‘Doctor Who’ Christmas Special 2011 Review & Discussion

Published 3 years ago by

doctor who christmas special 2011 Doctor Who Christmas Special 2011 Review & Discussion

Each year, Doctor Who fans receive a very special gift underneath their proverbial television viewing tree – and this year is no exception! For the second time since taking the series over from Russell T. Davies, Moffat presents us with his interpretation of what a Doctor Who Christmas special should be.

While Davies gave us fantastical adventures like “Voyage of the Damned”, “The Next Doctor”, and David Tennant’s two-part sendoff “The End of Time,” Moffat made the decision when taking over the series, to transition these seasonal television events into programming that celebrates the surrounding holiday fare – which is contrary to Davies’ proclivity towards attempting grand-scale storytelling, of which their success often varied from year to year.

This year’s Christmas special, “The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe,” which is loosely based on C.S. Lewis’ fantasy novel “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” continues Moffat’s brilliant translation of literatures most iconic stories into beautifully crafted tales of science-fiction revelry. This transition not only provides for a thoroughly enjoyable viewing experience, but also serves to elevate the series itself as a storytelling medium by putting a twist of familiar tales.

Set in World War II, the Doctor Who Christmas special follows newly widowed Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner) and her two children, Lilly (Holly Earl) and Cyril (Maurice Cole), as they flee from their homes to a South West England, in an attempt to distance themselves from the threats of bombings. Arriving on near Christmas, Madge is still reeling from the news of her husband Reg’s (Alexander Armstrong) death – and, more importantly, trying to figure out how to break the news of his passing to her children.

doctor who christmas 2011 2 Doctor Who Christmas Special 2011 Review & Discussion

Deciding to wait until after Christmas is over to tell them, the Arwell family are greeted at their holiday refuge by an eerily familiar time-traveler serving as the caretaker. The Doctor (Matt Smith), knowing of Reg’s passing, has decided that he’s going to make this the best Christmas ever for Lilly and Cyril. With a big blue package sitting under the tree, all there is to do now is to wait for it to be opened on Christmas Day. Unfortunately, things don’t go quite as planned.

Unable to wait until to open the present, Cyril bypasses The Doctor’s defenses with the infamous “bear underneath the covers” technique and unwraps what turns out to be a magical gift. As the cardboard box opens, it reveals a portal to another planet.

This planet, which The Doctor describes as something that logically has to occur based on the sheer number of plants in the universe, is a pseudo-Christmas tree planet – except here the trees are alive, the bulbs are naturally occurring, and the “shining stars” are actually life forces.

doctor who christmas 2011 4 Doctor Who Christmas Special 2011 Review & Discussion

Being too intrigued to turn back, Cyril enters the portal and begins to traverse the wintery landscape, in an attempt to follow this unknown being that grew out of a fallen bulb. As The Doctor and Lily, as well as Madge (though separate), enter the portal, it quickly becomes apparent that something isn’t right with this planet.

As the mystery behind what’s happening to the planet is revealed, the episode stages itself within a circular room at the top of a tower made from trees, from which the majority of the storytelling takes place. By giving so much time to a setting with such limited space, it provides the perfect stage for Skinner, Cole, Ear, and of course, Smith to shine, like the life forces themselves.

With a flurry of conversations and short, but meaningful, monologues in this single room, viewers are taken on journey an intriguing journey with the life forces, a heartbreaking journey with Madge and her children, and a somewhat sad journey as The Doctor acknowledges his inability to feel emotions the way other do.

doctor who christmas 2011 bomber Doctor Who Christmas Special 2011 Review & Discussion

Through Moffat’s use of his infamous time travel logic – which, admittedly, does feel a bit heavy handed in its convenience (but, hey, it is Christmas) – the story wraps itself up nicely – and there’s even a little extra special present in there for Madge, Lilly and Cyril. While it’s true that the resolutions to problems presented aren’t as exciting as what came before, one has to admit that the minor negatives hardly outweigh its many positives.

That being said, there appeared to be a certain self-awareness with this special, in which it felt as if Moffat knew that there were a few minor imperfections with this special and attempted to correct it awkwardly. As Madge was attempting to fly the bulb room through the time vortex, while thinking about home and having all of the life forms in her head (imagine someone who isn’t familiar with Doctor Who reading that), she unfortunately revealed the death of her husband (as well as somewhat showing it) to her children.

