My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Snapshot: After the intense, life-and-death perils of the previous season, this year’s Christmas Special was a nice, lighthearted relief. With its focus on two children and a crisis that did not involve the fate of the universe, it enabled us to catch our breaths.
The episode opened with the Doctor (Matt Smith) trapped on an exploding spaceship. The Doctor apparently can survive the vacuum of space, and was able to snag a passing spacesuit in time to use it to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere, amazingly unharmed after cratering into the ground. Adding to the implausibility of the situation was that the Doctor put the spacesuit’s helmet on backwards—I don’t know about future spacesuit designs, but I know that real spacesuits are built in such a way that’s it’s impossible to wear incorrectly. Nevertheless, you don’t watch Doctor Who for scientific accuracy.
The main story involved the Doctor tending to a recently widowed woman (Claire Skinner) and her two children, Cyril (Maurice Cole) and Lily (Holly Earl), at a country estate as they escaped the London Blitz in World War II (for a fascinating, detailed account of this period, read this year’s Hugo Award winning novel, Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis). Matt Smith showed once again his remarkable rapport with children as he magnificently showed off the fabulous Christmas decorations in the house.
There wouldn’t be a story if the Doctor didn’t overlook something simple and allow one of the children unsupervised access to a time/space vortex. While everyone is sleeping, undisciplined Cyril sneaks downstairs to unwrap a giant Christmas present from the Doctor. (Another nitpick: no kid, or anyone, sleeps with their glasses on, no matter how bad their eyesight is.) The unwrapped box turns out to be a portal to another world, filled with beautiful conifer trees dusted with a blanket of snow. No problem, right? Despite the Doctor’s claim that this was the most peaceful world in the galaxy, Cyril and ultimately Lily, their mother, and the Doctor become trapped when some mysterious prospectors plan to harvest the trees for fuel by dissolving them with acid rain (what the what?).
Complications ensue when the Doctor realizes that the trees contain sentient beings—to paraphrase his words, the trees are more alive than normal trees. After some typical bumbling, the Doctor figures out that the way to save the trees’ souls is to store them in the mother’s head, fly through the time/space vortex, and let them find a new home elsewhere in the galaxy. In the process, she somehow saves her husband by leading his plane through the vortex to safety.
The best part of the episode is the epilogue in which the Doctor visits his most recent companions, Amy and Rory (Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill), two years after seemingly dying. Of course, River Song had told Amy that the Doctor faked his death, but the Doctor didn’t know that Amy knew he was alive. After some awkward moments, the Doctor and Amy have a big hug, the Doctor sheds a tear (the first one in eons, apparently), and everyone realizes how important it is to forgive the ones they love. (Until, of course, Amy and Rory are killed in the upcoming season [I’m guessing]).
So, not a terribly profound episode; it mainly served as a buffer between the brutal conclusion from the end of the previous season and the presumably severe repercussions in the upcoming season.