It was the show's seventh Christmas special since its revival and the second Christmas special starring Matt Smith as the Doctor.
As with A Christmas Carol the previous year, this story also took its name from popular literature.
Christmas Eve, 1938. Madge Arwell comes to the aid of an injured Spaceman Angel, the Eleventh Doctor, who promises to repay her kindness – all she has to do is make a wish. Three years later, Madge escapes war-torn London with her two children for a dilapidated house in Dorset. Crippled with grief at the news her husband has been lost over the English Channel, she wishes to give her children the best Christmas ever. The Arwells are greeted by the Doctor, who acts as their madcap caretaker. However, a mysterious Christmas gift from him leads them into a wintry, magical world. Madge must learn how to be braver than she ever thought possible... and that wishes can come true.
A spaceship approaches Earth in 1938, and prepares its weapons to destroy the planet. Instead, it begins to blow up itself thanks to the Doctor, who is now running for his life to escape the ship. Sealing off the part of the ship that is exploding, the Doctor finds the section he's in has fallen apart. The vacuum of space is pulling him out. Seeing a space suit nearby, he tries reaching for it, but it falls out. Using his respiratory bypass system, the Doctor lets go of the ship and falls after the suit, barely missing getting caught in the explosion. Grabbing hold of the suit, he struggles to put it on as he enters the Earth's atmosphere.
In England, Madge Arwell is riding her bike home when something falls from the sky into a nearby field. She finds a space suit inside a crater as a groan comes from it. Madge opens the visor to find the wearer has the helmet on backwards. She informs him of this when he believes he's gone blind. Explaining he "got dressed in a hurry", the Doctor asks Madge to help him find a police box. Madge returns home to retrieve the keys to her neighbour's car, informing her children to tell their dad she is helping a spaceman angel find a police box. When her husband asks where she is going, their son, Cyril, simply says "out"; her story is obviously ridiculous.
After a bumpy drive due to her lack of driving acumen, Madge finds a police box. She helps the Doctor out of the car, as he bumps into a street lamp. She wonders why he hasn't taken off his suit. He explains it's an impact suit, which is healing him from the fall. The Doctor tells Madge that he will repay her kindness. All she has to do is make a wish. Entering the police box, the Doctor asks if they can try again — it's not the TARDIS.
Madge receives a telegram, informing her that Reg was lost at sea. She does not tell her children, Cyril and Lily, what happened, as she wants to keep them happy at Christmas. Because of the bombing, they are to leave for their Uncle Digby Arwell's country estate and spend Christmas there. As her children break a wishbone, Madge makes a silent wish for help.
They arrive at Digby's estate, where the Doctor greets them. He introduces himself as the caretaker. He shows them around the estate, explaining he "repaired" several boring rooms. They have been upgraded with delightful gizmos. He shows the children their room, which has everything a child could want for their hobbies — at the cost of their beds, they'll have to sleep in hammocks now. Madge tells the Doctor to stop and sends the children out of the room. She tells him that their father is dead, but then wonders at herself why she keeps shouting at them. The Doctor explains that it's because she knows that they will be very sad when she tells them the bad news; their happiness until then is upsetting her. The reason to let them be happy now is because they are going to be very sad later.
Before anything more can be said, they are interrupted by cries of delight from Cyril and Lily. They go to a room where the Doctor has set up an elaborate tree with a large blue gift box. Madge is shocked by the many toys the Doctor has put in the room. She turns to find him leaving once the children wonder who left them a gift.
That night, Cyril decides to open the Doctor's present before Christmas. He finds it contains a portal to another world, one covered in snow. A tree sprouts what seem to be ornaments. He grabs one, sees a face on it and drops it to run back. Something hatches from the ornament and walks off.
Back in the house, Lily is worried about Cyril. She notices lights from the attic. She finds the Doctor working on the electrics with the TARDIS next to him. He lies that the TARDIS is his wardrobe, painted to look like a police box. The Doctor wonders if Cyril is still in bed once he observes a beeping light he is holding. To prove to the Doctor that Cyril is in bed, Lily takes him to see but finds the Doctor was right. Cyril is not there. Impressed with Cyril's cleverness, the Doctor decides to look for him.
They head for the sitting room with the tree and find Cyril re-entering the portal. The Doctor enters and pulls Lily after him, explaining that it's a portal to another planet. They have arrived a few minutes after Cyril because of the nature of the portal. The Doctor explains this gift was supposed to be a supervised trip to one of the safest planets he knows, which also has beautiful natural Christmas trees. Meanwhile, Cyril has traced footprints left by the creature which earlier hatched from the "bauble". They lead to a tower-like structure.
Back in the house, Madge feels uneasy and looks around for the others, only to find them gone. She finds the portal and enters the forest herself. She encounters three harvest rangers, who hold her at gunpoint. They explain that the forest is private property, and she's in danger because of the acid rain coming to melt the trees down into fuel. They do a scan of her, finding that she is not from their era. The portal leads to the future. Madge begins crying from the stress and shock of what's happening. Deciding Madge will trust them if they are unarmed, the three put away their weapons, asking if they can interrogate her now. Madge then turns the tables on them by pointing a gun at them, telling them she's from the time of the Second World War.
