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It's been so long since I read "The Chronicles of Narnia" book series that I can't really comment very much on how much this story has drawn from that series' most famous second book "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." I half remember how the first book related to a boy and a magic silver apple tree whose lumber was eventually used to construct the wardrobe, and in the second book, the wardrobe opening out into a forest. I also remember a line about the witch making sure that it was "always winter, but never Christmas." Never Christmas. And now it's a Christmas story? Hmmmm. I also remember loving these books, but not whether I actually finished the full series.
The Doctor, of course, calls his TARDIS a wardrobe in this adventure, but Moffat chose not to go down the obvious route and have it open out onto a new world. Instead, we get a specially designed Christmas present to do the trick. Well, I guess it better allows all of our protagonists to go through at separate times, rather than cramming them all into the console room during flight where the mother would probably have insisted upon aborting the adventure before it starts. We wind up without any TARDIS interior at all in this story. But in some ways, you have to wonder if the creation of the TARDIS itself wasn't inspired in part by the wardrobe in the Narnia books. Perhaps Moffat missed a classic opportunity here to have one mirror the other more directly.
Middling DoubtsMany of the middle sections seem a bit lost, where it remains unclear for a long time exactly what this adventure is about, what challenges our protagonists will face on the new world, and who they might want to help there. At least we get a new world, which is a nice big plus.
Madge is about the only one that has a clear issue to work through, in dealing with the death of her husband and specifically in letting the children know. The second time I watched this through, I was reminded of something mentioned often about the film "Mrs. Doubtfire", in that it was praised for not putting a false fairy-book ending on the divorce between the two parents, and it managed to maintain a certain level of reality to the consequences of dealing with it. Was this Christmas Special about to cheat the consequences of dealing with a death in the family? One might think so.... if that was what the heart of this tale was really all about. But it doesn't quite put a stamp on that concept as its main thread. Get ready to rethink what this one is about.
But even as we now have a conflict ripe for producing a good Doctor Who save-the-alien-planet plot, the Doctor rather listlessly never rises to the occasion here. He seems a bit too keen to run away safely with his new family of friends and let the forest burn. Why is Moffat keeping him in run-away mode instead of hero mode? Of all of the misdirections in this story, this is the one that misfired most for me. Though this nicely becomes the first in a long line of alien planets that the Doctor visits during the following Season 33, it also seems that this story has initiated a bit of a running gag throughout that season regarding the ill fates of all those planets. Not sure what was going on in the writers' heads there, in terms of whether this was deliberate, or just a series of accidents coming together by coincidence.
Space Time VictoryWell, apparently the souls of the trees of this world have a plan all ready to go to deal with their challenges, and the Doctor merely needs to help Madge through her critical role. As she takes flight, the various separate threads of the story start to come together beautifully.
Steven Moffat has often got very bad marks from me regarding his handling of space time mechanics. This time, he gets 10 out of 10, as we wind up with an onscreen version of space/time navigation very reminiscent of those often described in the Montauk phases of the Philadelphia Experiment, in New Age channelings and literature, in reports of flying saucer operation, and elsewhere. If it challenges some members of the audience, then good. Think on it.
We also get a pretty darned good set of pointers on how to create your own reality, which is even more poignant than usual when done during a major space/time navigation event. Everyone's probably heard the mantra that thoughts create our reality, but many dismiss it because they miss out on steps like maintaining both a sharp focus, and a powerful emotional charge, much less taking appropriate action to insert oneself as a participant. The Doctor demonstrates really good coaching skills here regarding those points, a section which also allows him to reveal one of his own issues which we'll be coming back to.
And perhaps this story wasn't really meant to be so much about dealing with loss as it is about having the courage to share the truth with loved ones, and not place emotional investment in secrecy for fear that the truth will hurt them or disappoint them. This is a very critical fourth density principle, and Madge faces this firstly with herself and then with her children. And having resolved this issue, while going through a space/time warp, it's just conceivable that your wildest dreams might tag along and catch up with you. It all works well enough for my practiced New Age belief structure.
Only in the final coda does the Doctor deal with one of his own issues, making amends with Amy and Rory. How could this not move me, since I pretty much had the identical experience about a month prior to seeing this for the first time? Two friends I had not seen in a long time invited me into their home, and showed me great hospitality. Emotions I had forgotten how to have started coming back to me. Matt Smith really nailed that final scene perfectly for me, and it will always remind me of the great feelings of family and friendship that are worth pursuing and preserving and celebrating. And that's really what Christmas always should be about at its heart, should it not? This story goes out on a high that no other Christmas story has come close to yet.
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