Stars: Matt Smith, Claire Skinner, Bill Bailey, Arabella Weir, Alexander Armstrong, Maurice Cole, Holly Earl, Paul Bazely, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Farren Blackburn
Network: BBC America, airs Sunday night
Original Telecast: December 25, 2011
In the 2011 DOCTOR WHO Christmas special adventure, “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe,” our favorite Time Lord (Matt Smith) has a debt to repay to a grieving war widow (Claire Skinner) and her children (Holly Earl, Maurice Cole). Posing as the caretaker of a substantially retrofitted mansion, the Doctor has to rescue the family from a sentient forest in another time zone that’s facing extinction due to artificial harvesting via acid rain. When the life force of the forest reaches out to find an escape route, not even our favorite madman with a box may be able to stop the creatures from seizing his new friends and using them in a desperate last-minute plan. More importantly, he may not want to.
This is a pleasant surprise. After a mostly appalling Series 6 – I know many folks differ, but this is my review – my expectations for this year’s Christmas special were suitably low. But without the convoluted and unsatisfying arc that weighed down much of the last two years, this one-off holiday tale feels bright and reinvigorated by the simple approach of just sending the Doctor to help someone. There’s no baggage and not much unnecessary timey-wimey, just a fairy tale with a Time Lord, some very snappy dialogue, vibrant eye-candy design, and a tearful message about love conquering all. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
The Doctor’s tour of the house early in the episode has a great Willy Wonka vibe to it, and why not, since Gene Wilder’s candy maker was one of the Great Doctors That Never Was. Although early reaction to the title itself was mixed – there were predictable concerns this would be a straight C.S. Lewis pastiche – those concerns prove to be unfounded as apart from a few minor touches, this has very little of Narnia about it. The presence of comedians Bill Bailey and Arabella Weir also elicited some concern. As someone mostly unfamiliar with Bailey’s other work, I didn’t pre-judge him at all; he does just fine. I do however have no love for Weir, but she too carries off her brief but meaningful appearance. The comedic banter between them is nice punctuation but doesn’t overstay its welcome.
There’s a solid pro-nature element that fits very well with the best of socially and ecologically conscious DOCTOR WHO (“Green Death,” anyone?), but ultimately this story’s strongest theme is the celebration of the power in a mother’s love. While some have already found problems with the notion, I think it’s important to remember that every individual character in every story does not have to represent every other member of their gender. In this one instance, it’s a lovely, inspirational message for this very family-oriented time of year, and it doesn’t detract at all from any other strengths that female characters might and should exhibit. True, the episode does wallow in the very tired old “woman driver” joke, but anyone remember Troi crashing the Enterprise? It’s a hard cliché to eradicate. While it is annoying, it doesn’t ruin the entire story.
Most of the action takes place on a somewhat small set, but there are a few impressive visuals to compensate, including a beautiful opening gambit a la STAR WARS, a sunlit green field with a WWII bomber sitting serenely at the climax, and fantastic, almost Ray Harryhausen-inspired character designs with the sentient wooden King and Queen. Besides the fact that Moffat seems to really like moving statues, they also have a hint of classic WHO about them…and in this case, that’s not a bad thing.
Continuity buffs might like the brief nods to Androzani Major and the Forest of Cheem, but those are just fleeting references. The real joy is in seeing a straightforward story told with a superb Doctor, a great supporting cast, and a sentimental message that definitely has its hearts in the right places. It’s Christmas after all, and after an entire series of almost shedding tears for the direction the show has taken, I welcome a bit of happy crying.
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Click on link: AX’s exclusive interview with DOCTOR WHO showrunner Steven Moffat – Part 1
Click on link: AX’s exclusive interview with DOCTOR WHO showrunner Steven Moffat – Part 2
Click on Link: TV Review: DOCTOR WHO – Series 6 – “Closing Time” – Review #2
Click on link: AX’s DOCTOR WHO – Series 6 – “Let’s Kill Hitler” – Review #2 (positive review)
Click on Link: For Steven Moffat says DOCTOR WHO is “against Hitler”
Click on the link for AX’s review of DOCTOR WHO episode “The Rebel Flesh”
CLICK HERE for AX’s List on “THE FIVE QUESTIONS WE HOPE DOCTOR WHO – SERIES 6 ANSWERS”
CLICK HERE for Neil Gaiman talking about scripting his Season 6 DOCTOR WHO episode
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CLICK HERE to view the new EXTENDED SEASON 6 DOCTOR WHO trailer
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Article: TV Review: DOCTOR WHO – Series 6 – “The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe”