Doctor Who: The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

Doctor: 'Happy crying. Humany wumany.'

I’m starting to think that Matt Smith was made for Christmas. He’s like James Bond, Superman and Father Christmas all rolled into one. Tonight’s episode had it all: an action packed opening sequence, a cutesy fairy tale middle section, and an ending which could only have left the steeliest heart unmoved. Throw in the Magna Carta, hammocks, a window disguised as a mirror, a mirror disguised as a window, and it pretty much had the lot. Even lemonade on tap.

After the emotional weight of season six, tonight’s episode brought some much needed levity to proceedings. There was no real sense of danger, as we just knew that Reg would somehow turn up at the end. Christmas is a time for miracles (or so they keep telling us), and even Steven Moffat wouldn’t dare bump off someone’s dad at Christmas. Instead, the Doctor cast off his season six broodiness, clothed himself in a mood more conducive to the festive season, and was positively brimming with good will to all beings. Even David Tennant at his bonkers best would've been hard pressed to keep pace with Matt Smith's infectious exuberance. He was quite simply off his head.

In much the same way that last year’s 'A Christmas Carol' took its inspiration (and indeed its name) from Dickens' Christmas classic, tonight’s tale borrowed many of its core themes from C.S. Lewis’ 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe'. It took place during a similar era (1940s?), featured a portal into a snow laden world, and even had a wardrobe (a big blue, TARDIS shaped wardrobe). It didn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of 'A Christmas Carol', but there was still much to love. Visually, it looked stunning, the kids were as cute as buttons, and the story itself was as Christmassy as a great big Christmas tree, wrapped in Christmassy tinsel, and decorated with big Christmassy wooden people spawning baubles.

It did, however, lack the cleverness and complexity that we've come to expect from Moffat's stories. For me, he's at his best when he’s punishing our brains with his seemingly incomprehensible time lines. Tonight's tale was a little light on invention and convolution—which is great news for viewers who found season six's plotting a little too involved—but I like to be bamboozled. Of course, you could (and probably should) argue that you can't judge a Christmas episode by a season episode's standards; the problem with Christmas episodes is that they’re not aimed at the typical fan, they’re aimed at a much broader demographic, so there’ll always be a degree of box ticking going on. Rip roaring opening sequence for the Dads. Check. Famous comedy cameos of people pretending to be in a Monty Python sketch. Check. Assorted Christmas paraphernalia. Check. Fantasy style mid-section for the kids. Check. Classic and Nu-Who references for the fanboys. Check. Proper English accents. Check. Big weepy bit at the end for the emotionally unstable. Sob! I mean... check.

Tonight's episode undoubtedly ticked many boxes. If I have one complaint, it's that it was slanted a little too heavily towards the younger viewer. Last year's episode seemed to strike a far better balance, and it wasn’t until the last 15 minutes that this episode finally came to life for me. I got a real emotional kick out of Madge begging to be excused from reliving her husband's death. Seeing Lily and Cyril's reaction to the news of their father's passing was equally heart wrenching. Claire Skinner did a great job of portraying a mother struggling to cope with her own grief, whilst trying to protect her unknowing family. Yes, the dialogue was occasionally overly sentimental and, yes it did veer towards the cheesy at times, but you couldn’t help but sympathise with her predicament. I can’t say I blamed her for keeping quiet about Reg’s death. It was an impossible situation.

I was significantly less chuffed with the underuse of Bill Bailey, Arabella Weir, and Paul Bazely. All they did was dump exposition in our faces, crack a few gags, and then scarper. Bazely, despite the silliness of his character, I quite enjoyed; Bailey and Weir just seemed to be playing versions of themselves, which is one of the reasons I’m not overly keen on celebrity cameos. They’re often functional, but seldom anything to write home about. (I wouldn’t anyway. My folks hate Doctor Who.) Which is a real shame because I love Bill Bailey and Arabella Weir.

It looks as though the Doctor was wrong about not having feelings like Madge's. Despite his protests to the contrary, the Doctor's more human than he cares to admit. Him wiping away a tear at Amy's house was proof of that. And nice last minute cameo from Amy and Rory. Remember when they left the show four episodes ago? Has anybody successfully explained why that happened yet? Not that I wasn't glad to see them—to the contrary, Amy shooting the Doctor in the face with a water pistol was a real highlight for me. That's how I'm going to get rid of carol singers next year. Father Christmas, too, if he doesn't stop leaving me shit for Christmas.

Other Thoughts:

—Androzani Major was a nice tip of the hat to 'The Caves of Androzani'.

—No more Doctor Who Confidential? Thanks a lot BBC! Why don't you give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it?

—Nice dodge leaving Arthur and Karen's names out of the opening credits. I wasn't expecting to see them again until autumn, then suddenly, there they were. Karen was wearing a lovely Lund-esque jumper.

