Tuesday, 27 December 2011

DOCTOR WHO – "The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe"

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Well, the wardrobe was irrelevant and only mentioned so stupid people will notice the whiff of Narnia about this Christmas special. Festive editions of Doctor Who are a modern TV tradition that have become the BBC's crown jewel of Christmas programming, but they can also be rather frustrating episodes because they're written to appeal to casual viewers who find themselves watching Doctor Who with their extended families and a plate of turkey sandwiches. After almost 50 years on our screens, there's thankfully no need for exposition, but most of the seasonal specials are very broad, terribly sentimental and rather silly. That's not actually a failing, because it's exactly what most people want to watch by 7pm, but it does mean these episodes rarely come close to the best of the regular series.

"The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe" spent half its time trying to encourage excitement and enchantment from a situation that felt curiously unimaginative (certainly compared to last year's ambitious special), with guest characters among the thinnest of any yuletide adventure yet. After The Doctor (Matt Smith) taught impressionable children you can breathe in the freezing vacuum of space--during an orbital action sequence designed to be thrilling that just felt awkward--the jettisoned Doctor choose to repay the kindness of a recently-widowed mother called Madge (Claire Skinner) who helped him to his earthbound TARDIS.

Reappearing three years later during World War II, following the recent death of Madge's husband Reg (Alexander Armstrong) while flying a Lancaster Bomber on a wartime mission, The Doctor resolved to give Madge and her half-orphaned kids Cyril (Maurice Cole) and Lily (Holly Earl) the best Christmas ever inside a mansion he's redecorated in characteristically eccentric fashion. Unfortunately, curious young Cyril crawled through portal to an alien world The Doctor had left under their Christmas tree as a surprise, and was lost in a snowy wonderland that contained a hollow lighthouse with imposing wooden figures inside. The Doctor and Lily were soon in hot pursuit of the missing boy, themselves followed by the worried Madge...

This episode wasn't much beyond a simple lark, although the protracted ending found a way to resolve matters in a way that shamelessly tugged at several heart-strings. It wasn't quite enough to rescue this episode completely, but the environmental message was appreciated (the forest itself being evacuated by sentient trees, just like our 1940s family post-Blitz), and the way story's happy ending meant the story wisely ended on a high-note. The dénouement with The Doctor returning to visit companions Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill), two years after their last adventure together, was also surprisingly moving—mainly because of the clever callback to The Doctor being surprised by the human ability to cry when happy, only to find a tear in his eye after being invited in for Christmas dinner by the Pond's. Beautifully done.

Overall, knowing how the show's Christmas specials target the simpler demands of an even broader family audience, and the obvious desire to be largely upbeat and celebratory, "The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe" mostly achieved its aims. It certainly improved as it went along, which is always the best curve to watch unfold over any hour of storytelling.


  • "Human-wumany"? Look, "timey-wimey" was amusing and a very catchy way to offhandedly explain all manner of complex matters pertaining to time-travel on the show, but the joke's gone far enough now. It just makes The Doctor sound infantile.
  • Anyone else wonder how Madge and The Doctor could hear other in that scene where The Doctor's inside a lighthouse and Madge is approaching the structure from inside a giant harvester's cockpit?
  • Have I understood this right? The sentient forest's evacuation plan rested on them finding another species entirely, who was capable of hosting their combined "souls" and helping them escape through a time vortex they somehow built? Well, that was a long shot that paid off!
  • This is comedian Alexander Armstrong's first on-screen appearance in Doctor Who, but he's previously provided the voice for computer "Mr Smith" in The Sarah Jane Adventures.
  • This episode marks the Who debut of director Farren Blackburn, who was recently working on BBC Three's supernatural teen horror The Fades.
  • The Doctor recognized an "Androzani harvester", which must come from Androzani Major—a planet seen in the fifth Doctor serial "The Caves Of Andronzani".
  • There was no "Coming Soon" trailer tagged to the end of this special, which has previously only happened with "The Next Doctor" and "The End Of Time" specials. In all cases, this is because the schedule for the next series doesn't allow for them to have filmed any episodes yet. Production on series 7 actually begins in February 2012 for an autumn run that may be split into the first-quarter of 2013.
written by Steven Moffat / directed by Farren Blackburn / 25 December 2011 / BBC One