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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Doctor Who's latest Christmas special on Blu-ray and DVD

Christmas specials are an honored tradition in the rebooted Doctor Who franchise, and the holiday season of 2011 was no exception. Now, on Valentine's Day, comes the DVD and Blu-ray debut of that episode, "The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe."

The special starts with the good Doctor (Matt Smith) fumbling around in 1938. A kindly woman named Madge (Claire Skinner, Outnumbered) helps him out. Three years later, the Doctor returns to repay that kindness.

In 1941, Madge receives word that her husband, Reg (Alexander Armstrong, The Sarah Jane Adventures), has gone missing in the war. Fearing the worst, she keeps the news from her children, Lily (Holly Earl, Casualty) and Cyril (Maurice Cole), as they travel to a relative's house, outside of threatened London, for Christmas.

The house that they stay in has a strange and very festive caretaker, who is actually, though unrecognized by them, the Doctor. Cyril goes into a glowing Christmas present, and the Doctor and Lily follow him. The trio are in a snow covered world inhabited by wooden creatures. These beings wish to escape their world, but deem the visitors too weak to help them.

In the meantime, Madge goes after her missing kids, and learns that this alien planet is about be pulverized by a mining company. She finds her children and rescues them and the wooden race. But to escape, she must think of memories of home, including the bad news about Reg, which the kids witness through her. Luckily, when they do return home, Reg is there, too, safe and sound! The Doctor leaves them their happy Christmas, and makes a visit to loved ones of his own, Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill).

Honestly, the story in "The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe" is a little hokey. Many of the performers hired to join this adventure have comedic backgrounds, and while Doctor Who does often incorporate humor, that is not the focus of the show. Also, there are a few things, plot-wise, that don't quite add up, and the villains don't build that much suspense.

However, those things are minor, and pale in comparison to the joy that this special brings. It is stuffed to the gills with Christmas cheer. The Doctor has always exhibited a fondness for the December holiday, and it's readily apparent that this emotion is firmly in place here. His enthusiasm is infectious, and the adventure has a magical quality often associated with this time of year. The spirit and the tone are such that the episode seems to rise above the sum of its parts, and is thoroughly enjoyable.

One reason for this is the childlike wonder present. The Doctor goes off with the kids, not with the mom, and he fits right in, personality-wise. The adventure isn't too dangerous, and safety and happy endings are almost guaranteed right from the beginning, a strength in this kind of story, rather than a weakness. The special effects and sets add to this feel-good tone, and what is left is something that tastes very good going down.
There are references to other works in this special. The most obvious, of course, is C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, from which the episode title takes its name. Both involve children traveling through portals onto winter worlds. However, Doctor Who does not get overly religious, and the focus is certainly not preachy.

There's also the joy fans of Doctor Who will get in seeing Amy and Rory again. For them, it has been two years since the Doctor faked his death and left them, though those episodes aired only a few months ago in reality. Thus, it answers the question of, will their characters ever know the truth about the Doctor's fate? It's a heartwarming reunion many will be glad to see.

The extras are quite nice, actually taking up much more time on the disc than the special itself. A prequel to the special shows just how the Doctor ends up where Madge finds him. It's short and sweet. Plus, included are three "The Best of Doctor Who" specials that aired recently: "The Best of the Doctor," "The Best of the Companions," and "The Best of the Monsters." None are particularly impressive, but will satisfy those just wishing to relive Doctor Who moments. Plus, since each is almost as long as "The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe" itself, it makes the price a little easier to swallow.

Also cool is a teaser for the online video game, Doctor Who Worlds in Time. It looks like a really neat way to waste some time! There are stickers and a code to unlock a reward inside the packaging, which is a good bonus.

Buying the Blu-ray over the DVD is highly recommended. After all, like any Doctor Who special, there are lots of special effects. Those sorts of things are always more enjoyable with a crystal clear picture and wonderful surround sound. It's well worth the extra couple of bucks.

Buy "The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe," on sale now.

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