Recently the Doctor Who Christmas specials have started ‘doing’ Christmas literature. Last year it was A Christmas Carol, this year The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. The Doctor returns a favour to a friendly WW2 mother by giving her and her children a big magic house complete with present-portal to a mysterious planet of living Christmas trees. But all is not as it seems in the land of trees; creepy people made of living wood, industrial space men and acid rain abound.
It’s a messy episode. Like most of Stephen Moffat’s run as head-writer, the structure can be summed up as one big concept swamped with moments of wacky humour, crazy happenings and hectic editing. But, unlike some of the weaker episodes last season this one hung together pretty well, especially in the latter half. Basically, as soon as they went into the forest and got down to the simple premise of the Doctor solving a mystery.
Aside from Claire Skinner who was pretty brilliant as mother Madge, there wasn’t much character depth, but it wasn’t really needed. The Doctor was the Doctor, the kids were kids. Bill Bailey was funny in his cameo.
The main problem, and it damaged the best of it too, was the ending. Be warned, spoilers beyond this point. Early on the family’s father, a fighter pilot, died mid-flight. Not wanting to destroy her children’s Christmases forever, Madge didn’t tell them. This is by far the most interesting aspect of the episode, which, honestly, is pretty rare for a character based subplot in Doctor Who. It’s touched on enough to make it important, but not so much that it gets overplayed, and it manages to make you care.
You’d have to be naïve in the ways of television not to expect him to come back, and after teasing with it for forty minutes, to the point of promising “yes he’s definitely dead”, he’s alive and it’s lovely.
They had the chance to make something unpredictable and special, and they didn’t.
Yes, Christmas isn’t about killing dads, and a happy ending was needed. But this could have been poignant, and even memorable, instead we got a typically forced scientific save.
And, unfortunately, with everything else so average the ending, which could have made it great, made it bad.
Watch The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, Doctor Who Christmas Special 2011 on the BBC iplayer.