Updated: 10:55pm ET
Since “new” Who began in 2005, I dread Christmas Specials. To me, they fall in two slots. Misfires like the “The Next Doctor” where Who concepts are over saturated by Christmas schmaltz, something Steven Moffat must’ve noted when he made it a plot point that no one remembers the Cyber King stomping on Victorian London. Or, the other extreme where Christmas decor smothers traditional Who ideas, something “A Christmas Carol” did last year with Dickens' novel (who incidentally celebrates his 200th anniversary in 2012.)
So how does this year’s Special fare? Well, I think we got half and half. Moffat again raids another British institution, C.S Lewis of Narnia fame. It’s an inspired choice, better for not having the usual complexity of a typical Moffat story tacked on. Appropriate too, as Lewis must hold the “patent” for things “bigger on the inside than on the outside.” How else can you explain how Narnia fit inside that wardrobe?
Moffat also takes note that Lewis also wrote science fiction with his Elwin Ransom Trilogy. The futuristic forestry workers from Androzani Major (nice nod to the 5th Doctor era, Androzani Minor was where he died!) led by Billus (Bill Bailey, one of my fave Brit comedians) would’ve fit nicely next to unicorns, Oyarsa and White Queens.
There’s a brilliant Star Wars opening sequence as the Doctor space dives (how did he hold his breath?) down to 30’s pre-War Britain where he falls into the company of Marge Arwell. Only the Doctor could put a helmet on backwards! Things really begin to sparkle when, after the tragic death of husband Reg (played by Alister Armstrong – who if you don’t know is the voice of “Mr Smith” in Sarah Jane Adventures!), Marge and her kids Lily and Cyril cross paths with the Caretaker of a dusty Dorset mansion (hot and cold water and lemonade on tap, hammocks and a fab Christmas Tree!) - where Marge tries to bring back some light to her recent loss – determined to tell her kids what has happened to Reg, after they’ve had a wonderful Yuletide celebration. The Doctor is determined to ensure just that by creating a “dimensional window” in the shape of a present wrapped in blue paper (what else), transporting initially Cyril to a magical Winter wonderland populated by trees with souls. Pure Lewis!
But as the story progresses, minor cracks appear. I was very disappointed as to how little Bill Bailey’s character was used. It was also a hard swallow to accept the King and Queen living inside a “snow globe,” especially when it became a time ship transversing the time vortex! But I did like the novel idea of having Who companions as children – something now becoming a definitive Moffat icon. Although it was welcome to see the Doctor turn up on Amy and Rory’s doorstep at the end.
However, the ending was a let down. Oh yes I cried...but yet again the “human spirit with prevail” solution reared its head, and yet again another time rewrite as Reg comes back from his fatal airplane crash. Come on! Let’s have some proper Who techno-jargon, solutions to deal with things, like tossing Russell T. Davies down a quantum singularity to save all reality. And it has to be said that considering the Doctor choose to “stay in the shadows” after events in “Wedding of River Song,” if he hadn’t built the “present” he would have not endangered Marge and the Kids in the first place - or tearfully reunited with Amy and Rory. Is this a sign that already Moffat’s plan to make him “mysterious” again has gone up in a puff of blue smoke?
Even so, performances were great from Matt Smith who was clearly enjoying himself throughout the proceedings. Clare Skinner gave a heartbreaking job as Madge, and the kids were good, too.
In summing up,"The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe" was better than “A Christmas Carol,” but I still wait to see a “perfect” Christmas story. Perhaps in the 50th Anniversary year, 2013, we can have a multi-Doctor story with CGI William Hartnel’s, Troughtons and Pertwees wishing you Merry Christmas from out of the teevee while battling the Alliance lead by The Master.
Now that would be extraordinary.