Well, that was surreal.
Never, in all the years of covering Doctor Who at Den Of Geek, have I sat at screening where Steven Moffat sat half way between two major figures in the British government.
On one side, the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls. Meanwhile, the Chancellor Of The Exchequer, George Osborne, was a few seats to the other. Given that we were all invited to suggest who our scariest monsters were before the screening, it was a wonder so many resisted such an easy opportunity. Rest assured that we did our bit.The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe, though, the reason you’re actually here, is lovely. An enchanting hour of television, anchored by a tremendous turn from Claire Skinner. She’s not a million miles away from her work in Outnumbered here, but as Madge Arwell, a Second World War widower facing her first Christmas away from her husband, her performance is one of conviction, and measure.
The only bits of the story I’ll tell you are the ones you’re likely to already know. The Doctor arrives into Madge’s life, she does him a good turn, and he promises that he’ll return the favour. As she faces a lonely Christmas, the Doctor returns as The Caretaker, and things evolve from there.
Opening with a few welcome tips of the hat to Star Wars pre-credits, what immediately shines through here is the comedy. There’s an abundance of it, much of it derived from Steven Moffat’s very witty script. But he also gives Matt Smith a platform to showcase his enviable comedic talents, and the first twenty minutes or so is an absolute Christmassy blast. It’s very, very funny.
The tone begins, inevitably, to evolve throughout the episode, and the Narnia elements that were hinted come through loud and clear. This is enhanced by some quite wonderful production design, and a delicate score from Murray Gold, too.
It’s very Christmassy in feel, and, as always, there’s a serious core to it. There is a Doctor Who story in the midst of it all, and it’s a pretty standalone one. Furthermore, it’s certainly an episode that you can, and will, enjoy, without requiring quite the levels of concentration demanded come the end of series six.
I also love the fact that Steven Moffat’s writing takes children so seriously. That beneath the jokes and the jabs at the abilities or otherwise of grown-ups, there’s a rock solid heart to what the characters are going through. The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe contains its cast list quite a lot, and that means that there’s genuinely time to focus on what Madge and her family are going through. Real credit and to both Holly Earl and Maurice Cole for making their particularly young characters so believable, and easy to root for.
I was disappointed we didn’t get more of Bill Bailey and Arabella Weir, who were clearly having fun with their roles here, as well as their emotional companion, which again, we won’t spoil for you. Furthermore, the strength of the characters, which made spending time with them a pleasure, meant things dropped just a little when it came time to heavily press on with the story.
But crikey, this was good. It’s a very different episode from last year’s A Christmas Carol, effortlessly blending drama and comedy, whilst also feeling just a bit more relaxed than Who has been for a while. It feels separate enough from the last series, but savvy enough to keep the odd tie in place.
It’s, for me, the best Christmas special since The Christmas Invasion (and I say that having loved last year’s, too), and it’s pitched quite brilliantly, given the day and time it’s going out.
Enjoy it. I did. I can’t tell you for sure what the British government thought, though…