Claire Skinner as Madge Arwell in The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe

Christmas Special Reaction Roundup

Claire Skinner as Madge Arwell in The Doctor, The Widow and The WardrobeThe Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe: two things of which definitely appeared in the episode and one that didn’t (in the physical sense anyway) but we’re not complaining, hell, if the worse thing you could say about an episode was that it was missing a bit of bedroom furniture, then you’ve done something right – in fact, there’s very little complaining all around for what was a heart-warming Christmas Day treat.

So, the final figures are in and Doctor Who did very well at Christmas, claiming a massive 10.77 million viewers according BARB’s time-adjusted figures (which do not count BBC iPlayer) making it the third-most watched show.

In fact we see fascinating figures all round (ITV’s Downton Abbey overtook EastEnders from the previously released overnights) that seem to have helped to drive yet another few rusty nails into the coffin of overnights, figures based on, apparently, no very much at all!

You’ve probably already read our own review of The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe, or even listened to our podKast discussing the episode, but what did other sites think?

That’s right, there are other websites out there chatting about Doctor Who; some of them are even worth reading!

(As rounding up this episode has proved such a mammoth task, a big thanks to the news team of Andy Reynolds and Mez Burdett for helping me out!)

So we’ll begin with a good review from The Guardian; note I said “good” and not “glowing”, which seems to be the general feeling of each of these reviews. The Guardian was particularly fond of guest star Claire Skinner, believing that her performance as Madge held the episode together.

The episode would not have held up so well, were it not for the power and class of Claire Skinner’s performance as Madge. You know somebody is going to be a worthy companion when they think nothing of a piece of alien space tech hurtling towards them at night, and the unfussy way she rescued her Spaceman-Angel back to his time machine marked Madge out from the start.

Skinner veered between a widow’s heartbreak and a mother’s heroic resilience in single heartbeats – and she even got to stomp a giant robot dreadnought across an enchanted forest.

Elsewhere in the Guardian, it is observed that:

It’s warmhearted and twinkly, and Matt Smith is ever so slightly annoying. But the kids like him, that’s what counts.

Alexander Armstrong as Reg Arwell in The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe

Anglotopia is a US blog about cool British stuff, so naturally they’re going to feature Doctor Who! Reviewing The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe they correctly point out that there is little in this tale – save the doorway and the icy world – that really justifies the CS Lewis-esque title.

…inspired by CS Lewis’s Narnia stories…It’s a fine line between ‘inspired’ and ‘copied.’ But it’s a line they hold and it’s a fun story overall.

After the huge stakes of the previous series that ended earlier in the fall, it’s nice to see a self-contained Doctor Who story where the world isn’t going to end.

Elsewhere at Monsters and Critics the feeling was that this was one of Steven Moffat’s less-assured episodes. In fact the word they used was “dud”.

…while this had a fair few nice syrupy messages to warm the cockles of Christmas time, the episode dragged a fair bit and the lack of any real villain sort of made it difficult to watch or keep any sense of interest in it.

Readers of Crave Online will know that the site is particularly adept at issuing reviews, and they don’t disappoint with a superb reading of the episode that includes this interesting observation.

We may have been spoiled by having Michael Gambon in the last “Doctor Who” Christmas special, but the emotional undercurrent of “The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe” never quite lives up to “A Christmas Carol.”

Bill Bailey in Doctor Who Christmas 2011Of course, some might argue that having Bill Bailey involved is as good as having the great Gambon on the show

Mez Burdett found a nice selection of reviews and picked the highlights from each of them, just for you…

Christmas has been and gone, the trees have been cast aside for another year and the smell of turkey and cranberries is a distant aroma being quickly replaced by that of egg shaped chocolates. Time to find out what people thought of the 2011 Doctor Who Christmas special!

The Metro Online took some quotations from various social networking sites which gave mixed reactions to the episode including:

“Tweeter Lucy Wall described the plot as ‘confusing’, adding: ‘How 8 year olds are supposed to understand it, I’ll never know.’

Katrina Carter was another user of Twitter who explained it made her cry, while Matthew Cherrill added: ‘When I wrestle the tissues off the wife and stop blubbing, I’ll tell you what I thought of Doctor Who.’