While this moment should have been emotionally heavy, it wasn’t. And even though the reveal about their father’s death to Lilly and Cyril had pretty much already occurred, there was an additional scene after all the timey-whimey stuff had concluded where Madge basically repeated what she had previously said – even though the children were asking for confirmation of their father’s death the first time it was revealed.

doctor who christmas special 2011 matt smith Doctor Who Christmas Special 2011 Review & Discussion

That being said, the supplemental scene ultimately did pay off where the previous one did not. Perhaps it was the calmness of not having so many other things happening concurrently.

As the episode comes to a close, The Doctor is encouraged (the only way a mother can) to go and visit Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill), whom he believes still thinks he’s dead. Upon Amy opening the door with The Doctor standing in the door, there is a feeling that Amy’s story has found a happy conclusion.

With news that Gillan and is leaving the series, one had to wonder whether or not her exit would feel appropriate. But, for whatever reason, the too few words that were spoken by Amy, Rory and The Doctor made it right.

Two years have passed since the events in the Doctor Who Season 6 finale, and the characters of Amy and Rory do feel like they have grown beyond The Doctor. And when Rory says that Amy always leaves a plate on the table for him, it doesn’t come across as obsessive or sad, but as something someone who cares does.

While “The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe,” isn’t as great as last year’s Doctor Who Christmas special, “The Christmas Carol,” it does have many wonderful moments, which far outweigh any of its minor faults. That being said: Bill Bailey could have been given more screen time. Sure, his character did kind of take away from the story tonally, but it was fun to watch.


Doctor Who season 7 premiere fall 2011 on BBC One & BBC America

Follow Anthony on Twitter @anthonyocasio

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  1. Really enjoyed the special and i have to say it was a kinda of a tear jerker ep.

  2. really really awful.

  3. Honestly, this was the best Doctor Who Christmas Special ever! It was phenomenal. Christmas felt rosy, warm, and family-oriented as though Moffat pulled it right out of a child’s dream. I loved the beautiful appraisals given to women and mothers everywhere. Anyone else noticed how close “Madge Arwell” sounds so close to the word ‘magi’ from Gift of the Magi? Also, I have never cried as much as I did in this episode. I hope Matt Smith is here to stay for a very long time because he has found a place in my heart and my Christmas:)

  4. honestly this episode was disapointing. the story started in an exploding ship for no given reason. Matt Smith then defies the fact space is a vacum meaning that he would not only die from suffocation but also his blood would boil. just one thing that ruined doctor who. the story is flat and dull. and by bringing in three line actors is a stupid mistake. the variation between terrible episodes and almost terrible episodes is getting ridiculous, russel t davies was a master for storylines for doctor who and david tennet made the stories ‘real’ for me. ashamed and considering whether or not to continue with the franchise… we shall see.
    (also, what a piss-take of narnia!)

    • Well, the whole Star Wars Death Star explosion with sound effects didn’t make sense either, but that didn’t stop any other sci-fi show from doing it, nor should it really take away from the main plot line. Additionally, the Doctor is an alien who has regrown a hand and seemingly defied multiple paradoxes. If he can survive in space, no one would be the least surprised. If you’re referring to the three people in spacesuits warning of the impending acid rain, then you must have obviously forgotten that many great classics have done the same for the sole purpose of comic relief, such as Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The episode is heavily emotional and is in need of laughter and joy as it rightfully delivers. I don’t understand why some critics feel the need to constantly compare present content to the past and fault it for not being the same. Those people are just afraid of change, which is silly because that is what Doctor Who is all about. Once people get over the fact that this is not by Davies and Matt Smith is not David Tennant, but instead his own person, will they finally be able to open their hearts to a wonderfully new Doctor. All I ask is that they try and I know it is possible to like both actors because I do. Tennant was incredible and serious, however, by the end of his season, the Doctor’s story was heavily burdened with bitterness and guilt. Smith’s rendition is just the refreshing and uplifting performance that the series needed to cheer up its viewers. They love him because although the Doctor is old and wise, Smith reminds us that despite being alive for hundreds of years, the Doctor can still find the world beautiful.

      Finally, even though I respect your opinion, I despised Narnia. The whole trilogy felt like a bad imitation of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Its allegorical subtext lacked depth and imagination; basically, it had none. Doctor Who did what it does best and references a universally-recognized piece of literature and made it its own.

