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Review #3201: Doctor Who 2011 Christmas Special: “The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe”

Posted on the 27 December 2011 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Gregg Wright

We’ve still got a long ways to wait before season 7 (or series 7, if you prefer) of “Doctor Who” arrives, but the 2011 Christmas special is already here. After the 2010 special, which was probably the best Christmas special of NuWho (I was slow to adopt this term, but I’m finding it rather useful), I thought that it was pretty unlikely that we’d get another one that would top it, or even equal it. This year’s special, which borrows some elements from “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”, probably doesn’t reach either of those levels, but it does come surprisingly close to equaling last year’s stellar special. This was pretty much the best I could hope for, so I came away feeling very satisfied with “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe”.

Review #3201: Doctor Who 2011 Christmas Special: “The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe”

The episode/special starts off with a very literal bang, as the Doctor makes his dramatic escape from an exploding ship in Earth’s orbit. The scene gets pretty ridiculous when the Doctor gets launched out into the vacuum of space and has to catch and put on a space suit before descending into Earth’s atmosphere. The scene is about as over-the-top as “Doctor Who” gets, and seems to defy reality in a number of ways. I think the sound in space issue is pretty forgivable. Everyone knows that there’s no sound in a vacuum, but we accept it anyway because the alternative is more difficult (but not impossible) to pull off.

Of course, the Doctor should be suffering from the many other effects of the vacuum of space, such as having his blood boil and the air rapidly expelled from his lungs, going blind from the hypoxia after about ten seconds, and then going unconscious (the topic of human exposure to the vacuum of space fascinates me, so I’ve done a lot of research on the subject). Somehow surviving a descent through Earth’s atmosphere and landing so hard, he creates a large crater, is even more difficult to fathom (though, the Doctor does describe the suit he’s wearing as an “impact suit”, and makes mention of the fact that it’s actively repairing him). But in “Doctor Who”, I’m willing to accept this kind of thing and simply enjoy the story.

Once on the ground, the Doctor finds himself in London in the year 1938, where he is aided by the kindly Madge Arwell. As we all know, the Doctor is not the type to let such a deed go unpaid. Cut to three years later, and the Narnia story elements really begin to present themselves. It’s Christmas Eve, and Madge and her two children have been forced to leave London to escape the bombing and find another home for the time being. Unbeknownst to the children, Madge has just recently received word that her husband’s plane was reported lost over the English Channel, and she can’t bring herself to tell the children the bad news until Christmas is over. Sounds like the perfect time for the Doctor to pop in and try to make things right.

The Doctor’s first appearance to the family (well, first appearance when not hidden in an impact suit) is as madcap and silly as one would expect, and it’s all a lot of fun to watch. But we fans know that there’s a lot more to the Doctor than first meets the eye. So often, there’s a method behind his madness. As expected, the Doctor keeps up the fun, goofy exterior to keep the children entertained (which seems to come as naturally to the Doctor as breathing), but in the periods when he’s alone with Madge he reveals some of his serious side. The Doctor’s timing couldn’t be more perfect. Now, more than ever, the children need to have a wonderful Christmas, and the Doctor is more than capable of providing it. Of course, things don’t go entirely to plan.

While watching the episode, I kept finding myself writing down things that the Doctor would say, and I’m tempted to just repeat them all here. There really were a lot of great, tremendously funny lines in the episode. (I think my absolute favorite was when the Doctor said: “Fairyland? Oh, grow up Lily! Fairyland looks completely different…”) Most of these lines are spoken by the Doctor, but a lot of the best bits of dialog came from Bill Bailey and the other two harvest workers. On the whole, the humor worked brilliantly throughout the episode, and didn’t noticeably detract from the more serious aspects of the story.

I was actually expecting more of a bittersweet ending (perhaps more like the previous Christmas special), with the Doctor planning the whole experience as a way to help the family come to terms with their loss. But I suppose this might have been a bit too similar to the previous special, and this ending may have been more fitting with the themes of the episode anyway. Overall, I think the special could have done more to enhance the emotional impact of the story. More specifically, there was probably room for improvement during the climax when Madge must confront the reality of her husband’s death and the children discover the truth. But this special is still a strong effort that gets most of the way there.

The closing scene with Amy and Rory was a pleasant surprise, and a heartwarming way to end the episode. It’s always nice to see the Doctor getting more in touch with his humanity (and if it’s not obvious, when I say “humanity”, I refer to a broader concept that isn’t defined exclusively by its connection to the human race). I’ve heard news about Amy and Rory’s future on the show, and it wouldn’t feel right to outright spoil it. However, I think that it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that we will be seeing them again next season, which is good news in my book. Given the possibility that this may be the eleventh Doctor’s final season, it wouldn’t really feel right without those two appearing in some capacity. Though, this brief scene in the special wouldn’t be the worst way for us to say goodbye to the characters.

Rating: 8/10

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