Written by Steven Moffat
Transmitted 25 December, 2012
“I never know how, I only know who.”’
The Doctor is sulking in Victorian London with the former Sontaran soldier/nurse turned butler Strax, the Silurian warrior Lady Vastra and her wife (shock) Jenny. Depressed by the loss of Amy and Rory, the Doctor has sworn off adventuring for fear of endangering others. Despite his attempts to remain on the sidelines, he is called out of his reverie by Clara, the feisty barmaid/governess/mystery girl with a quirky grin. Snow is the culprit this time around and it could kill all of humanity by Christmas night. Guest-starring Richard E Grant as the evil Dr Simian, a distorted and angry young boy grown into a dangerous old man and Sir Ian McKellen as the voice of the Great Intelligence (though surely not the one from the Yeti adventures Abominable Snowmen and Web of Fear), The Snowmen is a wintry period piece of whimsy and fanciful fun for all… or is it?
There are some very well tread notions that are used in this story that are downright shameful given the level of popularity Doctor Who is enjoying and the fact that it is in its seventh year on TV and about to celebrate the program’s 50th anniversary. We really should be beyond many of the cliches that Moffat leans heavily on here and while The Snowmen does hint at a payoff later on, this particular tale is a vapid one.
The story opens with Dr Simian collecting snow using manual labor. Once again the working class or disenfranchised are depicted as helpless victims (see Age of Steel, Daleks Take Manhattan, The Next Doctor, etc), as Simian ‘feeds’ his staff to monstrous Snowmen. He’s so evil that he has no need of a plan at all, aside from collecting bits snow for a giant snow globe and talking to an evil disembodied voice about how well everything is going.
Dr Simian should really meet the Master (the proper Delgado one) for lessons in hatching evil schemes.
The new companion is introduced as a barmaid (previous companions for the new series have included a shop girl, office temp and kiss-o-gram. Only Martha Jones -remember her?- stands out as an exception being a promising medical student). The BBC Wales series seems obsessed with the working class as the heroes/victims and the gentry being the villains, all but omitting the middle class with Amy and Rory possibly being the only exception. In meeting Clara, the Doctor attempts some silly scientific investigation before wandering off into the night. Into the second half of his third year now, Smith has matured quite well and wears the mantle of lonely wanderer like it was made for him. He doesn’t over-sell it, an impish smile hints at some real joyful memories of his marvelous adventures, sadly in the distant past.
I keep saying this but the worse the story the more apparent it is to me how flipping perfect Smith is as the Doctor. He is a genuine childlike eccentric and he embodies the part with so much exuberance not seen since the late Patrick Troughton (his self-professed influence in the role of the Doctor).
Unfortunately, Moffat has yet to learn the skill of subtlety and places the Doctor and his TARDIS literally on a cloud overlooking the city… yes, he is actually refusing to look down at the world and is above it. I’d like to remind you that this guy won awards for writing.
Apparently the phrase ‘Doctor Who?’ was not a one-off fascination of Moffat’s as it is now referred to as ‘what starts adventure’ and a kind of secret phrase to get into his Victorian inner circle. We are also once more saddled with other characters telling us about who and what the Doctor is while he does mostly nothing. What’s more, he is called a savior and protector of the world. Additionally, call backs to the previous companion is used as a motive, much the same as Rose haunted two solid years of Doctor Who.
Because Moffat is writing this series for his son, he feels the need to include LOTS of children. In case the cliche is lost, Clara plays headmistress (not that kind, Hal) to the children of Captain Latimer and entertains the kids Julie Andrews-style with whimsical tales to distract them from their sexually frustrated widower father. She presents the Doctor as a fanciful magical uncle-type, or Mary Poppins in trousers. What’s peculiar (as SJV has pointed out), is that the Doctor has stated that he has to stop being such an icon to the universe and ‘go silent.’ Despite that, children are told that he will save them and is a special kind of person who fights off horrors (once again, let me point out that even though Clara tells the children this he has not only done no such thing but he has defiantly refused to get involved in anyone’s business).
The naughty headmistress who had become encased in ice is brought back via psychically sensitive snow… or ice… and transformed into an angry and embarrassing computer effect. In what could be the weirdest self aware moment of the entire new series, the Doctor appears as a Punch doll bearing his trusty sonic screwdriver which shatters the monster to pieces (though remember, it is NOT A WEAPON).
As if the comic characters of Lady Vastra, Jenny and Strax were not absurd enough, their arrival at Captain Latimer’s house causes the maid to scream then faint like an am dram drop out. It’s all very sad. Captain Latimer may as well have spouted, ‘This is most peculiar!’ and I’m kinda disappointed that he didn’t.
