It’s been more than a month than Christmas, but still, I’m going to go back to Christmas night 2011. It was the night of the Doctor Who Christmas special; although I’m sure many of you didn’t watch the special on Christmas day but rather watched it a few days later when there weren’t immense amounts of family making more noise than the television.
This year’s special, the Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe was obviously an allusion to the C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Though as far as the allusion goes, it seems to start and end with the large unexplored house and a portal into the other world. Only one child goes through the portal in this story, and everyone goes looking for him as opposed to the Chronicles of Naria where all four children go through the portal and no one ever comes looking for them. The worlds are quite different too. While the unnamed planet in the special seems to be a dark, ominous place that consists solely of forestation, Naria was only partially forest and it was only dark and wintery due to the influence of the White Witch. But no one expects the allusion to really be a complete piece by piece recreation, although it seems like the magic portal is the only real connection between the two stories.
Even the characters places don’t sync up. While the Doctor and Aslan are both mythic, rather mysterious, figures, Aslan sacrifices himself for the sake of the children and later returns to save the day. The Doctor, on the other hand, is branded as weak. Even if weak is a synonym for male to the Androzani trees, it still places him outside of the realm of help. Of course, he encourages Madge Arwell and figures out exactly what the Wooden King and Queen want but he is still relegated to the cheering squad while Madge takes the crown and guides them home. So in the title space, where the widow takes the place of the witch, the roles don’t cross over either. Madge Arwell is far from the malevolent influence that the Witch was and the closest deception she really comes to is hiding the death of her husband to their children so that they could enjoy one last Christmas.
Who actually isn’t dead. So the widow isn’t actually a widow. While I didn’t actually mind the ending and having the husband alive and guided home by the light of the lifeboat, it came off as a bit corny. The underlying implication was that no one can die or Christmas would be ruined whereas I believe the special still would have had a feel good ending had they all been able to reconcile their emotions while viewing Madge’s past in the time stream. Overall however, the title isn’t actually much more than a slight reference to the Naria series, and really it’s a very large clue about the ending. The Doctor calls the Tardis his wardrobe. That line is even in the trailer, but we all know what it really is. So the Wardrobe isn’t a wardrobe, and the Doctor isn’t really a doctor. It should be have easy to realise that the Widow wouldn’t be a widow, but I for one didn’t realise. The title was the biggest clue.
But I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the title and not talking about the episode itself. Maybe that’s because, as a Christmas special, I just wasn’t feeling it. I think there have been better Christmas specials since the series came back in 2005, most of them by the Tenth Doctor admittedly. Both Voyage of the Damned and The Runaway Bride felt like stronger specials with more at risk and more involving and relatable characters. The introduction to The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, with the Doctor donning a spacesuit and falling to Earth in 1938, seemed to simply set up where The Doctor was following the Wedding of River Song and that Madge had already met the Doctor, but aside from those rather trivial details, it didn’t do much to set up the characters for us. Madge and the children seemed ripped from a war story, with little personality of their own. Madge was the most interesting due to her internal conflict of telling her children about the death of their father but after she deals with this issue, it turns out he’s alive. So the whole conflict feels a little empty in retrospect.
It doesn’t really feel like there’s much at stake here either. The planet and everything on it is going to be destroyed by acid rain. I find it difficult to believe that the Doctor couldn’t have done something with the teleporter to follow the Harvest Rangers to safety, or that he would be so inclined to help a sentient race of trees that had kidnapped them. In fact, the Doctor doesn’t really do very much in this special except stand around and allow things to happen. He watches and explains but he’s a lot less proactive than he has been in previous years. Perhaps after the events of the previous series where his proactive pursuit of the Silence and the attack at Demon’s Run which all inevitably lead to the creation of River Song, a weapon designed to kill the Doctor, that he decided the take a backseat for a while. His constant pining for Amy and Rory didn’t really resonate to me either because I knew from the ending of The Wedding of River Song that they already knew him to be alive.
Overall, I did like the episode even though it felt like a lot happened without really having much impact. I think it was probably a nice light episode following the extremely dramatic and heavy series six, especially the finale. With the questions that much not be answered looming over the series though, it’s a wonder how long The Doctor will be able to hide in the shadows. But for that, we’ll have to wait until later in 2012.