Sunday, June 7, 2015

Aragon vs. Anderson: The Doctor The Widow and the Wardrobe



Now that I have a few minutes free, I thought I'd go back to one of my great passions...bashing The Whorist (or as it's generally known, The Nerdist), in particular their Doctor Who reviews by one Kyle Anderson.

Mr. Anderson (now doesn't that sound sinister) in my view, has rarely if ever met a Doctor Who post-Rose story that he hasn't loved.  I don't mean liked.  I mean L-O-V-E-D, to where that particular episode is the Best Doctor Who Episode of All Time...until the next episode when THAT becomes the Best Doctor Who Episode of All Time.  It's gotten to be almost a point of parody to see how Anderson rarely finds fault with a Doctor Who episode.  I don't mean just to nitpick on a few things.  I mean give a bona-fide negative review.  Even I, someone who has been vociferous in my condemnation for many NuWho episodes, do admit when I see a good one (like Flatline or Mummy on the Orient Express).  Anderson, however, will almost always find something to wax rhapsodic about, even on something as atrocious as In the Forest of the Night

I was intrigued by this, so a little research was required.  I went as far back as I could regarding Anderson's Doctor Who reviews, and the earliest one I could find was the Series/Season Six opener, The Impossible Astronaut.  What I've done is taken Kyle Anderson's review verbatim, and offered my own 'translation' to the text to see what Anderson is, in my view, really saying.  I also throw in my own thoughts as to what is being said.

I hope this will be a fun and informative journey into the strange mind of the Functioning Nerd.

I present Part 14 of The Nerdist as Whore: The Doctor, The Widow, and The Wardrobe .  My 'translations' are in red.



Happy Everything, Everybody!!

As the religious nature of Christmas is offensive to many people nowadays, I've decided to take a "Festivus" attitude towards the holiday so that no one gets mad at me for suggesting that Christmas has anything to do with religion, particularly Christianity. 
 
The word “special” is used too often anymore for things that don’t deserve it, much like the word “epic,” for that matter, but that’s for a different article.

The word "special" is overused, especially by me when describing a Doctor Who episode.  The same applies to "epic".  Where once "epic" referred to something like Gone With the Wind or The Ten Commandments, it now is used to describe something like The Impossible Astronaut Parts 1 & 2.  I also overuse the words 'brilliant' and 'genius' when describing people like Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, but that's for a different article. 

A lot of times when television shows have Christmas specials, they really don’t earn the word. Mostly they’re just episodes that take place at Christmas.

Like the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, or It's A Wonderful Life.  All those specials aren't all that special, and they're just episodes that take place at Christmas.  OK, It's A Wonderful Life technically isn't a special, but when else do we see it?  Like A Christmas Story when it's a 24-hour marathon. 

Even the first few Doctor Who Christmas specials, going all the way back to 2005, were just regular adventures that just happened to land on the holiday, so there were the trappings of Christmas, but that’s really as far as it goes.

Just like the birth of Christ has nothing to do with Christmas, so the actual holiday itself has little to do with a Doctor Who Christmas special.  These episodes just needed to be shoehorned into the festive nature of the day to give the BBC a reason to show them that day. 

Last year’s special, A Christmas Carol, was touted as the most Christmassy Christmas special of them all, turning Dickens’ classic story into a fun, touching science fiction adventure.

Last year's special, A Christmas Carol, was touted as the most Christmassy Christmas special of them all, turning Dickens' classic story into a spoof of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, an abomination of the first order, a nonsensical science fantasy adventure involving flying sharks and mention of a Santa Claus named "Geoff".  It also had nothing to do with Christmas: religious or secular. 

This year’s special, The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe, trumps even that.

This year's special, The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe, is even worse. 

Focusing exclusively on the power of family, togetherness, and love, this episode might be the most Christmassy of all. Moffat’s just a big ol’ softy, ain’t he?

Focusing exclusively on the ego of a hack who plunders genuine geniuses like Charles Dickens and C. S. Lewis, this episode might make Billy Graham give up his faith.  Moffat's just a big ol' ass, ain't he?
 
Now, officially, the title foregoes the Oxford Comma, but I just can’t do it. I’m sorry.

I'm a grammar Nazi, but in this case, I am hitting my broken clock minute. 

From the title, we know the episode gets its inspiration from the C.S. Lewis novel, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I have never read any of the Narnia books nor seen any of the films, so if there are some obvious references I don’t mention, please don’t hold it against me.

I think this gets its inspiration from some book from some dead guy no one's ever heard of.  I'm willfully ignorant of one of the greatest fantasy series of all time.  I'm sure, however, that The Chronicles of Narnia can't be any good because J.K. Rowling didn't write it. 

I see the correlation between the TARDIS (and the present) to the wardrobe, given that the Doctor calls it that, and I’m told there are tree people as well. Is that right?

