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The Doctor is blowing up a space ship. This is a bad idea, because space ships are generally in space, so he has to quickly improvise with putting on a space suit after being thrown out of the ship by the explosion.
It’s Christmas Eve, 1938, when Madge Arwell finds a crater with a man in it. The man is wearing a space suit with a his helmet on backwards and can't see a thing. He got dressed in a bit of a hurry, what with free floating in space and a ship exploding behind him and all. The woman tells her children, Lily and Cyril, that she'll be off for a bit: she has to take a man with a backwards helmet who may or may not be an angel to find a phone box. When they find the TARDIS (after several false starts), he tells her that he'll thank her properly someday, once the suit is done healing him.
Three years later, Madge's pilot husband is lost at sea in the war when his plane is trapped in the dark. Devastated, she escapes war-torn London with her two children for a dilapidated house in Dorset. She is crippled with grief at the news her husband has been lost over the channel, but determined to give Lily and Cyril the best Christmas ever and simply tell them later. She keeps up her Stepford Smiler act bravely.
When they arrive at the house, the regular caretaker has been replaced by the Doctor, who simply introduces himself as the new caretaker. He's very much playing The Wonka, and he's turned the house into a fantasy playground for the kids. The furniture moves, the beds are hammocks, the Christmas tree is beautiful. There's one giant present underneath it. When the Doctor realises what has happened to Madge's husband, he agrees to help her give her children a wonderful Christmas.
Of course, little Cyril sneaks out of his hammock and into the giant present a day early. He ends up in the Whoniverse's equivalent of Narnia. It's wintery and gorgeous, and the trees look very Christmas-like, including decorative balls. Well, eggs. One of them bursts open, and Cyril follows whatever came out of it.
The Doctor and Lily quickly follow. The Doctor is confused -- this is supposed to be the single safest planet in the galaxy. He had planned a nice holiday for the kids here, without any danger, and definitely without growing footsteps leading out of giant Christmas tree eggs. The Doctor's sonic screwdriver still doesn't do wood. When Trees Attack, this is a bit of a problem.
The creature leads Cyril into a tower, where he finds statues frozen in time.
Madge, of course, has followed them by now. She's greeted by Bill Bailey and his crew, wearing power suits and standing near an industrial Humongous Mecha from Androzani. Bill Bailey votes to shoot her. His crew disagree -- one of them has mommy issues and starts to involuntarily cry, and the other simply refuses to shoot an unarmed shivering civilian woman. Madge is not unarmed, however, and forces the crew to let her inside their mecha.
The statues in the tower are made of wood. Cyril is invited to sit on their throne and wear their crown. He's discarded, however, because he's "weak". When Lily and the Doctor arrive, the Doctor is quickly discarded by them as well, but Lily is considered "strong".
Bill Bailey informs Madge that they're a harvesting crew. The wood from the forest is the universe's best power source, and they're about to go melt the forest. With acid rain. Madge is shocked and tells them that they need to save her children before it's too late, but it's impossible: the mechanism is already in place and can't be stopped now. As a last-ditch resort, Madge begs to be allowed to pilot the mecha towards her children. She doesn't care that it takes years to learn: she was in her husband's plane once, and she's a Mama Bear, and with those two things combined she can do anything. The crew tell her that she's mad, but she absolutely insists.
As it turns out, the tree statues are not statues: they're the souls of the trees that are about to be murdered. The tower is not built, but grown, as their safe haven. They've left their tree husks to go find a new world somewhere else. The Doctor loves it, and tells them to hop on inside his head and get on with it. Trees are good, he loves trees, one of them fancied him once. But the trees refuse: it has to be someone who's "strong", and Lily isn't mature enough yet.
As the acid rain starts, all hope seems to be lost, but the giant mecha comes stumbling out of the forest and towards the tower. It's piloted by Madge. The thing falls over, of course, but Madge manages to get out of the mecha and into the tower with only a few gaping acid holes in her coat. The trees latch onto her immediately. She's the strongest creature there is: a mother. As it turns out, the trees are speaking the universe's base language: "weak" means male, and "strong" means female, simply because females beget new life. Madge is quite happy to serve as the vessel for the trees and power up their transportation. The souls of the entire forest are absorbed into her head. She takes it extremely well. With the powerful thought of "home" to lock onto, the heroes and the tree collectively depart into the time vortex.
But the thought of "home", for Madge, includes her husband. And as her thoughts are projected before her eyes, she realises that she will also need to remember her husband vividly if she wants to get the trees to safety. She has to see him die, and his final minutes on his plane will be shown to her kids as well. It can't be helped, the Doctor says, and as they make it to safety and the trees leave her mind again, Madge breaks down into tears.
