Previewing the Doctor Who Christmas special is like opening presents early: a guilty yet irresistible pleasure. But is Steven Moffat’s Narnia-inspired The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe a cracker or a turkey?
The story begins with a bang, literally, with a madcap escape for the Doctor. In the course of his adventure, he encounters Madge Arwell, played by Claire Skinner, in a role that isn’t a million miles off her part of the Mum in Outnumbered. Mr Smith voice artist Alexander Armstrong appears in the flesh as her husband Reg, while the casting directors of Doctor Who show their talent once more at finding good child actors for the parts of Cyril and Lily. Throw in Bill Bailey and co as the comedy support act, and Matt Smith doing his patent blend of age-old wisdom and child-like enthusiasm, and you’re all set for the now-traditional “Christmassiest Christmas ever!”
First off, as a massive Narnia fan, I was slightly disappointed that it wasn’t more Narnia-y. At one point, the Doctor tells Lily, “Don’t be silly, fairyland looks completely different!”, which is ironic, because it borrows the look of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but not much more than that. Despite the trappings, this is firmly science fiction rather than fairy tale, but taken on its own terms, it’s a charming story.
After the whizzes and bangs of the recent story-arc, The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe is in some ways comparatively low key, and pleasingly so. Following on from the end of the series, the Doctor is out not to save the universe or to be a universal legend, but to touch the lives of one family – though in typical Doctor Who fashion, he can’t avoid it escalating into something madder and more dangerous than he planned!
The drama of the story is very strong, perhaps (somewhat unusually for Doctor Who recently) stronger than the action. Bear in mind that the preview I was given by the BBC was a rough cut, with some unfinished effects and temporary music – the very Star Wars-esque pre-titles sequence unfolded to the strains of Pirates of the Caribbean! As such, the action sequences may not have had the full punch of the finished product. But even in its unpolished form, it still packed a strong emotional punch.
“Happy tears”, the Doctor observes at one point – and gosh-darn-it, he’s right. If this doesn’t move you then I suspect you must have a heart of stone, or perhaps more appropriately, of wood. It’s also funny and exciting, of course, and you won’t look at your Christmas tree in the same way again.
Don’t forget to come back on Christmas for our podcast commentary on the episode, as well as checking out our commentaries on previous specials, The Christmas Invasion, The Runaway Bride, The Voyage of the Damned (posted tomorrow), The Next Doctor and The End of Time!