Cyril has entered the structure and made his way to the top. Inside are wooden statues of a king and a queen. When Cyril sits on a throne in the top of the tower, the Wooden Queen comes to life and puts a crown on him. At the same time, the Doctor and Lily arrive and ascend the stairs. The Wooden King comes to life and follows them up. Finding Cyril, the Doctor then questions the Queen and King. They are trying to evacuate the forest's life force before the Androzani trees are melted. They lured Cyril to them, but he is too weak to carry their life force off the planet. To the Doctor's chagrin, he is also too weak. Lily is strong, but too young.
Madge is taken to the harvest rangers' vehicle, where she has all but the female member of the trio tied up to get some answers; Madge trusts her more than the men. The female ranger says they can scan for her children and set up an audio feed to receive any voices within the area. However, as soon as this is set up, a warning about the acid rain sounds and the rangers are teleported away. Madge hears Cyril over the feed, saying he will wait at the tower until she comes as she always comes.
Worried for the child's life, the Doctor tries explaining to Cyril that the portal they used to get to this planet will close soon, and they have to leave right away if they have a chance of avoiding the acid rain. However, the child is adamant and the rain begins; the tower won't hold up for long. They notice the ground shaking. Outside, the Rangers' vehicle, a giant robot, is being piloted poorly towards the tower. The Doctor recognises the driving style: Madge. She tells the Doctor he is fired as caretaker, before crashing the robot next to the tower.
The Doctor rushes her inside, where the Wooden Queen and King decide she is both strong and old enough. The Doctor realises they are saying that all life comes from the "mother ship", and thus are insisting on a female host. The forest's life force enters Madge as the room separates from the tower and launches itself into the time vortex. On the Queen's instruction to think of her destination, the Doctor tells her to think of all the memories and emotions of her home until it hurts. Complying, Madge begins thinking of her husband, and how he followed her around all the time until she promised to marry him. She then sees a display of her husband's plane, lost at sea. Not wanting to see her husband crash, Madge asks the Queen and King not to show her that. Lily and Cyril realise she's been keeping a secret from them.
In a flash of light, everyone is transported to Digby's lawn. The Doctor explains that the trees' life force, the Wooden Queen and Wooden King have left and are now out in space. Madge tries hugging her children, but they ask what she meant about their father dying. The Doctor excuses himself. When he steps outside, he rushes back to tell Madge to come out. Somehow, Reg has landed right behind them. The Doctor explains that her love led him into the time vortex, and he used the light from the escape pod as a guide to follow. Reg wonders what happened until he is told it's Christmas. He puts aside thought to enjoy the holiday with his family.
Later, Madge enters the attic as the Doctor prepares to leave. Seeing the TARDIS, she realises the "caretaker" was the spaceman she helped years earlier. She asks him to stay and enjoy Christmas, but he tells her he cannot. Madge thinks he has loved ones of his own, but the Doctor says that they think he died. Madge orders the Doctor to go see them. They shouldn't think he's dead at Christmas. As he enters the TARDIS, the Doctor tells Madge that if she ever needs his help again, she should make another wish. Reg enters as the TARDIS dematerialises. Madge explains the Doctor has returned to the time vortex, which she thinks is a lovely place.
In the 21st century, the Doctor arrives at Amy and Rory's house. Amy answers the door with a water gun, thinking it is Christmas carollers again. He greets her awkwardly, wondering how long it has been since they last met. Amy tells him that it's been two years, and spritzes the Doctor with water as payback for yet another long wait. She says River told them the truth, that he didn't really die. They each then assert that they will not hug first. After they hug, Amy invites the Doctor in, calling Rory to see who's at the door. Rory tries pretending to be surprised, but Amy tells him that they're past that. The Doctor asks if they have room for one more. They tell him that they always set a place for him. As Amy and Rory head in, the Doctor leaks a few tears, to his own surprise. He wipes his eye and smiles, noticing that he's got a bit of "humany-wumany" in him, then joins his friends for Christmas dinner.
- The Doctor - Matt Smith
- Amy Pond - Karen Gillan
- Rory Williams - Arthur Darvill
- Madge Arwell - Claire Skinner
- Cyril Arwell - Maurice Cole
- Lily Arwell - Holly Earl
- Reg Arwell - Alexander Armstrong
- Co-pilot - Sam Stockman
- Droxil - Bill Bailey
- Ven-Garr - Paul Bazely
- Billis - Arabella Weir
- Wooden King - Spencer Wilding
- Wooden Queen - Paul Kasey
|Executive Producers Steven Moffat, Piers Wenger and Caroline Skinner|
|Not every person who worked on this adventure was credited. The absence of a credit for a position doesn't necessarily mean the job wasn't required. The information above is based solely on observations of the actual end credits of the episodes as broadcast, and does not relay information from IMDB or other sources.|
- The country house belongs to "Uncle Digby" and the family spends their Christmas there to escape the bombing in London. In C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the main characters are sent to the country home of Professor Digory Kirke to escape the bombing of London and discover a portal to Narnia in a wardrobe.
