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Published on December 27th, 2011 | by Christian Cawley

The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe

It’s Christmas special review time and as ever it falls to me, the editor of Kasterborous to do the honours, as it were. Lest we forget that it is Christmas, a time of year for faith, hope and charity, so don’t be surprised if you feel I’m over-kind to the episode.

In fairness, The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe isn’t without its faults, but at the same time it is a lot of fun, like a slightly drunk dad or uncle dressed as Father Christmas. The Grand Moff certainly ticks all of the Yuletide boxes and does an admirable job of not retreading the path of 2010′s special episode – that of closely following the source material – by introducing the lost husband/gateway/sentient trees/Androzani Major forestry commission operatives/Sontaran-esque spaceship in the vortex progression.

Really, you’ve never seen anything like it.

This works both ways – if you’re a fan of Doctor Who Christmas specials then you’ll have been sat with your eyes glued to your TV, mouth agape and drinking sherry or brandy with some extra Christmas pudding on the side. On the other hand, if you’re not a fan of these episodes then you might have been sat with your eyes red with anger, mouth agape with rage and throwing things at your haunted fishtank.

Over the past few days I’ve seen a lot of positive and negative criticism of The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe. For me personally my life has changed considerably since last Christmas; I’m now a father to young twins and coupled with the imbibing of food and drink throughout the day transformed me for the first time from rabid fan into the target audience. There I was, an appreciative dad watching with his baby girl swaddled and drifting to sleep on his knee after a hugely exciting day, the very picture of the typical “stuffed-and-drunk” licence fee payer to whom Steven Moffat (and before him Russell T Davies) has pitched this type of festive fun.

I bloody loved it!

A long day of touring in-laws to share presents and take cute photos of the babies was topped off perfectly with an episode that combined madness, comedy and tragedy in equal measures. Yes, you could argue that Bill Bailey et al were criminally underused (and in possession of lines surely written by the late Robert Holmes) or that Alexander Armstrong was virtually anonymous (despite being over six feet tall and the bearer of a very distinctive face); you might even contend that Claire Skinner was slightly obvious for the part or that the children were trying too hard to be cute.

But you would merely be revealing your cold, metal heart. This was an episode with warmth, one of the celebration of motherhood and rebirth (to almost pagan standards, appropriate/inappropriate for the time of year depending on your beliefs and understanding of tradition) and tearful reunions.

Ah yes, the tear.

Matt Smith has shown again and again what an exceedingly perfect Doctor he is. After two Christmas specials no one was calling for the return of Christopher Eccleston, so why do I find online chatter making the same old unfavourable comparisons with David Tennant? What is wrong with these people? Well I’m going to stoke the fire, right here, right now. I’m going to say what a lot of people have been thinking and feeling over the past few months after letting the new chap bed in and get a series under his belt and grow into the character.

Matt Smith is the best Doctor since Tom Baker. In fact Matt Smith might even be the best Doctor ever.

Yeah, go on, read it again. I’m deadly serious. This guy barely puts a single word out of place, never over-enunciates and is perfect in every single scene he appears. Compare those words with the latter stages of Age of Steel from 2006, when David Tennant pitched his performance badly in the confrontation with the Cybercontroller.

The guy playing the Eleventh has never done that and shows no sign of doing so.

But back to Christmas. You might have found a couple of plot-holes in The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe – I couldn’t possibly comment because as far as I’m concerned everything that might cause, for instance, cause a regeneration (fantastic CGI spacecraft at the start don’t you think?!) was explained away with typical Whoniverse science. You’ll also find that Madge’s gun was perfectly within the context of the episode and her background.

With a rip-roaring opening, a Superman-esque encounter and some sentient trees – not to mention AT-AT walkers and World War II bombers – you’ll find that The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe recalled tropes from some of popular culture’s biggest successes but at its heart it was a story about family. As far as the Eleventh Doctor is concerned, his family are the Ponds and despite their departure just a few weeks ago the Time Lord was finally reunited with them for a Christmas roast two years after they last met.

If seeing the Doctor’s realisation of their place in his hearts and his in theirs wasn’t enough to bring a tear to your eye, you’re less human than a time-travelling alien.

