Friday, December 30, 2011
Doctor Who: The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe (Review)
On Christmas Day there are two things I look forward to:
1. Turkey dinner.
2. A new Doctor Who Christmas Special.
THE DOCTOR, THE WIDOW & THE WARDROBE was showrunner Steven Moffat’s second Christmas episode writerly foray (after last years Michael Gambon-filled A CHRISTMAS CAROL) and it had a few things going for it.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Clearly the title is a nod to C.S. Lewis and the Narnia books, as is the idea of having a snowy alternate world setting be accessed VIA a humdrum object (in Narnia it is a wardrobe, here it is a big blue present box). Add the WWII setting and precocious kids and you have the makings of a nice homage to a literary classic. Oh and talk of the Uncle Digby who owns the house that mom and her two kids retreat to was clearly a super-nerdy nod to Digory Kirke from THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW (who accidentally releases the White Witch who harasses the kids in later books and owns the house with the wardrobe) though, that is where the similarities stop.
Matt Smith plays the Doctor with perfection in this one. Like a pastry that has risen to a golden brown, Smith has given the Doctor life and a vibrant personality and here he simply owns it. From minute one he’s making jokes and comments and spouting gobbledygook that entertains the two children to no end, whilst causing the mother to frown more than a bit.
There is a bit of a prologue wherein the Doctor hits the earth in an impact suit (which he put on backwards, in space) after causing an explosion aboard a starship. Madge (3 years before the events of the special) helps him back to his TARDIS and he promises to help her if she ever needs it.
Sadly things kind of go into status-quo territory fairly quickly, as three years pass. Where last year I could not truly tell you where things would go from minute to minute, this year I pretty much could. Madge’s husband is lost over the Channel during the war as his instruments malfunction, and she receives a telegram about his almost certain demise, which she keeps from her children. The youngest child Cyril Arwell, disappears though the present doorway onto the planet where it seems Christmas trees are forested and they seem to grow ornament appendages. He is then followed/chased by The Doctor, the boys elder sister Lily Arwell and eventually their worried/angry mother Madge Arwell. Supposedly a safe planet. That is until we find out that a group of foresters (excuse me while I have a super geek moment as they are from Androzani Major, which is the planet where the 5th Doctor met his end [THE CAVES OF THE ANDROZANI] and regenerated into the 6th, also consistently voted as the BEST episode of DOCTOR WHO ever) have informed our protagonists that the trees are about to be killed by acid rain. The chase is on to find Cyril and we get kind of a side story about a how the forest is alive and are these kind of tree-people. The whole living forest/tree people/Androzani foresters/acid rain threat plotline goes predictably where you think it will. The only real surprise is the resolution of said thread, which actually saved it from me thinking it was all going to be same-old, same old. The resolution of that ties nicely into Madge’s keeping the death of the kids father from them and the Doctor bounces around suitably unsure of what to do. In the end the story was decent enough, if not stellar. It felt like it could have been an episode during the actual season as opposed to a special. That’s not a bad thing, but I think we’ve come to expect more of a spectacle at Christmas is all. Perhaps we are spoiled.
No, this episode (for me at least) EXISTS for the epilogue. Now if you’ve not watched the ep yet, don’t read any further if you want to be unspoiled even though it’s not really a spoiler. In the epilogue The Doctor goes to the Ponds on Christmas. Amy finding him on the doorstep tells him it’s been two years (since the events in THE WEDDING OF RIVER SONG) and give’s him a deadpan “Oh, so you’re alive then? River told us.” line. Here is a moment in the Doctor’s life that is almost always the same. Whoever the companion is at the time invites him for Christmas dinner. I believe he has only ONCE come in for dinner. It’s just not his thing, and he mostly does his whole Last Of The Time Lords thing, turns down the invite and disappears with the TARDIS. Amy asks him in for dinner, and he initially turns her down, but then Rory says they have set a place for him, which sort of stuns him. Amy reiterates and says they ALWAYS set a place for him, every year. A few moments earlier with Madge and family as they cried happy tears he had remarked that happy crying was so “humany wumany”, and then... right then, standing on the doorstep of his best friends, he sheds his own happy tears and then goes inside for dinner. It’s one of those DW moments that I wait for. It’s also one of the moments when Matt Smith is every bit the actor that Tennant was. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house in the Neil Gaiman episode when he was crying as he said goodbye to Idris, and that was the first time I got to see it. Getting to see it here, especially at the end of the Christmas special was a real treat for me. It also shows me that Matt Smith really has such emotion that he can bring out in his acting, and I sometimes wish that we got to see it more often like we did with Tennant. At any rate, that last few minutes made the entire episode for me.
It is a decent enough entry into the DW holiday special category, and while not quite on par with last years episode, it was nonetheless a fun hour of TV.
Sadly, the wait begins now. Unlike any other years since its been back on TV, we will now wait until fall of 2012 to see any new DOCTOR WHO as Moffat has moved the start from the normal Spring date. Sigh.