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Doctor Who XXXIII.X: The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

December 25th, 2011 (08:12 pm)

After my disappointment with 'A Christmas Carol','The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe' redeemed the Doctor Who Christmas special as a concept. Steven Moffat seems to perceive the business of making the Christmas episodes as the maintenance of a careful balance between a saccharine sentimentality which in my childhood was not Doctor Who's province, but rather that of light entertainment portmanteaus on ITV, and a public idea of traditional Doctor Who of monsters and possession and thrills. Last year this mix was mulled with classic Christmas fiction somewhat desperately acknowledged in the dialogue; this year the literary influence was just as clear but spiced with depictions of the Second World War in film and television, from A Matter of Life and Death to, more remotely, the demotic background of Shine On Harvey Moon. Madge's accent reminded us that the Battle of Britain was won on the playgrounds of the council schools of Britain, to borrow a phrase from A.J.P. Taylor. Liberally sprinkled too was modern eco-mythology, with Christmas stars becoming tree-spirits; and the walking tree people suggest that C.S. Lewis was not the only Inkling receiving a nod this Christmas.

Watching Doctor Who at Christmas is a family occasion, and while last year my parents' patience was soon exhausted, with the appearance of Katherine Jenkins being the final straw for my mother, this year my father was praising the strength of the central storyline. There was an ease with the nicely underplayed emotional story which has been absent for much of the Moffat period and certainly for the badly bungled Amy-River motherhood tale. We returned, of course, to Moffat's mother trope, with Cyril's faith in his mother having a direct relationship to the Empty Child back in 2005. The coronation of Madge as mothership of the forest recalls Miss Hartigan's transformation into the Cyber-King in 'The Next Doctor', but inverts it neatly if a little cloyingly.

The Doctor is reconciled to his friends at the end, with the emotion of ending his self-denial being almost too much for him; how 'heartbreaking' will the forthcoming departure of Amy and Rory be? The Arwells are set up for a return; all Madge needs to do is wish, and I'm not the first to wonder at the casting of an obviously older actress as the supposedly fourteen-year-old Lily.

Also posted at http://sir-guinglain.dreamwidth.org/474473.html.

Comments

Posted by: ooxc (ooxc)
Posted at: December 25th, 2011 09:04 pm (UTC)

I thought that it was very delicately done as a tribute to those who are in active service now, as well as those of us who are waiting for news - and we were told that it would be a Narnia tribute

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 25th, 2011 09:10 pm (UTC)

That's a very good thought, and complements Christmas television news broadcasts.

Posted by: Alice Dryden (huskyteer)
Posted at: December 26th, 2011 11:39 am (UTC)
Snoopyteer

This! I hoped they wouldn't let me down, having promised me Narnia, and I wasn't disappointed. My mum, too, who had previously announced her intention of having a bath during Who to be ready for Strictly, was glued to it, though she was very angry with the Doctor for letting Cyril wander off into danger.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 26th, 2011 12:40 pm (UTC)

The Doctor is both terribly irresponsible and enjoys dangerous situations - as emphasised last year, he's not the most reliable caregiver.

Having watched it again on iPlayer, I thought it was great - complaints such as poor pacing and implausibility in the space sequence I can bat away with 'dramatic time'.

Posted by: gwydion_writes (gwydion_writes)
Posted at: December 25th, 2011 09:05 pm (UTC)

I will turn a blind eye until tonight for us!:)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 25th, 2011 09:10 pm (UTC)

Looking forward to seeing what you think!

Posted by: Penny Paperbrain (pennypaperbrain)
Posted at: December 25th, 2011 09:12 pm (UTC)
Sherlock brain by redscharlach

I did think it was better than last year's, but the degeneration into sap became unstoppable at a certain point.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 25th, 2011 09:35 pm (UTC)

I've seen more sentimental Doctor Who, and thought this one justified itself. Still, Christmas Doctor Who is a tricky sub-genre which many find objectionable in principle.

Posted by: ooxc (ooxc)
Posted at: December 25th, 2011 09:28 pm (UTC)

PS - I'm in Oxford -

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 25th, 2011 09:35 pm (UTC)
Northumberland

I'm not, at the moment!

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: December 25th, 2011 11:07 pm (UTC)
Marxist

After my disappointment with 'A Christmas Carol','The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe' redeemed the Doctor Who Christmas special as a concept

Funnily enough, I'm the reverse. A Christmas Carol drove a Dickensian coach and horses through Doctor Who's central concept, but on the whole it worked for me. The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe was not bad by any means, but I found it a bit predictable and uninvolving. And it's nothing to do with the source material, as I like Dickens and Lewis. And I didn't think the Amy-River storyline was "badly bungled" either! :-P

Still, Sherlock next week!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 25th, 2011 11:46 pm (UTC)

I was involved, and while I found the denouement predictable I didn't know how they were going to get there. Claire Skinner's performances was absolutely clear-sighted.

