Doctor Who: The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe

This year it's "the most Christmasy episode yet." Where have we heard that before?

 

4 stars

 

 

Air date: UK: 25 Dec, 2011, BBC One

 

The mother looks on at her unsuspecting children

After the excessive, time-travel rollercoaster of Doctor Who's 2011 season, a run which seemed to have left many viewers either dazzled, dizzy or depressed, it's perhaps fitting that the year comes to a close with one of the simplest and most direct stories that Steven Moffat's ever written.

 

Taking its lead from last years A Christmas Carol, this year's special, The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe, shamelessly grabs its inspiration from another classic novel, C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

 

However, unlike A Christmas Carol, which used the Doctor's awareness of the Dickens story as part of the plot, this time around the Narnia adventure serves only as a jumping off point for the episode, with any whiff of Turkish Delight relegated to the after screening dessert tray.

 

The housewife inspects a spaceship

Beginning in 1938, the story finds the Doctor (literally) crashing to Earth after yet another of his universe saving escapades. Aided by English housewife, Marge Arwell (Clare Skinner), this 'spaceman-angel' is soon reunited with his TARDIS and is forever in Marge's debt.

 

Jump forward three years and we find the Arwell family in a slightly different situation. Britain is at war and husband and father Reg (Alexander Armstrong), a pilot in the RAF, has been lost during a mission.

 

Keeping his death a secret so that they can have one last Christmas unspoiled by tragedy, Marge and her two kids, Lily (Holly Earl) and Cyril (Maurice Cole) decamp to a manor house in the country for the festive season.

 

The Doctor in a Narnia-like snow scene with a very young companion

However, when they arrive the house has a new Caretaker. A somewhat sprightly young bloke with a big chin, a bow tie and a penchant for creating inter- dimensional portals to living snow-bound forests on the far side of the galaxy.

 

Naturally, this being Doctor Who, trouble isn't far behind and when Cyril disappears into the forest both the Doctor, Lily and Marge are soon on his trail.

 

Smaller scaled, yet more tightly focused than some of the previous festive specials, what The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe lacks in wham-bam spectacle it more than makes up for with slow burn storytelling, engaging characters and an ending that will leave nary a dry eye in the house.

 

Bill Bailey starring in the 2011 Doctor Who Christmas special: The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe

On top of that, it's also a very funny episode, with Skinner and Smith both getting a chance to display their comic chops, while Bill Bailey, Arabella Weir and Paul Bazely add an air of anarchy as a comic and thoroughly hopeless trio of intergalactic forestry workers.

 

Despite the episodes undoubted strong points, there are nitpicks. Shot unusually late in the year, this Christmas special suffered from a fairly compressed post- production schedule and this does seem to have resulted in several FX shots not quite hitting the standards that we're used to.

 

A similar criticism can also be leveled at the score. Murray Gold's work on Series 5 and 6, as well as A Christmas Carol, contained some of the composers best work on the show, but unfortunately, this time out, Gold's score seems to recycle more cues than we're used to, while lacking its usual clarity and punch.

 

The Doctor and the children surround an unconscious widow

Minor quibbles apart, The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe is without doubt one of the strongest Christmas specials that the revived show has delivered.

 

Tonally consistent, expertly played and thoroughly entertaining, it's a perfectly judged slice of Christmas Day fantasy that plays fair with its audience, engages with its central conceit and delivers on it with wit, charm and imagination.

 

Roll on 2012!

 

James Peaty

 

 

Click here for the BBC's "prequel" (it's not a prequel, it's a prologue, if anything) to the episode:

 

 

Doctor Who: The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe
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