Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Farren Blackburn
THE ONE WHERE: As World War Two rages, the Doctor attempts to give grieving Madge Arwell and her children the Christmas of their dreams. But some dreams conceal the strangest things…
VERDICT: Moffat dials down the time-scrambling maziness that’s so characterised the last 12 months of Doctor Who , delivering a sweeter, less frenetic tale that aims squarely for the heart, not the flipchart.
In many ways it feels like a return to the children’s storybook vibe of “The Eleventh Hour”, though there’s the chill of Joan Aiken beneath the cosy Enid Blyton dressing: the image of the wooden king and queen, waiting in a silent, snow-encrusted lighthouse on the edge of a whispering winter forest, feels torn from folklore, like a story you’ve always known but had somehow forgotten…
Yes, there’s a palpable lack of a proper, crowdpleasing villain (interesting experiment, but maybe not ideal for Christmas Day, which surely demands a baddie to lob your mixed nuts and raisins at) and Bill Bailey and Arabella Weir’s Douglas Adams-y forest rangers feel like bolt-on comic relief. But newcomer director Farren Blackburn brings style to spare, conjuring a 1940s rich in period atmosphere and dripping with People’s Friend nostalgia, all home-knits, rainy lanes and hazy streetlamps. He also has a fine eye for the evocative visual: whether it be a Lancaster Bomber soaring into the time vortex or Halo -style armoured warriors walking the snows of a Narniaesque forest, this is, ultimately, an episode that trades in the kind of brilliant, reality-mashing juxtapositions that feel uniquely and unmistakably Doctor Who .
STAR TURN: Matt Smith is outstanding, whether dishing out magic in cranked-up Willy Wonka mode (“Hot, cold… and lemonade!”), brought to heel like a sulky teen by Madge (“Yes, mum, I’ll think about it…”) or offering a glimpse of a spookier, altogether more ancient figure, possessed of dark and depthless knowledge (“Do you know the difference between the wind and trees talking to each other?”). His final smile is beautifully played, exploding like a Christmas epiphany.
FAB FX: Some seriously impressive starship action as the tale begins, as though Doctor Who is out to finally settle a decades-long grudge against George Lucas. It’s an episode conspicuously front-loaded with dazzle, though – some later FX sequences clearly have less time and money on their side.
INSPIRATIONS: C S Lewis’ Narnia tales, obviously – though with rather less religious agenda clouting you around the noggin. The pre-titles sequence is a clear homage to the generation-defining opening of Star Wars while Madge at the controls of the Androzani Harvester recalls Ripley’s showstopping, Power Loader-assisted rescue at the end of Aliens. The creaking, unnervingly impassive wooden king echoes Harryhausen’s immortal creation Talos the bronze colossus in Jason And The Argonauts ( or, if you’re a real Harryhausen nerd the living ship’s figurehead from The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad – Harryhausen geek site editor ).
DID YOU SPOT? Two fan-tickling shout-outs to the Peter Davison era. Androzani Major is the sister planet of Androzani Minor, the mud-splashed hellhole that ended the Fifth Doctor’s exploits in 1984’s “The Caves Of Androzani”. And, more obscurely, we’d like to believe that the reference to the Magna Carta is a loving nod to a key plot point in ‘83’s history-meddling romp “The King’s Demons”…
TRIVIA: The Doctor’s house very nearly contained a “ghost story cellar” and “quantum wi-fi” – only for him to realise that there was no internet in the 1940s…
TRIVIA 2: Reg is played by Alexander Armstrong, who also provided the voice of deadpan supercomputer Mr Smith in The Sarah Jane Adventures .
HMMM: “Humany-wumany” may just be a catchphrasey-wasey too far. Step away from CafePress now.
Lily: “Why would you rewire a wardrobe?”
The Doctor: “Have you seen the way I dress?”