The TARDIS could pass as a wardrobe I guess, and there is a widow in it, so close enough.  I also understand that the Ents were from Narnia, right?  Narnia, Middle-Earth, tomato, tomato...

Other than that, I saw nothing that seemed very Narnian.

Although I have never read any of the Narnia books or seen any adaptation of The Chronicles of Narnia, I'm enough of an expert to know what is Narnian and what is not.  Then again, those who have read the original story didn't find anything very Narnian either, so there's that. 

I didn’t feel my lack of knowledge of the material lessened my enjoyment any, so that’s really the best kind of reference; too subtle for people who don’t know to know they’re missing.

I didn't feel my lack of knowledge of the material lessened my enjoyment any; since my lack of knowledge on much hasn't been a hindrance before, why change now?  That's the best type of viewer: someone who knows absolutely nothing about the source material they are basing the story on.  Who needs all those pesky details about the symbolism of Alsan the Lion or talking fauns to ruin this story.
 
There’s a lot to like about this special.

I'm going to be stretching to find things to praise in this barbarism. 

I love how it began with the Doctor yet again saving Earth from an enormous extraterrestrial threat, only this time it’s the late 1930s and everyone on the planet is none the wiser.

Here we go with yet another "aliens invading Earth" story, only this time the big twist is that for once, no one really notices the Earth is getting invaded. 

When he crashes after having put an impact suit on backward (in the UK again, what are the odds), he meets Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner) who seems completely nonplussed by the fact that a spaceman (or angel) happened to fall from the sky.

Oh look: aliens are going to go to the United Kingdom...again.  Aliens are remarkably unimaginative: not only do they keep invading the same planet, but they keep invading the same PART of the planet.  We also get the Doctor being an idiot again, because why not...we get the heroes we deserve, right?  This Madge thinks it's perfectly natural to have some person crash in front of her.  Why not, just roll with it.

I quite liked Madge.

I like Madge too...

She was a bit dotty but overall she was a fantastically grounded and believable character.

She was rather nutty but on the whole quite sane.  Yes, I know that it doesn't make sense to have a character who is nutty and sane at the same time, but remember, it's British, so it's not suppose to make sense. 

Three years after she helps the Doctor, we find her having just received the news that her husband, a WWII pilot, has crashed and died. She doesn’t want to tell her children, Lily (Holly Earl) and Cyril (Maurice Cole) on Christmas for fear of ruining the holiday for them forever.

"Kids, your Dad's dead.  Want to pull your Christmas crackers?" 

She then makes a wish, one that the Doctor hears.




I like the idea that this Doctor can somehow respond to people’s hopes, fears, and wishes. It happened during Night Terrors with the weird alien kid as well. It’s not fun all the time, but once in a while, I like that the Doctor can tell when he’s needed.

I like the idea that this Doctor can somehow not just hear people make wishes but also grant them, like an intergalactic Mr. Rourke.  We don't know exactly how it works logically or why someone wishing for something in the past hasn't made the Doctor come down and grant wishes like Santa Claus (or Geoff), but why not, it's Winter Solstice.  I thought the idea was ridiculous in Night Terrors, but since he's used it once why not use it again? 
 
Trying to escape the bombing, Madge takes her children to a big old house in Dorset where a weird man who calls himself “The Caretaker” has made the house a veritable wonderland for the Arwell kids. Since the Doctor is basically a giant kid himself, he knows better than anyone what kids would find fun.

Look, he calls himself "The Caretaker".  Wonder if THAT will ever pop up on Doctor Who again?  Since the Doctor is basically an idiot with the mind of a four-year-old (one who makes Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls look like Rene Descartes), he knows better than anyone what kids would find fun in a patronizing way. 

I particularly enjoyed the lemonade tap and the clockwork Christmas tree (I know).

The analytical critic Kyle Anderson has pretty much lost me at this point. 

He also gives them a special package which no child could resist. Madge isn’t too pleased with the Caretaker, but it’s perfectly understandable why.

Let's see if I got this straight: Madge thinks there's nothing wrong with a man crashing from outer space, but sees something REALLY wrong with an odd man who is the custodian of an old estate?  OK.  Now, maybe, just maybe, instead of the TARDIS being 'the wardrobe' in this faux-homage to C.S. Lewis' work, why not make the big blue box be the actual portal to another world?  Now, there's an idea!
 
In the night, the children leave their hammocks; Lily finds the Caretaker up in the attic with his “wardrobe” and Cyril tricks them, using the old bear and duvet, and opens the large blue package and enters a snow-covered forest.



