He promises to repay her kindness – all she has to do is make a wish.
Three years later, a devastated Madge escapes war-torn London with her two children for a dilapidated house in Dorset. She is crippled with grief at the news her husband has been lost over the channel, but determined to give Lily and Cyril the best Christmas ever.
The Arwells are surprised to be greeted by a madcap caretaker whose mysterious Christmas gift leads them into a magical wintry world. Here, Madge will learn how to be braver than she ever thought possible. And that wishes can come true…
Once again, Christmas is accompanied by a visit from the Doctor. While this episode has a heartwarming ending, it’s a bit uneven overall, with a not-so-thinly-veiled environmental message.
After being saved by Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner), the Doctor decides to repay her kindness by treating her and her children to a visit on a planet where nothing dangerous ever happens. Those are famous last words for the Doctor and his companions, however, and this world turns out to have some hidden dangers lurking in a deceptively safe snow-covered forest. The trees–Androzani trees (a call back to the famous final episode of the 5th Doctor)–are crying out, for they realize that they are about to die due to a burning acidic rain, and they need a vessel to transport their souls to safety. This was a bit heavy-handed, I think, with physical manifestations of the trees luring the children and their mother into their ship which will carry the souls away.
Aside from that, however, the beginning and the end were its strongest points. After the disappearance of Madge’s husband, she takes her children away from the war (a la The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) where they meet the Doctor, who is intensely intent upon giving them the best Christmas possible. He goes all out with the decorations, trying to get into the Christmas spirit. It’s zany and a bit frenetic–much like the Doctor–but it works and it’s funny, immediately dragging the audience in. The Doctor develops a great rapport with the children–particularly Lily (Holly Arwell)–as the story progresses.
The end is two-parted: 1) as the soul-vessel, Madge is suddenly able to manipulate and navigate the time vortex by focusing on memories of home as a sort of navigational beacon. This is where the episode began to work for me. It became a story of a woman trying to come to terms with her husband’s death, and the her responsibility to tell her children what has happened. It also, albeit somewhat inadvertently, became a story of empowerment as she takes the power given to her which allows her to become the homing beacon for her husband’s missing aircraft. He slips into the time vortex and follows her home. 2) The Doctor realizes that he should be with family on Christmas, and he visits the Ponds who have kept a place for him at the table. It’s a touching moment as he wipes away a tear of happiness.
This wasn’t the most powerful or moving episode, particularly as compared to last year’s special or “The Christmas Invasion.” There are some very uneven moments and bad choices. The phrase “humany wumany” was used–let’s leave it at that. While it wasn’t anything as weak as “Daleks in Manhattan,” I wish it wasn’t the only bit of the Doctor we’re going to get until the end of 2012.
On another note, it’s been announced that Series 7 will mark the end of Amy and Rory as the Doctor’s companions. It will be bittersweet, I’m sure, but it may be time for new blood. I just wish that Craig Owens (James Corden–“The Lodger,” “Closing Time“) could do it, though a wife and child might make it slightly awkward.
Previous Episode: “The Wedding of River Song”
Previous Christmas Special: “A Christmas Carol“