Happy Holidays, Whovians!
Man, it feels like it’s been a while even though “The Wedding of River Song”, the last episode of the sixth season of Doctor Who aired in October. And it looks like it’s going to be a long time before the seventh season airs in both the United Kingdom and the United States — in late 2012, if we’re led to believe — and with less Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill). Things are a-changing in the TARDIS.
In the meantime, Steven Moffat and company were kind enough to churn out another Christmas special — entitled “The Doctor, The Widow, and The Wardrobe” — to tidy us over until next Fall. And while the episode wasn’t as masterful as last year’s “A Christmas Carol” — IT STARRED MICHAEL “PROFESSOR DUMBLEDORE” GAMBON FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE! — it still packed an emotional wallop that was on par with many of the episodes that aired this past season.
“The Doctor, The Widow, and The Wardrobe” continues one of the main themes of the sixth season: coping with the inevitability of death. The Widow of our story, Madge Arwell (played by West End veteran Claire Skinner), has received a condolence letter from the British Royal Air Force informing her that her husband Reg (Alexander Armstrong) had been killed in action while flying a raid to combat Nazi Germany. But the letter arrives a few days before Christmas. Not wanting to ruin the holidays for her two children (Maurice Cole, Holly Earl), Madge takes them away to a house in Dorset, hoping to not reveal the tragic news to them until after the celebrations.
The Dorset house is being looked after by The Caretaker a/k/a The Doctor (Matt Smith), of course. There, The Doctor helps with the charade, unbeknownst to Madge, and shows the children the wonders of laid out of them in each room. In the living room, there is a big blue box (not the TARDIS) that the youngest of the two, Cyril, is a little too eager to check out. Turns out, it’s a portal to another planet that is sort of like Narnia but is filled with nothing but awesome Christmas trees. And there’s no Jesus-like figure in the guise of a lion. There is an angel though — The Doctor himself.
You see, The Doctor and Madge met three years prior when he fell out of space and landed on a road not too far from her home. He was in a space suit at the time (a nice call back to the astronaut suit in season six), so she doesn’t recognize him when she sees him at the Dorset house. The suit is weird to her, at first, but she soon pegs The Doctor as a guardian angel.
And a guardian angel he is. After Cyril gets lost in the woods, The Doctor, Madge and Madge’s daughter Lily go searching for him. Madge meets a group of armed humans from the future who will make it rain acid in the forest to turn it into fuel. The Doctor and Lily find Cyril and as it turns out, the young boy is in tune with the spirits of the forest. They are extremely worried about the end of their existence and need conduits to escape their immediate destruction.
Of course, the Madge storyline and the forest storyline collide in an amazing sequence — one of the most thrilling of the sequence — where The Doctor guides Madge to absorb the spirits and to use a time vortex to aid in their escape. She uses her memories to guide them back to 1940’s Earth, which includes the knowledge of Reg’s death. It’s a heartbreaking moment, and Skinner sells the hell out of it. At that moment, it stops being Doctor Who and it becomes The Madge Show. The entire episode was Madge’s to begin with. The Doctor is The Companion. Brilliant stuff.
There are a couple of happy endings, which has been a rarity in the Moffat-era Doctor Who. This is the showrunner’s Christmas present to Whovians. Death may be inevitable but living to be with your loved ones — as Madge does for her husband and children, and as The Doctor does for Amy and Rory — is the most vital lesson we all need to learn.
So yes, I loved this episode. It was fantastic and fun. It’s going to be a long, agonizing wait until season seven.