      • I’m a huge Doctor Who fan, I’m a fan of Matt Smith ( I think he’s a wonderful actor and Doctor ). I’ve definitely enjoyed the show since Moffat took over, but I can’t honestly say I prefer it. Visually Doctor Who has taken a giant leap forward, and I don’t just mean prop and CGI wise, the cinematography, lighting and atmosphere is simply outstanding now. Unfortunately though Moffat seems to have a dislike of the Doctor himself. I say this because I can only think of one solid example of when the Doctor truly saved the day; and I mean completely saved the day off his own back. That example is Prisoner Zero, Matt Smiths first episode. Since then he’s been a commentator, a presents whom explains the scenario, giving detail to the science fiction but not much else. A platform, if you will, from which the adventure comes.

        I’m tired of the Doctor being useless, I want him to be the hero he should be; he’s become a companion in his own show. Things just work out for the best now, the characters get trapped in an impossible scenario, the doctors trapped, suddenly the human characters learn a value of some sort and manage to overcome whatever villains they’re faced with. All this whist the doctor watches, shouting encouragements. I love Matt Smith, honestly, I think given the chance his Doctor could be so incredible, but at the moments none of Moffat’s team of writers are delivering.

        This Christmas special was very touching, even tear jerking, but The Doctor himself was once again another background character, which was why I wasn’t a huge fan.

        • Thank you for posting what I wasn’t able to express until now. That’s how I feel. David Tennant was always the star of the show even when his “friends” were allowed to shine in their own way. I mean until now Matt’s series could have been called Amy Pond. I wonder if Davies liked making Doctor Who more than Moffat does. Matt’s Christmas specials are the only ones I have not watched more than once. And that is not because I don’t like Matt. I think he brings great energy and has managed to make me think he IS from another planet. :-) But it’s the show that’s not grabbing me like it used to. Still, I live in hope for a turnaround. The BBC seems to be having a difficult time of it right now.

      • How can Narnia be a bad imitation of Harry Potter if it was written before Harry?

        • Simple…proceed on the assumption that nothing of great importance was written/created before Rowling penned the first HP book; an erroneous and highly fallacious assumption, to be sure…but if you’re young/self-centered enough, the very Universe revolves around you.

          • agreed haha

        • He meant the movies, not the books.

          • After all, books are useless bits of rubbish. If it isn’t on film, it isn’t any good. And be warned there is a movie out in 2012 that claims to happen on Mars and is a rip-off of Star Wars. Ignore the claim that it was written almost 100 years ago, I’m sure that is a lie.
            Also please ignore any similarity between Narnia and LOTR, simply because the authors were best of friends and CS Lewis urged his friend to finish the books and I am certain there is no Christ Subtext to Narnia, simply because CS Lewis was the greatest apologist of the 20th Century.
            Lord, please forgive the brain dead cretins that inhabit his site…

            • Indeed

            • Your an opinionated misinformed jerk. I’m goin to sart off with that. John Carter of Mars may very well be the best book series ever written. Written in the 1800′s by the author of tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs. It is an incredible series that Disney has been trying to adapt for ten years to explain Burroughs vision, and is in no-way a star wars knock-off, son, you’re just plain wrong. Stop stating your opinions as if they’re facts, and get your research straight.

              • jDirk-Is it not possible that GJP was taking a page out of my playbook in making that comment? If you’ll recall, I posted “Simple…proceed on the assumption that nothing of great importance was written/created before Rowling penned the first HP book; an erroneous and highly fallacious assumption, to be sure…but if you’re young/self-centered enough, the very Universe revolves around you.” some 6 days ago, in response to baileyk’s comment of “How can Narnia be a bad imitation of Harry Potter if it was written before Harry?”, also written 6 days ago?

                • Yeah it’s possible, but that doesn’t change the fact that his assumptions can be corrected. John Carter is amazing.

  5. I agree with most of what the review says. I enjoyed it, and the story is good. It has a few flaws, most of which you pointed out, but it still has creative value. I still prefer last year’s “Christmas Carol” (which is a powerhouse of an episode) to this one, though.

    • The Chronicles of Narnia is a classic an critically acclaimed book series written by C. S. Lewis that predates the Harry Potter books by many decades. The more recent film adaptions are merely the newest atempt at bring these below stories to the big screen, and to judge the series by the success or failure of these newer films would be a mistake

      • Meant to reply to the comment above, my bad. Also, there are 7 Narnia books total, not 3, which is merely the number of movies out out so far.

    • If you honestly think this was worse than Fear Her, than you are out of your mind.

      • Pretty much

  6. Was a poor episode, nothing actually happened

  7. Was the WORST Christmas special EVER. Maybe the worst episode of Doctor Who ever. Steven Moffat, you had Bill Bailey and you only used him for FIVE MINUTES? No monsters, evoking Androzani without reason… ARRGH! The whole thing was a Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe reference? That’s it? What, did you write this in half an hour on the back of a napkin?

