What better way for fans of ‘Doctor Who’ to end the Christmas Day than with a new ‘Doctor Who’ Christmas episode! This episode borrows a bit from C. S. Lewis’ ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’ and true to what executive producer has stated about this episode, it is a heartwarming tearjerker. There are spoilers in this recap so be forewarned!
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The episode opens with the Doctor on an intergalactic space ship that is exploding around him. He tries to get ahead of the explosions but is unsuccessful and finds himself hanging on to the edge of part of the ship that is already blown up. Another explosion occurs and the Doctor finds himself hurling through space reaching for a space suit that happens to fall along with him. The Doctor is able to grab the falling space suite as they head to Earth below them.
Madge Arwell is riding her bike home when all of a sudden a flash of light and the sound of an explosion cause her to fall. She goes and investigates where the flash came from and comes across a smoking crater. As she gets closer, she sees a space suit and approaches it. She touches the helmet and sees the back of the Doctor’s head. He wonders why he can’t see and she explains that his helmet is on backwards. Wondering how he managed this, the Doctor responds, “I got dressed in a hurry.”
Back at the Arwell household, Madge explains to her son Cyril to tell their father that she found a spaceman (possibly an angel) who is injured and she is going to take him into town to find a police telephone box. She manages to find the TARDIS and helps the Doctor towards it as the helmet is still on backwards and he can’t see. He tells her he needs to find the key to open the door but she insists that she is good with a bobby pin and proceeds to pick the TARDIS’ lock. The Doctor tries to explain how that process will not work but she manages to open the door anyway.
Grateful for being taken care of, the Doctor thanks Madge and tells her that if she needs anything from him to just ask him. When she asked how would she be able to contact him, the Doctor responds, “I don’t know. Just make a wish! That usually works. It did for me, you’re here aren’t you?”
The story jumps three years later and Madge’s husband, Reg, is a pilot during WWII. The plane has lost engine function and is about to crash somewhere across the English Channel. He knows he won’t make it home for Christmas and says a sorrowful “I’m sorry my love!” as he takes a last loving look at a picture of Madge. The plane starts to stutter and descend before getting lost into the clouds.
Several days later, the kids are making plans for Christmas and ask their mom when their dad will be coming home. Not wanting to ruin the holiday for the kids, she tells them their father will be home for Christmas dinner as usual. The kids have a wishbone between them and decide to do what all kids do with one and make a wish and pull. Madge, hearing the kids make a wish, decides to make a wish of her own.
Christmas Eve finds Madge and her two children in front of an old manor. They are there to escape the bombing that is occurring where they used to live. The kids still ask if their dad will be at the manor and Madge tells them that he’ll be there and to stop asking about it. All of a sudden, they hear someone on the other side of the door. The door then falls inward and the Doctor appears inviting them in. Madge asks who he is and if he’s the new caretaker. He introduces himself and already seems to know who the Arwells are by name.
As he gives them a tour of the home, the Doctor is obviously very excited about all the changes he’s made inside such as a lemonade faucet in the kitchen, the “boring” grown up room (which happens to be Madge’s room) and the kid’s room all decked out with a window disguised as a mirror and a mirror disguised as a window, a zone of tranquility, a dream tank, a selection of torches (flashlights), a zen garden, an exact model of the rest of the house (not up to scale), dolls, the Magna Karta, a yellow football and 2 hammocks (after all some sacrifices had to be made in order to fit all this stuff in that room!)
Overwhelmed, Madge asks the Doctor to stop rambling and orders the kids downstairs. That’s when Madge decides to explain her situation. She tells the Doctor that the kids have lost their father and they don’t know yet. She doesn’t want to tell them yet for fear that Christmas will always be when their father was taken away and she felt no child should have to live with that for the rest of their lives.
Madge shakes her head, wondering out loud that she doesn’t know why she keeps shouting at her kids. The Doctor, in his infinite wisdom, tells her it’s because every time she seems them happy, it reminds her how sad they are going to be when she tells them the news and it breaks her heart. After all, what’s the point of them being happy now if they are going to be sad later? The answer is because they are going to be sad later. Realization that he was right dawns upon Madge as the kids excitedly yell for their mother in the background. The Doctor suggests that they head down to the sitting room where the kids probably are…after all, he “repaired” it.
As the Doctor and Madge enter the sitting room, Madge sees a highly decorated tree with airplanes spinning around it and a train making its way around a track and a big blue present (TARDIS blue might I add) next to the tree. The kids stare in wonderment! As they ask their mom who could have given the gift, the Doctor leaves them alone. Madge, not sure what to make of everything, advises the kids to stay away from the Doctor but the kids proclaim that they like him. They also tell their mom how nice the tree is and she does agree. Cyril begs her to say what she says every year. After some coaxing Madge puts on her bravest face and exclaims, “This Christmas, is going to be, the best Christmas ever!” As she hugs her kids, an anxious look appears on her face as she once again realizes that soon she will have to tell the kids the bad news. Suddenly, behind her the blue box begins to glow.
