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DVD Review

DVD cover

Doctor Who
The Time of the Doctor + Other Eleventh Doctor Christmas Specials


Starring: Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman
Distributor: BBC DVD
RRP: £13.99
Certificate: PG
Release Date: 20 January 2014


The latest Doctor Who Christmas special, the final episode to star Matt Smith, comes to DVD – though rather oddly it is joined by all of the Eleventh Doctor’s previous specials, starting with…

Amy and Rory are trapped on board a stricken space liner that’s plummeting through banks of thick icy fog to the surface of the planet below. Only one man has the power to save them, a man who possesses a machine that can clear the fog and allow them to land safely. That man is Kazran Sardick, a rich but lonely old miser who rules Sardicktown with a sky-mast of iron. The Doctor’s only chance of rescuing the ship’s four thousand passengers is to save Kazran’s soul and show him that life is worth living. But is Kazran beyond redemption? And what is lurking in the fogs of Christmas Eve…?

A Christmas Carol has to be the most Christmassy Doctor Who Christmas special of them all (on television at least – the Eighth Doctor audio adventure Relative Dimensions is also a strong contender). Whereas previous specials written by Russell T Davies and starring David Tennant have been more like regular episodes with just a few festive trimmings, such as snow, killer Christmas trees and robot Santas, this one, from the pen of Steven Moffat (as are all the episodes on this DVD), is a Christmas story in its very heart and soul, despite taking place on another planet. Even Father Christmas – or, as the Doctor knows him, Jeff – is revealed to be real (lending some validity to the dotty TV Comic First Doctor strip A Christmas Story)!

As its title suggests, this is a variation on Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, with Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon) standing in for Ebenezer Scrooge and the Doctor as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Gambon gives a wonderful, multi-faceted performance as the old Kazran. Even at the start of the episode, before he has begun his transformation, he isn’t simply a villain. The actor reveals the pain beneath the man’s callous exterior – see the tears in his eyes as he spits out the words, “I despise Christmas!” He’s also funny, with wonderful little lines such as, “Was that a sort of threaty thing?”, and delightfully sardonic as he pours scorn on the seasonal festivities: “On every world, wherever people are, in the deepest part of the winter, at the exact mid-point, everybody stops and turns, and hugs, as if to say, ‘Well done! Well done, everyone! We’re halfway out of the dark.’ … You know what I call it? I call it expecting something for nothing!”

Other gags in this largely light-hearted episode include homages to Star Trek (complete with little blinking lights beneath the ship’s screen and the presence of a Geordi La Forge look-alike), a dig at the Fourth Doctor’s claim about isomorphic TARDIS controls in Pyramids of Mars, and practically everything Smith does and says. “Come on,” the Doctor tells the young Kazran (Laurence Belcher), “we’re boys! And you know what boys say in the face of danger. … Mummy!”

Karen Gillan as Amy Pond and Arthur Darvill as Rory Williams hardly get a look-in, which is particularly ironic in the latter’s case, as this episode marks the first time that he has had his name in the opening titles. The pair get a few good moments, particularly the embarrassment caused by what they were wearing in the honeymoon suite, but for the most part this episode belongs to Smith, Gambon, and Katherine Jenkins as Abigail – whose singing voice proves pivotal to the plot, and tremendously moving to boot.

Not for the first time (and not for the last), Moffat gleefully flouts the usual rules of time travel in Doctor Who, showing the Doctor overtly interfering with Kazran’s past, even cheekily popping forward for a moment to obtain a password. Last time (in The Big Bang), his excuse for such antics was the collapse of the universe and the breakdown of its physical laws. This time… well, it’s Christmas! Upon repeated viewing, though, it’s easy to imagine Sardick’s opening scene playing out in a similar manner post-interference, with Kazran unwilling to release Abigail for an entirely different reason.

All in all, A Christmas Carol provides an excellent Christmas past.



On Christmas Eve, 1938, Madge Arwell comes to the aid of an injured spaceman as she cycles home. He promises to repay her kindness – all she has to do is make a wish. Three years later, a devastated Madge escapes war-torn London with her two children for a dilapidated house in Dorset. She is crippled with grief at the news that her husband has been lost over the English Channel, but determined to give Lily and Cyril the best Christmas ever. The Arwells are surprised to be greeted by a madcap caretaker whose mysterious Christmas gift leads them into a magical, wintry wonderland…

In common with the previous special, The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe is a far more festive affair than any of Tennant’s Christmas episodes. The plot is not merely set during the holiday period, but features a planet of living Christmas trees, which naturally grow baubles on their branches. “Is it Fairyland?” asks teenager Lily (Holly Earl). “Fairyland?” cries the exasperated Doctor. “Oh grow up, Lily – Fairyland looks completely different!”

