Title: The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe
Written by: Steven Moffat
It’s 1941! It’s Claire from Outnumbered! It’s a forest! In a box! In a sitting room! It’s the 2011, Narnia-inspired, briefly-Bailey-toting, humany-wumany Christmas special!
Does Steven Moffat have a knack for kicking off Christmas specials in spectacular fashion? This writer thinks so. For a second year in a row, Moffo treats us to another explosive beginning with The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe.
At the start of this story, the nation’s favourite man from Gallifrey is doing what he does best – defending the earth (albeit this time he’s, once again, alone). One thing leads to another however, and soon the mad man in a box is plummeting to Earth in a spacesuit he’s put on backwards. Enter Madge Arwell.
Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner) is a mum. A mum who, while cycling home through the 1938 English countryside at night, discovers an injured man in a spacesuit (in a smouldering crater). So in typical mum fashion, she pulls up her sleeves, helps him out and makes sure he gets home safely. Lovely. But that’s just the beginning! Because come Christmas 1941, Madge has received the most terrible news – and it threatens to ruin this Christmas, and every following Christmas, for the family. So it’s lucky the Doctor is on hand, taking the role of the mysterious “caretaker”.
I loved how this episode started. Few Christmas specials have pulled off the first 10 minutes (or so) in the same manner The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe does. Particularly when The Doctor is showing the family round their Christmas abode; a scene which Matt Smith plays to the comedy element perfectly. What follows is a well-used Sci-Fi trope that carries a strong environmental message – well, if you forget about all the other stuff that happens (which is difficult) – but the story takes somewhat a back seat for this episode.
On top form, as per, is Matt Smith playing a lonely but playful (his best trait) Doctor who is trying to repay Madge for her earlier kindness. The real stars of the show however, are the Arwell family. Child actors never fail to impress in episodes written by the Moff and Holly Earl (Lily Arwell) and Maurice Cole (Cyril Arwell) are no exception to this tradition. The two children plays their parts perfectly and, as usual, Smith’s Doctor has an excellent on-screen chemistry with both of them. In particular, I’d like to join Blogtor in politely requesting that Holly Earl be given another appearance alongside the Timelord. Claire Skinner also puts in a great performance, that does real justice to her character being the star of the episode. Far flung from her stressed, emotional and accident-prone opposite in (fellow BBC show) Outnumbered, Madge Arwell is a competent, stout and very much all-together mother – though, Skinner’s best known portrayal of wife and mum Claire in her other aforementioned show is (for all her faults) somewhat more lovable. You really do believe, by the end of the episode, that a mother will do anything to protect her children.
Also guest starring is Bill Bailey as an Androzani Ranger (yes, that Androzani) alongside fellow actors Arabella Weir and Paul Bazely who play the parts of his loveable crew-mates. Bailey and crew’s appearance is quite simply too short, and makes one wonder why they bothered getting him in at all for such a small part – but that doesn’t make the scenes any less enjoyable.
This episode is also incredibly well shot, though in places the special effects let it down (you can’t have everything). Aliens appearing in this episode are tree-people. The costumes for these wooden beauties are nicely done and they move with a creaky, creepiness too.
Favourite moment: After a thorough talking to from mum Madge, the Doctor has some sense knocked into him and finally goes to see in-laws Amy and Rory for the first time since The Wedding of River Song to let them know he’s ok. We are given a lovely, though short, sequence in which the Doctor is welcomes inside with (more or less) open arms and we find out that the Ponds lay a place for the Doctor at the table every Christmas. Coming inside to spend Christmas with the family, the Doctor sheds a tear and delicately steps inside. Fantastically heart-warming stuff.
The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe has some fantastic moments. It’s sprinkled with festive cheer and the cast perform strongly throughout. But the lack of real plot direction in favour of more characterisation that worked so well in A Christmas Carol has not quite paid off this time round, leaving the viewer wanting a more fulfilling resolution. The act of deforesting an entire planet seems to matter very little to the Doctor – somewhat uncharacteristically – and the Androzani Rangers seem to get away with it completely, with the solution being that the tree’s take their souls and depart; not exactly a brilliant environmental message. While the beginning scenes and the fantastic end scenes do make up for a lot of its failures, this episode will sit at the bottom end of my Christmas specials list alongside Voyage of the Damned.