Doctor Who: 6X “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe” Review
Steven Moffat’s first Christmas special was Doctor Who’s version of a familiar festive tale. Last year we had Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, this year Moffat continues this trend with The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe. Here, he has been inspired by a C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, as if the title wasn’t a big enough clue. Although unlike last year’s outing, it’s a fairly superficial take on the Narnia classic.
The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe opens with a particularly memorable sequence. For reasons that are clearer if you watched the episode prequel, The Doctor is once again running for his life aboard a spaceship that is exploding. He makes a daring escape that leaves him hurtling through space towards earth whilst attempting to get into a spacesuit. It’s the kind of outrageous scene that only Doctor Who could get away with and a spectacular way to kick off the episode.
From there we are introduced to Madge Arwell, played by Claire Skinner. Madge finds the space-suited Doctor injured in a crater. She can’t see his face though because he’s put his helmet on backwards as he “had to get dressed in a hurry”. After helping him out, the Doctor promises to replay her kindness and the pair go their separate ways.
Fast forward to 1941 and the war has already taken its toll and left Madge a widow. However, she doesn’t want to tell her children Lily (Holly Earl) and Cyril (Maurice Cole) because it would ruin their Christmas. The three of them are evacuated to a new house and introduced to the The Doctor, posing as the caretaker. He is keen to give the family a gift they won’t forget but, as ever, things don’t work out quite so smoothly. When Cyril decides to open the present early, he is transported to an alien planet full of trees, snow, giant baubles and creepy wooden monsters. It’s up to the Doctor to find out what is really going on in this strange world.
Anyone expecting Moffat’s trademark “timey wimey” storytelling will either be disappointed or relieved, depending on your preference. He tells a much simpler tale here. Although the episode moves through several periods of time, the plot is, for the most part, told in a linear fashion. It’s sharply written, very funny and there are some heart-warming moments towards the end. Moffat is known for his scary monsters and though they are certainly creepy to begin with, there’s more to them than meets the eye. They’re not your usual universe-conquering evil and remain in the background for most of the drama.
Visually, this is a sumptuous episode. Moffat promised that this episode would be the most Christmassy episode yet and first time Doctor Who director Farren Blackburn certainly delivers on that front. He has done a great job at bringing the forest to life and making it feel spooky and magical at the same time. There are also some marvelous special effects, from the aforementioned explosive opening in space, to an exciting ride in a giant space harvester (and there’s a nod there for classic fans too).
Matt Smith, as good as ever, spends most of the episode bouncing off the Arwell children and in particular Lily, who essentially is the companion of the special. Holly Earl does a great job here and it’s nice to see someone new challenging the Doctor and asking all the right questions. Maurice Cole is good too, as the wide-eyed kid whose curiosity gets the better of him.
Claire Skinner is perfect as the super mum with a heart of gold. Her latter scenes really tug at the heart-strings. Alexander Armstrong, as husband Reg, is only in a handful of scenes but he plays the part straight-up and does a decent enough job for the little time he’s in it.
Bill Bailey, Arabella Weir and Paul Bazely are fun but, sadly, wasted as a comedic trio of futuristic space harvesters. Their total screen time clocks up to around 5 minutes and, after that, they literally vanish from the plot. It seems a terrible shame to cast someone like Bailey in what amounts to little more than a cameo.
Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill are still listed in the opening credits so it’s not a spoiler to tell you they do appear in this episode for a cameo. It is a lovely moment that seems bittersweet now that we know the Ponds will be departing for good during Series 7.
One problem with this episode is the resolution of the main plot. It hard to say without spoiling, but the solution retreads some particularly well-worn ground and is a little corny. It’s a small niggle on an otherwise treat of an episode though. And this is certainly one of the best Christmas presents you could ask for this year.