Doctor Who for the Holidays

Doctor Who and the holidays will always be intrinsically linked. This may be because of the annual holiday special the show airs every year. Or perhaps this sci-fi mainstay feels so full of festive because of its tone–it’s rare to find a show that is so unfailingly positive in its belief in humanity’s goodness.

Now that the most wonderful time of the year is upon us, it’s time for me to rundown the top five Doctor Who episodes to watch during the holidays.

Instead of picking episodes that all focus on the holiday season, I chose stories that combine thrilling plots, terrifying baddies, and heartwarming lessons to create the perfect “spirit of the season” blend.

So, let’s get to it! No time like the present, unless, of course, it’s the past. Love the past. Good place. You should visit sometime. Are you paying attention? Here we go.



People are disappearing. A young woman finds a cryptic message from someone called the Doctor. What’s the message? Don’t blink.

This story is terrifying. The idea is simple: stone-like creatures with the power transport a person into the past attack when you’re not looking. The only way to save yourself is to keep your eyes on them at all times.

I love how contained this story is. It’s a stand-alone episode with a perfect beginning, middle, and end, and yet it also serves to introduce a new “bad guy” that the show uses over and over again to wonderful effect.

The weeping angels are unsettling every time they appear because they pose a real threat. The Doctor can’t bring you back if the angels get you, and there’s no telling what year they might drop you into.

Watch this creepy origin story with a warm, comforting drink and a blanket draped over your head for protection. It’s the perfect “ghost” story for a long winter’s night.

“The Doctor’s Wife”

The Doctor follows a Time Lord distress call to a lonely asteroid. There the TARDIS matrix is transported into the body of a woman who helps them discover the truth of the distress call.

Have you ever wanted to hear what the TARDIS thinks about all of the adventures the Doctor has been on? Then The Doctor’s Wife is for you. The Doctor’s silent companion is given a voice for the first and (as far as I know) only time in the series, and she is charming. The human-bodied TARDIS is filled with wide-eyed innocence that hides a much more ancient wisdom underneath. It’s nice to see the relationship between the Doctor and the TARDIS realized through dialogue, not to mention that the inevitable bittersweet ending is perfect for auld lang syne.

Written by Neil Gaiman, this episode won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form and the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation.

A viewing of this episode deserves a bevy of blue snacks in honor of the TARDIS.

“The Husbands of River Song”

The unsuspecting River Song hires the Doctor, who she has not seen since his last regeneration, to help her save her “husband” King Hydroflax.

This charming holiday episode aired last year on December 25 and marked the first on-screen appearance River Song with the 12th Doctor.

I had been hoping that we would see Peter Capaldi and Alex Kingston on screen together since Capaldi was announced as the next Doctor.

Although I’d been  loving Capaldi’s performance as the Doctor, I didn’t feel like this iteration had completely landed until this episode. Although the 12th Doctor and Clara had some good stories, I didn’t feel like the writers quite knew how to make those characters work together. The complete opposite is true when River Song is thrown into the mix. I think this is because the relationship between River and the Doctor is more straightforward: they’re two people who are constantly impressed by each other.

Don’t miss the heartbreakingly beautiful monologue by Kingston at the climax of the episode.

Make sure you watch this one with a loved one, and something peppermint. Dunno why. Something about this episode feels minty.

“Human Nature/The Family of Blood”

The Doctor is forced to take human form to hide from an evil family of aliens who want his life force. He takes refuge on Earth in 1913, but it is only a matter of time before his pursuers discover where and how he is hiding in plain sight.

This two-part story blends historical romance and spooky scarecrows with excellent results.

As much as I love the flashy, fast-paced 11th Doctor episodes that come after this, there’s something to be said for this longer-form, two-part narrative.

In this episode, we follow Martha, the Doctor’s companion, as she plays guardian to a Doctor who doesn’t know who he is. When he took human form to hide from an alien threat, he had to hide his memories as well, which means the the responsibility of keeping the Doctor alive and well falls to Martha.

The Doctor, calling himself John Smith, takes a teaching job at a boys’ school in England, and Martha is forced to take a job as a maid at the school to keep an eye on him.

Everything is going swimmingly until the Doctor begins to fall in love with the school nurse. Unprepared for this scenario, Martha must decide whether to risk his life and wake him up or hold her tongue and see what happens.

Although I’ve seen the Doctor deal with bigger threats than the baddies in these episodes, there are few that create quite as much tension. Since the Doctor doesn’t know who he is, he is powerless to stop the threats coming his way. We’re left to watch in terror as the threat comes nearer and nearer to our lovestruck hero.

I should think that popcorn might be called for, that is, if you get it without being caught by the scarecrows!

“The Day of the Doctor”

When the Doctor falls through a time fissure, he comes face-to-face with both the previous incarnation of himself and a much younger version from the Time War. Can these three versions of the same man stop the dangers emerging in the National Gallery, a murderous plot in Elizabethan England, and the Time War itself?

You can’t shake a sonic screwdriver without hitting Doctor in this episode. This TV special marked the fiftieth anniversary of the series, and they pulled out all the stops. Every single Doctor appears to create the most stunning Time Lord tableau.

I’ve included this milestone because of its overall journey. We see both the silly side of the Doctor (especially when the eleventh th is talking with Clara), but also the tortured side that’s been somewhat absent since the tenth left. We’re also treated to a younger version of the Doctor (who is paradoxically older) who has no problem admonishing his older self for being set in his ways.

It’s a lovely metaphor for self-reflection that ends with a revelation so big it expanded the show’s possible storylines infinitely.

The number one, not-to-be-missed moment comes right at the end of the episode when the eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and the Museum Curator (Tom Baker) come together for one brief beautiful exchange.

Watch this episode with your whole family and be prepared to transcend all of time and space. Don’t forget the Jammie Dodgers!

Now it’s your turn? What Whovian stories will you be watching this holiday season? Are there other shows that you enjoy watching during the winter solstice? I’d love to know!

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Adrienne Clark
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