‘THE DOCTOR, THE WIDOW AND THE WARDROBE’
Please feel free to comment on my review.
Christmas with the Arwells and the Doctor
N.B. Watch the prequel for ‘The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe’ before this episode.
After the convoluted nature of Series 6 of ‘Doctor Who’ with Matt Smith, it was time to go back to something more traditional with storytelling. But before the series came back in 2012 with Series 7, we had the 2011 Christmas Special to look forward to – ‘The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe’.
I didn’t see this episode on its initial transmission on TV, since at the time my parents and I were spending Christmas with family members on my Mum’s side. Thankfully, I did watch the episode when we came back home. I saw the episode on BBC iPlayer via our home computer and enjoyed it.
‘The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe’ is a fairly decent Christmas Special from the Matt Smith era of ‘Doctor Who’. It’s not the greatest by any means, but it was refreshing to watch something that didn’t have too many tie-ins to the previous season and it was also a gripping adventure indeed.
This episode by Steven Moffat sees Matt Smith’s Doctor without his companions Amy and Rory, since they left him during Series 6. The episode begins with the Doctor saving the Earth by destroying a spaceship about to attack them. The Doctor falls out into space with spacesuit to Earth.
Eventually the Doctor ends up on Earth in 1938. He’s helped by Madge Arwell, a wife and a mother of two children. Madge finds the Doctor crashed to Earth and wearing his spacesuit back-to-front. She soon takes the Doctor back to his TARDIS and he promises to repay her for her kindness to him.
Three years later, during World War II, Madge’s husband Reg Arwell is reported missing in action when piloting a plane over the English Channel. Madge is heartbroken by this news in a telegram and is unable to tell her children about it. She decides not to tell them about it until after Christmas.
Very soon, Madge with her two children Cyril and Lily stay at their Uncle Digby’s country house for Christmas. The caretaker is there and it happens to be the Doctor. The Doctor tries to make them feel at home, perhaps too much, especially with his own ‘repair’ jobs to the rooms inside the house.
The Doctor also has a special Christmas gift to treat the Arwells on Christmas Day in the form of a large blue present. But young Cyril’s curiosity gets the better of him as he opens the present and ventures into another world, with the Doctor, his sister Lily and his mum Madge following after him.
This episode, like ‘A Christmas Carol’ before it, is inspired by one of the works of English literature. This time, it’s inspired by ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ by C.S. Lewis. I love ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’! I was looking forward to how Steven Moffat remade the tale in ‘Doctor Who’.
Sadly, I don’t think the references to ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ are strongly resonant in this episode. Apart from the World War II setting; the snowy world that our heroes visit and the gateway into that snowy world via a Christmas present, it doesn’t stand out like a Narnia adventure.
There’s no Aslan in the story, nor is there an evil White Witch for the Doctor to fight against. The question of the wardrobe in the story as well as in the title is debatable. There’s no actual wardrobe, as the gateway is really the Christmas present and the Doctor in-jokes that his TARDIS is a wardrobe.
Perhaps this episode should have been called ‘The Doctor, the Widow and the Christmas Present’ to make more sense and live up to the title. Otherwise, the story’s rather pleasant and entertaining to watch, especially as we learn more about what the snowy world’s about and the sentient trees on it.
The Doctor is Matt Smith! I enjoyed his performance in this episode. There are times when Matt’s Doctor can be silly and childish, especially when he’s showing the Arwells around the country house. But there are moments when Matt’s Doctor can be thoughtful and kind-hearted during the episode.
I liked that moment when Matt’s Doctor asks, “Who opens their presents before Christmas?” when he’s annoyed. Lily gives him that look and the Doctor understands the contradiction in that question. I like the emotional connections he makes with Madge as well as with her two children Cyril and Lily.
The Widow is Claire Skinner as Madge Arwell. I enjoyed Claire’s performance in this ‘Doctor Who’ episode. Madge is a kind-hearted lady who helps the Doctor when he’s having ‘a bad day’ with crashing to Earth in his spacesuit back-to-front. She’s also a strong woman being a wife and mother.
When Madge meets the Doctor properly at Uncle Digby’s house, she finds him very ridiculous. I like that moment when Madge feigns crying and being upset to the Androzani Harvesters before she pulls out a gun at them. Madge also gets to drive an Androzani walker as well as pilot a spaceship of trees.
Maurice Cole guest stars as Cyril Arwell, Madge’s son. Cyril is a curious little boy and he lets his curiosity get the better of him when he wants to find out what the big blue present is under the tree, given to them by the Doctor. He enters the snowy world first and soon ends up in a wooden tower.
Holly Earl guest stars as Lily Arwell, Madge’s son and Cyril’s sister. Lily is sensible than Cyril and tells him to go to sleep when he asks about checking out what the big blue present is. She gets curious about the Doctor. Very soon, Lily joins the Doctor when they go to look for Cyril in that snowy world.
Alexander Armstrong guest stars as Reg Arwell, Madge’s husband and Cyril and Lily’s father. As well as hosting the BBC game show ‘Pointless’, Alexander also voiced Mr. Smith the computer in ‘The Sarah Jane Adventures’. It was nice to see Alexander in the flesh and in this ‘Doctor Who’ episode.
The episode also features three yellow armoured soldiers that come to the snowy planet of trees. These are Bill Bailey as Droxil; Paul Bazely as Ven-Garr and Arabella Weir as Billis. Interestingly, these three come from Androzani Major. This is a nod to the Peter Davison story, ‘The Caves of Androzani’.
As I mentioned, the episode features sentient trees. The trees are led by the Wooden King (played by Spencer Wilding) and the Wooden Queen (played by Paul Kasey). It was intriguing how the trees existed on this snowy world and were attempting to escape their world being attacked by acid rain.
By the end of the episode, Madge pilots the ship and gets the forest of the alien snowy world to safety as well as getting herself and everyone else home for Christmas. She also rescues her husband Reg, when he pilots his plane and follows the light of the tree’s spaceship, piloted by Madge Arwell.
I know it sounds like an altogether too happy ending and it’s another ‘everybody lives’ moment by Steven Moffat. But for me, this worked in the context of it being a Christmas Special and that it gives you hope. This is especially when Madge no longer has to tell Cyril and Lily that their father had died.
Later that Christmas Day, the Doctor is about to leave in his TARDIS and says goodbye to Madge, who realises he’s who she helped in 1938. The Doctor tells her he has friends who think he’s dead. Madge tells the Doctor not to let his friends believe he’s dead and to go and see them for Christmas.
The Doctor takes Madge’s advice and goes off to see Amy and Rory for Christmas. This was a nice surprise for me to see Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill return as Amy and Rory in the closing moments of the episode. It means that the Doctor can have Amy and Rory back as his companions for Series 7.
The DVD special features on this episode are as follows. On the original ‘The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe’ DVD, there’s the ‘The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe Prequel’ by Steven Moffatt. There’s also three 45-minute specials by BBC America including ‘The Best of the Doctor’, ‘The Best of the Monsters’ and ‘The Best of the Companions’. These have no relevance to the episode whatsoever!
On Disc 1 of ‘The Complete Series 7’ of ‘Doctor Who’, ‘The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe Prequel’ can be found there.
‘The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe’ has been an entertaining Christmas Special of ‘Doctor Who’ from the Matt Smith era. It’s not the greatest, but it’s certainly not awful. It was refreshing to see how Matt Smith’s Doctor touched the lives of the Arwell family, especially for the Christmas season.
‘The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe’ rating – 7/10
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