New Who Review: “The Snowmen”
Oh, Steven Moffat, you magnificent bastard. The return of a villain before it and The Doctor have ever met, a reunion with a character The Doctor’s never actually met, the team-up of three characters, one of whom died in the far future, and a couple of surprise guests. A nice little Christmas present, and what’s Christmas without…
By Steven Moffat
Directed by Saul Metzstein
A young boy is met by a talking snowman, one who promises he can help him. Fifty years later, and Dr. Walter Simeon has become quite a successful man, head of a prestigious institute, and still working with the sentient snowstorm to prepare for a coming assault on the earth. Madame Vastra and Jenny are curious as to Dr. Simeon’s plans, but get nowhere. Meanwhile, a young barmaid named Clara has noticed a snowman pop up out of nowhere, and though the man she asks randomly about it seems disinterested, his curiosity is piqued, something The Doctor has been trying to avoid.
Clara is quite a mystery – she’s living a double life as the Governess for two young children. Their previous governess drowned in a pond outside their manor last winter, which froze over so quickly and thickly they never even found the body for a month. During that time, the Snow had time to analyze her DNA, providing them a perfect blueprint with which they plan to use to create more sturdy and permanent forms for itself. The challenge is not for The Doctor to defeat the Snowmen and its secret leader…but to get The Doctor interested enough to care.
Brilliant episode from head to toe. The chemistry between Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman is positively captivating, as we saw in Asylum of the Daleks, but here, with both on screen at once, it’s explosive. Dan Starkey pulls in a leaves-you-breathless comedic performance as Strax, one so good it’ll be hard to take him seriously if (when?) he appears again. Unlike most of the previous Christmas specials, this one has a more direct connection to the narrative of the show. They’re usually a rather done-in-one story that can be enjoyed on its own. But here, as with The Christmas Invasion, the story leads right into the start of the new semi-season this Spring/Summer.
Once again, Moffat has created a character rippling with mystery. Why was she working for Captain Latimer, and more importantly, why does her face seem to be spread across time?
THE MONSTER FILES
The Great Intelligence has been rumored for a return to the show for at least two years. Of course, so has damn near every other villain. Appearing twice during the Troughton era, it was a disembodied consciousness that was able to remotely animate constructs, created with the help of wiling human compatriots. Its favorite form in past battles have been giant robotic Yeti, also know as Abominable Snowmen, which was also the title of their first adventure. It appeared again in London in The Web of Fear, the adventure that also introduced us to then-Colonel Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, who would soon receive a promotion, and assignment to U.N.I.T.
The prose novels added a great deal to the history of the Intelligence, as it did for many of the villains of the series. In them it was revealed that it is in fact Yog-Sothoth, one of the Old Ones chronicled in the H.P. Lovecraft stories. Neil Gaiman revealed in an interview that he had initially intended House, the villain from his previous episode The Doctor’s Wife, was to have been the Great Intelligence, or at least was to have been heavily hinted as such. While none of those allusions remained, its modus operandi is sufficiently similar as to still make the connection possible.
Madame Vastra is a Silurian, an ancient lizard race who escaped under the Earth’s crust to save themselves from what they saw as an extinction-level threat in the form of an asteroid heading for the planet. When the asteroid was instead captured by the Earth’s gravity and became our moon, it allowed other races to rise to planetary dominance, namely Humanity. The Doctor has faced the Silurians several times both in the new and original series. Madame Vastra and her human partner Jenny, were introduced in A Good Man Goes to War, as was Strax, the Sontaran clone warrior, sentenced to the ultimate shame, to serve as a nurse.
GUEST STAR REPORT
Richard Grant (Dr. Simeon) has been a staple of British comedy and drama for years. He first came to note in Withnail and I, co-starring with the future Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann. He’s been in mad satiric comedies like How to Get Ahead in Advertising and Hudson Hawk, has played the Scarlet Pimpernel, starred in the underrated Warlock, and been in far too many more to list. He has also had quite a history with Doctor Who. He’s played The Doctor twice, once in Moffat’s oft-referenced Comic Relief sketch The Curse Of Fatal Death, and once in an animated adventure The Scream of the Shalka. That had been intended as a sort of pilot for a new Who series that never materialized. It was quiet shuffled out of continuity when the new series started with a different ninth Doctor.
