Review: Doctor Who – The Time of the Doctor and Other Eleventh Doctor Christmas Specials / Cert: PG / Director: Toby Haynes, Farren Blackburn, Saul Metzstein, Jamie Payne / Screenplay: Steven Moffat / Starring: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, Jenna Coleman / Release Date: January 20th
Future TV historians searching for evidence of Steve Moffat’s ‘fairy tale’ interpretation of Doctor Who will surely need look no further than this reasonably priced new two-disc DVD/Blu-ray release which gathers together all the festive special episodes from the Matt Smith/Moffat years. Moffat’s Christmas Doctor Who’s haven’t always concerned themselves with being “the most Christmassy Christmas episode yet” but they appear to have given him carte blanche to fully indulge his strange obsession with the Doctor as a magical, mythical, madcap eccentric travelling through space and time in his Police Box having really quaint adventures. Those who regard Doctor Who as a thrilling and imaginative drama filled with peril, jeopardy and often quite violent (if bloodless) death will find little, if anything, to entertain them here.
‘A Christmas Carol’, Smith’s first Yuletide episode (airing in 2010) is a reasonably engaging yarn which does what its title suggests; the Doctor pops back and forth in time to help the miserly Kazran Sardick change his wicked ways and bring the residents of Sardicktown out of the winter darkness and into the light. Pleasant stuff powered by a performance from Michael Gambon (Sardick) which the story doesn’t really deserve and a sweetly-sickly acting debut from singer Katherine Jenkins as Sardick’s time-trapped doomed love Abigail. The only moment of excitement or danger in ‘A Christmas Carol’ is the Doctor’s brief encounter with a flying shark. Otherwise it’s just Moffat’s usual succession of gags, Smith’s over-enthusiastic acting and a quite nice song at the end. Fortunately the irritating Amy and Rory (Gillan and Darvill) only bookend the episode.
2011’s ‘The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe’ is quite remarkably dull. Here the Doctor has become the curator of an old country house during World War Two at which the Arwell family (Mum and two pesky kids) are spending Christmas following the death of dad Reg during the war. The children wander through a magic portal the Doctor has opened for them into another dimension ruled by a wooden king and queen. Virtually nothing happens for the best part of sixty minutes and a decent guest cast – Alexander Armstrong, Bill Bailey and Arabella Weir – are criminally wasted in a story as light and inconsequential as a snowflake. Moffat makes poor Matt Smith utter the words “humaney-wumaney” at the end of the story and for this alone he can really never be forgiven.
2012’s ‘The Snowmen’ is a much better bet. Exiling himself in Victorian London following the loss of Amy and Rory in the previous episode, the Doctor has parked the TARDIS in a cloud (of course he has) and resists all efforts of his “friends” the Paternoster Gang (a tame Silurian and her wife/assistant and a comedy Sontaran) to get him to re-engage with humanity. But there’s an old foe at large – the Great Intelligence, a formless alien entity last seen in 1968 is using living snow to create killer snowmen (which we don‘t see enough of) and the Doctor becomes the object of fascination for barmaid/governess Clara Oswald (Coleman), who leads him into a mystery which will thread itself through the next eight episodes. Pacey and atmospheric (if scuppered by some inevitably inane comedy and a familiar sense of self-indulgence – the Doctor‘s extremely Sherlockian pastiche of Conan Doyle), ‘The Snowmen’ is the least abominable of the bunch here and the only episode which really invites repeat viewing.
Smith’s finale, ‘The Time of the Doctor’ aired last month and, unfortunately, was a dog’s dinner of an episode, a clumsy collection of never-ending comedy sketches which finally led to a deeply unsatisfying and undramatic story which saw the Doctor give up his adventuring to defend the sappy inhabitants of Christmastown from attack from all his best enemies (another recycled Moffat idea) for some two centuries. The episode ends after what seems like two hundred years, so dreary and uninvolving is its narrative, and Peter Capaldi regenerates in a flash from Matt Smith, who at least gets a decent dramatic send-off. Loose ends from Smith’s era are apparently tied up in an entirely made-up-as-it-goes-along fashion and despite some bangs and flashes and an obligatory roll-out of some old costumes – Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Weeping Angels – it’s all smoke and mirrors and, yet again, shot though with an effete, anodyne fairy tale aesthetic which has pretty much robbed the show of its edge and its dramatic pulse.
Despite it’s baffling PG certificate, toddlers and those of a nervous disposition will feel quite at home with this non-threatening collection of tame TARDIS tales. But long-time Doctor Who fans will be left wondering what happened to the thrills and excitement of their favourite programme and why it’s been allowed to become so fluffy, saccharine, sanitised and toothless.
There are a handful of special features but nothing new and exclusive to this release. ‘Behind the Scenes’ is the online ‘making of’ for ‘Time of the Doctor’ which manages to generate more emotion from Matt Smith leaving (he breaks down during the read-through and on his last day’s filming) than the episode itself. Two lengthy if lightweight BBC America specials looking at the history of the show and bidding a ‘Farewell to Matt Smith’ are really the sort of talking-head filler you’ll only be drawn towards once.
Extras: See above