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New Series Episode 92:
The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe

Plot

Just days before Christmas 1941, Madge Arwell's airman husband is lost over the English Channel. Dreading to tell the truth to her children, Lily and Cyril, Madge takes them out of London to an old mansion house owned by a distant relative. The caretaker of the estate turns out to be the Doctor, whom Madge rescued from a crisis years earlier. He plans to ease Madge's heartbreak by giving Lily and Cyril the merriest Christmas ever. But when he opens a portal to a wintry alien wonderland in the far future, the Doctor inadvertently places all of them in terrible danger.

Production

For his first Doctor Who Christmas special in 2010, executive producer Steven Moffat had explicitly drawn upon Charles Dickens' classic story in constructing A Christmas Carol. For the 2011 special, Moffat decided to once again seek inspiration in a beloved Christmas novel -- this time, CS Lewis' The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe (1940), the first of the seven books Lewis would write in his Chronicles of Narnia. As in the Lewis novel, the 2011 Christmas special would be set during the Second World War, with children retreating to an old house in the countryside from which they pass into a wintry fantasy world where time runs at a different rate.

Moffat was keen for the special to largely stand alone from the involved story arcs which had characterised his first two seasons as Doctor Who showrunner. To this end, he elected to relegate the Doctor's companions Amy and Rory -- who had ostensibly left the TARDIS in The God Complex during Season Thirty-Two, but who continued to be a part of the programme -- to cameo roles. It was also known that Arthur Darvill had theatrical commitments during the time that the Christmas special would be in production, so this decision avoided a clash with those obligations.

The concept of the Wooden King was an image drawn from Steven Moffat's childhood nightmares

Moffat began work on the special around the end of June 2011. Of Moffat's two fellow executive producers, Beth Willis had left Doctor Who at the end of Season Thirty-Two while Piers Wenger would be departing upon the completion of the Christmas special. As such, Moffat paid tribute to his colleagues by naming the Androzani rangers Billis and Ven-Garr after them. The concept of the Wooden King and Wooden Queen was another image drawn from Moffat's childhood nightmares -- in this case, a figure glimpsed standing by his bedroom door as he awoke in the dark. A late change to the script saw Lucy Arwell renamed “Lily”. Lucy Pevensie was the pivotal character of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, but it was felt that having a young girl named Lucy in the Doctor Who special was an homage too far.

One of the directors approached for Season Thirty-Two was Farren Blackburn. Blackburn's career had begun with a number of short films in the early 2000s, before he moved into television with work on programmes such as Doctors, Holby City and Survivors. Unfortunately, Blackburn had to turn down the invitation because the shooting schedule would overlap with his duties on the dark fantasy series The Fades (produced by Caroline Skinner, who was to be Willis' successor on Doctor Who). However, Blackburn would be available for the Christmas special.

Taking the role of the companion in the special would be Claire Skinner as Madge Arwell. A graduate of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and a former member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Skinner had appeared on television in programmes such as Chef!, The Peter Principle, Life Begins and Outnumbered, as well as films including Sleepy Hollow and Bridget Jones's Diary. She was married to Charles Palmer, who had directed Smith And Jones, The Shakespeare Code and Human Nature / The Family Of Blood for Doctor Who's twenty-ninth season.

Alexander Armstrong had spent five years voicing the computer Mr Smith for The Sarah Jane Adventures

Also amongst Blackburn's cast was Alexander Armstrong as Reg Arwell. Although this would be Armstrong's first onscreen appearance in Doctor Who, he had spent five years providing the voice of the computer Mr Smith for The Sarah Jane Adventures. This role had afforded him the opportunity to crossed over into the mother programme for 2008's The Stolen Earth / Journey's End.

The first couple of days of production on the Christmas special were spent at Upper Boat Studios. September 12th was devoted to the opening effects shots of the Doctor being ejected from the airlock, while the 13th was spent on material in the attic of Granby House. However, much of the mansion was filmed on location at Stradey Castle in Llanelli. Cast and crew were stationed there from September 14th to 16th, for scenes in the main hallway, the sitting room, the kitchen, and the house's exterior. It was back to Upper Boat on the 17th, for material in Madge's bedroom, the Tripod control room and the spaceship airlock. That night, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill joined Matt Smith at a house on Bute Esplanade in Cardiff for the epilogue at Amy and Rory's home.