Assaulted from without by Dr Simian and his deadly snow maker (?) and from within by an ice woman who can’t get down a flight of stairs, things become far more familiar for long time viewers. The program is notorious for ‘base under siege’ plots in which the heroes are holed up trying to think of a way out while the enemy closes in. It’s also a handy way to chew up run time and fill in the odd plot ole such as what the ell is going on. For all of its many faults, the inability to actually tell a story while introducing characters and setting is the most damning. Doctor Who was once the most innovative TV series, today it cannot chew gum and skip at the same time.
Dr Simian is working for an alien intelligence (presumably not the other Great Intelligence from the similarly entitled classic story Abominable Snowmen featuring the fan favorite monster the Yeti) who are attempting to gain corporeal form through snow, ice and a fusion with the human body. Why not grass, brick, muffins or pantaloons? All of these things are in large supply in Victorian London during Christmas time.
In fact, I demand next year we see pantaloon monsters.
One massive tragedy is that Richard E Grant is absolutely wasted in this. I’m not saying that he is the most amazing actor ever, but I do enjoy a bit of Withnail and I. Finally making an appearance in the new Doctor Who, he not only has not much to do at all, but puts in some superb evil guy performances while Smith minces about like a loon. Sure, REG played the Doctor in the animated special that dare not be spoken of… but that’s different.
Thinking (?) quickly, the Doctor and Clara direct the ice governess away from the snow which can apparently not fly up and over the roof like snow could but must dutifully wait to be invited in. Using the magic staircase into the clouds, Clara bosses the Doctor into action (haven’t we done this three companions in a row now?) and we finally see the new console room. After all of the pretext over the redesign, it looks like a frigging carousel. I was on the fence about the static design but now that I see that the ceiling twirls about, all that is missing are ponies to ride on. It is nice for the TARDIS to have dials and switches again rather than cranks or rubber balls, but is still the most far out and goofy console room ever.
Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor seems to say that he is beginning an adventuring relationship with Clara and through Moffat’s eyes that may be the only reason the Doctor ever does anything. It’s peculiar and takes the notion of the Doctor being a romantic character to a whole other level of inappropriateness. It also flies in the face of what Doctor Who was before RTD and Moffat got their hands on it… an adventure program. It has become a romance in which the Doctor is moved to action by a pretty girl. What is up with that?
And of course it is at this moment when Clara is attacked by the ice governess and pulled to her death. The action comes to a complete stop while the Doctor feels guilty over her possible death. Even Lady Vastra remarks that the snow and ice are still problems, but again they dutifully wait.
The Doctor confronts what is definitely not the Great Intelligence from Abominable Snowmen offering up a shard of the ice governess in a box bearing the map of the London Underground circa 1967 (when the Abominable Snowmen was screened) and Richard E Grant is subsumed by camp villain acting that will haunt him to the grave. On her death bed (her damned insides must have been crushed from the fall) Clara tries to reconcile Latimer’s lack of intimacy for his children (who all serve no purpose in the story) then turns the snow to rain by crying… um… of course.
Clara dies somehow and the Doctor realizes that Dr Simian’s business card is for the Great Intelligence and that it may have melted into the ground but could have maintained knowledge of the London Underground (which was invaded by the Yeti in 1968’s Web of Fear)… but it is surely not the Great Intelligence from Abominable Snowmen.
The Doctor also realizes that Clara was somehow on the Asylum for Wayward Daleks where she also died… and the multi-part mystery in which the companion takes importance over the Doctor begins anew.
As each year of Doctor Who traditionally focuses on the return of a classic monster or villain (The Daleks, Cybermen, Master, Davros, Sontarans, Silurians and more have all come back as the main focus of each series), it could be that this is all leading to a showdown with the Yeti which could mean that Sir Ian McKellen may return which is nice as well. Designs of the Yeti have been circulated for ages so it does add up. However, the program has thrown curve balls before such as bringing voice actor Gabriel Woolf back for the Impossible Planet which led many fans to rightly interpret that Sutekh (from the very popular Pyramids of Mars) was on his way back.
Most finales involve River Song, marriages, heartbroken lovers or other such things, so I doubt that I am right in thinking that the Yeti are on their way… but dammit that would make sense. Instead we are going to be treated to the ‘mystery of Clara Oswald Oswin’ through the second half of series 7. Ah well… the teaser looks pretty.
Special note: I will be on vacation for the first time ever for the next four-five days. Don’t panic, I will be back and make sure to check in on my tumblr feed for updates as I find them. Happy Holidays and Merry X-Men!