- A miniaturised model of the house is placed in the children's bedroom. The Doctor apologises for it not being quite to scale. In Back to the Future, Doctor Emmett Brown constantly apologises for the same thing.
- The Doctor says that the planet is one of the safest planets he knows.
- According to the Doctor, "Fairyland" doesn't look anything like the planet they're on.
- Alexander Armstrong (Reg Arwell) supplied the voice of Mr Smith throughout the run of The Sarah Jane Adventures and in the Doctor Who story The Stolen Earth / Journey's End.
- Arabella Weir (Billis) previously played an alternative, female version of the Third Doctor in AUDIO: Exile.
- Spencer Wilding (the Wooden King) previously played the Minotaur in TV: The God Complex.
- This is the first Doctor Who story of the Matt Smith era where neither Karen Gillan nor Arthur Darvill's names appear in the opening credits. Claire Skinner's name appears instead. It is the only episode during Gillan's tenure that this occurs.
- At the end of the episode, Amy Pond points a water pistol at the Eleventh Doctor when he shows up on her doorstep. Previously, she has twice aimed a gun at her daughter, River Song (TV: The Impossible Astronaut, A Good Man Goes to War) and at Silents. (TV: The Wedding of River Song) The Tenth Doctor once protected Donna Noble by bluffing the Soothsayers with a water pistol. That episode was the first that Karen Gillan ever appeared in, as a Soothsayer. (TV: The Fires of Pompeii)
- As the first half of Series 7 would not arrive until September 2012, there is no "COMING SOON" trailer at the end of this Christmas special.
- This was the last regular episode (as opposed to minisode or online prequel) to use the opening credits sequence introduced in The Eleventh Hour. The next full-length episode aired, Asylum of the Daleks, introduced a substantially modified version of the sequence, with new cast type fonts and a new colour scheme, and modifications to the series logo.
- Matt Smith's iconic hairstyle for the Eleventh Doctor had to be contained somewhat in order to fit in the helmet of the spacesuit he was wearing in this episode. A behind-the-scenes photo shows this resulting in a bizarre style of "helmet hair".
- The TARDIS' lock can be picked with a hatpin. This is left unanswered, as it wasn't the TARDIS Madge unlocked with the hatpin, but how the Doctor got into the actual TARDIS is unseen.
- UK Overnights: 8.92 million (34.2% share)
- UK Final: 10.77 million 
- Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre
- East Kirkby Airfield, East Kirkby, Near Spilsby, Lincolnshire, PE23 4DE - Used for the filming of Avro Lancaster NX611 "Just Jane". Filming took place overnight on 2nd and 3rd October 2011 with Alexander Armstrong present.
- When the Doctor is wearing the impact suit, the eye holes left for the actor's vision have not been digitally removed, in the same way that they were removed in TV: The Girl Who Waited with the Handbot.
- When Reg comes into the room after Madge has just left, Cyril's telescope is pointing out the window. But when the camera cuts back to Cyril, the telescope is now pointing towards the curtain.
- The Doctor has the Magna Carta. (TV: The King's Demons)
- The harvest rangers are from Androzani Major. (TV: The Caves of Androzani)
- The Doctor mentions a tree from the Forest of Cheem fancying him, referencing Jabe. (TV: The End of the World)
- The sonic screwdriver doesn't work on wood. (TV: Silence in the Library, The Hungry Earth, Night Terrors)
- The Doctor's respiratory bypass system has previously let him survive briefly in the vacuum of space. (TV: Four to Doomsday)
- The Doctor describes crying when happy as being "humany-wumany", and refers to the workbench he outfitted the children's bedroom with as "sciency-wiency", which are both similar to his other terms including "wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey" (TV: Blink) and "spacey-wacey". (TV: The Doctor's Wife)
- Reg says, "I'm sorry, my love", much as River Song said to the Doctor. (TV: The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang)
- The Doctor says he has been travelling in the TARDIS for nine hundred years. The TARDIS previously noted they had been travelling together for seven hundred years. (TV: The Doctor's Wife) He had recently given his age as being about 200 years older than at that time. (TV: The Impossible Astronaut)
Home video releases
DVD & Blu-Ray releases
- The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe was released on a standalone DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on 16 January 2012, with North American release occurring a few weeks later.
- Announced for inclusion, along with its prequel, in the North American release of The Complete Seventh Series, scheduled for 24 September 2013.
- Initially, the UK edition of The Complete Seventh Series was not going to include the episode, but the BBC subsequently announced that it will be included, along with its prequel.
- The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe was released on Region 2 DVD, and Region B Blu-ray on 20 January 2014 as part of The Time of the Doctor + Other Eleventh Doctor Christmas Specials set. A Christmas Carol, The Snowmen and The Time of the Doctor were also included on both versions.
- A bundle including the Christmas Specials mentioned above was released on Google Play, iTunes and Amazon Instant Video in HD or SD. It included the Farewell to Matt Smith featurette. The Amazon Instant Video release also added Prequel to the Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, Vastra Investigates and The Great Detective.
- The special was added to Netflix instant streaming in the US during September 2014. It is also available on Hulu.
- It was released on iTunes, alongside the episode's prequel.