In what looks to be the last time the Tour ranks and reviews the legacy of 13 years (and 16 overall) of Doctor Who Christmas Specials comes to that mushy-middle third. That is not to say there’s anything inherently poor about this crop of Specials, but being in the middle means some people will love a particular story much more than others will. Consensus generally pools at either end of the spectrum, and if you look around at other rankings of the Specials (not that you would for you, yes you, gentle Tour denizen have arrived at the definitive list naturally) you will find that, despite variations, there are similar stories which much more often than not, land at the top or bottom of lists. The Tour isn’t immune to these ‘pressures,’ but since this is the definitive ‘Last List,’ this is where history will have to stand, until next year of course.
#10 – The Time of the Doctor – Coming just a month after the triumph of The Day of the Doctor, the Tour feels just a bit resentful about The Time of the Doctor. It seems too soon and a bit half-baked, but there was a lot of heavy mythological lifting going on here about resetting the Doctor count. We also like seeing Matt Smith, the old man as young man, as a truly old man standing as a bulwark against the Cybermen. Was the end emotional as all get out. Of course. But another regeneration at Christmas? And it wouldn’t be the last.
#9 – The Husbands of River Song – Something of a pivot point for the Capaldi Doctor insofar as it is here that he loosens up a great deal and seems wryly amused at the goings on with River Song. This is another Christmas-adjacent story but more importantly, this is a River Song story, one which finishes off a character begun a few years previously and your level of engagement will rely on your familiarity with her appearances going all the way back to Silence in the Library.
#8 – The Runaway Bride – The second Christmas nu-Who special was also quite controversial at the time (2006). But time, and the success of the Catherine Tate season as a companion has softened many opinions regarding The Runaway Bride, seventh in our Christmas countdown. Now it could be more rightly considered the first story, disconnected though it was, of Tennant’s fourth season. It also features one of the most thrilling chase sequences ever undertaken in Doctor Who.
#7 – The Next Doctor – This story has slowly risen in our estimations despite a lukewarm reception back in 2008. The most Victorian of the specials and perhaps the most akin to A Christmas Carol. After going big with Voyage of the Damned RTD pulled back somewhat to explore the mystery of Jackson Lake. Sure the Cybermen were in it, but mostly as the henchmen for Miss Hartigan. There’s an atmosphere of melancholy mixed in with a fair sense of fun that has worn well through the years.
#6 – Twice Upon a Time – Capaldi’s last was also his best. David Bradley did a passable–though too robust–imitation of William Hartnell but it was the aspects of the Christmas Truce that elevated the story for us. That this story was another regeneration tale was pre-priced into the narrative, and as such undercut the impact there, but that wasn’t the focus of the story.
11 down, the final five to come.