The Doctor Who Christmas special has now become a pivotal piece of scheduling for the BBC. No longer does the channel solely rely on the misery of Albert Square or an elongated episode of this year’s “must see” comedy. No, everyone’s favourite Time Lord is the centrepiece of their Christmas family viewing and this year’s seasonal offering The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe really did come with lashings of Christmas seasoning – if not plot.
Set during World War II, Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner) receives the tragic news that her husband Reg (Alexander Armstrong), has died in combat. Unable to break the news to her two children, Cyril (Maurice Cole) and Lily (Holly Earl), she takes them away to a country home for Christmas. But there’s something familiar about the caretaker – a man with a bow tie who seems to bring Christmas spirit and other strange things with him. Most exciting of all there’s a big blue ox under the Christmas tree, but is it really a present or a gateway to a magical, mysterious adventure…
Though not the strongest ever Christmas Doctor Who offering The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe is still a decent enough episode and far better than anything else that was on this Christmas apart from the wonderful adaptation of The Borrowers. Seriously did you see The Royal Bodyguard or Mrs Brown’s Boys?
Anyway, Matt Smith is his usual eccentric self with even more heart than usual. The story, which is a sort of mix up between that Narnia favourite with a similar title and an old folk tale is well realised, it just sags slightly when you realise that it’s all going to have a happy ending. It starts off in spectacular fashion, hits us with a comedy routine Norman Wisdom would have been proud of then turns into a war-torn family tragedy set in a box.
Claire Skinner is wonderfully ballsy and three-dimensional as the wife left alone but Alexander Armstrong suffers from lack of direction, playing the usual stiff-upper lipped Brit he normally does. Maurice Cole and Holly Earl are the real stars here. Cole gives the easily lead youngster who starts all the trouble and innocent charm whilst Earl presents her character with a real edge. She senses something is wrong with her mother and Earl’s depth and real quality of acting shows that she’s going to be a real star in the near future.
Much mooted appearances from Bill Bailey and Arabella Weir amount to little than walk on parts but do inject a wonderful slice of very British humour to the proceedings. The effects are top-notch with the Wooden King and his wife slowly stomping around to great effect and although they project little menace when they first appear I’d like to see more of these wooden tops.
The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe Prequel – This 90 second piece of promotion really does build up the episode nicely. Here’s the Doctor in distress, calling Amy whose not there in a situation that’s worse than hopeless! A wonderfully witty and smart segment which tells you nothing really of the episode that’s to follow.
The Best of the Doctor – This is a compendium of Matt’s best bits but not in a way you’d expect. “Not in a way you’d expect!” I hear you cry, well yes as this is all done from an American perspective thanks to BBC America. Yes, my friends, a gang of American NFL players, comedians, actors, actresses (including Danielle Harris, Canton himself Mark Sheppard and Anthrax’s Scott Ian) line up to tell us how cool the show is and why the Doctor is just plain awesome. I found this totally wonderful because American’s just don’t hold back and you get caught in their enthusiasm for the show. Why can’t we have the ability to gush as they do? It looks at all sides of the character and is never to saccharine in tone and to me is a sincere tribute which makes it even more refreshing.
The Best of the Companions – As above but focusing on Amy, River, Rory and Canton and exposing the heart the last few years have worn on its sleeve whether it had been about Rory and Amy, the baby, The Doctor’s relationship with everyone he encountered.
The Best of the Monsters – Again, as above we travel through the raft of Monsters the Eleventh Doctor has encountered in his two seasons. For some reason The Crack is included on this extra. I guess it was pretty scary within itself but not an official monster surely? Look out for some rather fun interviews with fans.
So then, not a bad release at all, it’s a canny enough adventure with a collection of extras you wouldn’t have normally had the chance to have seen which makes it all the more interesting.
Released today, The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe has an RRP of £10.20 on DVD and £13.27 on Blu-ray. You can purchase from Amazon and make a saving, however – just £6.42 for the DVD and £8.99 for the Blu-ray!