Reviews

Doctor Who: The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe

The Doctor Who Christmas specials do have a bit more hope to offer, generally, than the regular series episodes and this latest one was especially successful in its eventual payoff.


Doctor Who: The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe

Distributor: BBC
Cast: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, Claire Skinner, Holly Earl, Maurice Cole, Alexander Armstrong
Network: BBC
Release date: 2012-02-14
Amazon
“It got a bit clinchy in the middle there, but it sort of worked out in the end. Story of my life.”

– The Doctor

The annual tradition of a Doctor Who Christmas special continues with this latest excellent outing, The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe. These specials have tended to be more stand alone episodes rather than a strict continuation of the heavily serialized season. That said, there are still nods to how The Doctor left things at the end of the sixth season.

The basic premise of the special revolves around a woman, Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner), recently widowed in 1941, as her husband was reported missing in action during World War II. She then decides to keep her husband’s death a secret from their two children, Lily (Holly Earl) and Cyril (Maurice Cole), as she doesn’t want to spoil their Christmas. The Doctor (Matt Smith), who was previously helped by Madge years earlier, intervenes as he attempts to make Christmas the best yet for the family, all the while inadvertently getting them caught up in one of his time traveling missions.

It’s a typical Doctor Who principle that in his attempts to help, he frequently puts those he cares for in danger. The episode is also filled with allusions to C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, not only in title, but in a Christmas gift box that opens up to reveal a Narnia-esque reality. In borrowing from such well-known source material, it creates a shorthand for this latest adventure that is quite handy for only an hour’s worth of television.

The special not only makes reference to Lewis’ seminal work, but also serves as a sort of environmental parable. The hidden world they find themselves in is one of trees about to be harvested and destroyed by acid rain. The Doctor has always seen those he encounters, whether they are aliens or other non-humans, as beings that deserve respect and consideration. The trees that are in danger are no exception and as communication is established, the environmental overtones become more obvious, particularly as a Mother Nature figure features prominently.

Although the special does a nice job of inserting these other thematic levels into the story, the heart of it is still The Doctor and his struggle to balance his desire for companionship with his history of putting his companions in danger. The Doctor as played by Smith is equal parts silly, awkward, enthusiastic, and protective. His energy is contagious throughout his seasons and the Christmas special is an extension of his animation. It’s easy to see how The Doctor’s attempts to make Christmas spectacular could backfire – particularly to those familiar with his past adventures – but he is always well meaning and it's the nature of his calling as a time traveler that he is drawn into so many conflicts, and in turn, those around him are, as well.

While the adventure in the Christmas box is the main plot, the love story between Madge and her husband, Reg (Alexander Armstrong), is also integral to the special. Her grief drives the motivation behind having a memorable and happy Christmas holiday. However, her desire to keep his death a secret also leads to conflict with her children who eventually learn of their father’s death at the seemingly most inopportune time.

Doctor Who, particularly Steven Moffat’s version of Doctor Who certainly never shies away from death and disaster as a consequence of The Doctor’s actions. The Christmas specials do have a bit more hope to offer, generally, and this latest one was especially successful in its eventual payoff. As with many of Moffat’s Doctor Who episodes, The Doctor’s seeming emotional detachment is only a measure of self-protection. In including a moment with Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill), The Doctor also gets his own version of a Christmas happy ending and it is one of the more touching moments in the series. Smith and Gillan have an easy chemistry that makes their closeness particularly believable and their brief scene together is especially welcome.

The DVD release includes a one and half minute prequel, that serves as more of a commercial for the Christmas special than anything else, as well as three “Best of” Doctor Who featurettes: “The Best of The Doctor”, “The Best of the Companions”, and “The Best of the Monsters”. These are a nice addition to the DVD as they include contributions not only from former guest stars, but also from well-known fans, such as Chris Hardwick, Paul F. Tompkins, and Amanda Palmer.

8

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image