Doctor Who : The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe
This year’s Christmas special was a riff on C.S.Lewis’ 1950 novel The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, with both stories being set partly in wartime England, and partly being set in a snowy landscape where strange creatures live. That is really where the similarities end with these two stories though.
The planet that lies on the other side of the portal is, according to the Doctor, the safest planet in the universe a place which seems to have living Christmas trees with naturally occurring decorations on them, lots snow, trees and a large tower (but not like a typical tower) where a wooden effigy of a king sits in guard and at the top is a circular shaped object with windows.
This all happens because earlier on in the episode the Doctor falls from a disintegrating space ship to the Earth (completely irrelevant to the main plot but a suitably bombastic and exciting beginning to the episode) and is found by Madge Arwell (the widow of the title) in a massive crater, wearing a spacesuit backwards. She helps the Doctor to get back to the TARDIS so he tells her that if she ever needs him then all she has to do is wish. A couple of years later Madge got the news that her husband, Reg, was missing in action and presumed dead when his plane encountered difficulties.
She then takes the children to a house of a family member and when they arrive the Doctor is there claiming to be the Caretaker of the house and is there to take care of them and make sure that this is the best Christmas that they have ever had by, in his own words, repairing the house for them giving them a bedroom with all manner of toys in it for them to play with; a tap that dispenses lemonade (how cool would that have been when you were a kid); hammocks to sleep in; and the biggest Christmas tree they have ever seen.
Matt Smith is on fine form in this episode running around like a small child on Christmas day for most of the episode and also being very Doctorish when the need arises, such as near the end of the episode when trying to get them off the planet. He is clearly having a lot of fun in this episode and that shows on screen making it all the more fun to watch.
Claire Skinner plays Madge Arwell really well and is truly believable as bereaved mother trying to keep everything together for her children and you really feel for her when her children are missing and she feels like her world has ended but is still adamant that she will find them, in the only way that a mother can.
Both Holly Earl and Maurice Cole are good as Lilly and Cyril and are typical children both of the period and also of children in general, who I don’t think ever really change that much, especially in the case of opening their Christmas presents early and doing the exact opposite to what they are told.
Bill Bailey and Arabella Weir have small parts in the middle of the episode and don’t even get to meet the Doctor as they share their scenes with Claire Skinner but they are pretty good in the small, rather blink and you will miss them, parts that they have even if it would have been nice if they had slightly meatier parts.
However their part in the story was pretty much just to explain what was going to happen on the planet and after that would pretty much have been redundant. There was even a nice little references to Caves of Androzani here which was a nice shout out to the fans, and then a bit later on to The End of World when he mentions meeting The Forest of Cheam.
This episode is highly emotive but I didn’t feel that it was too much or to sentimental at all and to mind it enriched the episodes particularly in the scenes in the time vortex when the Doctor is asking Madge to think about home and about the things that matter to her and the children find out what had happened to their father where you would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by that scene of young children finding out that their father was never coming home again and then they went and trumped that with the final scenes of the episodes which had my wife in floods of tears (and I will have to admit that I had something in my eye as well).
I know that there will have been fans who would have thought that this was overly sentimental but I am not one of them, I think that it was just about right, and if you can’t be sentimental at Christmas then when can you?
My only real criticism of this episode is that it was perhaps a little bit long, and was a bit slow at first. It did seem to take a while to get going but when it did it was a joy to watch and the time flew by. I do think that the story could easily have been told in 45 minutes rather than 60 though, but it was still easily the best thing on telly Christmas Day!