The Blue Box Blog

Emma Lou's adventures in Doctor Who fandom

Doctor Who “The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe” Review

Posted by emmahyam on December 26, 2011

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE EPISODE AND ALL OTHER CHRISTMAS SPECIALS

The Christmas Special as a concept is stuck in a weird catch 22 position, does it go for a intense, plot driven episode which is very much part of the overarching mythos or does it try a fluffier, more simplistic story?  The Doctor Who Christmas Special, despite only being in its seventh year has become enshrined as “traditional” now in the UK and Steven Moffat’s previous Christmas episode effort definitely favoured being “Christmassy” rather than just another episode that was the norm in RTD’s reign. This years effort was more of the same from Moffat’s preferred Christmas story telling, with “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe” being a standalone, simplistic tale with and strong emotional core at its heart.

While the story itself was probably too simplistic for its own good, lacking in Moffat’s usual head scratching plot twists and favouring the crowd-pleasing ending of having Alexander Armstrong’s character being saved its emotional center and the outstanding cast carried the day to result in probably the most satisfying Christmas Special to date. It was funny yet heartbreaking without being maudlin, the story worked well and the effects work, particularly the wooden King and Queen, who were eerily effective.

The credit for the episode’s overall success must go to Claire Skinner as Madge Arwell, who was utterly compelling as a heartbroken mother desperately trying to keep Christmas sacred for her children and deal with the grief of cruelly losing her husband to war, she hit every note perfectly, in particular the scene where she is forced to witness her husbands death brought tears to my eyes. The two actors playing her children must also be recognized, I loved Maurice  as Cyril, being very believable as a kid mostly stunned into wide eyed silence. Matt Smith is always so good that these days you take his excellent performances for granted, the scene at the very end where he wipes away an all too human happy tear upon being reunited with The Pond’s was simply beautiful. If I have a complaint about the episode is that it almost seem to go by too quickly, the hour absolutely tore past at breakneck speed, Bill Bailey, Arabella Weir and Paul Bazely seemed to be barely on screen as the three tree harvesters from Androzani Major (a very pleasing shout out for us old hands, along with a lovely reference to the Forest of Cheem) and so it sadly seemed like a waste to cast them at all.

It is surprising, looking back on previous Christmas Specials how important they have been to the larger world of Doctor Who, take for example “The Christmas Invasion”, it establishes David Tennant as The Doctor, sees one of the first glimpses of Torchwood in action and prematurely ends Harriet Jones’ reign as Prime Minister, opening the door to The Master’s eventual take over of the world two seasons later. Even “A Christmas Carol”, on the face of it a fluffy modern interpretation of the classic Dicken’s tale has proven to be immensely important, establishing the eleventh Doctor’s willingness to use time travel to manipulate people to his own benefit and obliquely setting up The Silence, don’t believe me?  Go back and listen to Katherine Jenkins’ song at the end, doesn’t she say Silence a lot? In particular the line “when you’re alone/Silence is all you’ll know” seems pretty haunting in retrospect. So this being said what can we infer is coming for series 7? For me The Doctor’s assertion to Madge that he can’t feel as deeply as she does sticks out for as a possible future plot point, also the episodes underlying theme of motherhood and strength is ripe for further exploration, Amy Pond referring to River Song with a very maternal “shes a good girl!” is full of potential.

In summary, “The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe” was perfect Christmas fare, emotional and beautifully made and for us ubernerds, full of intrigue for the future as the long wait for series 7 begins.

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5 Responses to “Doctor Who “The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe” Review”

  1. Marius said

    While you are far more forgiving of this episode than I, I will admit to getting a tear or two especially at the end. Alas, this will take second place to Partners in Crime as the silliest episode, but it was still enjoyable to watch, and it’s always good to see the Doctor on his own.

  2. (I originally posted the gist of this reply to the Admiral on Facebook)…Emma, I normally agree with you quite a lot. I thought the CG overall was quite good. But to be honest with you, through most of this episode I had a sense that this was as close to RTD that Moffat has ever been (it felt like a rough draft, not a polished script), and while some parts were charming, like when the Doctor was showing the kids their room (“I know!”), I thought the show was moving along at a very clunky pace, as opposed to last year’s Xmas episode. I didn’t get the sense that the mom nor the kids had the requisite charisma to pull you into the show, what with their being one-off characters. Perhaps that heightened my response to seeing Amy and Rory at the end, which was a mixture of excitement/relief. . But yeah, the Doctor shedding a tear, powerful! It validated how strong a connection he has to these characters, and it makes me wonder how Amy and Rory will leave the show next season. I think a part of my response is based on how much I’ve bought into the “big story” arc, and stand-alone episodes now leave me somewhat wanting.

    And a part of me hates writing this reply, because DW podcasters (not you!) who do nothing but complain (see “The Doctor Who Podcast”) irritate the hell out of me!

  3. BTW, I really like “Partners in Crime”! How can you not like the Doctor and Donna getting back together?!?!! That aspect of the episode far overshadows, IMO, those cute Adipose creatures.

  4. mekster said

    I’m glad you liked it Emma. I was beginning to think I was the only person alive that enjoyed it.

    Fatal Interview, I know exactly what you mean about the DWP, but I would like to defend the host Tom, he does still have an enjoyment and enthusiasm for DW the others seem to lack.

    • Hi there, Mekster. It’s Mary, isn’t it? Tony here, the Pollyanna Cowgirl Records Podcast guy.

      Concerning the recent Dr Who christmas episode, I have since “calmed down” and even privately emailed Emma apologizing for not liking the show as much as I should. I think what really is my issue is I am wholeheartedly into the big story arc of River Song and the 11th Doctor’s fate. So, stand-alone episodes tend to bore me a little bit more than they should. Thus, on first watching this Xmas show, the bit with Amy and Rory was my favorite part. Of course, I loved the funny bits with the Doctor (“I know!”). On second watching, I was able to watch it with my friend’s ten-year old son, whom I’ve turned into a big DW fan (!), and the magic that should be in the air when watching DW suddenly was there, and I really loved it.

      As for the Doctor Who Podcast, and I can say this honestly without trying to agree with you just to be nice, I agree that Tom is my favorite co-host. He seems to be the most “fair” of the 3 (now 4, I think), and I love his sense of humor based on his guest appearances on The OodCast. Plus, he’s a musician and has a really cool accent! I understand where these “old” guys are coming from (hey, I’m 44 myself!), but I do feel they unnecessarily dismiss the “New Who” too much. And frankly, the Big Finish products are verrrry expensive, so I wish they wouldn’t focus so much on that.

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