The Case for… The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe
John Hussey makes the case for the 2011 Christmas special.
Over the past year, Moffat’s second Christmas Special has had its fair share of criticisms by the fandom of the Whoniverse, so I would like to take this opportunity to stand up for it.
Since it’s Christmas Time, I’m looking forward to two things:
- Christmas with my family
- And Doctor Who
With ‘The Snowmen’ creeping up on us fast, I figured it was best to look back to last year’s Special, and this is where this article comes in. I believe the episode had many good points, and that is why it is second on my list, just under ‘A Christmas Carol’, for best Christmas Special. The idea of the Doctor placing himself back into the shadows had become very apparent at the end of ‘The Wedding of River Song’, so it was a bit of a surprise to see the Doctor in the predicament he was in within the stories’ prequel. I thought to myself, “That’s an odd way of staying under the radar”. Either way, I’m not complaining because it led to an amazing opening, which recently won the poll of ‘Best Christmas Opening’ here on Doctor Who TV. The whole running away from explosions while the ship slowly ripped apart and exploded was just a fantastic way for Moffat to bring the Doctor back at Christmas with a bang. A lot of people don’t like the idea of the Doctor defeating large and threatening enemies in such an easy manner, as he did with the Cybermen in ‘A Good Man Goes to War’, but in many ways, it just makes him more serious and dangerous. The whole point of this is to say, he can do this if he wants to. He can bring down an entire army or civilisation just by the means of a click of the finger. Maybe this just adds to the reason why so many fear him. We already knew back then the Silence wanted to kill him for something he will do in the future by answering the meaning of his name. We then, this year, discovered that the Daleks, the Doctor’s greatest enemy, merely come back stronger every time they are defeated in fear of the great Time Lord. Perhaps if you look into this scenario that way, it becomes more clear and rather scary.
With the Earth saved from yet another alien threat (although it would’ve been nice to see a little more of the aliens – an idea for the future maybe) the Doctor plummets to Earth and just barely survives. With the help of one-off Christmas companion Madge Arwell, the Doctor manages to find his way back to the TARDIS, if misguided at first into an actual police box. We move onto the main part of the story – the Arwells. Madge holds the dark secret of her husbands’ death from her young children Lily and Cyril. This is a dark theme to have at Christmas. Looking at it from an emotional side, there is already a lot of sympathy for the characters. You can relate to the loss Madge suffers – her husband, Reg Arwell, has been killed and holds the burden of ruining her children’s Christmas spirits with the thought that each year will pass with them thinking ‘this is the time of year Daddy was taken from us’. No parent should have to go through that. It reflects how cruel and unfair the war was to the families back home.
Using the theme of ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’, the family move into the country due to the war and are met with some mad and strange ideas which change their lives forever. This is where the story perks up with a lot of happy humour from a mad-over-the-top-Christmas Doctor. I just love his opening lines of:
“Usually called the Doctor. Or the ‘caretaker’. Or ‘Get off this planet.’”
I always enjoy watching the part where the Doctor is showing the Arwell’s around the house. It’s just filled with fun and is really humorous. The mad inventions the Doctor employs is just genius. A lemonade tap; I want one. The Christmas tree is another fine addition to the Doctor’s seasonal spirited ways. It’s almost like he considers himself Father Christmas. Then again, he is a time traveller, so who knows. One day we might just find out that he is in fact Santa Claus. Well wouldn’t that be weird. Finally flinging oneself into a bunk-bed and missing is never a good idea to do. Or in the Doctor’s case it’s just broken. We then quickly move back to the idea of Madge’s dark secret and the Doctor soon gets filled in with the bigger picture.
Continuing with the idea of ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ the children, or in this case Cyril, stumbles upon an icy forest – a fantasy alien world – through an everyday object. In this case, something iconic at Christmas Time; a present. This giant present addressed to the Arwell’s becomes a doorway to a Narnia like world. The Doctor and Lily soon follow Cyril in order to save him. This brings about one of my favourite ideas about the Doctor – he simply doesn’t think. He assumes something in his head and then goes and does it without thinking about the consequences they might have. He is a living danger to everyone around him because of this and it has been seen done over and over again. The Doctor decides to take the Arwell’s to a Christmas planet but doesn’t think of the dangers that perhaps something could go wrong. As it turns out, Cyril follows the Wooden-King to a tree-made lighthouse and is attacked by the Wooden Queen (so we think at first). We are then shown that Madge also wonders into the present to find her children. Madge soon comes across (what turns out to be) the real danger of the forest. With a little nod to the Classic Series (aka ‘The Caves of Androzani’) the alien team Madge encounters are farmers from Androzani Major and are going to reduce the beautiful forest into cheap fuel for their planet via the means of acid rain. I must admit, I was a little disappointed by the minor appearance of Bill Bailey, but it didn’t detract from the story too much.
