Wednesday, 28 December 2011
The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe
Another year, another Christmas special, another story that I hate.
I am a massive fan of CS Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. I actually write fan fiction about Jadis, my favorite character. It was naturally of some interest that the latest Christmas special takes inspiration from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Doctor Who has often thrived when borrowing influences from other stories and genres. This works best when it is done almost unconsciously; this is quite the opposite. In The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, as with the previous Christmas special, the influences are shouted out over the rooftops.
It is quite clear to me that Moffat does not have a clue what makes the Narnia books so amazing and enjoyable. For a start, the Narnia books are a parent-free zone. The Pevensie parents only make a brief appearance at the end of The Last Battle, they are absent throughout the Chronicles of Narnia. The Narnia books are all about the children having adventures on their own. In contrast, the two evacuees in this story are accompanied by their mother. Their mother enters the strange forest world and the story turns out to be all about parenthood. The last season has shown that Moffat has a peculiar fixation with the theme of fatherhood. While it is a relief to see motherhood getting a mention in this story, it jars completely with the Narnian theme. For Moffat, the idea of children existing independently of a parental relations is simply anathema. In his fictional world, children can have no real existence except within the smothering confines of parental affection. In his book, children just need their daddy and then everything is right with the world.
The second failure to appreciate the Narnia books is in the way the fictional world is presented. Narnia was fascinating because of it's strange inhabitants. The forest world of this story is undoubtedly beautiful, but it feels empty and uninteresting. In fact, it creates no sense of wonder or majesty, but quickly becomes a place of melancholy and terror. On the plus side, the wooden king and queen look amazing, with their delightful folklorish quality, but they are not sufficient to make up for the otherwise hollowness of the forest world.
It is refreshing to see some attempt to deal with the pain and loss in warfare; but this is completely undermined by the resurrection of the children's father. While it came as no surprise and made for an happy ending, it seemed hollow, and almost a denial of the reality of death. I am sure it would have been very upsetting to children watching who had lost their parents and who could expect no return of their lost loved ones. Going back to the issue of motherhood, it also seemed to undermine the attempt to present Janet as a strong capable woman. She was presented as strong and determined, but there was still the suggestion that she was lost without her husband. If you are going to praise motherhood, why not show that mothers can be strong and bring up their children after widowhood as so many mothers had to do in the Second World War?
As for the Doctor, we are served up yet again another portrayal of the Doctor as a Mary Poppins figure who makes everything right for everybody and who appears whenever people wish for him. Does anybody else miss the days when the Doctor was bad-tempered, selfish and a bit scary?
Don't get your hopes up for the next season of Doctor Who.