The Doctor decides to give the family some privacy while Madge explains to her kids what happened to their dad. She's interrupted when the Doctor rushes back in again, rambling about something outside that they need to see. Outside on the grass is a plane. Madge's husband gets out, very confused, but very happy to see his family. When Madge moved through the time vortex, locking onto her husband in thought, the guiding light of the trees' vessel was able to guide his plane to safety right through time and space. Madge and her family cry, and the Doctor smirks at their all-too-human happy tears.
Back at the house, Madge finds the Doctor in the attic, tinkering with things. She sees the TARDIS and instantly realises that he's her space suit angel. When she asks if he doesn't have his own family to go spend Christmas with, he tries to explain to her that everyone thinks he's dead. Madge gets very cross at that, and tells him to go back to his mum and dad and tell them he's sorry, right now. He sort of smiles and says he'll think about it.
Amy opens the door and sees her son-in-law standing there quite sheepishly. He's not quite sure how long it's been. Two years, she informs him, and they knew he was alive. Neither of them wants to give the first hug, but after about a minute, they both laugh and relent and hug each other. As Amy invites him in for Christmas dinner with her and Rory, the Doctor notices that his face is a bit wet and that happy tears may not just be a silly human thing.
- Action Prologue / Lead In: The episode begins with the Doctor escaping an exploding spaceship. While this does lead to him meeting Madge, it's otherwise unconnected with the plot of the episode.
- Big Red Button: In the prequel, the Doctor has his finger on one. When he takes it off, the ship will explode.
- Blind Idiot Translation: Turns out that "weak" and "strong" are simply poor translations of "male" and "female".
- Blitz Evacuees
- The Doctor Can Breathe In Space: In the opening scene, the Doctor seems to have no trouble breathing (and talking) while falling through space towards Earth. Its been previously established that Timelords possess a respiratory bypass that allows them to go long periods without breathing and likewise are able to survive exposure to hard vacuum much longer.
- The entire scene seems to delve in Space Does Not Work That Way.
- Big Sister Bully: Lily comes across as one to Cyril at times.
- Call Back:
- Casting Gag: Alexander Armstrong (one half of the Armstrong and Miller Show) is once again a WWII RAF pilot.
- Chekov's Gun: Gets lost in The Doctor's... Doctoriness, but the children's bedroom has a "selection of torches for midnight feasts or secret reading", low and behold everyone has their own torch when they pass through the portal.
- Chekhov's Skill: Madge is able to drive the robotic walker to the lighthouse because the control panel resembles that of a plane, which Reg taught her to fly once.
- Christmas Episode
- Clarke's Third Law: Subverted by Madge, who cons the workers into putting down their guns by fooling them into thinking she's overcome by the futuristic and alien setting.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Madge comes across as a bit of one, and the Doctor is in rare form.
- Cool House: The Doctor "repairs" the estate in several ways. The sitting room has bumper car chairs, the kitchen has a lemonade faucet, the kids' room has everything but beds (can't fit everything, after all, so it has hammocks), and the Christmas tree is motorized in several places. Oh, and he set up a portal to a forest of living trees inside a box as a present.
- Continuity Nod: To the Forest of Cheem, as well as The Caves of Androzani. At the end, Amy informs the Doctor that River already told her he was alive.
- Everybody Calls Him Barkeep: The Doctor. He introduces himself as "The Doctor, or the Caretaker, or Get Off This Planet", but throughout the episode, everyone calls him 'Caretaker.' It's probable that this is his intention, as he is supposed to be going incognito from this point.
- Everybody Lives
- Genre Savvy: All of the soldiers at first don't take Madge holding a gun on them very seriously, until she mentions that she's looking for her children.
- George Jetson Job Security: The Doctor royally screws up his caretaker job with the present portal (although in his defense he didn't count on Cyril opening the present early). Leads to this:
Madge: YOU'RE FIRED!
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: When the Doctor mentioned he can't take off the impact suit (which is on backwards) because it's repairing him, Madge asks if it might accidentally repair him backwards as well. The first thing he checks is his crotch.
- Green Aesop: Though surprisingly understated for a story about deforestation.
- Happily Married: Madge and Reg.
- Amy and Rory, who are still together after two years.
- Her Heart Will Go On: Madge. At first.
- Hey, It's That Voice!: Alexander Armstrong is in fact Mr Smith from The Sarah Jane Adventures.
- Indy Ploy: The Doctor gives advice to the effect of "hold on and pretend it's a plan."
- Just Plane Wrong: Avro Lancasters did not see active service until 1942, while the special is set in 1941.
- Lighter and Softer: Compare this Christmas Special to the first ones and you notice it.
- Little Miss Snarker: Lily.
- Mama Bear: Madge. (And to an extent, Lily.)
Head Soldier: There's nothing you could say that would convince me you'd ever use that gun.
Madge: I'm looking for my children.
