Doctor Who Christmas Special 2011: The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe

That actor in the middle is a bit wooden

Originally written for TV Pixie

Stop crying. No, stop it. You can’t keep letting Steven Moffat emotionally blackmail you like this.

He’s always ruining the festive season with his heart-rending, poetic fables about forests with souls, brave widows, possibly deceased fighter pilots and adorable children who look like a 1940s version of The Milky Bar Kid. It’s just not on.

In this festive special, the Doctor has a career change and becomes ‘The Caretaker’, custodian of the rambling country house that Madge (Outnumbered’s Claire Skinner- clearly typecast as a mum) and her young family are evacuated to during the war.

As The Caretaker, Matt Smith can really let rip as a crazed, madcap Willy Wonka figure, presenting Madge’s children with rooms full of hyperactive chairs, lemonade taps- not to mention a hazardous dimensional rift leading to a dangerous (but pleasingly Narnia-like) alien world. A world that Cyril, the more inquisitive of the two children, inevitably strays into via a portal wrapped up inside a Christmas parcel.

The Doc really should be forced to start filling in risk assessments before he can hang out with kids. And possibly a CRB check or two.

So far, so C.S.Lewis. But our underlying knowledge that Madge received news of her pilot husband’s death the morning before adds a rather haunting and discordant underlying note to the usual ‘Doctor Who prancing about being a plonker and inventing magic hammocks’ theme. It’s unsettling: a bit like finding half a caterpillar in your salad. Or Marmite on your toast.

But it needs to be a bit bleak, as this episode is all about the inner strength of women: mothers in particular. Madge’s woe turns to steel when she finds her kids have gone walkabout in an alien forest, and the scene where she pulls a gun on the armoured tree-destruction brigade (captained by everyone’s favourite googly-eyed Klingon impersonator Bill Bailey) was the real turning point of the whole adventure.

What was that, you say? ‘Tree destruction?’

Yes, bit unpleasant, isn’t it? Casting lovable scamp Bailey and national mum-figure (and all round Good Egg) Arabella Weir as two members of a futuristic lumberjack squad intent on melting down Narnia with acid rain was a bit odd. It meant we had to like them- because you can’t dislike Bill Bailey. If you try to, you just get a headache.

But they were destroying a magical living forest. All of it! With acid!

And what’s more, they got away with it. Ok, so the souls of the trees survived by hitching a lift inside Madge, but the planet itself was lost.

Thank goodness they cut the final scene where a half-melted Aslan dragged himself, whimpering, out of the bushes, pausing only to take a bite out of a recently deceased talking beaver.

To be fair though, the inept, interplanetary tree murdering hit squad were one of the highlights of the episode (“are you telling me we can’t tell wool from sidearms?”) and no doubt took the drunken, turkey-filled audiences’ collective minds off Auntie Jean’s racist comments for a few minutes.

Despite the eco-vandalism and a fairly twee ‘the trees are all in heaven now’ ending, the episode managed more hits than misses: particularly the way we were kept in the dark about dad-pilot Reg Arwell’s fate right until the last minute.

The uncertainly definitely contributed to the nation’s collective muttering of ‘no, I’ve just got something in my eye’ at around 6.54pm GMT.

Yes, unlike Mr Tumnus, Schrödinger’s Reg is revealed to be alive, having navigated across the channel by following the geodesic dome from the end bit of The Crystal Maze (a.k.a the Madge-piloted tree escape pod from the future).

It’s touching without being mawkish, although the same can’t quite be said for the epilogue where the Doctor goes to visit Amy and Rory. He ends up leaking fluid from one eye and catches it on his finger, amazed that he can feel again. He’s like a diet version of Data from Star Trek crossed with The Terminator. “What is this thing you humans call…crying?”

Still, it’s good to at least catch a glimpse of Amy Pond, though according to news reports she and Rory will be written out before long. It’ll be very hard to replace them, but if the public gets to choose a replacement I’d go for stoic, bold Madge: Crystal Dome pilot and tree saviour extraordinaire.

Some mums go to Iceland. She went to Narnia, threatened several comedians with a gun and then crashed a walking robot into a tree. Ace


About Hilary Wardle
Hilary is a freelance journalist and copywriter who writes for a wide range of websites, magazines and newspapers, including Buzzfeed, MSN, The Poke, Chortle, the Guardian and the Independent. She specialises in arts and entertainment, comedy, video games and viral content. Contact her at

One Response to Doctor Who Christmas Special 2011: The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe

  1. Yes, I could go along with Madge, too. Did you really think it wasn’t telegraphed that Reg Arwell was going to survive? Kept expecting Ben Miller to pop his head into the cockpit, with a quick exclamation of ‘Yo, homeboy. OK to guide our ‘chutes down safe and all that. Standard.’

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