Presents and ‘family time’ can get stuffed: everyone knows the highlight of the festive season is always TV Christmas specials. Especially when it comes to Doctor Who.

Festive episodes of Doctor Who are an institution in and of themselves, as integral to the season of goodwill as the Queen’s Christmas Day address.

1. The Feast Of Steven

The Feast Of Steven is the strangest Doctor Who episode included on this list, which, make no mistake, is saying something. It also happens to be one of the oldest and the hardest to find: the episode is plucked straight from the series’ third season, one that ran in the mid-’60s and is mostly lost. Only scraps of the story arc exist, but some brilliant genius has uploaded a still image version of the whole thing, which you can watch here:

And watch it you should. It’s just so bloody strange, featuring as it does everything from perennial villainous favourites the Daleks (them of “EXTERMINAAAAATE” fame), to a direct camera address from the Doctor himself, to a weird pantomime interlude. Sure, it’s pretty schlonky, but it’s also a great heap o’ fun.

2. A Christmas Carol

It always seemed like it was only a matter of time before Steven Moffat, Doctor Who‘s sorta beloved, sorta hated long-serving showrunner set his sights on the classic tale A Christmas Carol. After all, what with its healthy dash of time travel, musings on mortality and upbeat ending, Dickens’ story was a sort of proto-Doctor Who episode anyway. Throw in fantastic character work from Michael Gambon, an existential alien threat, and some wonderful Christmas giffage, and you’ve got yourself a classic episode.

3. Voyage Of The Damned

Often, Doctor Who episodes feel as though they’ve been written by a room of stoners mashing together two disparate but equally beloved/ridiculous genre TV tropes.

“How about… Dinosaurs in space.” “Let’s do it!” “Cybermen and… Uh, chess?” “For sure!” “The Titanic and, y’know… Um, aliens?” “Already on it.”

Indeed, by taking the story of the world’s most famous sinking ship and replacing the iceberg with a meteor shower, the Doctor Who writing room plumbed new depths of beautiful, delicious insanity – in the process drawing one of the highest viewership levels the show has ever amassed. It just goes to show: madness really does pay. (Kylie Minogue might have helped, too.)

4. The End Of Time

Doctor Who has long been known for its rogue gallery: the show boasts some of the most memorable, deranged villains of all time, an assortment of alien threats as terrifying as they are oddly kinda sympathetic. But perhaps no antagonist has made more of a mark on the Doctor than The Master, the intergalactic, inhumanly intelligent criminal.

And he’s charming to boot.

Though The Master has been played by a range of actors over the years, John Simm’s recent portayal of the Doctor’s arch-nemesis shoulda won him all of the awards (yes, all of them). His most impressive performance of all came in his turn in the Christmas episode The End Of Time, an uncharacteristically dramatic and serious yuletide slice of darkness in which the Master returns to Earth to try and casually take over the entire human race by repopulating himself, Agent Smith style. It’s ludicrous stuff, of course, but it’s also bloody brilliant in its own deranged way.

5. The Return Of Doctor Mysterio

Given we live in the era of superhero entertainment, few would have been shocked to discover that the upcoming 2016 Doctor Who Christmas special is a deliberate, loving jab at the glut of Marvel/DC movies. Of course, it’s not merely a rip-off of a film like Doctor Strange, but rather a determinedly odd caper involving a range of odd twists and some truly memorable characters. Check out the trailer below.

Get unlimited access to the coverage that shapes our culture.
to Rolling Stone magazine
to Rolling Stone magazine