Doctor Who #907: The Snowmen

"Winter is coming."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Dec.25 2012.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor and Clara share the Mary Poppins role. If Mary Poppins fought monstrous snowmen, that is.

REVIEW: Oh wow, guys. I JUST now realized that the Snowmen are stand-ins for the Yeti. The episode reintroduces the Great Intelligence (Sir Ian McKellan, cool, but why doesn't the Doctor remember it very well?), although some time before The Abominable Snowmen (GET IT?!) and The Web of Fear (but it's foreshadowed in the Doctor's London Underground lunchbox). It's not the easiest baddie to get a hold on, because like the carnivorous snow in the story (and you gotta love the bitey snowflakes), it's always mirrored the world it wanted to be a part of, either through possession, mind control or ultimately trying to become part of the landscape (filling a mountain, a tunnel... a snowscape). And where before it might have "represented" some Buddhist negative force, here it's more akin to Victorian repressive values. Because though it calls itself an Intelligence, it's really more of a mimetic instinct, a force of nature that adapts itself to its environment. We'll "see" it again, but for now, let's call it the snow globe necessary to move the plot along, a plot that's really just a backdrop for the real story.

And it's the story of how Clara got the Doctor out of his latest funk. And though this was officially billed as the new companion's introduction, this Clara Oswald is just another doomed echo of the real Clara (although at this point, I honestly thought they'd be killing a Clara every episode of the new series - which, come to think of it, was Rory's shtick). It doesn't make her appearance here any less memorable, however. In fact, while I like modern Clara well enough, Victorian Clara is much more interesting. First, NOT a modern-day girl, which has been the primary template since the 80s. But it's more than that. She leads a double life (a hint as to her origins). She's got a lot of guts, a lot of wit, and probably the cleverest mind of any companion yet seen in New Who. She's put through all the tests and comes out with flying colors, she thinks outside the box and sees the TARDIS as smaller on the outside, and we've just never seen the Doctor give a TARDIS key to someone so quickly. He doesn't know why, he only knows who. Lovely. Of course, this version of her must be sacrificed for the big mystery arc of the half-season, which is sad. It actually is. I don't think her passing can be glossed over as easily as Dalek Oswin's. But of course she's a "perfect companion" - she has to be. Her reality, as revealed in The Name of the Doctor, means she MUST be drawn to the Doctor and have exactly the right meme on her lips to pass the one-word test, and so on. Now if only they can keep the new companions from trying to kiss the Doctor...

It's a downbeat ending for a Christmas story for sure, but the Doctor is nevertheless shaken out of his retirement by the mystery of the impossible girl who has died twice on his shift already. So there's hope where there was despair. The story also has its fair share of holiday whimsy, like the TARDIS sitting on a cloud and the Doctor playing at Sherlock Holmes (a cheeky crossover of sorts in which the Time Lord not only plays Moffat's other character of note, but where two versions of Holmes meet two versions of the Doctor - Richard E. Grant being the ultimate non-canon Doctor). Fan favorites Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax all return as the Doctor's only friends in Victorian London. Strax is his usual comic relief and always fun, while the Silurian detective and her wife provide mystery and wisdom. I could do without the running gag of them telling everyone what they really are though. There's no way they would have survived in that environment had they really been this open.

Can't close the review before discussing the revamped credits sequence and TARDIS, of course. I didn't say anything at the start of Series 7 when they tweaked the former, because those individual textures on the Doctor Who logo didn't do much for me and the higher contrast on the vortex was, I thought, a bit murky. But now we're about to hit 2013, the Anniversary Year, and bigger changes are afoot. The new credits sequence is a throwback to earlier eras, while being its own unique thing. For the first time since the classic era, the Doctor's face is in it, integrated in such a way as to mute the naysayers, I should think. There's vortexy stuff (and it's diamond-shaped, as per the 70s), but also spacey stuff, harking to the 80s opening, and abstractions, to those of the 60s. The music also sounds more like the original. And while "3D", there's a weird physical 2D spin at one point that's almost too retro. But I like it overall. The new TARDIS trades warm colors for cool, and to me looks more like a spaceship than it ever has. Its one interesting feature is the set of spinning wheels above the rotor, which I first thought were an effect until I saw behind the scenes footage that showed it worked practically. I'm impressed, but still kind of a yawner.

Three prequel mini-episodes were released in the lead-up to this story and/or as extras on the DVD. In "The Battle of Demons Run: Two Days Later", we discover that Strax was restored to health, to his great shame, and he ends up leaving with the Victorians. In "Vastra Investigates", the Victorian trio are shown too be the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. And in "The Great Detective", the trio try to make the Doctor engage with the universe again, but he won't.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - While there are some striking visuals and Clara is an awesome companion, it's kind of all over the place. An invisible villain, funny-looking monsters, bits out of Charlotte Bronte and Arthur Conan Doyle, and a waste of a good companion. As with Asylum of the Daleks, Clara may be the best thing in what is sadly too splash-dash a collage.


Brian said...

Having the Great Intelligence return as a Arc Villain was, in my mind, a great idea. I especially liked realizing that the Doctor and Intelligence were encountering each other at different parts of their timelines (see the Doctor's almost-deterministic introduction of the Underground map to the Intelligence in this special -- preluding the incident between the two a few decades hence from its point of view but centuries ago from his).

