For those of us not overly enamoured with the idea of The Snowman and the Snowdog, there were other snow creatures afoot (adrift?) this Christmas. ‘The Snowmen’, this year’s festive Doctor Who episode, had it all. Scary Christmas monsters, fantastic guest stars, at least half of a sensible plot and it was set in the heart of all things considered by TV land to be appropriately festive – Victorian London.
After an unusual introductory sequence involving a small boy talking to some snow, The Doctor descends on the snowy streets of London, moping about on his own and generally being very Scrooge like, barely showing a cursory interest in Richard E Grant's Dr Simeon and his Great Intelligence institute. Naturally, of all the gin joints in all the world, he happens to walk past the tavern worked in by Jenna Louise Coleman’s Clara, who would have ‘new companion material’ written all over her frock even if we hadn’t already seen her in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’. The two deduce that a nearby snowman has somehow managed to build itself, and must consequently have some sort of intelligent mind. Utterly disinterested in all matters timey-wimey as The Doctor is at this point, he attempts to run away, pursued back to the cloud on which he’s parked the TARDIS by the feisty Clara, who then runs away herself after knocking on his door.
Eventually, and all in the nick of time as usual, The Doctor realises that the Earth is in grave danger from the evil snowmen, and arrives at the house Clara works in as a governess just in time to save the family from a huge, walking ice-cube in the shape of a woman emerging from the garden pond. Battle then ensues, with Clara injured and the Doctor fighting for her, the planet, and above all – Christmas.
Speaking of Clara, I cannot heap enough praise onto Jenna Louise Coleman, and believe me I’ve been trying to for the last couple of days. She’s every bit as fiery as Amy, although without a Rory equivalent in tow, she’s a lot freer to be her own person, a character in her own right rather than a part of a whole. Mind you, the whole itself is worth a mention. The return of Madame Vestra and her wife Jenny not only provides us with some gloriously, hilariously simple Moffat-ian lines such as “Good evening. I am a lizard woman from the dawn of time and this is my wife”, but gives a modern, relevant angle to the story. In fact the theme of old and new ran throughout, with new companion Clara innocently quoting ‘Pond’ as the reason The Doctor should get down from his cloud and save the world, as well as a re-vamped looking Tardis and theme tune managing to look cheerfully retro.
Sad as I am that the flirty Clara doesn’t seem likely to star alongside the equally sexually charged Captain Jack Harkness anytime soon, the chemistry between her and Matt Smith’s Doctor is plenty enough to be going along with. Not since the days of Rose has there been such an obvious attraction between the two characters, and it’s a lot of fun to watch. Now on to his second lot of companions, Smith seems to be more at home in the role than before. Having gone through the rite of passage that all Doctors must, the loss of a companion, the part is now truly his.
That said, The Doctor’s moping at the start of the episode did begin to feel a little too routine. We’ve seen it all before with David Tennant’s Doctor. We know the format. It certainly makes for a good ‘will he step in or won’t he’ plotline, but in terms of character, might it be nice if he coped with things slightly differently for a change? Perhaps The Doctor on the rebound could work? He jumps straight into the TARDIS with another companion and then has a hissy fit and breaks down a few episodes later? Unlikely to catch on as a plot but I thought it worth suggesting.
The only other thing potentially throwing snowy spanners into the works of this Christmas special were the references to Moffat’s other TV franchise, Sherlock. I for one enjoyed The Doctor’s useless attempts at deduction, as well as the suggestion that Vestra and Jenny were the true inspiration for Conan Doyle’s Holmes and Watson, but both references felt a little shoe-horned in. Not necessarily an issue, but when you find yourself wondering whether or not Moffat has linked Sherlock to strong female leads in another show in order to dispel the vicious whisperings that he in fact can’t write strong female leads at all – you realise that you’ve been taken out of the immediacy of the story in front of you. You’ve escaped the escapism. And funny as the references were- that’s not good.
All concerns aside though, this was a fantastically funny and pleasantly scary episode- perfectly placed in the schedules for post-lunch sofa collapse. There’s fun to be had guessing which high profile actor played the part of the snow itself, which took me far longer than it should have to figure out, and Richard E Grant is as much of a joy as ever, especially when he’s being evil. The episode continued the tradition of festive themed monsters, the beasts behind the baubles, as well as setting up the next series’ on going mystery arc, namely, who on Earth or otherwise is Clara/Oswin?
Several critics have pointed out that this episode was unlikely to appeal to the casual Who viewer. Fair point, but I think it more important that it managed to satisfy the dedicated fans whilst still leaving them hungry for more.
Which is not bad going really, considering the majority of the audience were still stuffed full of turkey and roast potatoes at the time.
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