Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The Doctor, The Widow and The Review

Blog Music? The Majestic Tale!

"That man is quite ridiculous. You must stay away from him."

I always watch the episode I'm reviewing at least twice when doing these reviews. Just so that I can't complain about a plot detail that was actually explained and I had just glossed over it the first time. It also lets me just enjoy the episode at first, then go back so I have some notes to work from. I haven't watched The Doctor The Widow and The Wardrobe since Christmas Day, apart from to gather some screenshots for this... 'review'. I had no desire to sit through it again.

The episode starts off decent enough. The Doctor is falling out of an exploding spaceship. It's slightly disappointing to see this mini-adventure left so unexplained, but it's something that's not too significant. After falling to Earth whilst having a chat with the stratosphere, The Doctor sortof meets Madge Arwell, the pseudo-companion of the story. It's an interesting meeting, and one which I think captures the essence of Doctor Who through it's ridiculousness, and the characters bemused reactions.

We then get a window into the lives of Madge and her family, including how she met her husband, Reg... The reason they get married is quintessentially British, even if there are a few unfortunate implications. "Follow your crush around for long enough and they'll marry you." Yes! That's a lesson for the kids! While it's around 10 minutes of the episode, the window into the life of the Arwells all felt engaging and necessary for a character driven story... Even if results were less than the sum of the parts.

"Can you stop saying that? It's really annoying!"
"I know!"
While I usually love Matt Smith as The Doctor, I had serious problems with his portrayal in this episode, as he seems to have taken the whole "Doctor at Christmas" a little TOO seriously... or not serious enough, however you want to look at it. The Eleventh Doctor has always been a bit... you know. In Series 5, this was quite mild. In Series 6, the madness was dialled up, but was tempered by an underlying darkness which suggested that the zaniness was a masquerade to keep his companions asking difficult questions about Melody and his impending death. You only need to see him on his own in The Girl Who Waited to see that he's nowhere near as bumbling as he'd like people to think. While I still got the impression that he was acting for the benefit of the Arwell children in this episode, it doesn't change the fact that his over the top antics just come off as forced, irritating and unnecessary. The "I know" moments and The Doctor falling off the bunk bed come off as particularly annoying. Madge even calls him out on this.

It's not long after The Doctors antics that we're introduced to Narnia a wintery forest. While I usually have nothing but the highest praise for Steven Moffat when it comes to creating words, this falls a little short of his previous offerings. While not bad by any stretch of the imagination, the winter forests simply aren't as interesting as, for example, The Library, or 5:02pm. The forest, sadly, doesn't have much identity beyond "Narnia reference", even if it does have some interesting quirks.

The episode starts to really fall apart about 20-25 minutes in, with the introduction of the Wooden King and Queen. From there, the episode stops being about the characters so much and is motivated by a pretty shoddily made plot. It looks ready to turn into quite an interesting conflict between Bill Bailey and a forest, one which I'm imagining right now. However, the story itself never really takes off and is abandoned in favour  of what seems like a bit of an asspull. 

There's then some powerful scenes revolving around the Arwell family as the kids find out their father's plane was declared lost, which are devastatingly believable thanks to the stellar performance of Claire Skinner as Madge; not forgetting the realistically vague script by The Moff. However, something else then happens which undoes the impact of these scenes slightly. Spoilers! The father is alive after all. This is Christmas, of course. I don't mind that the dad survived, even if I would have preferred it if he had died. The problem is that the circumstances that it happens under feels so unlikely. It feels like Moffat decided that the dad would ultimately survive, but wasn't sure of how to make it work, and with not much time to work with, made some Phlebotinum up on the spot. The contrived circumstances which Reg Arwell returns ruined the drama for me; it's the chief reason I didn't want to watch the episode again.

I know.
The Doctor's fall from grace? I doubt so. But It's not great.

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