Monday, 26 December 2011

Review - "The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe"

The rules pertaining to a "Doctor Who" Christmas episode are somewhat different to that of a normal episode. There are three things that need to be taken into account. First, there will probably be a large number of casual viewers who may only have ever seen one or two episodes before - therefore the Christmas episode has to essentially be standalone. Secondly, it cannot be a complex story. After all, your viewers are tuning in after being stuffed full of turkey - not to mention the odd beer or two. Thirdly - and perhaps the most obvious point - it HAS to be Christmassy. "The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe" can be held up as a prime example of a Christmas episode - with the added bonus of a high emotional impact throughout.

The pre-credits sequence was utterly breath-taking - visually stunning and highly charged as the Doctor dashes through exploding corridors and plummets to Earth after the falling spacesuit. Having "arrived" on Earth -lying prone in a crater with his helmet on backwards - Madge Arwell comes to his aid and helps him to find the Tardis. This is where a small piece of dialogue serves to highlight the difference between 11 and some of his predecessors. The "make a wish...that usually works" comment - apart from raising a smile - gives a nod towards 11, for all his goofy excitability, being less of an "avenging angel" Doctor and more of a cross between Santa and Peter Pan.

Skip forward a few years - World War 2 in full flow - and to escape the bombing Madge takes her children to the country - to their Uncle Digby's large Manor House. Madge is hiding a terrible secret from her children. Their father's plane was lost over the channel and she hasn't told them. Cue the Doctor. Or rather the Caretaker as he introduces himself. He leads them on a whistle-stop tour of the house - the house HE has renovated. So we get a television-less lounge with chairs that spin around by themselves, the kitchen has three taps - hot water, cold water and lemonade - the staircase is "broken so we have to walk up", but when they get to Lilly and Cyril's room...oh you cannot help grinning. This is 11's room - left to his own devices (which he obviously was) this is his utter masterpiece of a room. "A sciency-wiency workbench, a junk wall, a maze, a window disguised as a mirror and a mirror disguised as a window, a selection of torches for midnight feasts or secret reading, zen garden, mysterious cupboard, zone of tranquility..." and it goes on. No room for hammocks that drop from the ceiling instead.

This is where Matt Smith really comes into his own. Describing the house, he really is like a hyperactive 9 year old - excited, happy, his whole body just practically bouncing with delight. Then you get the contrast. When Madge tells 11 about Lilly and Cyril's father having died - and she doesn't want to tell them yet, she doesn't want Christmas to be remembered as the time it took their father away from them - that's when Matt flips in seconds from child to serious, empathising, ancient being - and you can SEE every single one of those 1000 years in his eyes. It really is a beautiful scene.

Of course, things never go according to plan for the Doctor. Having left a large blue present by the tree (and WHAT a tree!), Cyril can't resist for long and creeps down in the middle of the night to open it. The present is a "dimensional portal thingie" (of course it is) into a snow covered forest where trees grow their own baubles. Lilly and the Doctor - who I have to say are quite an amusing little duo - follow Cyril's footprints to a large "lighthouse" whilst Madge is intercepted by a group of Harvest Rangers. Now, this is my only criticism of this episode - Bill Bailey and co were underused...and personally I would have loved for them to have had a scene with Matt Smith. The Harvest Rangers are from Androzani Major - cue whole cheers of delight from Classic Who fans - and the forest is about to be harvested by acid rain.

Now, I don't want to give away too much - I'd much rather you go and watch the episode than read my summary of events so to speak. So, I'm not going to tell you how Madge saves the day. However, the Doctor being confronted with a being made of wood...and the sonic having well documented "wood issues" leads to some really funny one-liners - not to mention the Doctor being fascinated by humans "happy crying". That's one of the strengths of this episode: the comedy. Most of which comes from the Doctor of course. Matt is a great comedic actor - the weird and ungainly nature of his limbs means that he can raise a smile out of the smallest things. He's almost given free reign here - and the Moff gives him the lion's share of the funny one-liners which Matt unerringly nails brilliantly.

If you don't shed a tear in the last 15 minutes... then I have to fear that you have absolutely no soul whatsoever. Madge having to tell the children their father is dead... only to be interrupted by the Doctor as something quite wonderful has happened - well, I'm sure most of the country was in tears at that point. Of course Madge, Cyril and Lilly get a happy ending - it wouldn't be Christmas without a happy ending and "humany wumany" happy crying. Madge even realises that the Doctor is her "spaceman angel with his head on backwards" and that the Doctor always likes to "return a favour". It's another emotional scene (like we needed more) with Madge exhorting him to go to his friends and let them know he's not dead.

In the final, beautiful, wonderful, scene, the Doctor goes to see Amy and Rory. It's funny - and emotional. Two years have passed, there are hugs - and of course, they reveal that River has already told them that he's alive. The Doctor is invited to stay for dinner and agrees "if it's no trouble". There's a place already set for him and Amy tells him there is ALWAYS a place set for him. They head inside...but the Doctor waits for a second or two before stepping inside and wiping away a "happy crying" tear. It's a delight - an utter delight.

There was not one dodgy scene, not one duff performance in this episode - it was all just spot on. Kudos to everyone involved, especially Matt Smith who gave a tour-de-force performance in his 2nd Christmas episode. As I mentioned before, he can just flip from child to ancient being in the space of seconds and he is utterly believeable - he does not strike one false note. Mind you, he had some great material to work with here. Consider the fact that the Moff wrote this in three weeks and you may start to realise the kind of talent this show has in abundance.

By the time the episode finished, I was sitting here blubbing like a baby and grinning like a loon at the same time. And THAT is the sign of a perfect Christmas episode. One that can wrench at the heartstrings and yet still make you giggle and laugh. Anyone can watch this episode - children and adults, fans and non-fans, avid viewers and those who have never seen the show. Everyone will find something in this episode to smile at - and cry at. Wonderful stuff.

Episode rating: 10 out of 10

Thanks to Rawr-Caps for the screencaps.