On September 19th, the location of the alien tower was actually Beechenhurst, a region of the Forest of Dean near the village of Broadwell. The next day, Uskmouth Power Station in Newport provided the spaceship corridor. From the 21st to the 23rd, scenes in the otherworldly forest were recorded in Gethin Woodland Area at Merthyr Tydfil. Joining the cast on the last day was Arabella Weir as Billis. In 2003, Weir had played a female version of the Doctor in the comical Doctor Who Unbound audio play Exile from Big Finish Productions. She was also Tenth Doctor David Tennant's good friend and former landlady, and he was the godfather to her two children. Meanwhile, back in Cardiff on the 23rd, the new Roath Lock production facility opened for business as the cameras rolled there on Casualty for the first time. Roath Lock would become the permanent studio home for Doctor Who during production on Season Thirty-Three.

Arabella Weir had played a female version of the Doctor in the comical audio play Exile

On September 26th, filming for the Christmas special took place on two Cardiff streets: Y Groes was the road that Madge drove down with the wounded Doctor (with post production supervisors Nerys Davies and Ceres Doyle playing passers-by) while a dwelling on Pen y Dre was the Arwells' cottage. Several days at Upper Boat followed, beginning with scenes in the children's bedroom at Granby House on the 27th. From the 28th to the 30th and again on October 2nd, Blackburn's team concentrated on scenes in the tower, although the 29th also saw recording of material in the Arwells' living room and the Tripod control room, plus the flashback of Reg Arwell playing with his children.

All of the scenes involving Reg's bomber were taped on October 3rd, at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre in East Kirkby, Lincolnshire. On the 4th, the field into which the Doctor plummets from the heavens was in Merthyr Mawr. Further work at Upper Boat took place on the 5th and 6th, with the first day concentrating on more material in the tower throne room, and the second dealing with sequences in the Granby House attic, the Arwells' living room, the throne room, and various inserts. Also recorded on the 6th was the online prequel for the Christmas special. Shot by producer Marcus Wilson on the spaceship corridor set, this depicted the Doctor talking to Amy as the vessel is about to explode -- even though he acknowledges that it has been years since she stopped travelling with him.

Cast and crew returned to Stradey Castle on October 7th. In addition to posing as Granby House again, the location was also pressed into service for flashbacks in the Arwells' home and in the countryside. The last day of the shoot was the 9th. Various scenes were completed at Upper Boat, with sets in use including the tower, the Arwells' living room, and the coal cellar at Granby House (in a scene lost during editing), alongside several pick-up shots.

Matt Smith hinted for the first time that he might leave Doctor Who following Season Thirty-Three

With filming on the Christmas special now completed, Matt Smith travelled to California for a series of appearances. In an interview for cable channel VH1 broadcast on October 21st, Smith hinted for the first time that he might leave Doctor Who following Season Thirty-Three, and indicated that he was keen to try his fortunes in Hollywood. Meanwhile, the festive episode acquired the title The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe in homage to its Narnia forebear. The prequel was released on December 6th, while the special itself took its usual place as a centrepiece of the BBC1 Christmas Day schedule.

Just before The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe aired, however, Moffat announced that a major change was coming for Doctor Who. During the press screening for the Christmas special on December 15th, he confirmed that Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill would be leaving the programme partway through Season Thirty-Three, after which a new companion would be introduced. The two actors had met with Moffat earlier in the year, and it was mutually agreed that it was time to wind down the story of Amy and Rory. As it had done so often in the past, the dynamic of Doctor Who was about to change once again...

Sources
  • Doctor Who News.
  • Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition #31, 8th August 2012, “The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe” by Andrew Pixley, Panini UK Ltd.