—Madge goes up once in a plane and can suddenly pilot an Androzani harvester? Impressive! They're clearly exactly the same.

—The high octane intro was probably best understood in the context of the prequel to tonight's episode. You can watch it here.

—After 'The Christmas Invasion' I have a profound distrust of spinning Christmas trees.

—Nice to see the Doctor flying through the time vortex again.

—It's a well known fact that slippers have absolutely no grip in snow. In real life, Cyril would have been flat on his back in seconds. Unless it was special non-slip snow.

—Surviving acid rain in nothing more than a coat? Withstanding the vacuum of space in nothing but a tweed jacket? Christmas baubles that turn into sentient wooden people? Yep, all these things can totally happen.

Quotes:

Doctor: 'Multidimensional, triple encoded, temporal interface... not really susceptible to pointy things.'
Madge: 'Got it!'
Doctor: 'Okay... suddenly the last 900 years of time travel seem that bit less secure.'

Doctor: 'Kitchen. That’s a cooker, probably... and these are taps. Hot. Cold. Lemonade.'
Cyril: 'Lemonade?'
Doctor: 'I know!'

Madge: 'Why are you doing all this?'
Doctor: 'I’m trying to take care of things. I’m the Caretaker.'
Madge: 'That’s not what Caretakers do.'
Doctor: "Then why are they called Caretakers?"

Doctor: 'What’s the point of them being happy now if they’re going to be sad later? The answer is, of course, because they’re going to be sad later.'

Madge: 'That man is quite ridiculous. You must stay away from him.'
Lily: 'I like him.'
Cyril: 'I like him, too.'

Doctor: 'Oh, he’s good. The old bear in duvet, eh? Classic!'

Lily: 'Where are we?'
Doctor: 'The forest, in a box, in the sitting room. Pay attention!'

Lily: 'I don’t understand... is this place real? Is it Fairyland?'
Doctor: 'Fairyland? Oh, grow up, Lily. Fairyland looks completely different.'

Droxil: 'Please tell me we can tell the difference between wool and sidearms.'
Ven-Garr: 'We can tell the difference, Sir.'
Droxil: 'Can we?'
Ven-Garr: 'Not always, Sir, no.'

Doctor: 'Crying when you’re happy? Good for you. That’s so human.'

Doctor: 'Oh, aliens made of wood. This was always going to happen, you know?'

Lily: 'What’s happening?'
Doctor: 'No idea. Do what I do. Hold tight, and pretend it’s a plan.'

Doctor: 'I’d imagine you’d prefer to be alone.'
Madge: 'I don’t believe anyone would prefer that. Stay close, Caretaker.'

Amy: 'If that is more carol singers, I have a water pistol, You don’t want to be all wet on a night like this.'

Amy: 'So, you’re not dead.'
Doctor: '...and a Happy New Year!'
Amy: 'River told us.'
Doctor: 'Well, of course she did.'
Amy: 'She’s a good girl.'

Rory: 'Whoa... you’re not dead then?'
Amy: 'Done that.'
Rory: 'Oh!'
---
Also posted at The Time Meddler.

19 comments:

shawnlunn2002 said...

It wasn't my favourite but it certainly had some wonderful moments in it though.

Series 7 is gonna be quite the wait.

Mark Sullivan said...

Also, explosions and talking in a vacuum? I don't think so. I was a bit disappointed with this year's episode. It was head and shoulders above anything the Russell T. Davies era ever produced, but still felt a little blah until the last ten minutes. Top marks to Matt, though. I dare say, had he been involved, he'd have made even Fear Her seem watchable.

Patryk said...

Why the long wait? Sherlock got in the way or something?

Paul Kelly said...

Patryk: I think part of it's the BBC cuts. Part of it's Moffat doesn't like the idea of Doctor Who airing over the summer; he thinks it better suited to winter viewing. Part of it's probably to do with Sherlock, too. And probably some other reasons we don't know about yet.

Harry Earle said...

What an awesome review Paul :-) I'd had too much mulled wine and dozed off during the childlike bits, but woke up in time to cry at the end. It might have been overly simplistic (useful when you're not fully conscious for some parts) but it had oodles of christmas-ness and fantastic line delivery from Mr Smith. The ending was So heartwarming, especially when augmented by mulled wine.

Paul Kelly said...

Are you sure it was Doctor Who you cried at, Harry? You're not one of those people who slip into unconsciousness whilst drunk, and then wake up crying and instantly blame whatever's on the telly are you? Not that there's anything wrong with that. Bagpuss was always getting the hammer during my college years. I couldn't believe how, despite him being all saggy and loose at the seams, Emily still loved him ;o)

The Dark Shape said...

I was a bit worried early on, as though I was liking bits of the episode (Matt Smith, ladies and gentlemen), it just wasn't clicking for me. But somewhere halfway through I was finding myself involved, and by the time Madge was begging not to witness her husband's death, I was completely engrossed. A really wonderful last fifteen minutes.

