Doctor Who, 6.14
Cyril (Maurice Cole), Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner), and the Doctor (Matt Smith) © 2011 BBC

It’s Christmas Eve, 1938, when Madge Arwell comes to the aid of an injured Spaceman Angel as she cycles home. Three years later, Madge, hiding her grief at the news her fighter pilot husband has been lost over the channel, leaves war-torn London with her two children for a dilapidated house in Dorset…

After last year’s most Christmassy Doctor Who Special (starring the superb Michael Gambon) I was looking forward to this year’s offering. Sadly, it let down on just about every count.

Doctor Who, 6.14
The Doctor (Matt Smith) always resorts to the sonic screwdriver first - very unimaginative © 2011 BBC

Most disappointing was Matt Smith’s portrayal of the Doctor. Now over 200 years into this version of the character, there is little sign of any maturity wandering in. In fact, the Doctor seems to have become more manic, in the awful style of the last incarnation, as played by David Tenant. Endless twittering and the verbal diarrhoea did nothing to endear the character. At times I really just wanted him to go away.

And what has happened to “the good Doctor”? Once upon a time, when the Doctor encountered aliens he tried to communicate. This time, on facing the wooden creatures, he whips out his sonic screwdriver as a weapon. So much for the teaching of tolerance by the Doctor…

Doctor Who - Matt Smith
The pointless opening sequence © 2011 BBC

It also didn’t help that it took about 15 minutes for the story to get going. A pointless sequence of the Doctor running through an exploding spaceship – presumably done to make the trailer look interesting – led to him falling through the vacuum of Space (with no ill effects!) incorrectly putting on a type of spacesuit that enabled him to survive falling through the atmosphere at speed and crash into the ground!!!

His crash landing is witnessed by Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner), who is quite unfazed by “a spaceman” – it is the 1930s… – and proceeds to take the suited Doctor to a Police Box that is curiously lit from inside (which they weren’t!). But Claire Skinner is about the best part of this whole episode. Even though she is given some silly dialogue, and accepts everything put towards her, I still believed her throughout.

Doctor Who, 6.14
Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner) took everything in her stride - even operating alien technology!!! © 2011 BBC

I was also rather intrigued at the solution to the problem of the impending demise of the trees. The more obvious course of action would be for the Doctor to try to stop the acid rain falling. But this is modern Doctor Who, so he just stands back and lets the course of events play out. The ‘souls’ of the trees enter the mother and take her through the space-time vortex to a higher state of being. Yes, of course they do…

This episode just smacks of something being flung together in a hurry. It’s silly, simplistic, blantantly trying to pull at our emotional strings without any subtlety and poorly constructed. There is a rather good story in there, but it’s been swamped by all the festive trimmings. This Christmas the series took a few steps backwards…

[Rating: 2 stars]

Jan Vincent-Rudzki

UK editor of Film Review Online