Christmas evening has come, stomachs are full to burst and Nan is asleep on the sofa after a busy day of Wii Tennis. All the while The Doctor is busy making a broken family’s wish come true.
The episode opens up with The Doctor mid disaster on a self-destructing spaceship hovering over 1940ís Earth as he finds himself falling to earth in a space suit thatís been put on backwards. †I was ready to tear into a rant about the sheer lack of context of this set piece in the episode itself (especially after the fairly well done mini prequel episode that helped give some exposition, it might as well have put it into the full episode) but then it hit me. It really doesnít matter. We have caught The Doctor mid his previous adventure, much like how the Idol at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark had no real relevance to the Ark. All that matters is that upon crashing to Earth a kind mother named Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner) helped him to his TARDIS and as thanks the Doctor said if she ever needed him, all she needed was to wish for it. Once this scene was done all my niggles quickly evaporated. The humor worked and it did everything that was needed to set up the grander story in under seven minutes flat.
Much like last years Christmas special saw A Christmas Carol reinvented in a fashion only Doctor Who can pull off, writer Steven Moffatís gaze has now moves to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. Thankfully the finished product bares very little resemblance to the original book outside of a Christmas present being used as a gateway to an alien Forest. From then on itís its own story without feeling the need to follow the book to the letter, Iím pretty relived at this as I was always quite skeptical of sticking The Doctor in classical Christmas stories, (with a lot of that skepticism being confirmed after last years special) but thankfully once it became itís own story I quite enjoyed what it was doing.
As much as I love a good bad guy it was quite refreshing to see a Christmas episode without a clear villain. The trees of this forest are alive, sentient and soon to be destroyed. They want to survive and thankfully the deaths of others never become a part of their plan. The real problem on The Doctors hands is escaping the forest before it is destroyed. Itís not an overly complex set up and it doesnít rely too heavily on time travel tricks to convey its point. I think we needed a back to basics story after the busy previous season, especially one written by the show runner himself. Itís done the show well and hopefully will set the show back on track for next season.
I only have a couple of gripe with this episode, one being Bill Bailey, heís barely in the episode! For the past few months BBC has been publicising the fact Bill Bailey will be appearing as an Androzani Ranger named Droxil in this years Christmas special (hell he is currently standing front and centre on the main page of the Official Doctor Who website, even in front of Matt Smith himself). But he appears for just over five minutes in the whole episode! Of course those five minutes were very entertaining and got some of the best laughs of the episode but itís still only five minutes. My other gripe is when the questioning how big a budget this episode had. Outside of the mansion and Forest location, most of the set pieces, alien costumes (for a race of wood beings they sure did look a lot like rubberÖ) and visual effects throughout felt fairly cheap. Iíve seen far better effects from the production team in the past few years and it did let the episodes story down greatly.
I think where The Doctor finds himself emotionally throughout this episode is quite interesting. The world thinks The Doctor is dead and he has effectively cut all connection to his previous friends. Being ďThe CaretakerĒ for the Arwell Family over this brief time does put a lot of his turmoilís into perspective. You can tell that The Doctor is in his element as he shows the family around their new home with all his gifts and wonders on show for the children to discover. Their happiness once again help The Doctor see as they see things and the message that that no one should be alone at Christmas is a nice, simple message that hits the audience in the gut come the episodes end.
Overall I preferred this episode to last years Christmas special almost entirely because it kept things simple and un-convoluted to hardcore and casual viewers alike. It may not be the most Christmassy episode Doctor Who has made to date but it joins its predecessors in a very comfortable position on the chart.