Thursday, 2 February 2012

"The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe"

Another year and another Doctor Who special to lighten up Christmas Day and again, Steven Moffat’s takes a well-known Christmas story and reinterprets it. This time it’s C.S. Lewis’s beloved piece of High-Church Anglican propaganda, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Again the scene is set by an utterly awesome pre-titles sequence that manages to evoke the first scene of Star Wars and the first scene of a Bond film. This is, however, Doctor Who and the Doctor’s dashing escape is in a space suit that he has put on back to front, in which less than dignified situation, he is discovered in a crater by Madge Arwell, who immediately leaps to the rescue. She returns to her humdrum provincial life, but this is the eve of the greatest war the world has yet known and the lives of the Arwell family will be shaken forever. The father will be taken away from them and, it seems, Christmas will forever be the time that they lost him. However, the Doctor is determined to repay the debt and, as the ‘caretaker’ of the house they are staying at, he is determined to give the Arwells the best Christmas ever.

Moffat takes striking pieces of imagery from Narnia- the winter forest through a portal, the forbidding castle in the snow, but the resulting story is very much his own. It is a story without villains, but there is enough going on for the plot not to need them. We have a population of sentient trees trying to flee from deforestation, we have the peril of children lost in the snow and, above all, we have the love of a grieving mother. It is Madge’s grief and love which drives the story, which makes her the heroine, whether ensnaring the Androzani foresters with her tears or piloting their tripod to the castle. Some might baulk at the resolution of the story, but it makes perfect sense and leads the Doctor to an important conclusion- there are people closer to him who will have a grief-filled Christmas. All this is wrapped up in an irresistible package of Moffat’s imagination. The forest world is so inexplicably alien that it can only be understood in the way a child sees it- a world of Christmas trees and wooden kings and queens. The story is, as always, brimming with Moffat’s delicious dialogue ranging from the hilarious to the poignant.

Newcomer Farren Blackburn directs with great energy and the production is uniformally excellent, with a battle cruiser that makes a Star Destroyer look like a Trabant and the aforementioned tripod (I love tripods). The supporting cast is led by the wonderful Claire Skinner who is fantastic as Madge. The children are very well played by Maurice Cole and Lily Arwell. I was thrilled to find out that Bill Bailey, one of the finest stand up comedians in the world would be appearing and, although his role could have been bigger, his ageing puppydog-ish look is unmistakeable. Matt is wonderful as ever, especially in this new phase as a more carefree Doctor. He realises, however that he does have some responsibilities and the brief scene with Amy and Rory is very welcome.

"The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe" is fine yuletide entertainment and is worth revisiting- a good thing, as we are in for the longest wait since 2005...
NEXT: "Asylum of the Daleks"