It wasn't as good as A Christmas Carol (which was exceptional), but it's better than the other Who Christmas specials by a large margin.

Anonymous said...

I loved Amy & Rory's tardis-blue door :')

That last bit of the episode really sealed it for me.

Billie Doux said...

I will concede that it wasn't quite as brilliant as "A Christmas Carol", but it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it from the Star Wars opening right until the Pond-ish ending with the tears. And how delightful that Amy and Rory have a bright blue front door.

It's so, so wrong that we have to wait so long. But at least there won't be an ungodly long break in the middle. There won't, will there?

Wonderful review, Paul. You nailed it, as always.

Anonymous said...

I didn't much care for this one, until the very end. The opening sequence gave me a headache. Severe shaky cam does NOT equal drama, only dramamine. And I had no idea those were "celebrity" cameos - if they're constantly trying to widen the audience to get more people involved over here in the US, like Moffat has stated, he should have used some more recognizable talent. And the boy who played Cyril was awful - stiff, wooden, and staring blankly through those huge glasses. And, he's being chased around a small room by a wooden alien that walks in slow motion so he....sits down in a chair? Well, it makes as much sense as all the screaming and hair-flapping in the void of space at the beginning. It just didn't click for me, as other Christmas specials have

Juliette said...

Not bad, definitely not the worst Dr Who Christmas special, though not really the best either.

Both The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and this episode are set during the early years of World War Two i.e. 1940 or 1941. The kids in Narnia are evacuated to keep them safe from the bombs in the Blitz (which could be as early as 1939, though the Blitz itself didn't start till 1940) and the kids here lose their father (almost) when he's serving as an RAF pilot in the war - probably, again, around 1940-41, since the kids don't seem much older than they were in the opening section, which was set in the 1930s.

Corinne said...

Completey agree with your review. Not as good as 'A Christmas Carol' but a vast improvement on the Davies years. Enjoyable without being particularly memorable. I suppose the word to use would be 'solid'.

Thanks for reviewing this, Paul. Misfits, too. I always read, but rarely comment. Now I have. In fact, thanks to all the Billie Doux writers for their efforts this year. And a Happy New Year to readers and writers alike!

Anonymous said...

Not a bad episode. I think the kids enjoyed it more than we did though. A question: where did Madge get her gun from?

Mark Greig said...

I was a little disappointed by this year's special. This is Moffat's own fault for making 'A Christmas Carol' so brilliant. Matt Smith was as majestic as ever but the story wasn't up to much and some of the effects sequences seemed rushed.

I was holding back the tears at the end, though.

TheDoctorDonna said...

Can you review 'Death is the Only Answer?' I want to know what you think of that little vignette...

Paul Kelly said...

Hi The DoctorDonna. I’ll probably never get round to doing a full review of “Death is the Only Answer” due to (a) its relative shortness, (b) it being outside of the regular canon (probably), and (c) it being a bit late in the day. What I can tell you is, I really enjoyed it. For an episode written by a bunch of school kids, it had everything you’d expect from a standard episode: historical characters, fezzes, nonsensical technobabble, timey-wimey stuff, great humour, and the revelation that Einstein once tried to steal the TARDIS. They even managed to shoehorn a Dalek reference in there -- though why the Daleks would want to exterminate Einstein’s toothbrush is anyone’s guess. We also learned that the Doctor is responsible for Einstein’s “sciency” hair. As if we ever doubted it.

In fact – and pox on me for saying this – despite its relative shortness, this vignette was better written than some actual episodes. I’m not sure whether Moffat knocked off some of the rough edges in pre-production (as per the head writer’s job), but the dialogue was perfectly Doctor-esque, the humour surprisingly subtle, and -- apart from the less than imaginative quality of the techobabble (which I’m pretty sure was deliberately low tech anyway) – I thought the sciency bits were totally convincing. (Considering they were mostly complete nonsense.) I’d have been quite happy to see this episode feature in a Children in Need slot. In short: well done to the kids of Oakley Junior School. You did yourselves proud.

Anonymous said...

That opening, evil aliens getting destroyed by a relatively random passerby just when they were invading earth, for some reason reminded me of Douglas Adams.

inspirejenny said...

watched it with the wee ones and thought it a grand bit of christmas fun...

The best part of course was the bit at the end when Rory and Amy confess to always setting a place for the doctor...

He can try to be all pity party as much as he likes but yes he does have a family...

brilliant!

Patrick said...

Rewatching this episode as part of a grand refresher leading up to Season 9, and while this episode in its entirety was just "good" for me, Smith's line, "The answer is, of course, because they're going to be sad later." hit me RIGHT in the feels. Smith's ability to play the Doctor as both an utter lunatic and deliver heartbreaking lines like that with such perfection is why he will always be "my Doctor".