When I heard Marge Arwell (Claire Skinner) saying, “This Christmas is going to be the best Christmas ever,” I got a sinking sensation. Not just because by nature I’m a bit of a Scrooge, but because I’ve had enough of being promised “the most Christmassy Doctor Who ever”. As if that were a good thing and something I’d want once in every 14 episodes. Bah!
Well, I should have had more faith in Steven Moffat, Matt Smith and co, who have pulled a cracker, and almost - almost, I say - given this Ebenezer a Christmassy glow. How can anyone resist The Doctor, the Witch and the Wardrobe?
People moaned about Moffat ripping off CS Lewis, but Doctor Who has always borrowed from other sources. The vast spaceship looming over Earth recalls Hitchhikers, and all the stuff with fighter pilot Reg (Alexander Armstrong) immediately made me think of David Niven in A Matter of Life and Death (1946).
Actually very little is mined from Narnia. There are two “wardrobe/portals”: the Doctor’s police box safely stored in the attic, but more importantly - and irresistible to the Arwell children - a large blue gift glowing beside the Christmas tree, which leads to an enchanted, snow-settled forest.
That this forest is composed of “naturally occurring Christmas trees”, which extrude their own baubles and can grow wooden people as well as a tower, is a hard swallow - like that final dollop of Christmas pud. But it’s worth gulping down.
These alien conifers are about to be laid waste by acid rain released by harvesters from Androzani Major (a fan-pleasing reference to fifth Doctor Peter Davison’s final adventure in 1984). When the eleventh Doctor tells young Cyril, “Let’s save a forest”, tree-huggers everywhere rejoice.
There’s a touch of Wizard of Oz too, as Madge has to fly everyone back through the vortex, imagining home sweet home “till it hurts,” as she says. I’ve loved Claire Skinner ever since she played Alison Steadman’s butch plumber daughter in Life Is Sweet (1990) and fragile Rebecca in Perfect Strangers (2001). As the presumed “widow” protecting her children, she surpasses herself, and is profoundly moving by being strong, maternal and not for a moment soppy. “Your mother is flying a forest through the time vortex! Be a little impressed,” cries the Doctor.
Matt Smith - young/old, freaky/cool, joli laid - pushes all my buttons and is, as I’ve said before, the best Doctor since mid-term Tom Baker. He can do earnest and urgent, but is masterly at the comical stuff - as the man who fell to Earth with a back-to-front helmet, and as the caretaker showing off a lemonade tap and “the ultimate bedroom” with a hammock that’s “developed a fault”.
He also sells the “happy tears” reunion with Amy and Rory. Of course their return was the one big secret RT was sworn to keep. You’ll find no mention of them in our Christmas issue. The last season concluded with the Ponds/Williamses apparently written out and with “Doctor Who?” determined to travel alone.
Much as I like Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, I feel it is time for a companions shake-up (and Moffat has promised just this at some point during the next series). In the meantime, it’s undeniably heart-warming to find the lonely old Time Lord among friends at Christmas.