Posted by: sensiblecat (sensiblecat)
Posted at: December 26th, 2011 09:11 am (UTC)
eleven/rory/amy

Agreed, CS was spot-on. I think it had all the elements of perfect family Christmas viewing. One thing I like about SM is that, whatever fan rants claim, he's more open to criticism than RTD ever was. I saw Madge as a playful response to all those grumbles about the way he writes women. She was still somewhat emblematic - he loves his mother tropes, doesn't he, and the set-up was a bit Avatar - but compared to Tolkien's females she was subtlety personified!

Very much approved of the Doctor going to the Ponds, thank God he can learn from his mistakes (though I'd have relished a scene where he told Madge he was married but the wife was in the slammer for murdering him (it's complicated). Knowing Madge, she'd have dealt. Two Moff touches I relished - the wrong police box (now, why hasn't anyone thought of that before?) and the final irony, that the Doctor ends up in the archetypal mysogenist hell of Christmas with the in-laws!

Better that than getting soaked outside Wilf's house looking emo, though.

One complaint - not enough of Bill B. Otherwise, excellent stuff.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 26th, 2011 11:04 pm (UTC)

Steven Moffat's mother isn't part of his public persona in the same way that both Russell T Davies's parents were. We know about his father, because of his role in creating Press Gang, and we know about his ex-wife, because she influenced Press Gang and Joking Apart. I wonder if any biographical details might be used to shed light on his emblematic mother-figure.

I'd have enjoyed a line about his wife being in prison too! That might have been too much detail for the Christmas Day audience, though. I did like the way Matt Smith delivered the line "She fancied me," about the Forest of Cheem, last used by David Tennant's Doctor about Martha - not a shred of self-satisfaction!

Posted by: Matthew (emperor)
Posted at: December 26th, 2011 01:14 pm (UTC)

I thought a trailer which was footage that wasn't in the episode was cheating, and the plot was altogether too sickly-sweet for me. Disappointing.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 26th, 2011 10:19 pm (UTC)

Which footage? I don't remember anything in the trailers not appearing.

Posted by: Matthew (emperor)
Posted at: December 26th, 2011 10:22 pm (UTC)

I'm sure there was a bit where the Doctor is holding a button and saying "if I let go of this button then this ship will explode"...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 26th, 2011 10:42 pm (UTC)

I don't remember seeing that in a trailer. I do remember seeing it as part of the online prequel.

Edited at 2011-12-26 10:42 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Matthew (emperor)
Posted at: December 26th, 2011 10:56 pm (UTC)

Aaah. I obviously remembered that as a trailer, rather than a prequel.

Posted by: thanatos_kalos (thanatos_kalos)
Posted at: December 26th, 2011 02:25 pm (UTC)

I thought the ep was ok, and the performances were lovely, but my question is this: as great as it was that Madge saved her husband, wasn't he carrying a badly wounded man? Who was rather busy, y'know, dying whilst everyone else was having their happy reunion on the front lawn?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 26th, 2011 10:21 pm (UTC)

That was indeed a problem; but it's just possible that Reg's crew have evacuated the plane and the scene well before Madge, Lily, Cyril and the Doctor leave the lighthouse capusle.

Posted by: gwydion_writes (gwydion_writes)
Posted at: December 26th, 2011 02:56 pm (UTC)

I was pleased with the design of the historical segments- both vibrant and period. I think I was most unhappy with the rushing by of the tree destruction as some kind of acceptable thing so long as the spirits escape- I was expecting a stronger eco message there and more of a response from the doctor about it ( and this reminded me of the library encountered by the last doctor wherein he meets Song). I have my doubts about the rescue of the father, but liked the focus on women as the pillar of the war at home and Madge was interesting and sufficiently unexpected ( not really cliche). Another feeling of things half finished/explained was the doctor's gift- a walk in the woods would have been less impressive than his improvements to the house. My mind reconfigures a more satisfying explanation that the doctor knew everything would happen the way it did and allowed it to save the tree spirits and the father, all gambling ( rightly) on the strength of Madge. Is that blindingly obvious or unlikely? I can't tell.
As total design lovely and I liked the energy of it as well as a family unit where the parents don't take the background.
Russ points out that maybe the doctor did intend it all but with them- a plan that got away from him.
As for Rory and Amy- very fan satisfying but as you said, there are reasons why the doctor doesn't venture so far emotionally and growing as a being may be at the cost of greater misery later.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 26th, 2011 10:48 pm (UTC)

I was reminded of the Vashta Nerada too! That would have been a rather bleak twist. I had the sense that the Doctor didn't appreciate how revolutionary his improvements to the house were; from his point of view they were icing on the cake. He'd also not 'tuned' the portal to the correct time period, but perhaps he was deceiving himself; the rescue of Reg was something of a happy coincidence.