Head Soldier: (suddenly looks quite convinced he might get shot)
- Mood Whiplash: The montage of the Doctor showing Madge and her kids the modifications he made to the house (which is almost magical in a way) comes to an abrupt end when Madge yells at the Doctor. And then, after she and the Doctor talk in private, that is interrupted when the children become overjoyed when seeing the Christmas tree the Doctor set up.
- Never Found the Body: Madge's telegram notes that Reg is lost at sea rather than being confirmed dead. Naturally, this means he's actually still alive.
- No Antagonist: None of the factions which appear in the episode are actually antagonists, even if it does not appear this way at first. The harvesters are unable to do anything to help the other characters, and the trees are only trying to save their race. The main characters even cooperate with them at the end and they part ways without either side being harmed. This is quite a contrast to all previous christmas specials, as well as most other episodes.
- This obviously ignores the big spaceship seen in the opening, but they barely have any effect on the main plot anyway...
- Non-indicative Title: Widow? What widow?
- Oh Crap: The lead interrogator says that he knows there's no way Madge will ever shoot him. And then she tells him that she's looking for her children...
- Outrun the Fireball / Out of the Inferno: The Doctor, when escaping the spaceship in the opening.
- Phlebotinum Breakdown: The Doctor's sonic screwdriver still doesn't do wood. When Trees Attack, this is a bit of a problem.
- Plant Aliens: The Adrozani trees turn out to be sapient.
- Reality Ensues: After his spacesuit helmet gets stuck the wrong way round, the Doctor instructs Madge to simply help him get to a police box. After she does so, he remembers that it's the 1930s and there are real police boxes around.
- Running Gag: The Doctor looks great in a hat.
- The title of the episode is a nod to the CS Lewis story The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. So is the plot premise: family leave the Blitz for an old house in the country, eccentric professorial caretaker, magical wardrobe, portal to snowy forest where wonderful things happen. There's even a lamppost. The Doctor also directly quotes the Professor:
Doctor: What do they teach in schools these days?
- The foot of the walker landing in front of Madge is reminiscent of the leg of the AT-AT landing near Luke in The Empire Strikes Back.
- The opening of the Action Prologue homages A New Hope (the gigantic alien spaceship flying over the camera), 2001: A Space Odyssey (the Standard Snippet of Also Sprach Zarathustra) and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the aliens' message beginning "People of Earth...")
- Word of God has it that the overall Tim Burton-ness quality was a deliberate Shout-Out.
- Cyril looks an awful lot like Ralphie from a Christmas Story, which may or may not be intentional
- Sleeping Dummy: Cyril sets one up when he sneaks downstairs to open the present early, so Lily won't realise he's gone.
- Soul Jar: The tree people's escape plan.
- Space Is Noisy: Noisy enough that the Doctor can talk without such foolish things like air.
- Stalking Is Love: Reg kept following Madge home until she agreed to marry him. She didn't want to cause a scene.
- Standard Snippet: The music that plays over the opening shot of Earth is a sped-up version of Also Sprach Zarathustra.
- Tears of Joy: Very humany-wumany of you, Doctor.
- Tempting Fate: "There are sentences I should just keep away from."
- Madge, upon seeing Reg reading about the war looming in the paper:
Madge: Not the war again...People keep reading about the war, then it will actually happen! Then where would you be? (Most tragic Gilligan Cut ever)
- Took a Level In Badass: Even before Madge takes over the Humongous Mecha to save her children, she pulls a gun on her three interrogators. "Crying's so useful, isn't it?"
- Vader Breath: The "stormtroopers" that appear in the forest. May double as a Shout-Out.
- What Happened to the Mouse?:
- What You Are in the Dark:
Billis: Sir, with regret, I'm going to have to lower my gun.
Billis: She is a crying, unarmed, female civilian. I'm thinking of the visual.
Droxil: Nobody's looking!
Billis: Doesn't mean there's no visual.
- When Trees Attack: The Wooden King and Queen who live in the forest. Ultimately a subversion, as all they want is to save the souls of their race.
- Whole-Plot Reference: Pretty clearly to The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
- Inspiration Nod: The Doctor directly quotes Professor Kirke: "What do they teach in schools these days?"
- Women Are Wiser: The female interrogator, while still bumbling, seems slightly more logical and calm under threat. Madge chats with her passively while insisting the other two can't be trusted.
- And the tree people have a magic crown that, when somebody wears on their head, allows them to absorb the forest's life force. It rejects Cyril and the Doctor, works slightly for Lily, and completely works for Madge, as the tree people consider her the 'mothership'.
- Women Drivers: Madge seems to bump into lots of things while driving the Doctor to the phone box. She doesn't fare much better when she hijacks a Humongous Mecha. But she does pretty well at traversing the time vortex.
- World War Two: We're back in the London Blitz again.
- You Wouldn't Shoot Me: Bill Bailey asserts this of Madge, despite having no real information about her character and having been suspicious of her previously. Her Mama Bear retort quickly changes his mind.