The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe: A Review

There are, I am informed, 12 days of Christmas. For the life of me I don’t know what this means… Is it based on the song, or does it represent the days of waiting in the Bible between the birth of Jesus and the arrival of the wise men? However, here we are on Day 11 and I am feeling pretty un-Christmassy, so it’s high time to travel back to Christmas night and take another look at “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe” and see if we can take one large, last glass of festive spirit before we pack away the decorations for the next eleven months. Don’t expect wisdom though.

The opening Star Wars-ey/ Hitch-Hiker-y pre-credit sequence had special effects worthy of any Hollywood blockbuster that the TV channels wished to throw at us in our post-Christmas Cake haze, with the un-named aliens getting ready to do untold things to an unsuspecting Earth below. In previous Christmas tales under RTD’s tenure we tended to get planet-wide threats like this and it looked for the briefest of moments like we might be getting another one, but instead, following on from the prequel scene released in the weeks running up to Christmas, this particular alien threat was dealt with immediately.

After the titles, we were treated to a change of pace with some domesticity in war-torn England in the form of Claire Skinner’s Madge Arwell, her husband Reg, and two children, Lily and Cyril. First we got to see Madge’s compassionate side as she helped out the crash landed Doctor. Steven Moffat’s dialogue sparkled from the off [e.g. Madge: “How do I contact you?”. The Doctor: “Make a wish”. Madge: “Does that work?”. The Doctor: “It did for me… you’re here aren’t you!”]. And then just enough of the other characters to give us an insight in to their lives and loves.

It was no secret prior to screening that Reg would be meeting his end quite early on in the episode and it didn’t take a great deal of dramatic intuition to work out that he would be somehow saved by the end of things. I found this to be slightly disengaging at times as the whole thing seemed to lose some of its tension. Also, knowing that Amy and Rory would be there for a cameo (as revealed at the Series 6 DVD launch) didn’t help either. This might be where I have the biggest problem with this episode. As a fan, I knew in advance effectively how the episode would end and, therefore, lent back and let it wash over me, whereas, had I remained in the dark, it might have had more oomph. The object of the episode, or the target demographic if you prefer, seemed to be engaging with the more casual viewer rather than the fan, which, if I’m being honest, is the only sensible way to play things on a Christmas special after all.

The extra 15 minute running time that is afforded the festive tale, meant that the story-telling could be at a more relaxed pace than we might be used to. This was put to excellent effect here. In order for the story to work we needed to be emotionally engaged with the previously unseen Arwell family, and we were given just enough time for this to happen. It wasn’t until more than 17 minutes in that the box in to the forest was opened but by this point we knew enough about all the Arwells to happily play along and have a little empathy towards them.

It’s always a risk to put a lot of focus of an episode on the shoulders of child actors but Maurice Cole and, notably, Holly Earl played a blinder and they came in to their own in the forest scenes. As the inquisitive Cyril headed off following the creature that had just hatched from the naturally growing Christmas tree decorations, to discover the tower grown from wood with the king at the bottom and queen at the top (Are you following this?), Lily pursued him accompanied by the Doctor who themselves were being followed by Madge. This set-up and its consequent resolution formed the meat in the sandwich of “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe” and was entertaining enough. I wasn’t sure about the whole “life-force” thing when I first watched, it perhaps reminded me of the dreadful “midichlorian” (sp?) nonsense in the Phantom Menace, but on second showing it all became a bit more clever… well, less literal at any rate.

The Androzani Harvesters were a nice comedy aside and gave Madge the chance to shine as she fooled them with a nice double cross allowing her to arrive in the nick of time to save her children and the forest too. By the by, anybody who still doesn’t think that Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who is a new take on a fairy tale hasn’t really been paying attention. From here on in though it’s all about getting to the conclusion: Madge saving her husband and then Madge teaching the Doctor what he needs to be concentrating on at Christmastime, i.e. the people that love him, is the crux of things. So it’s off to the Ponds for the epilogue and potentially a nice lead in to Series 7 with a reason for the Doctor, albeit temporarily, to hook up with his travelling companions again. This was another little scene that played better on the second run through for me as I picked up on some of the themes from earlier in the ep. However, I still missed not having the next episode title revealed at the end or a little montage of forthcoming clips but there’s nothing that could’ve been done about that given the move to an autumn schedule for the next series. With no Torchwood on the horizon, Sarah Jane gone, and the Doctor not coming back till September, it’s going to be a long wait.

So, to the score. It was not as great as last year’s Christmas Carol, but not the worst of the festive outings by any stretch. A solid 13 out of 20.

  1. January 4th, 2012
  2. September 3rd, 2012

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