About Christmas TV History

Friday, July 27, 2012

Doctor Who Christmas: The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe (2011)

Christmas TV History would like to welcome our next guest bloggers RigbyMel and J.A. Morris.  They are long time friends to this blog. During last year's Christmas in July, they wrote a review for Northern ExposureClick HERE to see that again.  They also write their own reviews on the blog Holiday Film Reviews.  Be sure to check them out.  Merry SCI-FI Christmas in July!

Doctor Who – “The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe”
by RigbyMel and J.A. Morris

Aired  25 December 2011 in the UK and US

It's Christmas, 1938. 
Above the  Earth, The Doctor (Matt Smith) narrowly escapes incineration on an exploding spaceship.   He falls to Earth wearing a spacesuit that he donned as both he and it fell from the ship.  In his
(understandable) haste, the suit's helmet gets put on backwards.

He meets Madge Arwell (Clare Skinner), who not only doesn't bat an eye at an impact crater containing a “spaceman, possibly an angel,” she helps him find his way to the TARDIS (the Doctor's ship, for the uninitiated).  Since the Doctor's space helmet was back-to-front, Madge never actually sees his face.  The Doctor thanks Madge, and tells her if she ever needs his help, all she needs to do is make a wish.

Now we cut to three years later during Christmas 1941, World War II is raging.

Madge's husband Reg (Alexander Armstrong) is in air battle and is lost at sea.  She receives a telegram
telling of Reg's death, but doesn't tell her children, Lily (Holly Earl) and Cyril (Maurice Cole).  She will tell them after Christmas, so that they won't think of Christmas as the time their father died.   Madge arrives with Cyril and Lily at a mansion in Dorset, presumably to escape the Blitz.   They meet the Caretaker…who turns out to be the Doctor!  (Marge doesn't yet realize this though.)  He gives them a tour of the house… it looks like it is going to be a rather brilliant holiday for Cyril and Lily with special enhancements courtesy of the Doctor including a very elaborate Christmas tree,  a nursery with the Magna Carta, a model of the house they're in (“not to scale, sorry”) and hammocks to sleep in and even a tap in the kitchen that dispenses lemonade. Madge is a bit concerned that he may be overindulging the children. 

The Doctor has also brought them a Christmas present in a giant box.  Cyril cannot wait until Christmas morning, so he sneaks downstairs and opens it that night.

The box turns out to be a portal to a Narnia-like snow-covered forest, where Christmas ornaments grow on trees.  Cyril sets out to explore, following a mysterious creature that emerges when one of the
“ornaments” breaks.  Before too long, the Doctor discovers Cyril's absence and follows him into the portal with Lily.

Lily : Where are we?
The Doctor: In a forest. In a box. In a sitting room. Pay attention!
Madge realizes that her children are missing and follows them into the box where she meets a team of
space-suited miners from an alien world (Bill Bailey, Paul Bazely and Arabella Weir)  who are preparing to harvest the trees using acid rain, killing everything in the forest!

Maybe, just maybe, the Doctor, Madge and the children can escape from this predicament unscathed. 
And maybe, just maybe, they'll find that wishes can come true -  you'll have to watch the episode to see
what happens!

RigbyMel says:
There is a heck of a lot going on in this episode, but it hangs together remarkably well considering how
involved the plot is.  I particularly enjoyed all the Narnia-ish references and thought that Madge was a wonderful character to play against the Doctor.   Madge is imaginative enough to go along with whatever the situation throws at her and even discovers courage she probably didn't know she had – yay for strong female characters!


The atmosphere is magical and a bit scary, just as it should be in a Doctor Who episode and the
Christmas-y themes tie in perfectly (there's even an ecological message tucked neatly into the episode).
There are also a few moments that are quite touching without being the least bit maudlin.  As an
example here's one of my favorite bits (an exchange between Madge and the Doctor while the children
are elsewhere):

Madge: Lily and Cyril's father—my husband—is dead and they don't know yet because if I tell them now then Christmas will always be what took their father away from them, and no one should have to live like that. Of course when the Christmas period is over I shall... I don't know why I keep shouting at them.
The Doctor: Because every time you see them happy you remember how sad they're going to be. And it breaks your heart. Because what's the point in them being happy now if they're going to be sad later?
The answer is, of course, because they are going to be sad later.

This does bring me to one complaint about the episode though –  the Doctor talks about “happy crying” as being “humany wumany”, I found to be a cloying and weak reference to a fun line from a previous episode that the current writers seem determined to beat into the ground.   “Wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff” was fun in “Blink”, it gets less fun every time Steven Moffat overuses it.  

Overall, a fun addition to the Doctor Who Christmas special tradition.
My rating:   3 candy canes (it might have gotten 4 but for the “humany wumany”)

J.A. Morris says: 
I agree with RigbyMel about the "humany" line, but I liked this special just slightly more than she did. 
I'll say up front: I'm not a huge fan of Matt Smith as the Doctor.  He's okay, just a far cry from the two
previous Doctors.  But I think he works best in specials and episodes where he isn't teamed up with
regular companions.  I think he had great chemistry with all the members of the Arwell family here.
I'm not familiar with Claire Skinner, but she's great as Madge.  Early in the special, Madge almost comes across as almost scatterbrained, but in the end, Skinner is convincing as a mother who will fight an army to save her family.

Comedian Bill Bailey, always a welcome presence, is good as Droxil, leader of the forest mining crew.  He also looks very funny in his spacesuit.  But for me, the biggest surprise comes from Paul Bazely, who plays a miner named Ven-Garr.   Bazely (another actor who is new to me) gets the funniest lines of the "forest" scenes, but Bailey's reactions to them are just as funny.

"The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe" is a Christmas generally a fun ride and something you should be able to watch with relatives around the Holidays even if they're not hardcore fans of Doctor Who.
My rating:
3 and a half candy canes.

l to r: RigbyMel, actor/comedian Bill Bailey, J.A. Morris.

Post script:

We mentioned earlier that Bill Bailey plays Droxil in this special.  We were fortunate enough to see Bailey perform his stand-up act in New York last September, shortly before filming began for this special.  He's one of the best comedians working today, integrating lots of music & songs into his comedy.  He gave a great performance that night, if you ever have the chance to see him live, please do so.  Bailey was also extremely kind to us (and the dozen or so other hardcore fans who waited to meet him post-performance). We took the train from Richmond,VA, he said that's a further distance than anyone ever traveled to see him perform in England!

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