Later that night, Cyril is unable to sleep fascinated as to what could be inside the glowing blue box. Lily tells him to go to sleep. Just when she thinks Cyril is sleeping, Lily sneaks out of the room intent on looking at the present. Instead she is distracted by the noise of electricity and the sonic screwdriver. She decides to find out where the noise is coming from. She finds the Doctor in the attic and asks him what he’s doing. He replies rewiring his wardrobe (which he painted to look like a police phone box- nudge nudge). The Doctor asks Lily where Cyril is and she tells him he’s in bed asleep.
In the meantime, Cyril (who really wasn’t asleep) sneaks out to go check out the present. As he gets closer, the box seems to whisper his name and continues to glow. He unwraps the present and when he opens it up, he sees a portal to another dimension that leads to a snow covered forest. Cyril crawls through and as he gets closer to one of the trees, he sees what looks like a silver ornament hanging from it. He pulls it off and it begins to grow. Startled, Cyril drops the ball and it grows some more before beginning to crack open. Frightened, Cyril backs away then gathers enough courage to go back through the box. He then sees that the orb is now cracked in two and there are tracks in the snow. Cyril decides to follow the tracks.
The Doctor decides to check to see if Cyril is really asleep and finds out he wasn’t. He rushes down to where the present is and sees that Cyril has gone in. The Doctor goes in after him with Lily in tow. Lily can’t believe her eyes and starts to asks questions. The Doctor tells her they are in a dimensional portal and is upset that Cyril opened the present early (after all, who would dare to even open their Christmas presents early, right?). Lily looks at him as though he asked a dumb question and the Doctor concedes. They go off to find Cyril.
Madge realizing the children are not in bed, goes off to find them. She enters the sitting room and sees that the present is open. She peers in and decides to go through. Still looking for the kids, the ground shakes and Madge begins to get frightened. Just then a large metal harvest ship lands in front of her and she finds herself engulfed in a spotlight with the announcement that she is trespassing. Soldiers come out of the ship ready to arrest her. Confused, Madge begins to cry. The head soldier is exasperated with her crying as he is trying to interrogate her. After all, there’s no crying in military engagements! (Yes, Tom Hanks did use a variation of this line first in ‘A League of Their Own’) The other two soldiers are unable to continue to be menacing as Madge’s tears begin to affect them. They put their weapons down as a means to calm her down, and that’s when Madge pulls out a gun and warns them she will use it as she is looking for her children. (There’s no messing with a mama bear!)
Cyril follows the footsteps to a tall monolith with what looks like the Epcot dome on top. He goes in and sees a large wooden statue sitting on a wooden throne. As he walks away and starts following the path to the top, the wooden statue blinks. When Cyril reaches the top, he sees a female wooden statue standing behind a chair with a wooden circle in her hands. He heads to a window to look out and the statue begins to move.
The Doctor and Lily follow Cyril’s footsteps to the monolith and head in. He soon realizes that the building is really not a building at all but a group of trees grown to disguise itself as a building and it may represent a trap. Lily is frightened and wants to leave but they must find Cyril first. When they get to the top, the door is locked and inside Cyril is terrified as the wooden statue is now approaching him with the glowing ring in her hands. The Doctor is getting frustrated as the sonic screwdriver won’t get the door open (if you recall, in the ‘Silence in the Library’ the 10th Doctor explained to Donna that sonic screwdrivers don’t work on wood). As the Doctor tries to get the screwdriver to work, Lily looks out a window and sees stars coming out from the trees. The Doctor looks out and tells her they are life forces. Lily comments how beautiful they are and that it can make a person cry. “Crying when you’re happy,” says the Doctor, “That’s so human.”
They hear a noise on the other side of the door where the wooden statue is putting the glowing ring on top of Cyril’s head as he sits mesmerized in the chair. When it is finally on his head, the statue from the bottom floor gets up and begins to walk up. Both Lily and the Doctor hear him coming. The Doctor frantically tries to get the door open, when all of a sudden, the door opens on its own. They find Cyril unconscious with the ring on his head as a crown. As the Doctor talks to the Queen statue, Lily notices the life force lights begin to move. By this time the King statue comes in and they both stand next to the chair. The Doctor soon realizes that they mean no harm and they begin to talk through Cyril as they are somehow connected to him. Cyril tells them that the trees are screaming.
Madge, still holding the gun, takes the 3 soldiers into their platform craft and demands to know where her children are. The female soldier informs her they can do a life form scan and as she goes off to do this, the Major tells her that the forest is to be harvested soon. He tells Madge that they are there for the Androzani trees, the greatest fuel source ever. The entire area will be melted down by acid rain for battery fluid and anyone out in the forest will burn. Luckily, the children are found but not before a 5 minute warning is issued and the three soldiers are transported back up to the mother ship. Left alone on the platform, she suddenly hears the conversation had between the Doctor, Lily and Cyril.
