Prequel: The Doctor is on a spaceship, with his finger on a button, and the spaceship will blow up if he lets go. He gives Amy a ring, but then remembers that she left the TARDIS some time ago, and as such is unable to help. He then releases the button and the ship blows up. It’s a bit of a bold move to kill the central character off in an online prequel, but hey ho.
I can never remember the title of this one correctly, nor indeed anything much about the episode, other than the general sense that I didn’t like it. I’m a bit fuzzy on most of the Christmas specials post-Tennant – because I’ve never rewatched any of them, my only experience of them was with a belly too full of turkey and most likely a head too full of bucks fizz, beer and Baileys. Tonight, it really was like I was watching this for the first time, except for that one vague recollection that it was a bit of a dud.
It certainly starts strongly. Turns out the Doctor escapes the exploding ship by surfing through the vacuum of space on a passing spacesuit, then he meets Claire Skinner, and she’s always excellent. What’s more, her husband is Mr Smith, and her daughter is Holly Earl, an actress who I met recently and spent the entire time trying to remember what I knew her from. Turns out it was this, although further Googling revealed that she’s also the tiny child who fails to say the word “Vimto” properly in a shit episode of Red Dwarf.
Sadly Mr Smith doesn’t last very long – the sudden jump forward to his World War II death is a little grim for Christmas Day. To combat this, the Doctor basically becomes Mary Poppins, and builds a magical dream house for the kids to make up for the fact their dad has snuffed it. It’s great stuff, and Matt Smith’s really funny during these scenes, but it’s almost a shame when, five minutes later, the action shifts to what is basically Narnia – it doesn’t seem as exciting a setting as the Doctor’s nutty house.
And so it proves, as it transpires that having a bunch of actual trees as the antagonists doesn’t make for a particularly engaging battle of wits. Things perk up a bit when Bill Bailey and Arabella Weir turn up, but they’re such tiny roles for such well known stars that it seems like a huge waste. They get one scene in which to be funny, one scene where they’re serious, and then they teleport off. And apparently they’re all from Androzani Major. I’d have thought you’d have to be pretty confident to invite comparison to that particular story.
The fate of Mr Smith looms heavily over proceedings, as you know it’s only a matter of time before these kids are told the truth. In the end, the Doctor goes one better by inadvertently making them watch it happen. What a shit Christmas present this is. Of course, it turns out that he gets better, but this was a happy accident; the Doctor hadn’t set out to save him, so even if everything had have gone as planned, his idea was basically to build a playroom, take them to see a forest, then say “by the way, your dad’s dead”.
There’s something fundamentally missing throughout the episode, and that’s a companion – Claire Skinner is obviously the big guest star, but she doesn’t perform that function narratively. We finally get to see Amy and Rory right at the end, and while the Doctor’s happy tears are a lovely, heart-warming touch, it is just a cameo. They should be in the TARDIS, damn it – I’m as sad that they’re not as the Doctor clearly is.