And so it was Christmas again this past weekend, which means one thing. Too much food, lots of presents and the best thing of all: the Doctor Who Christmas special. This year’s was teasingly titled “The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe” and we were giving a prequel that led us to believe that The Doctor would be vacationing in Narnia this Christmas.
Well, as should be expected from a Stephen Moffat-written episode, that is only partially true. Like last year’s Christmas special, which took its cue from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, elements of this year’s story was borrowed from C.S. Lewis. Of course, the Doctor explains these coincidences early on by stating that somewhere these things happen and like echoes throughout the universe, the stories resonate in multiple worlds. Sounds good to me. And it’s definitely enough to suspend disbelief, obviously.
The episode starts off with action, as the Doctor is seen hurtling through space without his TARDIS towards Earth. Somehow, he manages to get himself into a space suit that was also hurtling through space with him before he burns up in the atmosphere and crash lands in 1938 England. A helpful wife and mother of two, Madge, helps him find his TARDIS since he can’t get off the suit’s helmet that had ended up on backwards. She guides him back to his TARDIS and he tells her to make a wish if she ever needs him.
Fast forward a few years, and World War II is now underway. Madge is reading a telegram telling her of the death of her husband, a pilot in the war. But instead of telling her two children, Cyril and Lily, she vows to wait until after Christmas so that the holiday does not become one of sadness for them. She stoicly puts on her best face and moves the children to an estate somewhere in the country, where she is met by the Caretaker, otherwise known as the Doctor. The Doctor has answered her wish and has transformed the large manor house into a world of wonder for the children.
This includes leaving a rather large gift under the Christmas tree. And of course, this gift is something that was intended to be opened only on Christmas Day. Cyril, who, like most children, cannot wait until Christmas, peeks into the box early and finds himself crawling through the box and into a world, a planet in the future, that resembles the aforementioned Narnia. Of course, by the time the Doctor and Lily, and eventually Madge, arrive, they all realize that something is very wrong with this world.
The trees on the world are being harvested by the people of Androzani Major. And they need someone to carry their souls to safety. After both Cyril and the Doctor give it a go, Madge takes on a golden crown that allows her to transport the souls, as well as the vessel into which everyone had been trapped. Madge saves the day and in doing so, rewrites history, so to speak, so that everyone, her husband included, have a very Merry Christmas. The Doctor decides to finally pay Amy and Rory a visit and many happy tears are shed.
I love the Doctor Who Christmas specials. They are generally light-hearted and fun and we get to see the Doctor interact with people other than his usual companions. I, personally, think Matt Smith shines when he’s allowed to run with an episode like this, and he was absolutely beautiful and brilliant here. From his physical comedy timing to the emotion we see him portray at the end of the story, Smith nails it and brings us all along for the ride.
Maybe happy tears are a human trait, but even the Doctor cried when he finally came back to Amy and Rory at the end. That one scene had me sobbing to the point of madness as it was such a moving moment when we see the Doctor’s humanity. We have not had much of that since David Tennant left us, so that was rather enjoyable. We get to see the Doctor surprised once more by the fact that he has people in his life that care for him.
Claire Skinner, as Madge, was a delight to watch, her strength carrying the episode’s synopsis to fruition. She was the protective mother, to the end, and very stoic English and I could almost hear her telling her children to “Keep calm and carry on.” Both of the children, too, Maurice Cole and Holly Earl, were also perfectly cast. It was their scenes with Smith that I think I liked the most. Smith’s Doctor has such a way with children, don’t you think?
The story was a perfect mix of what we know of C.S. Lewis Narnia with the science fiction world we know of Doctor Who. In fact, I was rather amused that the wardrobe mentioned in the episode’s title was none other than the TARDIS. The Doctor described it as such when one of the children inquired about it in the basement. But don’t expect Narnia to be an ongoing theme – it merely served as an idea for a setting for the planet and the rest of the story is as unique as the Doctor himself.
I think that this might be one of the best Christmas specials since that first David Tennant one, “The Christmas Invasion.” The last few have been entertaining, to say the least, but this is one that made me cry many happy tears. But it’s okay, because I’m humany wumany and that’s allowed.
Or as the Doctor would say, “I know!”