SPOILER ALERT: If you didn't see the Doctor Who Christmas special on BBCA last night, what kind of Whovian are you?!?! Because this jazz is totally bigger on the inside.
My, but it was good to see the Doctor again. It must be the bow tie.
As leading man Matt Smith and producer Marcus Wilson both promised in interviews before the episode aired, “The Doctor, The Widow, and The Wardrobe” is simply effervescent with Christmas nostalgia, charm and heart. And it's definitely the most Christmas-y yet of the famed Doctor Who holiday specials.
The first scene showing him barely hanging on to an exploding spaceship was oddly comforting, because it's reminiscent of one of the first times we saw the Eleventh Doctor grappling for his out-of-control TARDIS before it crash-landed in Amy Pond’s backyard.
After a chance encounter in 1938 England with Madge Arwell, a mother and wife, the Doctor returns three years later to answer her Christmas wish. Madge’s husband, a pilot in the war, died trying to make it home for the holiday, and she has yet to tell her children.
On a TARDIS and a wish, the Doctor returns and attempts to help Madge and her two children, Lily and Cyril, have the best Christmas they can. Starting by decking the halls of the drafty home they are staying in with his own childlike impulses – like a lemonade tap in the kitchen and a wonderland of toys in the children’s bedroom – the Doctor is ready to indulge himself and enchant the Arwells.
His actual gift for the children is, of course, cloaked in a giant, TARDIS-blue box under a buzzing and whirring Christmas tree in the sitting room.
When curious Cyril opens the box on Christmas Eve, he reveals a rabbit hole into a Narnia-esque planet, Androzani, in the year 5345. Unbeknownst to him, it leads to a tree farm that is moments away from being melted down for battery fluid by acid rain. Cyril, followed by the Doctor and Lily, and eventually Madge, discovers that the life force of the trees is trying to escape the planet in a crude airship – but the trees need a strong “lifeboat” to help them, in the form of a person.
While this adventure into another time and place feels ominous at times, it is full of witticisms from the Doctor, touching observations about the meaning of motherhood and family, and another rollicking journey that only Doctor Who could deliver on Christmas.
The Doctor is full of great one-liners (“I love clever,” “There are sentences I should just keep away from,” “Hold tight and pretend it’s a plan”) and up to his usual antics, but there is a slightly melancholic mood that descends at times, and it isn’t just because of the absent Mr. Arwell.
Steven Moffat’s script is keen to remind everyone that the Doctor is a humanoid, and although he is full of emotions, the Doctor considers himself too far removed from some of them. It is poignant to hear him say to Lily, “Crying when you’re happy – that is so human.”
And when Madge delivers on the promise to her children – “Mummy always comes” – by piloting a giant walking platform to reach the Doctor, Lily and Cyril through the acid rain downpour, the episode’s emotional bottle rocket is just beginning to open up. It is also Madge who has to pilot the “mothership” away from the planet and into the time vortex so they can make it home for Christmas.
At first, the Doctor is told by the forest guardians that he is too “weak” to pilot it himself, and he is outraged, but then it becomes clear – he doesn’t have the strength of a mother fighting for her children. He memorably, and sadly, tells Madge, “I can’t feel the way you do.”
The flight home is filled with visions of Madge’s husband, from the time she met him to his untimely death, which is also flashing before the eyes of her children. When they land at home, she tries to explain that their father died because there was no moon or stars to light his way home.
But in a twist of fate, perfectly orchestrated by the Doctor in the first place, their bright trip through the time vortex provided a light for Reg Arwell to follow home.
As the Arwell family reunites, the Doctor knows he has delivered his Christmas miracle and it’s time to leave. He readies the TARDIS, but Madge stops him, trying to invite him to stay. As she has reinforced throughout the entire episode, “No one should be alone on Christmas.” He tells her he has friends, people that love him, but they don’t know that he is still alive. Madge begs him to think not of himself, but of his friends, and to go to them right away.
When we see the Doctor knock on a front door the color of TARDIS blue, is it too much to hope that he will have a Christmas reunion of his own? Sure enough, Amy Pond opens the door, pointing a water pistol that is meant for use on annoying carolers.
It has been two years since the Doctor “died.”
Their awkward, stilted conversation reveals to the Doctor that River Song told Amy and Rory the Doctor never died. Even though each of them insists on not being the first to hug the other, Amy and the Doctor can’t help themselves. Amy and Rory invite him in for Christmas dinner, and it’s no trouble because they always set a place for him at the table.
Are you crying into your Tom Baker scarf yet?
As the bewildered Doctor stands in their doorway, a smile moves beautifully across his face, followed by tears. Miraculously, the Doctor realizes that not only is he loved, but perhaps he isn’t too alien to love in return. And there he is, crying because he is happy, the same thing he referred to earlier as “so human.”
If watching this stunning, intertwined storyline of heartwarming Christmas cheer and fairy-tale antics didn’t fill you with joy, I don’t know what will.
As charming as when he popped out of the TARDIS and rifled through little Amy Pond’s kitchen looking for fish fingers and custard, Matt Smith’s Doctor enchants, supported by a lovingly chosen cast and Moffat’s engaging story. And we can now add "humany woomany" to our string of favorite Doctor Who phrases, like "wibbly wobbly timey wimey."
Not only did we get to see our beloved Doctor together with Amy and Rory before they all disappear for a year, but we also glimpsed another side to the Doctor’s paradox that we will never fully comprehend, even after 11 incarnations.
For that Christmas gift, it’s easy for this Whovian to be thankful.
What did you think of the Doctor Who Christmas Special? Sit down, grab a Jammie Dodger or two and let us know in the comments below!