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About the Author

A long-term Doctor Who fan, Christian grew up watching the show and has early memories of the Graham Williams era. His favourite stories are Inferno, The Seeds of Doom and Human Nature (although The Empty Child, Blink and Utopia all come close). When he’s not bossing around the news team, Christian is a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology and domestic computing, and enjoys classic rock, cooking and spending time in the countryside with his wife and young children. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.




14 Responses to The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe

  1. TonyS says:

    First of all, congratulations on your twins. Secondly, congratulations on a well balanced reiveiew. I can’t quite bring myself yet to like this episode. But I can see and agree with what you find fine about it/ My problem is probably that I am neither a small child nor blessed with small children. It would be quite Grinch-like of me to expect this episode to have been written for my age range. The ‘better even than Tom Baker’ comment is controversial (if not courageous)but, again, I will not dispute it. Matt Smith certainly aced the role quickly while TB took a few stories to settle in.

    I did like the final scene. It was handled well by all three actors. I especially liked the way Arthur played his part. No histrionics, no wild emoting and yet he was not diminished. I look forward to the next season and am wondering what the element is that they are bringing back from the 60s and 70s. Although, I can only think of one candidate.


    • Hi Tony – thanks for your comments and I think you’re right, the oft-overlooked Arthur Darvill was once again excellent

      • TonyS says:

        I’ve just watched it again. Arthur Darvill is given virtually nothing to do but holds his own and makes that scene perfect. This is acting comparable with James Stewart or martin Freeman at their best. (My two favourite Christmas films are ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ and ‘Nativity!’- so this from me is the highest of praise.)

  2. Rick Lundeen says:

    I agree with most of this very nice review. I also agree that these desperate few need to stop comparing Smith to Tennant. I honestly aware there were any left doing it. A true Who fan knows what the score is. Tom Baker has always been “my Doctor”, being the first one I ever saw and of course he was magnificent. But Smith approaches the role in a similar way to Baker in that he IS the Doctor and his personality really fits the character. The complainers will complain though, this is the net, after all.

    And I’ll go one better–unlike Baker or any of the other Doctors, Smith *doesn’t need a companion*. Smith works his magic with anyone and I’m just as happy with the Ponds in or out of an episode. But that happy tear at the end? Loved it.

  3. gypsy king says:

    While I understand the Xmas episodes have to be different I just found this one paper thin, silly and going through the motions. Nothing has matched tyhe original one (Christmas Invasion). I totally agree that Smith is the best since Baker and far more suited to the part than Tennant. That said, I thought this special portrayed the Doctor as a bit of an idiot and I found him irritating for the first time ever. I just must be an old Scrooge!

    • gavinio says:

      I agree that The Christmas Invasion has been the best Xmas special, but I think Lion is just behind it. Who at Xmas should be light and fun and this certainly was.

      I’ve said for a while that of the modern Doctors (i.e. those since 2005) Matt Smith has been the best of the bunch by far (and I loved Eccleston, Tennant was a bit meh!). As Christian said, like Tom Baker (still the best Doctor for me as he was my first), the actors own personality shines through so much with the way they play the part and both of them have really made the part their own in two very different TV eras.

      I would prefer not to have the Ponds return (well Amy certainly) for the next series as you could argue that their story has already been completed in a decent way at the end of The God Complex and a suitable epilogue in Wedding of River Song) but I’m hoping that the heartbreaking farewell means the proper onscreen death of a companion for the first time since Adric.

  4. A. Brown says:

    I agree, this was all very nice, a perfect Xmas gift, but just lacked the oomph of having real, evil baddies for the Doctor to fight. Like most of last season, and Moffatt’s back catalogue of RTD stories, his era is full of misguided, misunderstood, malfunctioning monsters/villains who are underneath either good beings or just doing their job. It works once or twice a season, but when nearly all the stories are like this, it is rather dull. The Siren and handbots were just doctors doing their job, for example, the gangers misunderstood clones that deserved to live, the Minotaur once bad, but now just wanting to die. There’s no threat! It’s sex without the orgasm!! Even when we get to see ‘real’ baddies, like the daleks, Sontarans and cybermen, in ‘River Song’ the dalek is already dying, In’Good man’ the Sontaran is a nurse helping the Doc and in Closing Time, the Cybermen are all smashed up and at half strength that they are defeated by Daddy love! It’s Doctor Who Soft! And a shame, because when Smith is given a balls-y baddie story (the Time of Angels) he IS the best Doctor ever! He is really being underserved by Moffatt at the moment. Still, at Xmas, this type of story is fine. I just don’t want to see the whole of next season like it.

