills, which were eccentric to say the least (see above).
The Snowmen (2012)
This time the Doctor himself was a bit of a Scrooge, having lost his companions Amy and Rory (Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill) to the past. Not to worry, though – he soon cheered up with the help of a snowman-themed plot from an old enemy, and a strangely familiar new friend called Clara (Jenna Coleman)…
The Time of the Doctor (2013)
Matt Smith’s final(ish) episode had a lot to cram in plot-wise and basically acted as a finale for his entire run as the Time Lord – but still managed to include plenty of Christmassy fun including the most accurate depiction of cooking a turkey in science-fiction history. And, of course, we got our first (but not last) fully Christmas-based regeneration into Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor, who had to wait a year for his first real festive appearance.
Last Christmas (2014)
It was a few years ago now, but how could anybody forget this Santa-meets-The Thing dream adventure? With twists and turns galore, there was plenty to get our food-befuddled brains around – but it also gave us by far the creepiest Who Christmas special to date, and an unexpected reprieve for Jenna Coleman's companion Clara (who had originally been planned to leave in this episode).
The Husbands of River Song (2015)
Peter Capaldi’s Doctor finally teamed up with his time-displaced wife River Song (Alex Kingston) in this frothy adventure, which saw the duo take on the evil King Hydroflax (Greg Davies), steal a diamond from his head and finally say their goodbyes to one another.
The episode is also significant for introducing Matt Lucas’ character Nardole, who was intended for a one-off guest appearance but ended up starring in the series as a companion for the next couple of years.
The Return of Doctor Mysterio (2016)
After a year off screens Doctor Who returned at Christmas with this romantic superhero story, which featured a powerful vigilante called the Ghost (Justin Chatwin) who teamed up with the Doctor and Nardole to unravel a devious alien conspiracy. And if he did manage to find happiness with his unrequited love, well, that was all the better.
Twice Upon a Time (2017)
Peter Capaldi’s final ever episode packed a lot in, featuring a multi-Doctor story (thanks to David Bradley as the Doctor’s first ever incarnation), the return of Pearl Mackie’s companion Bill, cameos from former cast members Matt Lucas and Jenna Coleman and the Time Lord’s long-awaited regeneration into Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor.
The fact that they managed to fit in a story about glass aliens saving the consciousness of the dead and the First World War Christmas Day Armistice as well is frankly a marvel.
Jodie Whittaker's Thirteenth Doctor rang in the new year with this action-packed adventure, which saw the TARDIS team scrambling to take on a hibernating, long-dormant Dalek.
Featuring the first major return for the Doctor's greatest foes in quite some time (and a new look for them in the form of the battered, rusty Reconnaissance Dalek) this episode had something for everybody - even if a few fans were a bit upset at the shock fate of UNIT...
Coming up, Revolution of the Daleks looks set to continue Resolution's story - but first, it's time to go back and vote for your favourite special! Make your choice and forever hold your peace (or at least until we run this poll again in a year or two).
Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks comes to BBC One at 6:45pm on New Year's Day. Want something else to watch? Check out our full TV Guide.