Monday, December 26, 2011

Doctor Who: The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

Here we are with the Doctor Who Christmas special, a cool drink of water amid several months of drought between the end of season 6 (early October) and the premiere of season 7 (probably next September). So what do we get? A very Christmasy story that was, at least for me, a little underwhelming.

As a kid, I loved C.S. Lewis' Narnia, so the idea of a Doctor Who episode based loosely around the first book in that series was all kinds of exciting for me. For the most part, this episode does a good job of walking the fine line of being a homage but not a copy. What works best is how simplistic the plot is. I've derided Steven Moffat of late for stuffing too much into his scripts - the throw-everything-at-a-wall-and-see-what-sticks type of writing. Here, he includes only what serves the story. It's a refreshing change.

OK, there's one exception to that, in which Moffat opens with an exploding spaceship and the Doctor falling out into the vacuum of space while appearing to yell and breathe quite normally. I can't even begin to describe how many scientific laws that sequence breaks.

After the ridiculous opening, we get to the real story. The Doctor attempts to give a couple of British children whose WWII pilot father has gone missing and is presumed dead (but they don't know it yet) the Best Christmas Ever. Why? Because their mother helped him find his TARDIS after he fell from space after the ship explosion three years before. The Doctor acts as the caretaker of a country mansion to which he has made improvements like moving furniture and a kitchen tap for lemonade. But the highlight is a big blue present that pulses and glows like the TARDIS. The boy - whose fish-bowl glasses make his eyes appear owl-like - opens the box early, finds that it's a portal to a Narnia-type snowy forest, and walks off on an adventure. The Doctor and the girl follow him, and the mother follows them.

Havoc ensues. The forest is about to be destroyed by man-made acid rain. The trees are alive and none too happy about their impending deaths. They have a spaceship and a means of stuffing all their souls into a human brain for transport off-world to safety. All they need is a human who's strong enough for the job. Hint: It's not the Doctor.

You might have noticed that I've been referring to the family not by their names but as mother, boy and girl. That's because they're not well-drawn characters but rather a stereotypical WWII family. The mother (Madge ... I had to go look that up) is important because she is a mother, not because of who she is as an individual. That's a big flaw - probably the biggest one in the episode. Still, I did enjoy when she holds a trio of futuristic soldiers at gunpoint. One scoffs that she won't use the gun, until she explains that she's looking for her children. Then they get these priceless oh crap looks on their faces. She also manages to steal the soldiers' tree-destroying machine; save a forest, her children and the Doctor; and guide her husband's missing plane through the Time Vortex to safety, all in time for Christmas morning. In other words, she's Super Mom. Hear her roar.

But when it comes right down to it, this episode is a disposable story. The only part that really resonated with me was the coda in which the Doctor visits Amy and Rory for the first time since his robot lookalike was "killed" in Utah. It's been two years since the Ponds have seen the Doctor. A standoff in which both the Doctor and Amy refuse to be the first to hug the other is cute. The Ponds have painted their front door TARDIS blue, and they always set a place for the Doctor at Christmas dinner. The Doctor cries a happy tear. I could have done with a lot more of that reunion than with the forest planet.

A couple other tidbits I liked:

  • The monstrous tree people, especially the king and queen, turn out to be the victims, while the real monsters are someone else entirely.

  • The Doctor at one point quips about a tree person who once took a fancy to him, a reference to Ninth Doctor episode "The End of the World."
Now it's only another eight or nine months until the next episode. In the meantime, there's new Sherlock next month on PBS and a whole bunch of Doctor Who available for instant streaming on Netflix.


David B. Riley said...

It was okay, but last year's special was better. But, for the record, The Doctor has had brief exposure to space before in his long long life. He's not human.

Jennifer Campbell-Hicks said...

Last year's was better, I agree. About the space thing, I do admit that I've seen only those episodes since the reboot, so there's plenty about canon that I don't know.