    • whom did Bill Bailey play in the episode

    • Spot on mate !!!!

  8. Dull and childish. I normally love his adventures, but I really can’t enjoy this far-fetched time-traveling tree-ship thing, A small plot addition to solve this, such as a missing TARDIS lost a few Millennia ago is more believable and can allow older fans to have something to explain away the sheer stupidity.
    P.S. life preserving/healing space-suit=great, swimming around in the space=silly. stop the timey-wimey jargon and try to put a little effort in to the science or fans may just turn off. Steve, just send me the script before filming the next series starts.

  9. I was honestly very disappointed in the plot of this christmas special! It started off very cliche with an exploding spaceship and then they wander off into a forest, which turns out to be bad, but then SPOILERSPOILER lo and behold, nothing bad actually happens and they bring their father back to life. I thought changing fixed points in time was against the timey wimey laws!?! but I absolutely adored the ending. It made me shed some tears, and I love how their door was tardis blue(:

  10. This was the worst episode of Dr Who ever, let alone worst Christmas special. The storyline was pointless. The acting from the supporting actors was dire and you could not emotionally connect with their plight. Mat Smith is too busy concentrating on being a quirky Dr to bother giving his performance any substance. Bring back Davis he knew what we wanted!

      • Must disagree, there is nothing slow about the show’s decline. Since Moffat took over the show has taken a dive off of a cliff. His stories under RTD were brilliant. Far and away some of the best stories in the series. I’ve been a fan of his since he wrote that charity parody. But as head writer he is failing miserably. This Christmas episode was just more evidence to how dumbed down and oversimplified the series has become. It’s a shame to see such a wonderful and timeless series butchered by bad writing and (IMO) the worst doctor of all time

  11. I must admit that I was a little disappointed right from the start; even the Doctor cannot hollar in space, as there is no air. This impact suit stupidity just adds to it; coming into Earth at terminal velocity would have made an impact crater far larger, and covered with Doctor protoplasm. I didn’t hate the story, but I agree it was a poor Christmas special, because it required too many points in which to suspend disbelief. The forest creates a king and a queen? The Epcot Center escape pod enters the time vortex? And hey, whatever happened to the airman who was “in a bad way” from the fighting? Did he just die sitting in Dorset, or was he rescued? No one seemed to notice that a bomber with a crew of 9 just turned into the pilot.

  12. Ugh. It started off great, no, not the physically impossible and completely stupid opening, but the scenes with Madge and her kids, warm, heart-felt. Then as soon as that kid went through that box it just went downhill from there. Over half the entire episode was spent on just the characters wandering through the woods etc. It was BORING. I am fed up of this shows mediocre episodes, yes, there are fantastic ones but when half the episodes are crap it makes one wonder whether to even bother watching it when it comes back late next year.

  13. never mind the crew! how about flying a plene in Christmas 1941 that was not even invented!!

    • I thought that the story was set in 1942. The Lancaster was already in service then.

      Anyway, I didn’t care much for the episode. But then the trailer didn’t really make me think that it would be much good anyhow, so I can’t exactly say that I’m disappointed.

  14. This was yet another let down from Steven Moffat. I was a huge fan of RTD and David Tannant because they were fans of the show and it showed in the story telling and the acting. When you hear Steven talk he could be writing for any show and this is why it’s just not working. Jury is still out on Matt Smith until he has decent stories to prove he can do it, he’s in danger of being axed where Moffat is the culprit. Let’s hope the BBC gets a new head writer before he ruins it completely!!

  15. I’m a Who fan, and often excuse silly things because…”hey, its Doctor Who and its all good fun”, but MAN…this was just a really bad episode. Lots of ideas thrown together in an attempt to make a story. I couldn’t believe the Christmas special would be so bad. Literally have no desire to view it again.

  16. but wondered if young children “would have enjoyed A Christmas Carol quite as much” as adults. SFX said that although there were “creaky” moments, gave the episode 4.5 out of 5 stars, with extra praise for the performances, especially Smith’s, whom they described as a “a force of nature unleashed on screen”.

    • Ugh. Matt Smith’s performance has grown on me a lot, but to me, his portrayl of the Doctor in this year’s Christmas Special was a return to the unfocused, vague, unconvincing way he filled the role in his first few episodes as the Doctor.

