Who Review: The Snowmen

Okay, so I’m a little late to the party since this was the Doctor Who Christmas special for 2012. But better late than never. And with the second part of series 7 about to kick of in a couple of months, it seems about time to share my thoughts on this episode.

One must always remember that Christmas specials are supposed to be more light-hearted than the usual series episodes, and this is no less true for Doctor Who than any other show. I think sometimes people watch Who Christmas episodes and expect an hour-long scarefest, and are subsequently disappointed by the fact that there is a greater level of humor and frivolity than usual. The reason for this is simple: it’s broadcast on Christmas Day, a time of fun and celebration. Audience expectations–at least in the UK–are for something festive and fun. Yes, scary, and solidly within the Doctor Who world–but nothing too heavy and scary.

“The Snowmen” delivers well on this promise. Yes, it has plenty of scares, some real threats, and even some tears. But there is fun, humor, and whimsy too. The interaction between militaristic Strax, the Sontaran who wants to blow the brains out of the enemy and then interrogate him, and the Doctor who always wants to find a peaceful solution, is classic double-act comedy. Indeed, Strax makes for great comic relief in this story. But I get ahead of myself. Here’s the basic premise:

After the events of “The Angels Take Manhattan“–the previous story–and the circumstances under which Amy and Rory parted ways with the Doctor, the Time Lord has hung up his sonic screwdriver. He feels the universe is being unfair after all the times he’s stepped in to save the day (country, planet, solar system). So he has taken to spending his time sulking in the TARDIS on a cloud above Victorian London, while his friends Strax, a Sontaran, Madame Vastra, a Silurian, and Jenny, a human (all last seen in the story “A Good Man Goes to War“) try to goad him out of retirement to solve unexplained and possibly dangerous goings on. Their efforts appear to be failing until the Doctor encounters Clara–a barmaid and governess with the kind of curiosity, wit, and intelligence that appeals to him. Clara calls the Doctor’s attention to the strange snowmen that are appearing out of nowhere all over the city. The Doctor determines they are made from a kind of intelligent snow that mimics the people around it. But what is the purpose of the snowmen? And what part does the mysterious and malevolent Dr. Simeon’s play in this? The stakes are high as these icy creatures appear set to rid the planet of its inhabitants.

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

First of all, let me say that I’m a huge fan of the new title sequence. This is the best they’ve come up with since the series reboot in 2005 (IMO, of course). In-keeping with the fiftieth anniversary celebrations, both the visual and the music hearken back to the classic series, perhaps most notably with the inclusion of the Doctor’s face–something we haven’t seen since 1989.

I’m not sure what to make of the Doctor’s three friends (Strax, Vastra, and Jenny). They’re good characters, but how do they suddenly end up with the Doctor? Other than providing some laughs and filling in for the Doctor while he’s sulking, they don’t seem to serve much of a purpose. Perhaps for one story, and a Christmas episode at that, I’m willing to laugh along and let it pass.

The story itself is interesting, even if it does seem to get a bit convoluted. The sudden reappearance of the Great Intelligence (last seen in the 1968 Second Doctor story “The Web of Fear,” when it was controlling robot Yeti in a take-over of the London Underground system) in such a subtle way perhaps bodes for something to come? A return of the Yeti? Who knows. I don’t think we’ve had a classic enemy brought back in such an understated fashion before. And the Doctor’s failure to remember who the Great Intelligence is (especially when thousands of Who fans were probably shouting at their screens telling him) perhaps, again, speaks to the possibility that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of it.

I thought Jenna-Louise Coleman did an outstanding job in her official debut as the new companion (official–i.e., not counting “Asylum of the Daleks“). Aside from the saucy comments and the now-obligatory snogging of the Doctor, she seems like she’ll make a good side-kick. And the idea that the Doctor has to go looking for her, as opposed to the usual situation where the companion walks into his life, is a nice change.

So the Doctor’s on a mission to find Clara–and it looks to be an exciting and fun rest of series 7, starting March 30th.

Don’t forget to watch out for 50th Anniversary specials and other goings on to celebrate the show this year. I’ll be doing my part on the blog. One thing to watch out for is a docu-drama written by Mark Gatiss (co-writer/co-producer of “Sherlock,” as well as writer of a few Who episodes) called “An Adventure in Time and Space.” The 90-minute special is currently in production and will chronicle the beginnings of the series. The BBC recently announced that David Bradley (Argus Filtch in the “Harry Potter” movies) has been cast to play William Hartnell (the actor who played the First Doctor). I daresay that will be broadcast in the UK (and possibly the US too) on or around the anniversary date: November 23rd.

