#7 The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe written by Steven Moffat
I don’t usually open with a viddy, but the prequel to the 2011 Doctor Who Christmas Special is another piece of the puzzle that is the Doctor and per usual in Christmastime Doctor Who fashion, there is excitement, BIG explosions and a lot of almost-dying.
The Christmas episodes are always a huge deal in the UK and I am definitely feeling the excitement as the 2013 Special looms closer. With Matt Smith’s Doctor, I wasn’t as impressed with his Christmas episodes as I was, say, with Tennant. A Christmas Carol and The Snowmen were good, but after Tennant, I expect spectacular. With this episode, number 7 in my top 11, Moffat gives audiences a superb story, full of the excitement, humor and emotion that I have come to expect in a Doctor Who Christmas Special. A huge plus for me is (SPOILERS!) everybody lives (a rare occurrence in the Who-niverse). The episode is set in wartime England, and on Christmas Eve 1938, we meet Madge Arwell, who helps a strange man in a backwards spacesuit get to his police phone box. Madge is a lovely character, who doesn’t freak out at the sight of a spaceman falling from the sky, instead, she assists the Doctor in such a nonchalant fashion, that he promises to come if she makes a wish for him.
Cut to 3 years later and Madge’s husband is flying, and seemingly crashing, a fighter plane in WWII. As I learned from watching Bedknobs and Broomsticks as a child, the young people of urban areas in England were shipped off to the rural countryside when London was being bombed by the German forces. The title of this episodes suggests a correlation to C.S. Lewis’ famous series, and there are indeed themes that are similar, but of course, Moffat makes the story his own by infusing it with humorous characters and sci-fi experiences that are unique to Doctor Who. The night before Madge and her children travel to Uncle Digby’s country estate, she finds out her husband’s plane was lost over the English Channel and she sends up a short prayer for help, but doesn’t tell her children the bad news, because she wants them to have a good Christmas. When they arrive at the estate, the Doctor is waiting for them (although she doesn’t recognize him without his spacesuit). He introduces himself as the Caretaker, and as the title implies, he feels responsible to take care of things for the Arwell family. He creates a whimsical wonderland in the house, with hot, cold and lemonade running taps, an amazing playroom and huge Christmas tree with a mysterious and large package underneath.
What I have always appreciated about Matt Smith’s Doctor is that he interacts with children quite well and has opened the series up to a broad audience because of this accessibility. A childlike quality emerges when Eleven travels with a young companion, and in this episode, the Doctor and Lily are searching for brother Cyril, who has wandered into a portal to another dimension. In Cyril’s defense, the portal was wrapped in a big blue box with a bow and placed under the Christmas tree. Even I might take a peak at that.
Lily and the Doctor crawl through the portal and begin searching for her brother. When they do find Cyril they also meet the Wooden King and Queen of the forest, who need a human to transport the lifeforce of the Androzani trees off the planet, as humans in this far off future have plans to harvest the forest for fuel. The lead up to the meeting between the forest royalty and the Doctor is hilarious, because as Whovians all know, the Sonic Screwdriver doesn’t work on wood. The Doctor quips on it a few times, telling his screwdriver, “We always knew it would come to this, didn’t we?” Eventually, the Doctor and audiences realize that the forest can’t just use any human vessel for their lifeforce; it needs a strong female carrier, and Madge is the woman for the job. While she has been cavorting with the harvesters and looking for her children, the Doctor, Lily and Cyril have worked out the needs of the Forest. With only 5 minutes until the acid rain dissolves the trees, it seems their time is up and all hope is lost. The children have faith in their mother, and Madge finds her way to them, proving a mother’s love is the most dangerous and intense of bonds. She then takes the Forest into her mind (it’s all very spacey-wacey) and the ship begins to move, transporting the Doctor, the Arwells and the Forest in Madge’s mind, through the time vortex. While we learn at the beginning that Madge’s husband has crashed his plane and she is keeping the secret from her children, it becomes necessary for her to acknowledge the pain so that she can follow it home. As the Arwell’s and the Doctor travel through space and time, Madge finally breaks down, sobbing that she doesn’t want to watch her husband die, as she is forced to visualize the most emotional thing she can think of to steer the Forest’s ship back to England.
While the Doctor is not a miracle worker, it is Christmas, and when Madge lands the ship at Uncle Digby’s estate and begins to explain to Lily and Cyril what happened to their father, the family is interrupted by a revelation on the front lawn. It is Reg Arwell’s fighter plane, who followed the light of Madge’s space ship across the Channel and all the way home. It is a touching moment, and surprise! Everyone lives, just this once. The Doctor’s work is done and as he prepares the TARDIS to leave, Madge asks him to stay for Christmas dinner. We all know the Doctor won’t say yes, and so Madge requests that he at least visit his friends, and let them know he is not dead. Now, this episode falls after The Wedding of River Song and his supposed death at Lake Silencio. For the Ponds, it has been 2 years since the Doctor “died” and he has yet to stop in and say hello. As previously discussed in my post on Closing Time, the Doctor has avoided the Ponds so as to keep them out of harm’s way and save them from the inevitable fate that befalls his companions. Still, the Doctor is an emotional being and he truly misses his friends. After some motherly nudging from Madge, the Doctor decides to call on the Ponds and of course, they have a place set for him at the table, because as Amy puts it, “It’s Christmas, you moron.”
This scene always gets me right in the Pond feels. They are so welcoming and kind, while the Doctor is genuinely happy to finally see them again. The strength of the bond between Amy, Rory and the Doctor is evident and Moffat brilliantly ends season 6 with this reconnection that will be the main theme of the first half of season 7. The Doctor has stayed away from the Ponds for a good reason, one that he knows in his heart to be worthy. He knows the fate of those that he loves, and he knows that things can go horribly wrong when you are a time traveler fighting nefarious aliens. Still, even the Doctor needs friends, and for Eleven, the Ponds are the best friends he has. Oh, it makes me so sad to think of next week’s post, when I start exploring season 7 and all the drama that comes with it.
The Collectiva Diva
- 11 Episodes of the Eleventh Doctor: The Wedding of River Song (acollectivemind.wordpress.com)
- 11 Episodes of the Eleventh Doctor: Let’s Kill Hitler (acollectivemind.wordpress.com)
- 11 Episodes of the Eleventh Doctor: Closing Time (acollectivemind.wordpress.com)
- Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Episode Title and Matt Smith’s Wig Revealed! (acollectivemind.wordpress.com)
- 11 Episodes of the Eleventh Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (acollectivemind.wordpress.com)
- Doctor Who Seventh On DVD (scifitalk.com)