    • Alex Iles says:

      I do see what you mean, but you have forgotten the Silence in the opening two parter, and if I remember correctly the Gangers were a huge threat. And Madame Kovarion was the main monster in AGMGTW, and she wasn’t even defeated in that episode. The Siren was a piece of rubbish. But the Handbots were very threatening and worked in the context of the story since it was just Amy battling them. The Minotaur wasn’t much of a threat, the real scare was the different rooms in the hotel which was surreal and very threatening, the Minotaur just added to the creepy surrealism of the ep. The Cybermen have gotten old so I am always very relieved when they die as quickly as that.

  5. Alex Iles says:

    I think the comparisons between Matt Smith and David Tennant have gone, most people are very settled that Matt Smith is a great Doctor…. nowadays though, there are more debates as to whether Steven Moffat or Russell T Davies are better head-writers, that’s where the real controversy and divisive opinions come in. Your either a Russell supporter or a Steven supporter.
    I myself prefer what Moffat has done to the show.\

    Great review, although even as a huge Moffat fan I didn’t really like this episode nearly as much as last years Xmas episode. I am also not adult enough to enjoy it for its festive simplicity, but I am also not so much a child anymore to enjoy massive robots and wooden aliens. It doesn’t appeal to the teenage age range so much.

  6. Andrew says:

    Congratulations Christian on becoming a dad to twins!

    An excellent review of which I agree with every word. You also picked up on a few things on the PodKast which I thought were very valid; such as Xmas specials being aimed at the casual fans and “not-we” with a festive theme. Anything too geeky or sci-fi isn’t going to work.

    I’d also like to point out one of the many remarkable things about Steven Moffat is his ability to create strong female charecters, and again he does it with Maggie.

  7. A. Brown says:

    Thanks for commenting Alex. The Silence are one of the few exceptions of season 6, though is making the human race develop the space programme, to just get a spacesuit, really that bad for humanity?! House was the best baddie of the season in the season’s best story, The Doctor’s Wife. Also I liked the headless Monks and Clerics. And i totally agree about the handbots in that story. Don’t get me wrong, I do like The Girl who Waited kind of story, especially when it’s done as well as that. That’s my second favourite of the season. But I just felt season 6 was leaning too far towards stories that had ‘light’ adversaries and heart string pulling, emotional endings, rather than strong, exciting, edge-of-seat plots with real baddies that didn’t just lurk and scare a bit. The peg dolls are a perfect example – we hardly saw any of them, really, and just when they were closing in at the end, when you would expect some old style ‘Doctor “Evil Must be Fought” – style action, daddy runs forward and says ‘I love you son’ or whatever and it’s all over! Coitus interuptus! Gatiis structured that whole story wrong. he should have had the Doctor in the Dolls house earlier, fighting off the Dolls and the boys evil thoughts should have become more sentient and out of the boys control, presenting the Doctor with a real problem and making a more action based and satisfying story. Instead we got a bit of scary doll lumbering about and a lot of emotional slush. Similarly Closing Time was all Two Men and A Baby, and not enough Doctor fights Cybermen and Cybermat. My mantra is don’t sacrifice strong plot for soap opera, but that’s what happened a lot in Season 6, more than any of the previous seasons since the show’s reboot. It has to be balanced. I hope it is next season, but I fear the worst!

  8. SJMC says:

    Sorry. This fan still thinks Smith is a lightweight when compared to Tennant or Eccleston.

  9. Caity says:

    I loved this Christmas special, a lot more than last year’s one. But it did feel a bit lightweight with no baddy to react against.

    I hate Matt Smith as the Doctor. Comparing him to David Tennant is like comparing Blue Nun with Champagne. But as a true Dr Who fan I am sticking with the series, just waiting impatiently for Smith to leave.

  10. Dalekcat says:

    I still think David tennant is better than matt smith, although he is quite a good doctor :D Tom Baker is still the best though!!!

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