Posted on Monday, December 26th, 2011 at 12:51 pm
Author: s.e. smith
Doctor Who fans around the world were far more interested in the landfall of this year’s Christmas special, ‘The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe,’ than they were in the progress of NORAD Tracks Santa, which is incidentally perhaps one of the best defense-related uses of my tax dollars I can possibly imagine. They gathered ‘round their televisions (or torrents) with glee, made sure their beverage containers were fully supplied, and prepared to settle in for a dose of winter magic on the BBC. They were not disappointed.
As a certified grinch, Christmas specials are not really my forte. But, as a newly-minted Who fan, I was willing to make some sacrifices, so I duly stocked up on hot chocolate and ginger cookies to get myself in the proper mood. Snow, alas, was not an option, for which the cat, and the garden, were deeply grateful. After some wrestling and debate over who would get to control the quilt and the remote, respectively, everyone was properly settled in for an hour of 1940s nostalgia, Christmas sentimentality, and a very special guest star in the form of a vintage World War Two bomber.
From the title, one might imagine that the episode would have been heavily Narnia-inspired, but it really wasn’t, beyond the scene where the characters spilled from a box in wartime England and into a snowy forest. ‘The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe’ lived up to the show’s reputation for being slightly creepy, but it was also quite funny, as the characters raced through the forest to save each other and occasionally ended up in sticky wickets. There was a good mix of comic relief, eeriness, and warm fuzzies in this episode; not the sort of thing I would like to see in every Who, but acceptable in this instance.
A far cry from the stodgy world of Narnia.
The framing was also a very radical twist from the heavily masculinised world of Narnia, where the brothers are the kings and most of the helpful characters are men as well, while the women are relegated to nurturing roles. Or they’re being punished for growing up. Narnia is a world where girls are good and women are bad, where the Lucies of the world get sweet cakes and fauns to play with while the Susans are shut out of heaven for liking makeup.
That was most definitely not the case here. Madge Arwell is one tough cookie, whether she’s leveling a gun hidden in her coat on a military team or steering a massive platform into the woods to save her children. Her daughter Lily is pretty darn tough too and viewers didn’t forget it for a minute, while the Doctor and Madge’s son bumbled along getting into trouble. A pleasant role reversal, especially in a Christmas special, where one would expect some patriarchal tropes to, er, dominate.
Far from being a shrinking violet prostrate at the sight of time vortexes, futuristic technology, and a forest filled with lifeforce desperately trying to evacuate, Madge took charge and flew everyone home through time, with some guidance from the Doctor. As the timelines crossed, she encountered her husband’s plane over the Channel on the night of his death, providing him with a guiding light to follow.
Crisis averted, everyone’s home for Christmas, and presumably someone found a goose to put on the table. I do love a happy ending now and then, me.
Naturally, the episode was rife with mawkish sentimentality, complete with the Doctor probing unexpected tears on his face at the end when he met up with Amy and Rory. But this is tradition on Christmas, and thus I was forced to cut everyone a little slack. Thankfully Moffat managed to avoid many of the sentimental tropes which make navigating Christmas specials horrific for me; no precious inspiring cripples or tattered children to rescue from poverty, for example. And yes, it was ridiculous, but that’s the entire point of the Who specials, and the note of whimsy in this one was actually rather endearing. I even laughed aloud a few times, which is rare for me.
Of particular note is the fact that it was Madge who saved everyone in the end, ‘Mother Christmas,’ as the Doctor put it. While the Doctor may have set up the adventure that inadvertently saved her husband’s life, it was Madge who adapted to unexpected crises and helped the characters out through the other side. It was an odd episode for Steven Moffat, who seems to prefer relegating women to infuriatingly useless roles where they flop about helplessly in a snarl of bad writing that leaves them utterly disempowered.
Many of the storylines in seasons under his guiding hand have included uninteresting, bland female characters, suggesting that showrunner and writers alike are terrified of women and don’t know how to write them. With the exception of the bright spot of River Song, there are few recurring female characters of much interest this fan, and I know I’m not alone. Madge took center stage in this episode, and dare I say it, she completely stole the show; she was absolutely fantastic and delicious, and I wish we could see her again. I think she’d make a smashing Companion.
Perhaps it’s a sign of changes to come in the Doctor Who franchise; maybe Moffat has recognised some of the criticism from his fans, particularly the feminists among them. A real shift towards emotionally complex female characters who actually do things would be tremendously exciting, and the most excellent Christmas gift of all for those who celebrate.
Global Comment © 2012 | Design & Developed by : Slate