The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe
Madge: Why are you doing all this?
The Doctor: I’m just… trying to take care of things. I’m the caretaker.
Production Code: 3.X. (Footnote ).
Doctor Who Season: Between S32 and S33 (Christmas Special).
Story Number: 225.
It’s a British tradition now…
Doctor Who on Christmas day. The full “experience” of this narrative began before Christmas though. This is another episode of Doctor Who though – like Let’s Kill Hitler – with which the short “prequel” adds a significant amount of depth (considering its extremely short duration) to the full-length episode. With that previous prequel, it was an indication of just how long the Doctor had been searching, and his emotional state was sketched. The prequel for this Christmas episode emphasises (with another “telephone message”, this time the Doctor is leaving it) the Doctor’s state of alone-ness, and again something of his emotional state – talking to Amy as if she’s still a companion in the TARDIS. It’s not a vital element of the narrative, but does add a certain satisfying circularity to it all.
The pre-credits continues straight on from the prequel – the ship’s still exploding. It makes for a kinetic start to the Christmas Special, and the in medias res beginning also sketches the idea the Doctor’s adventuring for a while without his companions (saving the Earth from this alien ship the latest off-screen adventure).
Madge Arwell meets her Spaceman Angel – like the previous year’s A Christmas Carol the Doctor plays the role of a mysterious imp that intervenes to change their life for the better in a fairytale fashion.
ALWAYS WINTER BUT NEVER CHRISTMAS
Doctor Who of recent years, what with aliens who seem to be modelled more on talking animals (Cat Nuns, Rhino Policemen) could be described as Chronicles of Narnia-esque. This is a more a straightforward channeling of the C.S. Lewis books though, what with the obvious allusion of the story-title, the wartime setting and the evacuee children stepping through the magic portal into a snowy forest.
It’s surprising that the TARDIS itself while described as the Doctor’s “wardrobe” doesn’t actually fulfil the portal function – but with the plot ultimately meaning some other ship has to navigate the Time Vortex it makes sense.
CAN YOU HANDLE THIS?
It’s significant that “widow” is part of the story-title as well as “wardrobe”. In wartime, women had to endure – once the men of their lives had gone.
There were a lot of widows.
Says the Doctor: “Weak” and “Strong” translated from the base code of nature itself – Male and Female.
One interpretation of that, considering thow strong Madge had to be after her husband went missing is that women are tougher than men, emotionally. (The male Doctor can’t really feel anything that much after jaded centuries of TARDIS travels and he says as much, but is pleasantly surprised by his “happy crying” at the end.)
The Doctor’s “weakness” is he didn’t have the strength of strong emotions and being able to keep them controlled. (Rather than him being so very not-a-female.)
The Doctor again – “More than female, she’s Mum – how else does life ever travel? The Mothership”.
Some critiques of this aspect seem to be thinking that the story is saying the true strength of females is that they can be mothers but that’s really not what it’s saying at all.
The whole story is about how strong Madge has to be, and being a mother is one aspect of that, (being female is another).
There’s definitely an acknowledgement about the way life continues though with the Doctor’s line “More than female, she’s Mum – how else does life ever travel?”
THE ONLY WATER
The most subtle element of the story – the Doctor’s so jaded he isn’t crying at the end at all. The water is from Pond. But he’s happy anyway.
Speaking of crying, the emotional aspect of this Christmas story is masterfully done – the sequence of Madge’s husband being guided back and her keeping calm and carrying on through the turmoil of it all from fear to ecstatic celebration means this is quite possibly the most moving Doctor Who story ever.
Footnotes (and links)