Original Transmission
Date 25th Dec 2011
Time 7.00pm
Duration 58'21"
Viewers (more) 10.8m (3rd)
· BBC1/HD 10.8m
· iPlayer 920k
Appreciation 84%


Cast
The Doctor
Matt Smith
Amy Pond
Karen Gillan
Rory Williams
Arthur Darvill
(more)
Madge Arwell
Claire Skinner
Cyril Arwell
Maurice Cole
Lily Arwell
Holly Earl
Reg Arwell
Alexander Armstrong
Co-Pilot
Sam Stockman
Droxil
Bill Bailey
Ven-Garr
Paul Bazely
Billis
Arabella Weir
Wooden King
Spencer Wilding
Wooden Queen
Paul Kasey


Crew
Written by
Steven Moffat
Directed by
Farren Blackburn
Produced by
Marcus Wilson
(more)

Stunt Coordinators
Crispin Layfield
Gordon Seed
Stunt Performers
Will Willoughby
Tracy Caudle
1st Assistant Director
Matthew Scrivener
2nd Assistant Director
James DeHaviland
3rd Assistant Director
Heddi-Joy Taylor-Welch
Assistant Director
Danielle Richards
Production Manager
Phillipa Cole
Production Coordinator
Claire Hildred
Production Assistant
Sandra Cosfeld
Asst Production Accountant
Rhys Evans
Script Executive
Caroline Henry
Script Supervisor
Caroline Holder
Camera Operator
Joe Russell
Focus Pullers
Simon Walton
Jonathan Vidgen
Grip
Gary Norman
Assistant Grip
Owen Charnley
Camera Assistants
Tom Hartley
Rebecca Pescod
Owain Thatcher
Boom Operator
Paul Naughton
Sound Assistant
Abdul Amoud
Gaffer
Mark Hutchings
Best Boy
Stephen Slocombe
Electricians
Gafin Riley
Gareth Sheldon
Matt Wilson
Location Manager
Iwan Roberts
Unit Manager
Rhys Griffiths
Location Assistant
Beccy Jones
Art Director
Karl Probert
Assistant Art Director
Dan Martin
Art Dept Production Manager
Ben Morris
Set Decorator
Adrian Anscombe
Props Buyer
Lizzi Wilson
Standby Art Director
Sophia Stapleton
Props Master
Bernie Davies
Prop Chargehand
Mathew Tooher
Prop Hands
Michael Elkins
Austin J Curtis
Tom Belton
Standby Props
Phill Shellard
Helen Atherton
Graphic Artist
Christina Tom
Art Department Assistant
Richard Hardy
Petty Cash Buyer
Holly McCarthy
Standby Carpenter
Will Pope
Standby Rigger
Bryan Griffiths
Scenic Painters
John Whalley
Steven Fudge
Props Makers
Penny Howarth
Nicholas Robatto
Practical Electrician
Albert James
Construction Manager
Scott Fisher
Construction Chargehand
Brian Jones
Graphics
BBC Wales Graphics
Costume Supervisor
Rebecca Duncan
Costume Assistants
Gemma Evans
Claire Polydorou
Lloyd Middleton
Make-Up Artists
Vivienne Simpson
Julie Davies
Casting Associate
Alice Purser
Assistant Editor
Becky Trotman
VFX Editor
Joel Skinner
Additional Visual Effects
BBC Wales Graphics
Space Digital
Post Production Coordinator
Marie Brown
Dubbing Mixer
Tim Ricketts
Dialogue Editor
Darran Clement
ADR Editor
Matt Cox
Sound Effects Editor
Paul Jefferies
Foley Editor
Jamie Talbutt
Colourist
Mick Vincent
Online Conform
Mark Bright
Online Editors
Matt Mullins
Jeremy Lott
With Thanks to
The BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Orchestrated by
Ben Foster
Conducted and Additional Orchestrations by
Jeremy Holland-Smith
Mixed by
Jake Jackson
Recorded by
Gerry O'Riordan
Original Theme Music
Ron Grainer
Casting Director
Andy Pryor CDG
Production Executive
Julie Scott
Post Production Supervisor
Nerys Davies
Production Accountant
Richard McNeill
Sound Recordist
Robert Flanagan
Costume Designer
Edward K Gibbon
Make-Up Designer
Barbara Southcott
Music
Murray Gold
Visual Effects
The Mill
Special Effects
Real SFX
Prosthetics
Millennium FX
Editor
Tim Porter
Production Designer
Michael Pickwoad
Director Of Photography
Stephan Pehrsson
Associate Producer
Denise Paul
Line Producer
Diana Barton
Executive Producers
Steven Moffat
Piers Wenger
Caroline Skinner

Updated 6th August 2014