Callum Bigden complained about the BBC’s cancellation of Doctor Who Confidential, as he wanted to see how the trees in the show had been animated by the producers.”

Website was far happier with the episode however and gave it a very positive round-up:

“This year’s Christmas special…continues Moffat’s brilliant translation of literatures most iconic stories into beautifully crafted tales of science-fiction revelry. This transition not only provides for a thoroughly enjoyable viewing experience, but also serves to elevate the series itself as a storytelling medium by putting a twist of familiar tales…by giving so much time to a setting with such limited space, it provides the perfect stage for Skinner, Cole, Ear, and of course, Smith to shine, like the life forces themselves.”

Popular online sci-fi hub was also generally pleased with this year’s effort:

“The task of a Doctor Who Christmas special is generally to be entertaining fluff, without much in the way of darkness or complicated plots to overtax the brandy-soaked gray matter. And “Wardrobe” moves fast enough, and is inventive enough, that you can sort of slide past some of the muddled bits and enjoy Matt Smith doing what he does best. And it’s nice that, coming so soon after the tribute to Craig’s fatherhood, we get an extended tribute to motherhood.”

This last point is one which runs through many reviews of the episode.

Meanwhile news team regular Andy Reynolds found some great reviews at SFX and Den of Geek which are definitely worth a read.

Appropriately for an episode with a very Powell and Pressburger feel Zap2it have been celebrating the great Anglo-American relationship that now extends to having Doctor Who air on Christmas Day on both sides of the Atlantic:

“One of the many good things about the revival of Doctor Who is that it has also revived the show’s Christmas special — and that for the past two years, we actually get to see it on Christmas in the United States as fans do in the U.K.”

Doctor Who: The Doctor, The Widow and The WardrobeEven though the use of the word ‘revival’ sets all kinds of Geek alarm bells off there has been a change in the Christmas Specials – and not just the focus on the iconography and the innocent joy of the day itself.

Perhaps it’s because most audiences Christmas viewing is done through either the purple haze of a Quality Street wrapper or through the bottom of a pint glass but the two Moffat era specials have shied away from using any of the shows major villains.

SFX were more than impressed with fairytale quality of the Tree folk of Androzani Major:

“In many ways it feels like a return to the children’s storybook vibe of The Eleventh Hour, though there’s the chill of Joan Aiken beneath the cosy Enid Blyton dressing: the image of the wooden king and queen, waiting in a silent, snow-encrusted lighthouse on the edge of a whispering winter forest, feels torn from folklore, like a story you’ve always known but had somehow forgotten…”

However they ultimately felt the ‘experiment’ left the show lacking a proper ‘boo, hiss’ antagonist:

“Yes, there’s a palpable lack of a proper, crowd pleasing villain (interesting experiment, but maybe not ideal for Christmas Day, which surely demands a baddie to lob your mixed nuts and raisins at)”

The point was also raised by Den of Geek who didn’t see the villains as a failed experiment but more in line with the ideas of just what is a ‘monster’ explored by both Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat – the only criticism the beautifully designed tree folk drew was that they were overshadowed by the haunting, atypical build up towards the more traditional Doctor Who story:

“It’s the first half of the episode where it’s arguably at its strongest, but that doesn’t mean there’s too much to pick at once the children crawl through the mysterious present (where did it come from, incidentally?) and head into Doctor Who’s nod to the land of Narnia.

Here’s where the screen fills with some enchanting visuals, not least trees that appear to grow Christmas baubles. It’s almost a pity when the slightly more traditional Doctor Who story kicks in, when ‘monsters’ appear and the threat escalates. But this is Moffat-era Who, where apparent monsters have reasons for what they’re doing, and the nature of just who the actual monster is, once more, is called into question.

The creatures this time, made of wood, I found eerily effective, although the least interesting part of the episode. I think, though, that’s because the Arwells are just far more intriguing people to be around, and the moments where the focus shifts away from them are felt.”

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. The consensus seems to have been that the episode was atmospheric, watchable and enjoyable but sadly didn’t challenge, had some interesting plot-holes and carried on the “mother love” trope which while honorable has popped up in Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who countless times…


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