Series 1-7 Face-Off: Moffat Specials

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Doctor Who TV is running new series pitting all the revival episodes against each other to decide your dream run. Today we continue with the special episodes from Steven Moffat’s era of the show (so far).


Introduction by Mark McCullough.

Today’s Candidates

  1. A Christmas Carol (2010)
  2. The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe (2011)
  3. The Snowmen (2012)
  4. The Day of the Doctor (2013)
  5. The Time of the Doctor (2013)

What Makes a Good Special?

The points raised by David yesterday apply here too; regardless of who the writer is, the purpose of a special remains the same. For the Moffat specials there are a smaller pool of episodes from which to draw your choice. This is due to Moffat having only coined five of them to date. These episodes fall into one of three distinct categories: the Christmas Special; pretty self-explanatory a Christmas themed one-off episode which usually stands alone in terms of story arcs. These episodes should be highly entertaining, coherent and contain a family orientated plot. Then there is what I call a ‘The End of an Era Special’; there have only been two in the new series with The End of Time and The Time of the Doctor, featuring the Doctor’s regeneration outside of the regular format of a series. This presents a challenge to the writer, to give the Doctor a proper send-off giving his era a completed feel whilst still being strong enough to stand alone as a special story. The final type of special is “The Anniversary Special”. This is by far the hardest one to get right, to give the show a suitable tribute for its major milestone whilst in Moffat’s own words getting up the future of the show. Demands from the fans for what the fiftieth anniversary should have been are bound to have put Moffat under pressure. But he performed well, delivering not only a memorable episode, but an event that will live long in the minds of the viewers.

Predicted Winner

Featuring arguably the most impressive list of episodes thus far, you would expect that a tight contest could ensue. Most of the episodes being well received by the majority of fans with some already even being referred to as classics; it would be easy to assume the decision will be taxing. However in stark contrast to this initial assumption, it is extremely easy to see a winner. So easy in fact, that this segment of the poll is at risk of developing into a non-contest. Why is this? The answer: because it contains the Fiftieth Anniversary Special, The Day of The Doctor. Fresh from its victory in The Best of Matt Smith Polls, it would be foolish to consider anything else as our winner here. Alas, The Day of the Doctor would be a highly deserving winner.

Featuring a narrative which delved right into the core of the main character whilst adding a new incarnation and following the worst day of his life gave the story the impact needed for the occasion. In addition to featuring a strong narrative, the episode was littered with treats for long term fans of the show. I’m sure none of us will deny the euphoria of seeing all previous incarnations of the Doctor unite under one common goal. To make this moment even more sublime, the appearance of a future Doctor (even if only his eyes) is bound to have sent shivers down the spines of the viewers. To compound things further, just when you thought all the treats were over, Tom Baker returned in the role of the Curator. Despite its enormous success, The Day of the Doctor is fundamentally flawed. Featuring a strangely unresolved Zygon subplot along with some parts when observed in hindsight which do not make coherent sense (How can Capaldi’s Doctor be there?). Despite these minor flaws the episode has some of the best scenes in the history of the show, too many to name them all

The Dark Horse

I could cheat slightly in making my choice for this section as this is the first poll where all candidates have been covered in The Best of Matt Smith Polls. My predicted winner matches the results of said poll. By definition this makes the next episode in those results the Dark Horse as it has the best chance of pulling off an upset and winning the poll. However since this is head-to-head as opposed to average score, I am tempted to extend the Dark Horse category to cover Moffat at Christmas. Such is the quality of Moffat’s Christmas Specials that any of: A Christmas Carol, The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, The Snowmen, and The Time of the Doctor are more than capable of pulling off a dramatic win.

However I have to pick one episode and that choice may surprise you; my choice is The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe. Realistically this one will probably receive a very low share of the vote, but I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight it as an underrated gem as opposed to the much maligned episode it is made out to be. Admittedly, on first viewing it was an episode I didn’t overly enjoy. However during my Christmas Specials re-watch in December, I was surprised at just how good it was. I have no shame in saying it is the only episode in the history of the show which has had me in floods of tears. The balance of humour and poignancy within the narrative is sublime and the scene where the Doctor returns to the Ponds one of the most memorable moments of the Smith Era. One of the most common criticisms of the episode is the over-reliance of Christmas tropes, as a Christmas special I fail to see how this is a bad thing, it has very little impact on the progression of the story. The episode features what I consider one of the most inspirational quotes the show has produced: “What’s the point in them being happy now if they’re going to be sad later? …..The answer is, of course, because they are going to be sad later.” To reiterate, if this episode were to win it would the biggest Dark Horse of the lot.

Writer’s Pick

Perhaps The Time of the Doctor is the most likely to complete an upset by beating its preceding episode, and it certainly gets my vote. An episode which draws together all of the questions from the Matt Smith Era and delivers a satisfactory resolution is always going to be well received. Unfortunately this wasn’t entirely the case as it initially appeared to be Doctor Who’s version of Marmite. In the initial poll on the site following the episode’s initial broadcast it scored an equivalent of 8.195 (if my Maths is correct). Following this, in the Best of Matt Smith Poll it scored an 8.623. This would seem to be in agreement with my own observation that Smith’s swansong gets better on re-watch. In fact, The Time of the Doctor has grown on me so much that it is currently in my top three episodes.

The narrative effectively begins, adds to, and concludes the arcs of the previous three seasons. It offers a simple explanation whilst still respecting the viewer’s intellect and fits around the story being told within the episode itself. Supported with excellent visuals and a beautiful score, combined with a full cohort of the Doctor’s enemies, the episode has a real sense of importance about it. As a regeneration episode, it’s not all doom and gloom; humour and wonderful character moments are littered throughout the episode. Smith offers a compelling performance as the Doctor throughout the various stages of the character’s life, especially in the heart-breaking scenes with the aged Doctor. Other highlights of the episode included some much needed character development for Clara and a cameo appearance for Amy Pond. I couldn’t ask for much more from a special. The Time of the Doctor gets my vote and I sincerely hope it does as well as it deserves to here.


You’ve heard Mark’s thoughts, but what about your own? Which one tops your list? Vote below.