What look like ornaments begin to form on the tree and Cyril takes one down. It begins to grow and hatches, and whatever’s inside grows further. Lily and the Caretaker chase after him, 20 minutes behind, and later Madge goes after them as well. Cyril tracks the tree thing to a large tower wherein he finds the king of the Treeple sitting in a throne and at the top, he finds the Treeple queen holding a metal crown, which she attempts to put on the boy. Lily and the Caretaker enter and see the trees are forming stars, which Lily finds so beautiful she begins to cry. Apparently, only humans cry when they’re happy.



In fairness, I agree: I cry tears of laughter at many a Kyle Anderson review.  The biggest laughing/crying fit came when he declared he had an 'analytical critic's mind'.  Now THAT'S comedy!

They then try to enter the top room to aid Cyril, but, wouldn’t ya know it, the sonic screwdriver still can’t do wood.

Oh, my kingdom for an ax...
 
Elsewhere, Madge runs into three guys from Halo, led by Bill Bailey. They ask what she’s doing in the forest and she begins to cry.


Lilly and Madge cry: one out of happiness, one out of despair.  I guess women are highly emotional and cry at the drop of a hat.  And what's all this talk of Steven Moffat being a sexist?!  Perish the thought. 

He tells her they’re from Androzani Major (best classic series reference ever) and that the forest will soon be subjected to acid rain to melt the trees down into a powerful energy source. Unfortunately, this whole thing will happen in five minutes so, once the video game guys get teleported away, it’s up to Madge to pilot the weird, three-legged machine to the tower to retrieve her children.

Curious how the Halo people didn't detect non-Treeple life floating about, isn't it?  Now we got some boring 'race against time' business. 

In the tower, the Treeple tell the Caretaker that they’re looking for someone to hold their energy to transport them away from the acid rain.



Cyril won’t do, and neither will the Caretaker. They’re too weak. Lily is strong but too young, apparently. Once Madge enters, it becomes clear that she’s perfect cuz she’s a woman… and a mother…. She puts on the crown and absorbs the entire forest and then the top of the tower takes off like a spaceship and ends up in the time vortex.

Lily is strong but too young...I seem to remember another Doctor Who story set in World War II Britain where a young-looking girl did have a child, and everyone lived.  Can't quite come to me...
 
In the vortex, the Caretaker tells Madge that she must think of home in order to go home and they are all shown the memories of Madge and Mr. Atwell meeting and falling in love and stuff. Then she sees the night he died and her children are finally cued in on what has really happened to their father.

Surprise, kids!  Daddy's Dead!  Happy Christmas!

Suddenly they land outside the Dorset house and the children demand to know the truth. The Caretaker comes out, but comes right back in with good news. Seems flying through the time vortex gave Mr. Atwell and his plane enough of a light to follow to safety.

Surprise again, kids!  Daddy's NOT Dead!  Steven Moffat has brought more people back from the dead than the guy whose birth is commemorated on the 25th of December and whom the British refuse to acknowledge has anything to do with Christmas!  I can see little tykes who did lose their father (or mother) in the Afghan or Iraq campaigns going to bed, wishing to the Doctor that he would bring their dead parents back from the other side. 

Again, people cry when they’re happy, and the Caretaker says “humany wumany” which is the kind of line I’m pretty damn tired of.

Timey-wimey was already insufferable (and continues to be a catch-all to explain all plot holes or continuity errors), but now we get 'humany wumany', which is just stupid, period.  "Humany wumany"?  It sounds like the Doctor is expressing a vaguely sexist/misogynistic worldview with the 'wumany' bit, as if saying women in general are emotionally unstable. 

Still, it was a nice moment.

Still, I'll suck up to The Moff.

Madge goes up to the attic to find the Doctor ready to leave again in the TARDIS. She then twigs that he was the silly spaceman from three years earlier.

Well, at least she managed to put it together before the end, so that's a plus.

Through their conversation, she convinces him that it’s not right for his friends to think he’s dead and he oughtn’t to spend Christmas alone. So lo and behold, the Doctor goes to the Ponds’ house.

So he goes and sees Amy's parents?  He certainly couldn't have gone to see Amy and Rory, since Rory's last name isn't "Pond".  It's "Williams".  That's been established. 
 
As I said earlier, there was a lot to like about this episode.

As I said earlier, there was a lot of stretching to find something to praise in this barbarism. 

First and foremost is Matt Smith as the Doctor/Caretaker. You’d think I’d get tired of singing his praises, and yet I never do.

First and foremost is Matt Smith as the Doctor/Caretaker.  You'd think I'd get tired of sucking up to him, and yet I never do.

He’s perfect in the role, plain and simple.

Come Again?!


Claire Skinner was likewise pretty wonderful as Madge. She came at the craziness of the situation from such a refreshingly na├»ve angle that I couldn’t help but chuckle, especially at her line about knowing what it’s like to be a forest.

Claire Skinner was wooden.

The kids were also pretty good.