  17. I liked it but A Christmas Carol last year was much better.

  18. i like matt smith as the doctor but moffet is losing control i really enjoyed season five it was a fresh start to the show but i was very disapointed in season six and i was trying to put it behind me and look to the future but this boring xmas special left me wondering about what is to come next i really hope he gets his stuff together before the 50 year aniversary but i cant stop watching even if it gets realy bad its my favorite show and has been a long time but i mean really take me out to dinner before you do this to me again moffet.

  19. My friend watched with me, and he gave up about 20 minutes before it ended — which had never happened before. I persisted, but found myself rolling my eyes a lot when I wasn’t flicking to other channels.

    The characters were unengaging, the threat boring, and there was a lot more standing around talking about nothing than doing anything meaningful. There was almost no suspense… ugh, I think I’ve spent more time on this ep than I ever wanted to.

  20. What a bunch if whiners. (and the cretinous over-analysis of Dr Who continues…). This was soooo much better than last years hour long album promotion for that awful Jenkins woman. Warm, touching, trite (as all Xmas specials should be) and festive it was a joy from start to finish. Can’t believe that so called fans are ready to consign the show to the dustbin cos David Tennant left and he was the bestest dr ever…grow up. Well done to all involved. An Xmas triumph!

    • I agree.

  21. That christmas episode wasn’t the best, I’ll have to agree. But c’mon guys, it still had that christmassy feel to it! I think it just needed a bit more suspense, and a bit more of LET-THE-DOCTOR-SAVE-THE-DAY kind of attitude, but it was still how doctor who should be!

    I’d rate it 4.5 out of 5

  22. Xmas drivel
    Worst doctor who xmas special ever
    Too much focus on the actors playing the parts and not enough focus on the script
    I was starting to warm up to this version of the Doctor – Not anymore

    • Yeah, because one bad episode ruins the other 26.

  23. Ray.
    Stop watching.
    Eastenders is good I hear.

  24. Honestly, I am beyond tired of people hating on the Moffat era of DW and Matt Smith for no apparent reason. Yes, feel free to speak your mind about things, but when you simply spew out hate with no argument or discussion point behind it, it’s really irritating. Saying things like “RTD AND TENNANT NEED TO COME BACK!!!!” or “THIS EPISODE IS THE WORST YET!!!!” isn’t benefitting anyone. RTD and Tennant are never coming back– move on.

    As I said in my earlier comment, I like the episode. It’s definitely one of the weaker ones in the Moffat era (so I can see why others didn’t), but I think it’s pretty decent, in hind sight. I agree with other saying that it felt totally bloated in the middle– but look at it this way. Look at the story without the technical details and structure of it. The story itself is good, even though the way it was written could have been much better (a few small details added in, or things rewritten in a different sequence would have helped a lot). Plus, DW is always a little bit ridiculous in terms of believability, that’s nothing new. I also think that people need to realize that this is a christmas special, and that it’s not going to be as comparable to the rest of the show as other episodes. It’s going to have a broader appeal.

    Lastly, I want to say that I think Moffat has done a very fine job of running the show for the past two series. Is there an occasional weak episode or misfire? Yeah, of course, no question. But most of the time the show hits all the right notes, and the arc heavy/fairy tale motif of the Moffat era has really brought the series to new heights that the RTD era only reached once in a while. I like the RTD era of the show, I do. But there’s no doubt that that era has certain weaknesses as well, and IMO, many more. Moffat has been telling one giant story ever since series 5 began, and it shows, because the story is so well laid out. And while I can see why people might have a hard time caring about the characters, at first, I think a lot of that comes from being so used to the RTD era for four series, only to have the show undergo a theme, cast, and story change all at once. I mean, think about it. Were you really invested in the characters of Rose or the doctor in the first few episodes as you were later? It takes time for that to happen.

    Other complaints:
    1) “The episode was pointless”: It’s a christmas special, not a main story episode. And I doubt you made the same complaint during most of the RTD era episodes which are almost all stand alone stories (I’m not knocking them, I’m jus saying). And besides, it wasn’t pointless. It closed the gap between series 6 and set up the main characters for whatever happened in series 7 by getting them back together– and of course, it continued the character development of the doctor in series 6 pretty well.
    2) “Nothing happened”: A family was reunited for Christmas, making them very happy, the life-force of an entire planet was saved, and the doctor opened his heart again to Amy and Rory after everything he put them through in series 6. Yeah, /nothing happened/.

  25. Very disappointed. It was absolutely awful. It didn’t seem to be logical and was downright silly.

  26. God this is hilarious! An actual argument for not liking it is logicality and believability? It’s a show about a nine hundred year old alien that travels through time in a wooden box……..