Doctor Who: The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe
(1 episode, Christmas Special, 2011)
Facing traumas and Christmas miracles.
The Eleventh Doctor holds a button that, when released, will blow up a ship that’s about to destroy the Earth. He calls Amy Pond on the TARDIS phone to ask her to rescue him, but he realizes she cannot fly the TARDIS. He also doesn’t have the coordinates and, well, Amy is no longer with him.
The Doctor admits he just wanted to chat and wishes her a merry Christmas before triggering the explosion.
The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe
A spaceship approaches Earth in 1938, ready to destroy the planet, but it blows up from within courtesy of the Eleventh Doctor. The Doctor is ejected from the ship and plummets toward Earth as he struggles into a nearby spacesuit.
He plummets to the ground near a woman riding her bike in the dark. That woman, Madge Arwell, finds the Doctor in a crater, his helmet on backwards, and mistakes him for a space angel. Madge leaves an elaborate message with her son and takes the Doctor to town to find a police box. Unfortunately, they find the wrong box at first, but Madge is presumably successful by the time she returns home. The Doctor tells her that all she needs to do is make a wish and he’ll be there.
Three years later, her husband is lost in the war when his plane crashes. Madge Arwell now is a war widow with two kids. She makes a silent wish before taking the children to Uncle Digby’s abandoned country estate for the holiday. It is there that the family formally meets the Doctor, posing as the caretaker.
A whirlwind tour reveals a sitting room with moving chairs, a kitchen with a lemonade tap, the rumor of panthers, and a magical children’s bedroom complete with hammocks. Madge is beside herself and privately asks why the Doctor is doing all of this. He tells her that he knows the sadness that will come when she finally tells them the bad news.
The family adjourns to the main sitting room with a large Christmas tree and a giant glowing present. The Doctor wanders away as Madge promises the kids that this will be the best present ever. That night, Cyril sneaks down to investigate the present while Lily looks in on the Doctor. Lily finds the Time Lord fiddling with the TARDIS while Cyril discovers that the present leads to a Narnia-like world beyond its wrappings.
Once the Doctor realizes that Cyril has entered the package, he and Lily give chase. The Doctor tells Lily that it was supposed to be a portal to the safest planet he knew but it wasn’t supposed to be opened until Christmas. Meanwhile, Cyril has followed mysterious footprints from a creature that hatched from a silver ball to a tower in the woods.
The Doctor recognizes that the voices around him are the trees talking to each other. There is something wrong in the forest. As they search for Cyril, Madge finds the package and enters the portal as well, soon encountering three harvest rangers who hold her at gunpoint. The forest is private property and an acid rain storm is about to melt the trees for fuel. The stress of the entire encounter is too much as Madge breaks down in tears.
Cyril enters the tower and finds a wooden being on a throne. It comes to life as Cyril climbs the stairs behind it. When he reaches the top of the tower, he finds a throne with another wooden statue. The Doctor and Lily enter the tower and recognize the Wooden King and that the tower is made from trees. It is a trap, but the Doctor questions why the forest needs people. Above them, Cyril is forced to sit in the throne and is crowned by the Wooden Queen. This forces the Wooden King to rise and ascend the stairs.
The harvest rangers are from Androzani Major and they lower their weapons, believing that Madge is no harm. Unfortunately for them, she pulls out a gun. After all, there’s a war on. The men are bound as the female ranger tries to scan for the Arwell children. Unfortunately, she can’t pilot the ranger vehicle and the rangers are teleported away as the final warning is announced.
The Wooden King and Queen speak through Cyril, passing along the news that they are shepherding the lifeforce of the forest away before it is melted. They are using Cyril as a lifeboat, but the boy is too weak to hold forest’s lifeforce. The Doctor is also not compatible, but Lily is. Unfortunately, she’s also too young.
Then the rain begins.
Madge can hear the children and the Doctor over an open channel, motivating her to drive the ranger harvester to the tower. It topples over as it reaches the tower but Madge makes it inside safely. After she chastises the children, she is crowned by the Wooden Queen. Madge is strong enough to save the forest.
The Doctor is perplexed by Madge’s ability to house the entire forest in her head, then realizes that weak and strong are code for male and female. The geodesic sphere atop the tower lifts off and plunges into the temporal vortex to remain safe while the forest is converted. The Wooden Queen tells the Doctor that Madge can pilot them home with a single thought.
Using the telegram that announced her husband’s death, she focuses on her family and plots a course home. On the way, she sees her history with her husband, including his death over the Channel, revealing the truth to her children.
The transit ends with the forest finding a new home among the stars. They have returned to the estate and the family shares a moment over the tragic news. The Doctor leaves them for a moment and makes a life-changing discovery.
Madge’s husband died because there were no stars to light the way home. Because of what Madge did for the forest, the light of the temporal vortex became his beacon home. He landed with them and survived the war after all, given the Arwells a Christmas miracle.
Later on, Madge discovers that the Doctor is her spaceman angel. She thanks him and asks him to stay for Christmas. He declines and readies to leave, and she tells him that no one should be alone for Christmas. He should go see his family, even though they think that he’s dead.
If Madge needs him again, all she needs is to make a wish.
The TARDIS dematerializes, taking the Doctor to the Pond home. Amy answers the blue door, ready to spray annoying carolers, and expresses her annoyance at the Doctor’s two year absence. She reveals that River told them about the Doctor’s survival, and after a brief standoff, the two hug once again. Rory and Amy also tell him that they always set a place for him at Christmas dinner.
The Doctor steps inside and smiles as he wipes a tear from his eye.
This story embodies the positives of the holiday specials. They typically meld the science fiction elements of the franchise with a feel-good story to life viewers up in the season, and this was a prime example of their magic.
The story handled the trauma of loss and the family left behind in war quite well, allowing the family to heal from the obvious friction that started their Christmas holiday. I admit that I was crying as Madge faced that which she did not want to, and I kept crying as her family found their miracle in saving his life.
The plot plays a wonderful parallel to the Doctor’s own life, resulting in a payoff as he realizes that he needs other people in his life after all.
Reg Arwell as played by Alexander Armstrong, whom we have heard before over five series as the supercomputer Mr. Smith in The Sarah Jane Adventures. It’s good to put a face to the voice.
The parallels to the C.S. Lewis Narnia tales is quite obvious, as are several of the ties back to this show’s mythology from the Magna Carta to the Doctor’s respiratory bypass system to survive in space. Oh, and the entire Androzani link for the Fifth Doctor’s swan song.
And the sonic screwdriver being used as a tool and rendered inoperative because of all the wood. That was a nice touch.
Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.