As it turns out, once again Humanoids are the monsters and the trees, although at first looking threatening, are actually trying to save their world from the acid rain. This is always the most interesting twist within the enemy unveiling that Humans are worse than the thing that looks like the monster. It’s our selfish and rash nature that sometimes leads to our downfall. In this case, Humanoids trying to find an alternative means of energy by any means necessary, even if it involves cutting down an entire forest. To them, it’s not living. It’s just a load of wood. The trees are living organisms and fear that their lives will soon come to an end and wish to escape this fate. Powerful stuff if you ask me. By using one of the Arwells, ultimately Madge because of her nature as a mother, as a mind-link the trees are able to transfer the living minds of the trees away to safety. The lighthouse then becomes a spaceship and with the mind of Madge, they are able to travel home through the Time Vortex. Some would say that’s far-fetched but I wouldn’t say so. The love of a mother towards their children is one of the strongest love and determinations in the whole wide world. Giving this kind of opportunity, I reckon the will would be strong enough to break the barriers of time and space. Also I look at it this way, it’s science-fiction. The idea about this genre is it’s fictional. Anything can happen. It doesn’t have to be bound by the laws of realism. Hence the ideas of space and time travel. These ideas aren’t yet possible and yet with the genre of science-fiction, it can be made possible. So that’s just a heads up in future for anyone who says, this isn’t realistic. Think on these words I’ve just said because if you’re looking for realistic results in a science-fiction show, you’re clearly watching the wrong genre.
In order to get them back, the Doctor was forced to have Madge think about Reg’s death due to the powerful feelings and emotions it generated. In doing so, they were returned to Earth and the trees were allowed to escape into space, free from hostile activity. The biggest consequence of all was that Lily and Cyril were told about their mother’s dark secret. Imagine you were those kids, it’s Christmas Day and you’ve just discovered your dad had perished in the war. It would be devastating. I really feel sorry for them at that point. So it is nice to see their hearts lifted in the next scene when their father comes back from the dead. It is a beautiful resolution to the Arwell story. Within the scene of their dad coming back from the dead, the true meaning of the episode is revealed; family. ‘The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe’ is all about family and the powerful love it brings. That’s what helped Madge save the day and that’s what makes the Doctor return to the Ponds. The Doctor realises, with a little nudge from Madge, that family is important. The love it brings. The Doctor cannot be alone, especially at Christmas. He needs someone to keep him sane and happy. I hope that’s what Clara reminds him of in ‘The Snowmen’.
So to see the story pay-off with its poetic ending was a great way to end a rollercoaster year of Doctor Who. It’s such a sad ending, but obviously not in the usual kind. It’s sad because it’s happy. The Doctor and the Ponds are reunited. The Time Lord faces his demons and returns to show them face to face that he is still alive (as they already knew through word of mouth by River that he had cheated his fixed death in time). The stubbornness of the Doctor and Amy was a sweet way of showing off their long and complicated chemistry and it was also nice to see the final touches with the Ponds informing the Doctor that they had been laying out a place for him at the dinner table for the past two Christmas’. It was the perfect happy ending, along with a sad foreshadowing of the events that would come about the following year which would rip this beautiful friendship apart. Another reason it was poetic is because the Doctor lets out a little tear of joy. It just showed how much he’d missed his best friends and was happy to be reunited with them.
All in all, if you look at the episode from this point of view, you begin to see it in a new light. I’m not saying you have to change your viewpoints of liking it if you don’t already like it, all I ask of you is to read my words and think. The episode isn’t as bad as it seems. It has many interesting points and showcases a very emotional story with many morals towards secrets and the meaning of family. The perfect message to put out on Christmas Day. The story was happy, action-packed, scary and full of mystery and love. As a Christmas Special, it works in every shape and form.