Once again, Moffat’s plot takes its cue from a famous work of prose fiction, screen adaptations of which are commonly trotted out at Christmas: CS Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The wardrobe in this instance is the TARDIS, though it is a giant Christmas present that leads to the Narnia-like other world. Anyone who thinks that CS Lewis has no place in the world of Doctor Who should remember that one of the inspirations for the TARDIS when the show was created more than fifty years ago is the “magic door” of the Narnia series.

The widow is Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner), a resourceful, no-nonsense character, whose mothering instincts are explored more fully than Amy’s were during Series 6. It’s amusing to imagine Skinner’s Outnumbered co-stars playing the other characters… but then the wood creatures would probably have been more frightened of the children than the children are of them! Instead of Hugh Dennis (who might have been good in the role, actually), Reg is played by Alexander Armstrong, who succeeds in making his performance as the wartime pilot completely different from his more familiar RAF character in The Armstrong & Miller Show – respect! Less successful is the casting of Bill Bailey and Arabella Weir, who are frankly wasted in bit parts.

The episode also raises some awkward questions, such as: is it all the Doctor’s fault, the family’s almost fatal trip to the alien planet and possibly even Madge’s bereavement in the first place? That’s a tough one to answer, but the next two are easier. Naysayers have pointed out that the Doctor should not be able to breathe in the vacuum of space during the excitingly madcap opening sequence. Well, he can’t (which is why he needs the spacesuit, of course), though he can survive without oxygen for several minutes. Others have wondered why the TARDIS is on Earth when the Doctor is aboard the spaceship. Maybe he snuck aboard the ship via an alien shuttle (there’s a whole adventure there that we only see the climax to). Alternatively, perhaps the TARDIS starts off aboard the spaceship, but homes in on the nearest planet after the craft’s destruction (as it does in another Christmas special, Voyage of the Damned).

Never mind all that, though, because on the whole The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe is undemanding family fun with plenty of thrills, laughs and human interest. The tree people are wonderfully creepy yet also beautiful, in both appearance and voice – is it possible that their spirits might one day evolve into the Forest of Cheem (who get a name check)? Humour is present in just about everything the Eleventh Doctor does and says – except when we get to an emotional bit. The most moving moments for me are the lovely surprise at the end (well, it was a surprise at the time of broadcast) and the Doctor’s “What’s the point of them being happy if they’re going to be sad later?” speech to Madge. “The answer, of course, is that they’re going to be sad later.”

This is a worthwhile addition to your wardrobe – or whichever cabinet or shelf you store your DVDs.



It is Christmas Eve, 1892, and the falling snow is the stuff of fairytales. When the fairytale becomes a nightmare and a chilling menace threatens Earth, an unorthodox young governess called Clara calls on the Doctor for help. But the Time Lord is in mourning for the loss of Amy and Rory, reclusive and determined not to engage in the problems of the universe, despite the best efforts of his old friends Vastra, Jenny and Strax. Will the Doctor really abandon humankind, or will he fight to save the world and Christmas from the icy clutches of Dr Simeon and his sinister army of snowmen…?

The inclusion of an old enemy in The Snowmen managed to take me by surprise the first time I saw it. I didn’t cotton on until close to the end of the episode, and I could have kicked myself, because there is no shortage of clues: a formless intelligence, its manipulation of some abominable snowmen, a map of the London Underground, and the initials GI. Perhaps I was distracted by the involvement of Richard E Grant as Dr Simeon – will the writer reference Scream of the Shalka, I wondered…? (He didn’t.)

It’s also great to have the Paternoster Gang back: Madame Vastra the Silurian detective (Neve McIntosh), her assistant Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart) and Strax the Sontaran (Dan Starkey). I particularly enjoyed the latter’s line, “Sir, please do not noogie me during combat prep!” As well as returning aliens, there are also companion-based kisses to the past. The pub at which Clara (Jenna Coleman) works is called The Rose and Crown, which may or may not be a reference to Rose Tyler, and “pond” is the one-word answer that grabs the reclusive Doctor’s attention.

But never mind past companions when the current one is so fascinating! Though some of the intrigue surrounding Clara Oswald has been irrevocably diminished in light of The Name of the Doctor, the appeal of Coleman’s portrayal remains. She gives a charming performance, and demonstrates her versatility by playing two different versions of Clara in just this one episode: the Cockney barmaid and the posh governess. Her attitudes may seem too modern for the 19th century, but, as we would discover later, there’s a good reason for that…

Talking of Victorian values, we are amused by the way in which various male characters are less put out by the fact that the Great Detective is a reptile than by the fact that she is a woman. Similarly, they are more shocked by the suggestion that Clara might be entertaining a gentleman friend upstairs than by the presence of a Silurian, a Sontaran and sentient snow!

