As much as I’ve enjoyed the past two series of Doctor Who, I’ve not experienced the same emotional punch that various aspects of the RTD era delivered. There’s been no “Sarah seeing the TARDIS for the first time” or “Yvonne being converted” or “Donna fighting to keep her memories” kind of moment in Moffatland. Emotions have become secondary in a way– the reaction to the impact gets shuffled off screen (although sometimes pop up when convenient for storytelling, as in “12 years” and “where is my wife?”). This kind of storytelling is great for generating good fan fiction but lousy for providing an emotionally satisfying closure for the casual viewer.
I’ve adjusted, though, and accepted less emotional realism in exchange for all the wibbly-wobbly timey-whimeyness. Needless to say, I surprised myself by watching the climax of “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe” with tears running down my face– tears of empathy, certainly, and tears of joy.
And yes, you’re going to have to read on past the cut to know what I mean.
It’s one of those standard ways humans interact with a media text: they look for characters to identify with in a story. Characters who have similar traits, whether it be coloring or education or family background, appeal to viewers and help draw them into the story. I’ve made no secret of my love of Sarah Jane Smith, for example– she’s everything I stove to be as a young woman, and is everything I try to be as a mother of a teenager. Sarah, though, has been the only mother portrayed in a good light in the New Series until now. Moms otherwise have been portrayed as (at worst) a force of evil (Empress of Racnoss, the pseudo-mom Miss Foster), a busybody (Jackie Tyler), an interfering ice queen (Francine Jones), or a nagging shrew (Sylvia Noble).
But at least moms appeared in the RTD era. In the Moffat era, we have had just a glimpse of Amy’s mom (and she hasn’t shown up since the wedding), and we don’t even know if Rory has one! (Amy-as-a-mom doesn’t even factor into it, because, no, she wasn’t really ever one to Melody. (And that’s fodder for a different blog entry.) Moms have been missing-in-action otherwise… until now.
Madge Arwell, seemingly an ordinary mother, had the strength of mind and will to not only save her family, but to save her husband from certain death, and the souls of an entire wooden race from extinction. Surely Madge is Moffat’s best guest character ever, even more than Nancy, who did her own lot of sacrificing and scheming to save so many children.
Moreso, Madge’s anchoring in practicality made the rest of the rather fantastic (and perhaps a bit silly) tale terribly believable. She “takes in strays,” isn’t freaked out by the seemingly unbelievable (a spaceman? a box that leads into a forest?), she doesn’t venture forth into make-believe without weaponry, and she steps up without hesitation the moment she’s needed. Don’t all good moms do this?
Indeed, the trip to the castle for evacuation purposes was another way being a good mom, of protecting her children as long as she could from the harsh realities of the War. She didn’t want Christmas to be associated with their father’s death (even though in reality, the holiday still would be, because their father would still have died right before the holiday and thus the holiday would still be forever tainted), so she didn’t tell them. In part, she was gathering strength– she needed to get the initial mourning out of the way for herself, so she could be the emotional support Cyril and Lily would need when they found out. (The adventure allowed her to see how much she could bear, because she was keeping quite calm when she started to tell the children the details.)
The moment Madge entered the forest, I began rooting for her. I loved how she pulled a gun on the Androzani agents, how she figured out how to maneuver the excavation walker to the tower where her children were. And when she had her Dorothy moment, and thought of home, and the tower started traveling through the time-space vortex to get home… I got misty-eyed. Then, in seeing all the visions of home she saw her husband’s last moments, and how she fought to keep her children from them, and how she had to give in to keep Lily and Cyril safe…. the tears flowed in earnest.
All moms– particularly those who have a husband who has had a health scare– freak at the thought of losing “Dad.” It’s one of those things that keeps one awake at 3 a.m., worrying for no particular reason. The loss of the father inevitably devastates the children emotionally, devastates the mother emotionally, and pretty much even today screws the family financially. I know I’ve had many a long night, when sleep eludes me and I start worrying about all sorts of worst case scenarios. I would do anything to protect my daughter from soul-crushing news and events. Having to witness Madge being forced to choose between getting her family home and telling them their father had died made me cry. I knew her pain, after all, having imagined it with staggering frequency the past five years. (Kidney stones suck for the family as well as the victim, just sayin’.)
I found the rest of the story hard to process, actually, because I was by then an emotional wreck. Obviously the sadness in empathizing with Madge’s choices hit me; also, I felt so vindicated, so justified in the New Series Universe finally as a mother. Hell yeah I’d do exactly what Madge did, and hell yeah, I’d careen through the time-space vortex just on my thoughts if that’s what it took to keep my family safe! And the Doctor… he didn’t mock Madge, he didn’t groan at her actions, he was awed by what she did, in a way he hasn’t by any mother since the series returned. Finally, it’s okay to be a mom again in the Whoniverse!
Best of all: apparently only a mom can boss the Doctor around and make him do what he should have done long ago. No telling how long he had been wandering around pretending to be dead (the 2 years subjective time for Mr. and Mrs. Williams could not be the same amount of time for the Doctor, never is). Madge pretty much ordered him to go see some friends, and, bowing to the Power of Mom, the Doctor obliged. (Hopefully this power will resonate with him and keep him from pulling any further “Lonely (Dead) God” crap….)
Oh, all right, the premise of the story was fantastic at best, silly if you’re unkind. The falling-to-the-earth thing and surviving thanks to a spacesuit mostly seemed an homage to the cricket ball/helmet bit from “Four to Doomsday.” Madge being able to get the walker moving based on watching her husband fly a plane once demanded a huge suspension of disbelief. Many of my fellow “fans” (in quotations because these same people savage every episode to the point I begin wondering why they consider themselves fans in the first place, since they hate the show so) have already savaged the more wibbly-wobbly parts of the story on their blogs and on Twitter and Facebook and Gallifrey Base, which surely you’ve read by now, so I’m not going to even summarize.
I didn’t really need to see the Williams; and I especially thought the balance between Amy/Doctor time and Rory/Doctor time was wrong. I suppose the Doctor needed to check in with them, though, to justify their presence in however much of the next season they will appear. I enjoyed the interaction between the miners, with the emo boy, the girl!power woman, and the “I have to treat you lot like children, don’t I” commander. (Two thumbs up to Androzani Major!) As always, I adored Matt Smith’s performance– how he’s able to go from being Santa Claus to Emo Boy to Deadly Serious without the mak show that David Tennant (as much as I grooved on his Doctor) required. And, I could have done without the “humany-woominy” but wouldn’t have ditched the Doctor’s tear of joy at the end for anything.
All in all, “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe” packed a huge emotional punch, that will keep me vibrating throughout the winter, spring, and probably summer– so I shouldn’t suffer too greatly having to wait until the fall for the return of the Doctor. Anytime I start to feel the withdrawl, all I have to do is remind myself that I’m a mom, and moms are cool, now, and I’ll be able to carry on. Kroll bless us, everyone.