BLU-RAY REVIEW: Doctor Who: The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe
The Doctor returns in a fun, Narnia-inspired holiday tale...
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If you’re a fan of Doctor Who, you know what the end of the year means... not just the usual holidays but the annual Doctor Who Christmas Special! Starting back with the modern re-launch of Who in 2005 each year has brought a special Christmas episode that always premieres in the UK on December 25th. They all take place at least partly on the holiday and share themes with traditional Christmas stories and songs. And with the huge explosion of Doctor Who popularity in the U.S., 2010’s special “A Christmas Carol” even aired here on Christmas as well for the first time! The first one starring the current Doctor played by Matt Smith, “Carol” set a new bar for fun and zany so when the advent calendar started counting down this time people were really looking forward to the next one. Thankfully The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe did not disappoint and very soon you can get the special on DVD and Blu-ray.
“Wardrobe” opens with a crazy scene that finds the Doctor (Matt Smith) escaping from a spaceship above Earth. Without the TARDIS he’s forced to employ a spacesuit, but in his rush to escape he puts the helmet on backwards and gets stuck. This fantastic piece of equipment saves him from hitting the ground all the way from orbit, where he’s found and assisted by do-gooder Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner). Fast forward three years, Earth relative, and Madge’s husband Reg has been lost on a bombing run in World War II. To escape the horrors of war-time London she takes her young children Lily (Holly Earl) and Cyril (Maurice Cole) to a rundown family estate in the country for Christmas. Expecting to find a large, empty house, they instead find the Doctor calling himself the “Caretaker.”
In his caretaker duties the Doctor has spruced up the house with an incredible array of technology and nonsense to make it fun and distracting for the children, having been summoned by their need across time. There are even presents under an enormous Christmas tree including a huge mysterious box. Of course the Doctor tells the children not to peek and of course Cyril does. Inside the box is a portal to another world, a fantastical snow-bound forest with strange flora and fauna. Discovering what happened, the Doctor enters the forest with Lily to find her brother. Shortly after, Madge goes in as well. As it turns out, the planet is scheduled to be mined and the trees have come up with an escape plan that hinges on using a humanoid to direct their spirits across the stars. Madge is the perfect volunteer for the duty, though doing so will reveal to her children the fate of their father. I won’t spoil the finale, but it’s heartwarming and satisfying at the same time. Once the Arwell family is back on Earth the Doctor even makes one final stop, joining Amy and Rory for Christmas dinner two years after his faked death.
“Wardrobe” is 60 minutes long, and for a Christmas special feels a little on the short side. Most of the action involves the Doctor and Arwell family running around the forest and figuring out what to do with the tree people, and unlike in most previous specials there’s no big villain to overcome. On the other hand, despite a couple intense scenes this one is pretty well suited for the whole family. The wooden tree avatars are a little creepy but don’t do anything horrible and the militant miners end up being little more than comic relief. Both endings (with the Arwells and with Amy/Rory) are of the happy variety as well, without even a hint of foreshadowing into the next season. Depending on what ends up happening with the companions and River Song, this may or may not end up being an important note in their relationship with the Doctor. Oh, and for those really longtime viewers of Doctor Who, you’ll find some neat references to past stories like the Forest of Cheem, the Sonic Screwdriver’s issues with wood, and Androzani.
The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe will be available everywhere on both DVD and Blu-ray on February 14th. The Blu-ray transfer is crisp and bright, even better than how it looked on the newly HD-upgraded BBC America channel. On the disc are even a couple special features. A brief “Prequel” that originally aired online provides a short back-story to the Doctor’s big planetfall. Standing by to destroy the ship he attempts to call Amy for rescue, but she is unavailable (and thus he ends up requiring Madge’s help). Also on board are three “Best of Doctor Who” features focusing on the Doctor, the Companions, and the Monsters. These too aired on BBC America last year, so if you missed them then you’ll be glad to have them here. Come February 14th get your hands on what executive Producer Steven Moffatt called “the most Christmassy Christmas special ever!”
Review by Scott Rubin
Review Sample Courtesy of BBC America