Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Doctor Who: The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

“Cyril! What have I told you about opening your presents early? Something like this was bound to happen!”

This is the seventh Christmas special since Doctor Who came back in 2005; it’s become quite the seasonal institution. And it’s established itself as something quite distinct from a regular episode; Doctor Who should always primarily be aimed at a general family audience rather than us fans, but never is this truer than on Christmas Day, when most people all bunged up with food and on at least their second glass of wine. What’s needed is a nice, uplifting blockbuster movie type thing that’s easy to follow for the semi-inebriated, of which I was definitely one; re-watching it with pen, paper and no wine was a very different experience.

(Incidentally, we actually live paused this for thirty minutes while we finished our game of Scrabble. The last two nights have been epic, alcohol-fuelled sessions of Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit until the wee small hours. This is my first alcohol-free night since December 23rd and will probably be my last alcohol-free day of 2011. What a time of year, eh?)

There’s another Christmas tradition that seems to have established itself over the years, too: the Doctor, travelling alone, has a one-off adventure with a guest star in which he discovers the importance of family and friends. It really ought to get tired, but good writing from RTD and now the Moff has generally ensured that it doesn’t. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves; we begin with some rather good CGI, some music from Murray Gold that clearly signifies this as a blockbuster family movie, and some nice comic scenes. We’re introduced to guest star Claire Skinner of Outnumbered (which I’d seen for the first time earlier that day- rather good!) as the terribly British yet resourceful Madge, Alexander Armstrong in a surprisingly small role (as are Bill Bailey and Arabella Weir), and the two children, Lily and Cyril. The family dynamic is quickly and very wittily established in some superb dialogue from the Moff, and we like these characters immediately. But Christmas seems set to be ruined; Madge has received a telegram, stating that her husband is missing, presumed dead.

Just as entertaining are the scenes in which the Doctor introduces the three of them to the fantastic alterations he’s made to all the rooms. One might perhaps quibble at how the Doctor has the resources to do all this but that would be churlish, I think; it’s Christmas and it’s cool. And Matt Smith is amazing in these scenes. Yet he’s just as good in a more serious context, as he gently comforts Madge about her husband’s death and the terrible responsibility of informing her children.

The concept of a wardrobe leading to another room is, er, not entirely original, and tends to give rise to the temptation to see Christian subtexts which aren’t there. There’s a real temptation to the alien forest of real Christmas teams, even if this is a curiously benign alien world, devoid of any real threat at this point, in which it’s safe for a child to wonder. One might pause to tut at the Doctor allowing a child to wander somewhere dangerous through his own negligence but, again, it’s Christmas and it’s cool.

Fanwank alert: this planet is Androzani Major, in spite of the lack of obvious references to The Caves of Androzani, and the year is 5345, although how this fits into the other story’s timeline is anyone’s guess. The people who impart this information are, of course, quickly outsmarted by Madge, who is easily the coolest character in this. Serves them right; they want to “melt” this forest with acid rain to make “battery fluid”.

The ending, with females and particularly mothers being “strong”, is cool, and Madge quite simply rules, but I suppose I ought to say something about the sexual politics of this, as a brief glance at Gallifrey Base (and I really do mean just a glance at thread titles) indicates that it’s being discussed. Personally, although it’s obvious that the role of mother is being celebrated, I don’t see any wider indication that women are being defined only in relation to this, or that patriarchal structures are being reinforced in any way. It’s just a tribute to motherhood, and quite a cool one.

That Madge’s husband hasn’t in fact died is a little soppy, but also inevitable and satisfying, and it’s good to see Amy and Rory again. Also cool is that this is one of those Christmases where the Doctor does stay for Christmas dinner.

I liked that. It’s Christmas and it’s cool.


  1. I don't think it is Androzani Major - wasn't that supposed to be a gas giant?

    The yellow guys said they hailed from there - doesn't mean it is Androzani Major.

  2. Ah yes, they just said they were "from" Androzani Major, didn't they? It probably makes more sense for them to be "harvesting" entire forests if this is not their home planet.

    I haven't heard of Androzani Major being a gas giant, though- I wonder if something that looked like a gas giant was paintboxed on to the sky? It was certainly very fashionable in the mid-'80s.

    I always raise an eyebrow at the concept of inhabited gas giants- I had the same reaction to Bespin in The Empire Strikes Back. The resources needed to maintain a habitable environment up in the stormy clouds must be huge!