This episode also heralds a new set design for the TARDIS interior, reworked opening titles and a remixed theme. I found the former unnecessary, though the staging of its introduction is superbly done. I’m not sure that the new signature tune is an improvement, though as an old-school fan I love the fact that we can now see the Doctor’s face in the opening titles, for the first time in the revived series! However, the DVD menus still cling on to the 2010 version of the theme.

All in all, The Snowmen is a pleasant present from the past.



Orbiting the quiet backwater planet of Trenzalore, the massed forces of the universe’s deadliest species gather, drawn to a mysterious message that echoes out to the stars. The Daleks are here, as are the Cybermen, the Sontarans, the Weeping Angels and the Church of the Papal Mainframe… and among them is the Doctor. Rescuing Clara from an uncomfortable family Christmas dinner, the Time Lord must learn what the enigmatic signal means – for both his own fate and that of the universe. The time of the Doctor is approaching, as his eleventh incarnation faces his last battle…

The Time of the Doctor is the least Christmassy episode in this collection. Gone is the standalone jollity of Smith’s first couple of specials, as Moffat crams in references to previous adventures in his efforts to tie up loose ends (some of which you might have forgotten were left dangling in the first place) and bring the era of the Eleventh Doctor to a close. Quite apart from all the returning monsters, there are payoffs on the mystery of what caused the TARDIS to explode in The Pandorica Opens, what the Doctor saw in Room 11 in The God Complex, the Siege of Trenzalore and the survival of Gallifrey.

Some familiar Moffat tropes are put to use here, including a gathering of alien spaceships, each of which, as in The Pandorica Opens, seems unwilling to make the first move. As in The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, there is even a creaking wooden creature among their ranks. A lot of time passes for the Doctor off-screen (providing ample territory for licensed fiction to revisit some day – I’d love there to be more adventures with Handles the Cyber-head). As is all too often the case, the solution to a seemingly complex problem is actually very basic – Clara simply asks for help. There are even some similarities to regeneration stories from the previous showrunner. As in The Parting of the Ways, the Doctor sends his companion home against her will, to keep her safe. As in The End of Time, the Doctor’s regeneration energy seems to get more destructive every time – next time, he might wipe out a city!

Moffat does at least acknowledge his use of deus ex machina plot devices, to good comic effect. The Doctor’s ultimate plan is to: “Talk very fast, hope something good happens, take the credit. That’s generally how it works.” This is indeed how it works here. The limits of regeneration are well known, but we also know that the Doctor never obeys the rules: “Sorry, what did you say? Did you mention the rules? … Never, ever tell me the rules!”

There are a few plot holes. Doesn’t it seem unlikely that the Doctor, a Time Lord, is unable to translate a message from his own people? How can he not know the name of the planet he is on? Didn’t he check the co-ordinates when the TARDIS arrived? On the other hand, the writer clears up a couple of issues from his previous episode, The Day of the Doctor. Here the Time Lord reveals a level of anxiety about the possible return of his people, a reaction that was curiously lacking in The Day of the Doctor, given his fears in The End of Time. Moffat also addresses the fact that the TARDIS phone is not usually patched through to the police box exterior, as it was in The Day of the Doctor. Perhaps the writer will provide answers to my questions about The Time of the Doctor in the next episode…!

This instalment is a rather shapeless affair in terms of plot. I found it quite compelling until it started jumping forward by centuries at a time. It’s almost as if the writer is trying to compensate for Smith’s relatively short tenure in the role. The story gets its groove back in time for the regeneration, though. The Eleventh Doctor is refreshingly upbeat about his imminent demise, unlike the whinging Tenth Doctor with his “I don’t want to go.” And I was truly moved by a return visit from a familiar face.

The Time of the Doctor may be the least Christmassy episode in this collection, but it’s still more Christmassy than any of Davies’s. It gives us visits to Clara’s Christmas dinner, an entire town called Christmas, and – most intriguing of all – the ghost of Doctor Who future in the form of Peter Capaldi at the end.



There have been unpleasant rumblings among fandom about the inclusion of the older episodes in this release, which most of us surely already own. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that the price is comparable to a single episode release, so you’re not really paying for them all over again. This two-disc set also contains three documentary puff pieces. Behind the Lens (13 minutes) goes behind the scenes of the making of The Time of the Doctor. Tales from the TARDIS (43 minutes) looks back at the last fifty years of the show, including interviews with most of the surviving Doctors and several clips. Finally, Farewell to Matt Smith (43 minutes), narrated by Alex Kingston (alias River Song), looks back at Smith’s time as the Eleventh Doctor, with many more clips.

Though not everything in this collection is essential viewing, there should be enough here to entertain you. Farewell, Matt Smith. It’s been fun.

Richard McGinlay

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