Let's enjoy the fact that the child actors weren't monstrously awful, for we've had more than our fair share of bad child acting and we'll get more than our fair share of bad child acting in the future.   

Bill Bailey, Paul Bazely, and Arabella Weir as the Androzani people, while not in it very much, were pretty hysterical in their function of being a plot point.

The three people, who at least will get Con appearances out of this, didn't suck or suck too much time out of the story. 

The story itself was pretty imaginative, and I liked the design of the Treeple. In all the other Doctor Who Christmas specials, the Doctor has had to save a whole planet from an enormous threat, and even last year saw him having to save Amy, Rory, and a whole ship full of people. This year, however, was really just about the Doctor trying to make one family happy.

The Doctor's made so many families unhappy in recent years, disappointed in bad stories, bad acting, and just general badness.  It was nice, therefore, to see him aim to make someone else happy for a change.

I really liked the un-epic nature of the story while still maintaining a very fantastical and magical atmosphere.

I really liked the fact that compared to other Christmas stories, this was remarkably scaled down while still being far-out in terms of story.
 
If I have any complaints, weirdly and surprisingly, it’s with the plot.

There was a plot?!

It was very contrived and designed to do nothing else but tug on the heartstrings. That type of stuff doesn’t really work on me.

Sappy, sickeningly sentimental, trite, and intellectually weak, it was nothing more than an attempt to make me cry.  Normally, I do cry at Doctor Who stories because that's what Doctor Who stories are suppose to do (Rose's farewell to her faux-lover in Doomsday Part 2 being on the same level as Rick & Ilsa's farewell in Casablanca in some Whovians' minds).  This time, I wasn't impressed, a rarity I know, but there it is.

I also think it’s funny how Moffat’s attempt at being wholly unsexist results in a pretty darn sexist story. Men are stupid and useless and weak, don’t you know. It puts all the characters into very specific gender roles which it really didn’t need to. There could have been a better way to have Madge be the one to shepherd the Treeple’s consciousnesses away.

Wait a minute: Moffat actually ATTEMPTED to write a wholly unsexist story?!  Was that by accident?  Women are only important as they are breeders.  Men are stupid (see roly-poly Craig Owens, ICON).  This isn't going to help against charges that my Lord & Master is a sexist pig.  I can't figure out a way to cover for him this time, so I'll join the crowd, just this once, and hope that will give me leverage next time. 

I’m also slightly tiring of the “Everybody Lives, Rose” style of storytelling. Happy endings are fine, but not at the expense of narrative flow. This one was explained better than some, but it still was a bit of a cop out.

Geez, I'm getting tired of Moffat's infuriating ability to never kill off anyone.  It reached its nadir with The Many Deaths of Rory Williams (or Rory Pond), but here again, we get this fixation with avoiding death, as if Moffat were driven by a fear of the Reaper.  This one has a more wobbly than wibbly explanation, but it still seems silly and dumb, even for Doctor Who.

Not that I wanted a scene of children crying about their dead father, but there’s lots of kids whose parents weren’t saved by time vortexes who’ll be watching the episode.

Wonder how the little tykes who have dead daddies and mommies will be comforted on Christmas Day to be reminded that the Doctor isn't bringing THEIR parents back...

Also, do you think it’s a responsible move for the Doctor, who faked his death to go into hiding, to visit his last known companions on the most conspicuous day of the year?

Oh why not?  It's not like he has some granddaughter out there he could visit...

Despite these nitpicks, though, this episode succeeded in being a truly Christmassy and special Christmas special.
 

SHOCKED that Kyle Anderson liked a
Doctor Who episode!
Even the bits I didn’t really like only stuck with me for a moment.

Even the bits I know are stupid and inept I can ignore for the sake of pleasing others. 

The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe is an episode, like A Christmas Carol before it, that can truly be enjoyed by the whole family. It’s both timey and wimey without giving anyone a headache and, like a glass of eggnog and a Santa-shaped cookie, it can be imbibed, digested, and leaves you with a pleasant feeling in your belly.

The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe is an episode, like A Christmas Carol before it, that is a revolting bastardization of the original source material, one that can truly be enjoyed by dumb families.  It doesn't make sense like many Doctor Who stories, but since it's Christmas and most people are letting what's on the telly wash over them, it will be forgotten quickly.

 The only sad part is that now we have to wait until next August for another new episode. Egads.

C.S. Lewis: 1898-1963
C.S. Lewis would roll over in his grave if he could see what they've done to his masterpiece. 

Then again, in my world, Steven Moffat is a greater writer than Jack, or Tolkien, or Christie, or Austen, or Chaucer, or Shakespeare.  They're all hacks compared to The Moff.  Can I get my paycheck now, Mr. Hardwick, sir?
 
-Kanderson’s always pulling the old bear and duvet. Follow him on TWITTER

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