Tuesday, 27 December 2011

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

Doctor: 'Happy crying. Humany wumany.'

I’m starting to think that Matt Smith was made for Christmas. He’s like James Bond, Superman and Father Christmas all rolled into one. Tonight’s episode had it all: an action packed opening sequence, a cutesy fairy tale middle section, and an ending which could only have left the steeliest heart unmoved. Throw in the Magna Carta, hammocks, a window disguised as a mirror, a mirror disguised as a window, and it pretty much had the lot. Even lemonade on tap.

After the emotional weight of season six, tonight’s episode brought some much needed levity to proceedings. There was no real sense of danger, as we just knew that Reg would somehow turn up at the end. Christmas is a time for miracles (or so they keep telling us), and even Steven Moffat wouldn’t dare bump off someone’s dad at Christmas. Instead, the Doctor cast off his season six broodiness, clothed himself in a mood more conducive to the festive season, and was positively brimming with good will to all beings. Even David Tennant at his bonkers best would've been hard pressed to keep pace with Matt Smith's infectious exuberance. He was quite simply off his head.

In much the same way that last year’s 'A Christmas Carol' took its inspiration (and indeed its name) from Dickens' Christmas classic, tonight’s tale borrowed many of its core themes from C.S. Lewis’ 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe'. It took place during a similar era (1940s?), featured a portal into a snow laden world, and even had a wardrobe (a big blue, TARDIS shaped wardrobe).  It didn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of 'A Christmas Carol', but there was still much to love. Visually, it looked stunning, the kids were as cute as buttons, and the story itself was as Christmassy as a great big Christmas tree, wrapped in Christmassy tinsel, and decorated with big Christmassy wooden people spawning baubles.

It did, however, lack the cleverness and complexity that we've come to expect from Moffat's stories. For me, he's at his best when he’s punishing our brains with his seemingly incomprehensible time lines. Tonight's tale was a little light on invention and convolution—which is great news for viewers who found season six's plotting a little too involved—but I like to be bamboozled. Of course, you could (and probably should) argue that you can't judge a Christmas episode by a season episode's standards; the problem with Christmas episodes is that they’re not aimed at the typical fan, they’re aimed at a much broader demographic, so there’ll always be a degree of box ticking going on. Rip roaring opening sequence for the Dads. Check. Famous comedy cameos of people pretending to be in a Monty Python sketch. Check. Assorted Christmas paraphernalia. Check. Fantasy style mid-section for the kids. Check. Classic and Nu-Who references for the fanboys. Check. Proper English accents. Check. Big weepy bit at the end for the emotionally unstable. Sob! I mean... check.

Tonight's episode undoubtedly ticked many boxes. If I have one complaint, it's that it was slanted a little too heavily towards the younger viewer. Last year's episode seemed to strike a far better balance, and it wasn’t until the last 15 minutes that this episode finally came to life for me. I got a real emotional kick out of Madge begging to be excused from reliving her husband's death. Seeing Lily and Cyril's reaction to the news of their father's passing was equally heart wrenching. Claire Skinner did a great job of portraying a mother struggling to cope with her own grief, whilst trying to protect her unknowing family. Yes, the dialogue was occasionally overly sentimental and, yes it did veer towards the cheesy at times, but you couldn’t help but sympathise with her predicament. I can’t say I blamed her for keeping quiet about Reg’s death. It was an impossible situation.

I was significantly less chuffed with the underuse of Bill Bailey, Arabella Weir, and Paul Bazely. All they did was dump exposition in our faces, crack a few gags, and then scarper. Bazely, despite the silliness of his character, I quite enjoyed; Bailey and Weir just seemed to be playing versions of themselves, which is one of the reasons I’m not overly keen on celebrity cameos. They’re often functional, but seldom anything to write home about. (I wouldn’t anyway. My folks hate Doctor Who.) Which is a real shame because I love Bill Bailey and Arabella Weir.