By the way–did you notice the date on the grave at the end of “The Snowmen”? πŸ™‚

10 thoughts on “Who Review: The Snowmen

  1. Robin Moran

    I have to agree with you on the new titles. The Doctor’s image is a great addition to the show and a great homage for Classic Who. That’s what I can always count on Moffat for… referencing Classic Who. Really love the new theme tune. But now that you’ve mentioned the Great Intelligence is an old villain I’m disappointed that it wasn’t pointed out. I didn’t even know until reading your review. Explains why there was all those comments about the London Underground. A poor reference?

    I liked the Christmas special although I was a tad disappointed when it turned out the Clara we’ve been waiting for won’t be the Victorian one. I thought the show was going to make the new companion a little different this time. Still, I liked her and I’m intrigued by who or maybe what she is. I wondered if she’s linked to the Great Intelligence. Every Clara she’s portrayed is quite a clever character, too intelligent for the careers she has had (barmaid and entertainment manager). Didn’t the snowman appear with memory? If you didn’t think or remember them then they couldn’t appear. Both times she has died she has mentioned to the Doctor about remembering. I’ll have to watch the Christmas special again to make sure.

    I’m curious… I haven’t noticed anything about the gravestone. Should be 25th instead of 24th?

    1. cds Post author

      We haven’t had a companion from an earlier point in Earth history since… my goodness… Jamie with the Second Doctor? Really–that long ago? That would have made Victorian Clara something very different. I suppose if the companion is contemporary with the audience, that helps the audience connect. But I’m not sure how necessary that is now. We haven’t had a companion from an non-Earth culture, either, in the new series. That would be interesting.

      And that’s an interesting thought about Clara and the Great Intelligence. It was an uncharacteristically low-key re-introduction of a classic baddie. Even RTD’s re-introduction of the Macra in “Gridlock”–perhaps his most “subtle” old monster reveal–was more pronounced. Perhaps Moffat wanted to provide a reason why the Great Intelligence thought about invading the London Underground. Or perhaps this isn’t the last we’ve seen of the GI–and perhaps Clara plays a part in that. Who knows… we shall see! πŸ™‚

    1. cds Post author

      Speaking for myself–which I do quite well, surprisingly–I don’t think Moffat’s episodes are always convoluted. But he can sometimes get a bit carried away with himself, usually trying to be too clever. And I don’t think he had as much of a problem with this before he became show-runner. But that’s just me. I know you’re not alone in your view, Cole. πŸ™‚

  2. Viklit

    What was the date? I am going to have to google.

    Definitely enjoyed that he has to go hunting for her.. and I have read some fun theories about Clara so looking forward to seeing which is correct!

    1. cds Post author

      Okay… if you have the episode recorded, go to about 57’58” into it–near the end–when the Doctor and co are in the Victorian graveyard. Look at the “Born” date… πŸ™‚

        1. cds Post author

          What can I say? I’m a fan from childhood (i.e., the classic series), so I enjoy little details like this. Of course, who knows? This may be a significant detail!

  3. Miss Jersey

    I liked your review of this episode. I liked it, in my opinion it is the best episode of Doctor Who for a while. I haven’t been impressed with the last one and a half series (I’m not counting the 5 episodes last autumn as a full series) so I really hope the new one is much better. If the Christmas episode is anything to go by, I think I’ll finally be happy! I have only started watching Dr Who since 2005, so the links to past episodes passed me by but it was interesting to read about them.

    Also, what is the date on the gravestone, and its significance. I have deleted the recording now so I can’t check!

    1. cds Post author

      Thank you, Anna! I’ve been writing reviews of Doctor Who episodes since I started my blog–so I think my first of the New Series was “Let’s Kill Hitler.” I’ve also reviewed some classic stories. Feel free to hunt them out if you’re interested. πŸ™‚

      I’m really pleased at the attention Doctor Who has received since the reboot, and though I’m a long-time fan, I’m delighted at all the newcomers since 2005. Glad to have you amongst us! πŸ™‚ I know the classic series is not to everyone’s taste, but if you want recommendations of stories to try, I have an article somewhere listing my Top Five Must-See Classic Who Stories.

      As to the date on the gravestone… Google “the snowment doctor who gravestone” and you’ll get the answer. πŸ™‚


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