It’s In The Trees! It’s coming...
Doctor Who: The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe
Airdate: December 25th 2011. UK. BBC1
Warning: Little spoilers which will grow on you and turn into bigger spoilers as you follow them through the word forest of this review...
Oh good grief. You know, whenever I don’t like a movie or a show I find it much easier to find enough things to say about it (read “complain about it” methinks) to turn it into a sizeable article. So fair warning up front kiddies... this is going to be one short review!
Okay... so I was fairly easy on last years Christmas special (compared to most of the comments I was getting back about it from friends and family) but I did acknowledge that, while it wasn’t the worst one they’d done... it certainly was in that same league of some of the more dissapointing episodes. Now I don’t get the time or opportunity on Christmas Day to watch Doctor Who but I usually end up watching it with the family on Boxing Day.
So, post-party last night, I trod fairly tentatively on Twitter expecting the usual round of Doctor Who spoilers and was susrprised that nobody had found anything passionate or interesting to say about it. In fact, once the episode had started, I couldn’t find any comments about that eposode at all, even after it had finished. This was somewhat unusual and from what I would guess is... it wasn’t that well liked.
This suspicion was further compounded when I rang a friend who had seen it this morning and he reported back to me that... it was “alright” but not great and it made a mockery of its own timelines somewhat. Okay then, thought I, I can handle another bad Doctor Who episode at Christmas... after all, I figured... I had survived watching all the episodes of Torchwood: Miracle Day without actually causing myself physical harm to distract me from the pain of bad scripting... and Doctor Who should at least have some good scoring on it to distract me. So I inevitably took the plunge today and watched The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe... and here’s what I thought of it.
Well... I must say, that was a really brilliant and heartwarming episode which was everything like a Christmas special should be. It was solidly written, had some good performances and was really nicely lit... most of it seemed to have been lit or designed with blue (TARDIS blue?) in mind which is not usually a good look when pitching against flesh tones but, hey, it worked really well here I thought (although you wouldn't be able to tell from the images above).
The Doctor was without his regular companions until the last couple of minutes and this worked in Matt Smith’s favour as he didn’t have the distraction of the red-headed firebrand who is Amy Pond to draw the eye away from The Doctor. Matt Smith is an absolutely brilliant actor and without Amy around The Doctor takes full command of the screen.
The story starts during the Second World War as one of the lead characters is “widowed” by the seeming death of her husband... although it has to be said that, because you don’t actually see his final fate, you don’t actually believe he’s dead and the story does kind of tip its hat at that point I’m afraid... still, knowing how it’s all going to end right from the start has never hurt these stories much before and, as anything, it’s about the journey of getting to that conclusion that counts. This journey is mostly set in a forest of the future on one of the two Androzani planets featured in Peter Davison’s final story as The Fifth Doctor, The Caves Of Androzani. I don’t want to spoil too much of what happens but there are references to Narnia and Tolkien and some nice comical work featuring Bill Bailey as the Captain of a “military unit” which all make watching this one a treat.
The timeline isn’t actually screwed up in this one (which makes a change)... and makes perfect sense when the final fate of the World War 2 pilot is revealed. This does, of course, make the title of the piece something of a misnomer... but let’s be charitable. It’s all for the sake of a cheap parody of an episode title and... it is Christmas after all.
My only real grumble with this one is when Murray Gold’s score (partially new and partially tracked in from pieces written for previous episodes... as is the standard practice for modern Doctor Who scoring, it seems) had what sounded very much like a two second musical sting from one of the first two ALIEN movies tracked in to highlight a jump when The Doctor and one of his Christmas companions start their walk in the forest. I don’t know if it was an original Jerry Goldsmith sting from ALIEN or one of Jimmy Horner’s “carbon copies” from ALIENS... but it did pop me out of the story somewhat, hearing a familiar piece of scoring (like all those old cues from the show always do) and I wondered why they actually needed that specific sting in there rather than one written by the always excellent Mr. Gold. Perhaps it was to musically highlight an ALIEN reference that I just didn’t get... but somehow I don’t think so.
Either way, musical anomolies aside, this has got to be one of the best Christmas specials since... well, since The Next Doctor and it’s definitely one I look forward to watching this time next year when the, hopefully reoccurring DVD set of the next series, is released. Talking of which... just what is happening with the next series? There was no trailer for one like in recent years. Do we get one next year or not? About time Auntie Beeb made an announcement, don’t you think?