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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Doctor Who: The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe (Blu-ray)
Doctor Who: The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe (Blu-ray)
BBC Worldwide // Unrated // February 14, 2012 // Region Free
List Price: $19.89 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted February 11, 2012 | E-mail the Author
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The good news! The Doctor (Matt Smith) has once again saved that little ball of mud we call "Earth" from a legion of nasty alien invaders. The bad news! The Doctor was kind
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of still on their ship when it blew up. That's okay. He's fully prepared for that sort of thing, and as the Doctor hurtles through Earth's atmosphere, he's able to slip on a protective suit almost entirely correctly before crashlanding in some sleepy British village at the tailend of the 1930s. Madge (Claire Skinner), a kindly mother of two, rolls right along with the punches. Without missing a beat, Madge helps this oddball spaceman with his head on backwards to his big, blue police box. A few minutes into this year's Christmas special, and all is right with the world. 'Course, it wouldn't be Doctor Who if things stayed that way for long. Flash forward three years, and Madge wakes up in a sweat, still reeling from the news that her husband's plane has gone missing. He's feared dead in a war that's claimed so many lives, and Madge can't bring herself to break the news to her two young children, Lily (Holly Earl) and Cyril (Maurice Cole)...not at Christmastime, at least. The Doctor still owes her quite a favor, so when Madge and the kids flee for the safety of the family's country estate, they find the place sufficiently Doctor-ed up. Dancing chairs! Lemonade plumbing! Hammocks! An enormous present under the tree with the bluest blue wrapping paper you've ever seen! That big blue box contains one more surprise that the Doctor is cooking up, although it's not ready for prime time quite yet. After noticing that present pulsing and glowing, Cyril couldn't resist sneaking a peek in the wee hours of the morning, and before you know it, he's whisked away to some far-flung alien world.

Don't fret; it's the good
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kind of far-flung alien world. It's blanketed in snow, the trees grow their own ornaments, and there aren't any malevolent, children-gobbling creatures prowling around in the shadows. It's as safe a place in the known universe as you're ever likely to find. The only thing is that the Doctor hasn't had a chance to make sure it's going to stay that way. Turns out that there are some folks with very big plans for this otherwise-uninhabited alien world, and none of those plans involve anyone or anything...um, living. Before you know it, the Doctor, Madge, and the kids are scattered all over the place, the trees aren't content to stay rooted, and the entire face of the planet is about to get pan-seared.

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
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assembled such a marvelous cast this year. Claire Skinner instantly draws me in as Madge, and introducing her as a seemingly unflappable goofball makes the heartache of what she's forced to endure afterwards that much more wrenching. Her strength, her moral compass, and her boundless charm never waver. Holly Earl and Maurice Cole capture the wide-eyed awe and sentimentality a story like this demands without getting cloying or overly precocious about it. Even the supporting players are terrific. I mean, you get Bill Bailey dolled up as a Warhammer Space Marine, and what could be better than that?

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
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unwaveringly robust throughout, and its palette is eyepoppingly colorful. The hour-long special is also lavished with a wonderfully high bitrate, staving off any hiccups in the compression. I really can't think of anything to gripe about or criticize whatsoever. I've been nothing but happy with the way the Eleventh Doctor's run has looked on Blu-ray, so when I say that The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe delivers more of the same, I mean that as the very highest compliment.

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.
  • Prequel (1 min.; HD): Well, the menu calls it a 'prequel' anyway. I'd say it's more of a 'prologue'. Whatever word you wind up leaning towards, this minute-and-a-half clip picks up shortly before that spaceship just outside Earth's orbit goes kaboom. It doesn't really answer any burning questions you might've had, but you get a lot more of Matt Smith, a quick TARDIS
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    interior shot, and a big, glowy, red button, and that's good enough for me.

  • Kind of a Lot of Retrospectives (2 hrs., 11 min.; HD): There are three -- count 'em! -- retrospectives on this Blu-ray disc: "The Best of the Doctor", "The Best of the Companions", and "The Best of the Monsters", each clocking in at 44 minutes or so a pop. All three stick to the same basic structure, with a gaggle of very American comedians, actors, musicians, and miscellaneous geek icon types gushing about how much they love the fifth and sixth series of Doctor Who. Mark Sheppard is the only participant from the other side of the pond and the only one who's had anything to do with Doctor Who himself.

    These three specials are...well, okay, I guess. It's basically a bunch of talking head interviews with awesome people like Natalie Morales and Paul F. Tompkins saying how amazing someone or something in an episode of Doctor Who is, that's followed by a long excerpt from the show, and then you lather, rinse, and repeat for a couple hours. It's kind of like I Love the '80s, only swapping out the snark for mildly quippy fanboy reverence. There's a little analysis and insight, but these retrospectives generally keep things pretty recap-py...more of a "hey, remember that episode with Churchill and the Daleks?!?" rather than a scrunchy-faced video essay sort of thing. The first two specials are likeable enough, but once you get to "The Best of the Monsters", I was kind of ready to mash the 'Stop' button since they'd already said pretty much the same things about these creatures. You do get to see some Q&A with cosplaying Whovians at Comic Con, so there's that.

    These three retrospectives are an okay way to pass the time, but they're so limited in scope and hardly essential viewing, and I really wish this Blu-ray disc had something a little more substantial in the way of extras to offer.

  • Video Game Teaser (1 min.; HD): Rounding out the extras is a high-def teaser for the "Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock" game that's coming out next month.

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.
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