Ian McKellen (voice of the Intelligence) is Magneto and Gandalf. Get Over It.
Juliet Cadzow (voice of the ice governess) has had a long career on British television and on film, but is likely best known as Edie McCredie from the cult favorite children’s show Balamory.
BACKGROUND BITS AND BOBS – Trivia and production details
CREDITS WHERE CREDITS ARE DUE – New credit sequence, and a new mix of the theme, but even then, a return of some old motifs. The Doctor’s face has been missing from the opening sequence ever since the new series began, but its made a happy return here. Also, The TARDIS seems to traveling through space for more of the sequence than through time. The vortex has gone through some changes as well. In the initial credits sequence it seems made of energy, much resembling a “laser tunnel” effect. In the first Matt Smith sequence, the vortex took on a more smoky look, one that became progressively more violent in the episodes of this season. Now it’s taken a look of a column of flame. One theoy has suggested that the change represented a change in The Doctor’s mood and experiences, rather than mere a change in the vortex itself.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION – The episode was filmed in Bristol, which features a number of Victorian style locales, and makes for easy conversion.
THE ROSE AND CROWN – well, “Rose” is rather obvious, but one could also argue that a Crown is worn by someone who is…Noble.
YOU DON’T NEED THEM, YOU JUST THINK THEY MAKE YOU LOOK CLEVER – The Doctor is wearing Amy Pond’s glasses, last seen in The Angels Take Manhattan. It’s the only bit of clothing or accessories remaining from his previous costume. Even the bow tie is different.
DON’T KNOW WHERE, DON’T KNOW WHEN… Note Clara’s birthday – November 23rd, same day Doctor Who premiered in 1963.
“Those were the days” – What’s interesting is that we have NO clue exactly how long The Doctor has been out of the Saving The Universe business. Take a look at the TARDIS – the exterior is a weather-beaten mess. And even though the interior has a brand new design, I’ve already suggested that it is in fact the ship’s “default” setting, indicating that he didn’t care if it had any character anymore.
‘You realize Dr. Doyle is almost certainly basing his fantastical tales on your own exploits” – And that sound you hear is reality folding in upon itself. Moffat is, of course, also the showrunner on the new Sherlock series starring Smaug and Bilbo Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, and fans have been doing crossovers between the two series for some time now.
“And remember…” Clara is another woman that The Doctor is meeting out of order. Like River Song, there’s clearly much more going on with her than any average woman. Unlike Amy Pond, she’s got a very inquisitive nature, and was involved in her own little mysteries before the Doctor even arrived. She lives a double life, as the governess of the two children, who just happen to be in the middle of a dangerous situation. Rather like how Sarah jane and Donna Noble were inspired to investigate and help people after they met The Doctor. But Clara hadn’t MET The Doctor yet. Or has she?
BIG BAD WOLF REPORT – There’s two possibilities here. Rumors abound that the Great Intelligence will return throughout the back end of the season as the Big Bad. This story works perfectly as a stand-alone origin story for the entity, but could also serve as the start of a “You created me” story that could wind up in the season finale.
It seems very clear that one theme of at least the beginning of the semi-season will be the search for Clara. The clips in the Coming Soon teaser show that Clara’s influence is all across time – note the painting, and the fact that she seems to be wearing many different outfits. Yes, she could certainly be just changing clothes…but who’s to say it’s not a different Clara in each episode?
NEXT TIME ON DOCTOR WHO – As is traditional at these points, that’s quite up in the air. We know we’ll be seeing…
- A Cyberman episode by Neil Gaiman
- Diana Rigg and her daughter in another Victorian era adventure
- An episode written by Mark Gatiss
Can’t wait to see what else.