The Doctor asks Cyril what are the stars doing coming out of the trees. Cyril tells him that the trees are evacuating as they are afraid of the rain. Lily doesn’t quite understand and the Doctor explains that the stars, the pure life force, are trying to escape and need to travel in a living thing in order to do so. The crown is allowing her brother to become a lifeboat for the stars. All of a sudden the Queen statue touches Cyril and begins to talk through him. They explain they cannot escape through Cyril as he is weak. The Doctor volunteers himself but she tells him he is also weak. Undaunted, the Doctor removes the crown from Cyril’s head but it begins to harm the Doctor and he is unable to let it go. Lily grabs the crown and as she holds it in her hands she finds that it has a tingling sensation but nothing to the pain that the Doctor experienced. The Queen touches Lily and through her states that Lily is strong but still young. As the Doctor tries to figure the riddle out, the acid rain begins.
Madge is despondent in the platform and hears Cyril ask where their mom was. The Doctor decides that they must leave and try to make it back to the box entrance but Cyril refuses saying he want to wait for his mom. Just then, they see the platform coming towards them piloted by Madge. Encouraged by the Doctor’s cheering, Madge makes it to the building and runs to where her children are located. The statues realize they have found one that is strong and place the crown on Madge’s head.
The stars/life forms begin to leave the trees and converge into Madge’s head. Madge is quite enjoying the process of being the vessel for the forest (and in a not so subtle way becoming Mother Nature). The top of the building begins to launch and the group finds themselves travelling through the time vortex. Wanting to go home, the Doctor tells Madge to imagine Earth and summon the feelings attached to home… feelings so strong that it begins to hurt. She begins to talk about how she met her husband Reg and their courtship and as she talks, images of her memories are flashed across a window. The kids watch in fascination. They continue to travel through the vortex when the memories of her husband’s death begin to show. Madge begs not to have to see the images of her husband die and that’s when the kids realize something bad may have happened to their father.
The ship lands and the group finds themselves back on earth Christmas morning with the statues becoming just wood and Madge’s head emptied of the life forces which are now out among the stars. Madge realizes the kids saw what she knows and decides it’s time to tell the kids the truth. The Doctor decides to leave and give her some privacy. Madge begins to break the sad news to the kids but the Doctor interrupts and asks her and the kids to go outside.
The Doctor tells them that as Reg’s plane was beginning to get lost, he saw the light from the ship they were on and followed it through the time vortex. Incredibly, she sees her husband’s plane and him walking out towards her. Filled with happiness, she runs to her husband as he holds her and the kids tight in his embrace. Looking on, the Doctor comments to himself, “Happy crying…humany-wumany.”
Madge goes up to the attic to ask the Doctor to join them for Christmas dinner and when she sees the TARDIS realizes that he is her spaceman/angel from 3 years earlier. He declines the invitation and she assumes it’s because he has friends that he’ll be waiting, but he tells her they think he is dead. She admonishes him and tells him he needs to let them know he is alive and sends him off.
We next hear a hand knocking on a TARDIS blue door. Inside Amy is yelling she has a water gun and is not afraid to use it on carolers. When she opens the door, water gun in hand, she is in shock to find the Doctor standing there. He asks how long since she last saw him and she tells him 2 years then squirts him with water in anger. She then tells him that River already told them that he wasn’t dead. They share a deep hug that only 2 close friends (and in-laws?) can give who haven’t seen each other in a while. Amy invites the Doctor to Christmas dinner and Rory lets him know there is already a place set for him. He asks how they knew he was coming and Amy explains that there is always a place set for him. As the head to the table, the Doctor looks on realizing how much they care about him and a tear falls from his eye. Humany-wumany indeed!
Unlike past Christmas episodes, this one was truly a tear jerker. No, the Earth was not in danger and the throw in of the ecological dangers due to polluters sneaked in but overall this was a true Christmas episode (Moffat did disclose that he loved the sentimentality of Christmas and it shows here). The episode wouldn’t have worked without the strong performance from Claire Skinner as Madge who portrayed the love of a mom and the heartbreak of a widow to a tee.
I loved the little throw ins from past episodes like the sonic screwdriver not working on wood, the Doctor telling Lily that a tree from the Forest of Cheen fancied him (from the 9th Doctor episode ‘The End of the World) and that the harvesters are from Androzani Major, the same planet that stockpiled Spectrox which caused the 5th Doctor to regenerate in ‘The Caves of Andronzani.’
The last several minutes with the Ponds were well worth the watch and to see the Doctor finally realize he really is no longer alone (even though Sarah Jane already told him so) was heartwarming. The little touch of a tear was also a brilliant addition.
So although this was not a usual ‘Doctor Who’ Christmas episode (and yes, it can be considered sappy) it was enjoyable and did embody the Christmas spirit. What did you think? Do you prefer the early Christmas episodes where the Doctor saves the Earth and outwits those wanting to destroy the planet or do you enjoy the sentimental episodes of the last two years?