"Winter is coming."
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.
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: 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.