Doctor Who - The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe. Yesterday BBC One aired a delightful and funny piece of mystery and suspense taking place in a snowy forest. The Gruffalo's Child was magnificent, a superb appetizer before the eagerly expected television event of this 2011 Christmas holiday: the Downton Abbey special on ITV1. In-between the Beeb aired Doctor Who.
Doctor Who is all angst for its loyal fans these days: changes in the production team, interrogation about the schedule of Series 7 and its number of episodes, what looks like communication mishaps around rumours of a movie project, etc. This after the totally unsatisfactory sixth series, with its budget arbitration and blatant writing issues. As the celebration of our favourite time lord's 50th birthday comes closer, Doctor Who Confidential has been axed, Torchwood will be remembered as a global laughing stock, and we miss the wonderful Elisabeth Sladen.
In The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe, the Doctor (Matt Smith) escapes from a spaceship before its destruction, falls into space and must catch a space suit before reaching the Earth. He "gets dressed in a hurry" and crashes in 1938's England, where he's rescued by Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner). Three years later, during World War II, Madge's husband Reg (Alexander Armstrong) is presumed killed while flying his bomber home. She won't tell the news to her children, Lily (Holly Earl) and Cyril (Maurice Cole), until after Christmas, which they must all spend at their uncle Digby's house. The house has a new caretaker, the Doctor, who always pays his debts.
Sold as the "most Christmassy Christmas special ever", 2010's A Christmas Carol was in reality just plain bad: Dickens goes Top of the Pops, with Michael Gambon as Scrooge, Katherine Jenkins as herself, and Bruce from Jaws. This time, Who supremo Steven Moffat goes into C.S. Lewis's territory with a nod to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. And past the shaky and gratuitous pre-credit sequence, and the irritating scenes with Matt Smith as Willy Wonka in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, viewers can embark on a story surprisingly more faithful to the spirit of Christmas than last year's mess.
Of course most of the light of this episode seems provided by candles - like in many BBC contemporary dramas - and some sfx range from clumsy to near embarassing, but The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe succeeds in delivering an average hour of family entertainment. Which is even more than what you can say of the majority of Series 6, especially after the disastrous The Wedding of River Song. Besides, unlike the previous series, the special does a proper use of its guest talents - particularly the great Bill Bailey. The Harvest Rangers of Androzani Major (hello, reference alert!) are a pure comedic treat.
Innocuous, this 2011 Christmas "special" brings nothing to the mythology but at least doesn't scorn it. A solace in these uncertain times. Oh, could have done without the Ponds.
Directed by Farren Blackburn.