I was somewhat disappointed at the resolution of their conflict (unless it ends up having further salience we have yet to see, especially retconned issues following "The Name of the Doctor"), given the set up of a both a returning classic villain AND an antagonistic relationship whose atemporal relationship* with the Doctor played along the same lines that the viewer had learned to navigated with River Song.

(*I was always surprised that the showrunners always presented other Time Lords like The Master or The Rani as somehow being in complete synch temporally with The Doctor whenever encountered, such that each incident followed the last sequentially. It might well be a sort of time lock among Time Lords or an issue of TARDISes, but such rivalries among time travelers would be far more interesting -- and far more dangerous -- were they able to be fought atemporally. Such the atemporal relationship of The Doctor and The Great Intelligence actually makes the question of The Doctor not using and actively hiding his true name an important temporal defense as much as a narrative device.)

P.S. Hooray for the Clara Era! Despite many of the "Modern Companion-isms" arguably at show, either the script or the acting do show a real difference from the likes of Rose or Amy here. Something about the show opening with a more classic-style theme and vortex helps sell it to me, as well, I imagine...

Anonymous said...

I think you nailed it -- Clara was a delight but the snowmen were a disappointment. I never liked Clara again as much as I did in this episode.

In coming episodes, I'm going to want to tear my hair out every time that twee flute music plays to signal Clara's appearance. In my head, the lyrics to Clara's Theme are something like: "Look at her, she's a delight to behold, and we'll ram it down your throat until you agree".

The Doctor just had the gold standard of companions -- Rory -- and while it's nearly impossible to recreate that much greatness, it's worth understanding why he worked so well: because he always came through when anyone else would have folded, and the writers let the viewers figure it out for themselves. If they had, say, announced Rory's presence with regal trumpets, it would have gotten grating, fast.

Siskoid said...

Your Rory live is noted.

LiamKav said...

Rory reminds me of Ian. Not there completely by choice, even when he's sort-of enjoying it. Cares more for Barbara/Amy than the Doctor. Capable of punching historical figures if need be.

My main worry with Clara was we wer going to get another sassy girl who was going to drop innuendo all over the place while flirting with the Doctor. Not that I want a return to the old days of the companions being helpless and screaming, but I think it's actually a bit insulting. Women do come in other flavours, Mr Moffat. (This is probably why I grew to love Donna. And why Ace is still my all time favourite companion.)

jdh417 said...

I have to echo the comments here. The Doctor's companions seem to be generating the "Kenny Effect," as first discovered on South Park.

Clara grated on me immediately because of the Asylum episode. Certainly I didn't want her killed again though. Major bummer for Christmas.

There was one specific thing I loved in this episode, that somewhat amazing effect of walking into the Tardis interior, while still showing the exterior as the box.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

One thing I like about the Great Intelligence is that, unlike many of the Doctor's foes, he can't time travel. So the Doctor meets him all out of order. Of course, this story blew my fan theory that the GI was Omega reaching out from the anti-matter universe and the Gel Guards were Yeti robots without the synthetic skins... but, cest la vis. :-)

"First, NOT a modern-day girl, which has been the primary template since the 80s."
*Sigh* Capaldi looks set to break a lot of new (old) ground- not a young man as the Doctor, not a romance with the companion, etc. We can only hope that, post-Clara, we can end up with 'not a pop-culture savy single young female from the modern day.' (Though I fear that that, like the other Capaldi elements mentioned, may be too alienating for the general audience... now, we will find out if the Doctor Who formula is still popular... or if it was just the RTD formula of quirky young guy and savvy young girl with a romance that was popular, and Doctor Who happened to be linked at the hip with it). The closest we got to breaking that mold in New Series companions, I think, were Donna (not a young romantic prospect) and Rory (not a girl)... and both were brilliant. :-) An alien, a person form the past, a person from the future... a guy... I'd love to see another Steven, another Romana, another Leela. Let the Doctor be the cultural touchstone for a change, and give us a companion who is unlike us. We'll still enjoy it, Moffat- we promise! :-)

"I could do without the running gag of them telling everyone what they really are though."
That's part of my beef with Vastra; the character is very one-note. And they used that jok SO many times in the Snowmen that it just became ridiculous. Yes, we get the incogongruit of who she is and how ridiculous and stupid it is. Having her open the front door and anounce it to a stranger is just silly.

Loved the integrated face, but very disappiointed with the new TARDIS design. To me, it's so much less than it was- plainer, more dark, less visually interested, color scheme far more muted. People say it pays tribute tot he original, but I don't see it- we'd need more white and more roundels for that. It would need to be brightly-lit.

Strax was, as always, the highlight. "A grenade!" got even a chuckle out of my Sontaran-hating wife. :-)

Anaynmous- "In my head, the lyrics to Clara's Theme are something like: "Look at her, she's a delight to behold, and we'll ram it down your throat until you agree"."
That made me laugh. :-)

Ace rocks, LiamKav! And so does Donna! Right on!

And I'll concur with jdh417- I've been waiting for a TARDIS exterior/interior single-shot for quite some time. Nice to see it at last.

Siskoid said...

I don't usually comment on spelling unless it's a funny autocorrect problem, so in this case, C'est la vie, as C'est la vis... You just said That's the screw. ;-)

Andrew Gilbertson said...


Oops. :-)


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