“The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe”
It’s Christmas 1941 and Madge Arwell is taking her two young children away for the holidays. What she hasn’t told them is that their father has died, shot down in his Lancaster Bomber whilst fighting in the Second World War. But never fear! The Doctor is here to be over-the-top and annoying as all hell. Also; pointless Bill Bailey cameo!
New Who has seen its fair share of silliness, which is in keeping with the grand tradition of Doctor Who (“Delta and The Bannermen”, anyone?) but the 2011 Christmas special is by far one of the silliest and downright stupidest episodes ever conceived. From the word go we seem to have entered the realms of utter ridiculousness and left our suspension of disbelief in the bottom of our stockings like an unwanted satsuma.
Our story begins with The Doctor falling out of a spaceship whilst trying to put on an impact space suit. This will apparently enable him to fall through the Earth’s atmosphere, hit the ground at the speed of light and subsequently walk it off in a few hours. Oh, and now The Doctor can breathe in space. He lands on Earth in the year 1938, just in time for Christmas, and is found by Madge Arwell who is out driving. She seemingly has no problem with the idea of an alien falling out of the sky (with his helmet on backwards! oh, such hijinks!) and sets about escorting him back to the parked TARDIS. There is so much stupid in this opening 10 minutes that I damn near turned the episode off whilst rewatching it for this review. But, alas, we must solider on.
Cut to three years later and Madge’s husband is missing, presumed dead, so she’s taking the kids away for Christmas – not that they know anything about their father’s untimely war-related demise, they still think he’ll turn up in time for Christmas dinner. They go to a relatives house in Dorset and upon arriving discover that the caretaker is waiting for them. It’s The Doctor, who for some reason has decided to repay Madge’s kindness from three years prior by decking the house out like some nightmarish version of Pee Wee’s Playhouse. He also can’t use doors now because COMEDY!
It’s during these scenes, where The Doctor shows the family around the house, that Matt Smith turns in one of the worst performances of his tenure. And I say this as someone who ranks Smith quite highly in spite of the fact that the material didn’t always serve him well during his run. He’s so over the fucking top, so in your face like he’s pumped full of sugar and can’t control his facial expressions anymore. Every subtle gesticulation and nuance that made the Eleventh Doctor so memorable and quirky is turned up to eleven (see what I did there?) and it’s not long before it’s annoying the living shit out of you. Mercifully, he seems to calm down a bit as the episode goes on but it’s still a performance that leaves the scenery well and truly gnarled.
The Doctor has left a present for the kids under the tree and inside is a portal to another planet where Christmas trees grow naturally (including baubles) and it always snows. One of the children can’t resist opening a present early (we’ve all been there) and ends up getting lost on this snowy woodland world, so The Doctor and the other kid follow him in to investigate. If you’ve noticed that I’m not using the names of the children, that’s deliberate – neither one leaves any lasting impression on me whatsoever. On the planet, one of the baubles has turned into a wooden man and taken refuge in a tower, which it transpires that the entire planet’s population of trees is planning on using as an escape pod because the planet is about to be harvested using acid rain.
This is where Bill Bailey, Arabella Weir and Paul Bazely show up as the mining crew who’ve ome to carry out the harvest. Further attempts at comedy are made as they try to interrogate Madge (who has also found the portal) but can’t bring themselves to do so because she’s crying. They’re in the episode for less than 10 minutes so it’s pretty much a glorified cameo and an absolute waste of the comedic talents of Bailey and Weir.
The Doctor and Kid Female finally locate Kid Male at the top of the tower, where a crown has been placed on his head to help pull the spirits of the trees into his mind so that he can carry them to safety. I feel stupider just for writing that sentence. Kid Male isn’t strong enough though and neither is The Doctor – turns out that Madge is the perfect candidate though because she’s a mother and the trees need a “mother ship”. OH! See what THEY did there?! COMEDY!!
So the whole thing ends with Madge somehow being able to not only store thousands of tree souls in her head (again, not even batting an eyelid to how fucking bizarre her situation is), but also to fly the escape ship tower thingy off the planet THEN somehow access the time vortex, fly them all through time, act as a guiding light for her husband’s plane so that he makes it home and they all end up back in Dorset in time for Christmas dinner. In short, it’s a load of shite that comes across as bad fan fiction disguised as a parody of the show. Even a fairly lovely moment at the end where The Doctor visits Amy and Rory for Christmas dinner just isn’t enough to win me back after the 45 minutes of utter dreck that has gone before it.
As much as I love Matt Smith’s performance as the Eleventh Doctor, this is one occasion where the ham levels are dangerously high and The Doctor comes off as more of an ADHD addled teenager than a wise old time travel with a youthful twinkle in his eye. Throw in some bollocks about trees with souls and a woman who can fly a tower through the time vortex using only her desire to see her husband again and you’ve got all the makings of a Christmas turkey. Not one of Steven Moffat’s finest hours by any stretch of the imagination. A stupid 2/10.
Written and edited by Richey Hackett