Don't fret; it's the good
No one does a Christmas episode quite like Steven Moffat. The same as 2010's A Christmas Carol before it, Moffat deftly blends together a smirkingly ridiculous sense of humor, devastatingly witty writing, a genuine and wholly-earned emotional wallop, and the truest sense of what the Christmas spirit really means. A Christmas Carol wove together a story of love, responsibility, and sacrifice; The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe, meanwhile, is about love and motherhood. Both of these specials have big, unmistakeable moral messages, and yet they're crafted with a wonderfully light touch. It certainly doesn't hurt that Doctor Who has
With as bleak and unrelenting as so much of the sixth series of Doctor Who was, it's such a greatly appreciated change of pace to see all of that followed a Christmas special this fun. It's one of those rare stories where there isn't even some nefarious alien menace to overcome. The Doctor and company face their share of threats this time around, and there's a lot of creepy imagery where you're not entirely sure at first glance how it'll all play out, but it's not about good-versus-evil so much as it is survival...about Everybody Lives. Even though there is very much a sense of childlike wonder on display here, there are some meaty emotions as well. That emotional undercurrent is what holds this story together, and I'm not embarrassed to admit that the ending left me with a lump in my throat. ...and just when you have a big, beaming smile plastered across your face about how perfect that finalé is, there's another ending that's even more perfect, and I absolutely teared up. Less than two months have passed since The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe first aired, I still had a lot of that dialogue fresh in my mind, and that well-deserved sentimentality still hit me like a slug in the gut. I love, love, love this series, and I love, love, love these characters.
A Christmas Carol set an impossibly high standard for what a Doctor Who Christmas special ought to be, and The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe proudly stands just about shoulder-to-shoulder alongside it. It's sweet, it's witty, it's blissfully nostalgic, it's a wide-eyed adventure, and it's...well, it's Christmas. Sure, there's something a little odd about watching a Christmas special in February, but it's a long wait yet until the start of the seventh series, and I couldn't be happier to have this to tide me over in the meantime. Very much Recommended.
Since the cable provider in my neck of the woods hadn't gotten around to giving BBC America the high-def treatment when this special first aired, it's kind of a thrill to finally catch The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe as it was meant to be seen. The overall quality is very much in keeping with the way the fifth and sixth series look on Blu-ray, so assuming you've watched those already, you know how the rest of this bit of the review is going to read. The digital photography is strikingly crisp and clean, showcasing a tremendous level of fine detail. Contrast remains
The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe is presented at 1080i at its broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The special has been encoded with AVC, as have its couple of hours' worth of extras, and they span both layers of this BD-50 disc.
Once again, Doctor Who hasn't gotten the lossless treatment on Blu-ray, but this DTS-HD HR 5.1 track certainly comes close enough. Seeing as how the special opens with such a bang -- a self-destructing spaceship and all that -- the subwoofer immediately packs a wallop, and bass response is similarly substantial when reinforcing such effects as the stompy footsteps of the nameless forest king. The surround channels are constantly chattering throughout: everything from splashes of reverb to mechanical wheezing to a gurgling lemonade pipe to otherworldly chants and moaning. The rears get quite a workout and very much make their presence known, to the point where they ever so slightly dominate the dialogue that's rooted front-and-center. I couldn't shake the sense that a little something was missing...a bit more punch in the midrange? Maybe I just didn't feel like I was basking in some sort of 24-bit sonic warmth? I dunno. Despite that whatever-it-is I felt like I should've heard but didn't, The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe still sounds terrific overall, and even though it wasn't a Master Audio icon lighting up on my receiver this time around, I can't say that I'm disappointed.
The only other audio option is a set of English (SDH) subtitles.
Even though the axe was swung at Doctor Who Confidential before this special was first broadcast, I could've sworn that Confidential's cameras were still rolling during the production of The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe. Disappointingly, there are no behind-the-scenes extras to speak of at all. No interviews, no commentaries, no making-of footage from the set...nothing.
Tucked inside the case is a sheet of stickers and a super-special code for use in the online Worlds in Time game.
The Final Word
The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe is about as perfect a Christmas special as I could ever have hoped to see. Okay, okay, 2010's A Christmas Carol was even more perfect, but this most recent Doctor Who special is clever, infectiously warm, and overflowing with Christmas spirit in a way I almost never see captured on television. It's a brilliant hour of entertainment, and...well, I guess that's the downside too, seeing as how it's an hour yet still saddled with a $19.99 sticker price. Even after the usual online discounts, the price tag is still kinda steep, and the featherweight extras don't sweeten the deal all that much. I guess it boils down to how much of a completist you are. If you're willing to wait a year and a half or however long it winds up being, The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe will almost certainly be collected in the inevitable Complete Seventh Series set. If you're desperate for a fix now and can't wait until this Fall for another trip to see the Doctor, you'll probably find this special worth the asking price anyway. I'd probably have given this disc a more enthused rating if there were meatier extras, but still, The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe comes Recommended just the same.