It looks as though the Doctor was wrong about not having feelings like Madge's. Despite his protests to the contrary, the Doctor's more human than he cares to admit. Him wiping away a tear at Amy's house was proof of that. And nice last minute cameo from Amy and Rory. Remember when they left the show four episodes ago? Has anybody successfully explained why that happened yet? Not that I wasn't glad to see them—to the contrary, Amy shooting the Doctor in the face with a water pistol was a real highlight for me. That's how I'm going to get rid of carol singers next year. Father Christmas, too, if he doesn't stop leaving me shit for Christmas.

Other Thoughts:

—Androzani Major was a nice tip of the hat to 'The Caves of Androzani'.

—No more Doctor Who Confidential? Thanks a lot BBC! Why don't you give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it?

—Nice dodge leaving Arthur and Karen's names out of the opening credits. I wasn't expecting to see them again until autumn, then suddenly, there they were. Karen was wearing a lovely Lund-esque jumper.

—Madge goes up once in a plane and can suddenly pilot an Androzani harvester? Impressive! They're clearly exactly the same.

—The high octane intro was probably best understood in the context of the prequel to tonight's episode. You can watch it here.

—After 'The Christmas Invasion' I have a profound distrust of spinning Christmas trees.

—Nice to see the Doctor flying through the time vortex again.

—It's a well known fact that slippers have absolutely no grip in snow. In real life, Cyril would have been flat on his back in seconds. Unless it was special non-slip snow.

—Surviving acid rain in nothing more than a coat? Withstanding the vacuum of space in nothing but a tweed jacket? Christmas baubles that turn into sentient wooden people? Yep, all these things can totally happen.


Doctor: 'Multidimensional, triple encoded, temporal interface... not really susceptible to pointy things.'
Madge: 'Got it!'
Doctor: 'Okay... suddenly the last 900 years of time travel seem that bit less secure.'

Doctor: 'Kitchen. That’s a cooker, probably... and these are taps. Hot. Cold. Lemonade.'
Cyril: 'Lemonade?'
Doctor: 'I know!'

Madge: 'Why are you doing all this?'
Doctor: 'I’m trying to take care of things. I’m the Caretaker.'
Madge: 'That’s not what Caretakers do.'
Doctor: "Then why are they called Caretakers?"

Doctor: 'What’s the point of them being happy now if they’re going to be sad later? The answer is, of course, because they’re going to be sad later.'

Madge: 'That man is quite ridiculous. You must stay away from him.'
Lily: 'I like him.'
Cyril: 'I like him, too.'

Doctor: 'Oh, he’s good. The old bear in duvet, eh? Classic!'

Lily: 'Where are we?'
Doctor: 'The forest, in a box, in the sitting room. Pay attention!'

Lily: 'I don’t understand... is this place real? Is it Fairyland?'
Doctor: 'Fairyland? Oh, grow up, Lily. Fairyland looks completely different.'

Droxil: 'Please tell me we can tell the difference between wool and sidearms.'
Ven-Garr: 'We can tell the difference, Sir.'
Droxil: 'Can we?'
Ven-Garr: 'Not always, Sir, no.'

Doctor: 'Crying when you’re happy? Good for you. That’s so human.'

Doctor: 'Oh, aliens made of wood. This was always going to happen, you know?'

Lily: 'What’s happening?'
Doctor: 'No idea. Do what I do. Hold tight, and pretend it’s a plan.'

Doctor: 'I’d imagine you’d prefer to be alone.'
Madge: 'I don’t believe anyone would prefer that. Stay close, Caretaker.'

Amy: 'If that is more carol singers, I have a water pistol, You don’t want to be all wet on a night like this.'

Amy: 'So, you’re not dead.'
Doctor: '...and a Happy New Year!'
Amy: 'River told us.'
Doctor: 'Well, of course she did.'
Amy: 'She’s a good girl.'

Rory: 'Whoa... you’re not dead then?'
Amy: 'Done that.'
Rory: 'Oh!'

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