So it starts with the Doctor, falling through the atmosphere and climbing into an impact suit just in time. It’s followed by a few moments of slapstick, as he tries to get up and walk away. Eventually, he is helped by someone we’ll inevitably get to know in the next hour.
Then the Doctor pretends to be the caretaker of a country house, where he attempts to help a family about to receive bad news have a happy time to soften the bad to come.
I will assume you all remember the details.
It isn’t by any means perfect, and I won’t pretend otherwise. But it tries to capture the magic of having a show like Doctor Who – which can go anywhere at anytime – at Christmas.
That said, there are a couple of brilliant guest stars who are criminally (and slightly pointlessly) underused. There are confusions. There’s an over-stretched metaphor for love, and a slightly odd environmental angle too. But this is Christmas!
And besides, there’s also living trees (that MAKE Christmas decorations – that then hatch into something nasty and run off), fun tricks and the Doctor does what, let’s face it, we’ve all wished for at some stage: he makes their Christmas.
The “love of a mother” even guides the kids’ about-to-die father home to land his previously-doomed Lancaster bomber in their front garden. And if that didn’t make you sob with joy, the Doctor then runs off to reunite with the Ponds and enjoy Christmas dinner.
It possibly makes more sense emotionally if you are a parent – from both perspectives of the story, and the Doctor’s heartbreakingly accurate summary of why Madge keeps shouting at the children is absolutely spot on.
This story has more humanity in it’s otherworldliness than any number of soap operas. The love of a mother CAN transform a life, just as the absence of it can. And it shows the Doctor’s compassion, especially when it comes to humans themselves.
It has a beautiful heart to it – like an Enid Blyton adventure wrapped in tinsel. The spirit is right for Christmas day – it’s harmless, and the reverse of the arc-laden dramatic story currently going on with the rest of the series. It’s relief.
It isn’t hard sci-fi, it isn’t the most incisive, witty, and cleverly-conceived Who story of all-time. But it shouldn’t be. This is for Christmas Day. The one day of the year where it’s more likely that whole families will be watching – when smaller children are allowed to stay up and watch things they probably shouldn’t, while sipping a glass of Port they would definitely not be allowed any other time and are grimacing while trying to convince everyone that they actually like it.
It should be joyful and silly and cheering and heart-warmingly, tear-jerkingly feel-good.
If nothing else, this story should be a lesson that sometimes, when you’re a fan of something like Doctor Who, it becomes hard to see the wood for the (Christmas) trees.