What’s that? You’re spending the holiday season binge-watching Doctor Who?

A fine choice, of course. Alas, not all Doctor Who holiday specials were created equal. But don’t worry. I’ve ranked every special from 2005 to 2020, worst to best.

Since this is a holiday ranking, I’m including both a PLOT score (was the episode good?) and a HOLIDAY score (does it fill me with the holiday spirit?). Both are awarded a score out of 10, for a total of 20 possible points.

However, I will also award special BONUS POINTS for other reasons people might choose to watch a special, including things like: the first/last appearance of a major character; the presence of a classic Doctor Who villain; including more than one Doctor; and more!

So here we go – every Doctor Who holiday special, ranked worst to best.

15. The Return of Doctor Mysterio (2016)

The Return of Doctor Mysterio

The Doctor gets confused for Santa Claus in the beginning, but that’s pretty much all the Christmas you get with this one. Holiday: 2

Plot wise? It’s fine. The sci-fi take on superheroes is fun, and there are some good comedic moments. But the emotional throughlines feel a bit shoehorned and forced. Plot: 7

Bonus points: +1 for someone saying “Doctor Who?”

Overall Score: 10

14. The Next Doctor (2008)

The Next Doctor

This episode pretty much just bookends itself by mentioning it’s Christmas. Holiday: 2

Accidentally absorbing the Doctor’s memories is an interesting idea. But the story is a little scattered, and the dramatic tension of “is this guy really the Doctor?” is lost on a rewatch. Plot: 7

Bonus points: +1 for the Cybermen; +0.5 for the other Doctor fakeout

Overall Score: 10.5

13. Spyfall Part 1 (2020)

Doctor Who "Spyfall" part 1

There isn’t a single reference to the holidays in this one. Holiday: 0

That said, “Spyfall” is actually a really good episode. The spy stuff is cool, the alien is different and appropriately threatening, and the Master reveal is top-notch. Plot: 9

Bonus points: +1 for Sacha Dhawan’s Master, and another +1 for the Master reveal

Overall Score: 11

12. Resolution (2019)

Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor in "Resolution"

The gang sees some fireworks, and some characters complain about how it’s a boring holiday and shops are closed. An effort is made, but let’s face it: New Years just doesn’t hold the same level of holiday spirit as Christmas. Holiday: 5

The possession element is cool, but it also makes Dalek mythology even more murky. Personally, I would have enjoyed it more coming from a new threat rather than an old villain. The final resolution (see what I did there) between Ryan and his father doesn’t quite land, though the Doctor sticking up for Ryan is great to see. Plot: 6

Bonus points: +1 for the Dalek

Overall Score: 12

11. The Snowmen (2012)

They say most of the action happens during Christmas Eve, but beyond some holly decor that’s about all the cheer you’re getting. (Plus, a Christmas Day funeral doesn’t fill me with holiday joy). Holiday: 3

The attacking snowmen are a fun, visual villain (even if they make the story more generally wintry than Christmasy). It’s fun to see a villain from Classic Who return, and the Paternoster Gang get the spotlight they deserve. Plot: 8

Bonus points: +1 for the Great Intelligence; +0.5 for Jenna Coleman as Clara (not technically Coleman’s first appearance, but the first that solidifies she’ll live on as a recurring character); +1 for someone saying “Doctor Who?”

Overall Score: 13.5

10. The End of Time (2009)

Bernard Cribbins as Wilf, David Tennant as the Doctor, John Simms as the Master in "The End of Time"

It aired during the holidays, but let’s be honest: this isn’t a holiday story. Holiday: 1

While it’s not Christmasy, it IS just an overall excellent story. The Master’s back (and so are the Time Lords), Wilf teams up with the Doctor, and Ten has his final moments. Plot: 10

Bonus points: +1 for the “last” appearance of David Tennant as the Doctor (not counting the 50th special); +1 for John Simm’s Master; +1 for Rassilon/the Time Lords

Overall Score: 14

9. The Time of the Doctor (2013)

The Time of the Doctor

The town is called Christmas. Clara keeps being banished back to celebrate with her relatives. There’s evidence of the holiday sprinkled throughout, but in a way that feels very forced. Holiday: 5

The back-and-forth with Clara happens enough that it becomes annoying instead of poignant. Still, Eleven’s commitment to protecting the town for hundreds of years and his emotional final moments make this one worth watching. Plot: 8

Bonus points: +1 for Matt Smith’s final appearance as the Doctor; +1.5 for the return of the Daleks, Silence, Weeping Angels, and Cybermen (though very briefly)

Overall Score: 15.5

8. (Tie) Twice Upon A Time (2017)

Doctor Who "Twice Upon A Time"

Basically the exact opposite approach to “Time of the Doctor.” Christmas isn’t referenced at all until nearly the episode’s final moments. But the use of the WWI Christmas Armistice really does leave me emotional and feeling full of the spirit of Christmas. Holiday: 5

It’s sort of daring to have the alien threat ultimately turn out to not be a threat at all. It’s not what I want to see every year, but I like how it kept the stakes more personal for the Doctor. I’m docking a point for writing the First Doctor as excessively sexist, though. Plot: 7

Bonus points: +1 for Peter Capaldi’s final episode as the Doctor; +1 for David Bradley’s First Doctor; +1 for the Dalek; and +1 for the Twelfth Doctor’s regeneration speech, which is one of the best in the entire series

Overall Score: 16

8. (Tie) The Husbands of River Song (2015)

Doctor Who: The Husbands of River Song

Another story that takes the “bookending the episode” approach to Christmas. But Twelve’s Scrooge-like shunning of holiday cheer at the start compared to his gift-giving and Christmas-dinner-reservation-making at the end does make the overall arc feel a bit more Christmasy. Holiday: 4

The Twelfth Doctor/River Song dynamic is excellent, ok? It’s interesting to get a look at River’s life outside the Doctor, and Hydroflax is a fun villain. Plus, this is one of the funniest specials overall. Plot: 9

Bonus points: +1 for Matt Lucas’ first appearance as Nardole; +1 for Alex Kingston’s final appearance as River Song; +1 for exceptional banter

Overall Score: 16

6. Voyage of the Damned (2007)

David Tennant and Kylie Minogue in "Voyage of the Damned"

Not the most Christmasy, but pretty Christmasy! The ship is decorated for the holiday, and the robot angels bring the spirit even while they’re trying to kill everyone. There’s a lot of death though, which is a bit of a downer. Holiday: 8

Kind of a standard ticking clock/crashing ship story. It gets some creative and comedic bonus points for the crashing ship being the Space Titanic. Plot: 7

Bonus points: +1 for Kylie Minogue, +1 for Bernard Cribbin’s first appearance as Wilf

Overall Score: 17

5. A Christmas Carol (2010)

Doctor Who "A Christmas Carol"

It’s the classic Dickens story, but sci-fi. Holiday: 10

…it’s the classic Dickens story, but sci-fi. Also a flying shark. Plot: 8

Bonus points: none

Overall Score: 18

4. The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe (2011)

Eleven decorated for the holidays! They visit a new world where Christmas trees grow! It’s a bit more just wintery in the middle, but the big resolution bringing home the children’s father on Christmas day sells this one as full of holiday spirit for sure. Holiday: 9

The sci-fi Narnia vibes bring the magic of the season, while the ever-present emotional background keeps the story grounded. Plot: 9

Bonus points: +1 for making me especially emotional, particularly the Doctor’s speech about happiness/sadness and the way he reacts to finding out the Ponds always set a place for him at Christmas

Overall Score: 19

3. Last Christmas (2014)

Doctor Who: Last Christmas

Even with facehuggers, it’s Christmas nonstop. We love a snarky, dream crab-induced Santa Claus. Holiday: 10

Pulls the “we’re not really awake yet!” thing at least one too many times, but otherwise a good alien threat and a fun story. Plot: 9

Bonus points: +1 for Nick Frost as Santa Claus

Overall Score: 20

2. The Christmas Invasion (2005)

David Tennant and Billie Piper in The Christmas Invasion promo

It loses the holiday vibe a bit 2/3 of the way through with the Sycorax and government scenes, but otherwise is full of Christmas spirit, from attacking Christmas trees and robot Santas to sitting down for Christmas dinner. Holiday: 9

A great alien invasion that threatens real harm with some blood control, which is pretty cool. I’m docking a point for the Doctor spending most of the episode unconscious though. Plot: 9

Bonus points: +1 for David Tennant’s first outing as the Doctor; +1 for someone saying “Doctor Who?”; +1 for being the special that started the holiday tradition

Overall Score: 21

1. The Runaway Bride (2006)

Doctor Who: The Runaway Bride

The robot Santas and killer Christmas trees are back, and Donna’s would-be wedding leans into holiday decor. Even the Racnoss ship is a lovely (if deadly) shining star in the sky. This episode reminds you it’s Christmas every chance it gets. Holiday: 10

This story brings in the fun holiday villains from “The Christmas Invasion” alongside a new threat. Plus, a truly iconic beginning for Donna Noble. You can’t ask for more. Plot: 10

Bonus points: +1 for the first appearance of Catherine Tate as Donna Noble; +1 for exceptional banter

Overall Score: 22

So, which Doctor Who holiday special is your favorite? Let me know in the comments how it compares to my ranking!

And look out for the next Doctor Who holiday special “Revolution of the Daleks,” airing January 1, 2021 on BBC America.