Recap video and review of Doctor Who – Christmas Special 2012 – The Snowmen
Maybe it’s akin to mild sacrilege to say so, but I genuinely believe this is the best Doctor Who Christmas special of the modern era. If nothing else, it’s Matt Smith’s best as the Eleventh Doctor, in an episode that seems less concerned with being accessible to casual, once-a-year audiences, and more focused on the irreducible complexity of the best Doctor adventures. “The Snowmen” doesn’t give much of an indication of where the show will be headed when we get the back half of series seven in April 2013, but the episode gives us plenty to speculate about until then. For one, there’s the thrilling possibility that Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh) and Jenny (Catrin Stewart) are back to serve as The Doctor’s occasional consultants, along with previously-dead Sontaran wet-nurse Strax (Dan Starkey), last seen in “A Good Man Goes To War”, and whose deadpan sensibilities make a very welcome addition to tonight’s adventure. But more than all that, there’s the mystery of the new companion, Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman). Much has been made of whether this is the same girl or a descendant of Oswin Oswald, the spunky girl-in-a-Dalek from the series seven premiere. Still others theorized she was a time traveller like The Doctor, and that they merely met at different points in one another’s timelines, a la River Song (Alex Kingston).
Thankfully, that latter theory doesn’t appear to be the case (too soon to be repeating all that, now), as it appears that the Oswalds throughout time will be pulling a Kenny McCormick (or, to keep in the Whoniverse, a Rory Williams) and dying countless times within the course of one season. Clara kicks it at the end of “The Snowmen”, but her death catalyzes The Doctor out of his self-imposed retirement in Victorian England following the loss of his beloved Ponds. The Doctor has found a companion worth charging up the TARDIS for again (and a spiffy new TARDIS it is, looking like a spacey, Sylvester McCoy-era conception of the interior). Sure, she’s dead, but The Doctor suspects that some version of her is still out there – and we get that confirmation when a more modern-looking Clara comes across the departed Clara’s gravesite and remarks to a friend how she isn’t afraid of ghosts. If I had to front a theory for what any of this means, I’d guess that multiple versions of Clara exist across time, and that this isn’t merely a case of one woman’s descendants all looking and acting as adorably as Jenna-Louise Coleman. Would that such a thing could be true, though.
If the various Claras we’re likely to meet all have this Clara’s fiery chemistry with The Doctor, then I’m really going to enjoy her as a companion. I know we’re probably not supposed to want to see The Doctor in anything approaching a human romantic relationship, but there’s a real spark here between Smith and Coleman that translates well on the screen. In a sense, it’s the kind of chemistry the show keeps insisting exists between the Eleventh Doctor and River Song, yet I’d argue never really did (now excuse me while I duck any incoming rotten tomatoes). The one kiss they share in this episode is fraught with passion, to where it seemed like even The Doctor was surprised how into it he was. And who can blame him? Clara is rich with youthful exuberance, though there’s also a dual personality in play, that of a cockney barmaid and well-spoken governess. It’s a wonderfully-layered characterization, and Coleman brings such life and vitality to the role that she helps anchor the episode, in a lot of ways.
And it’s a wonderful episode, featuring a voice cameo from Ian McKellen as the Great Intelligence, a villain from the Patrick Troughton era (introduced, ironically, in an episode titled “The Abominable Snowmen”) that convinces young Walter Simeon of the fantastical nature of the universe. Fifty years later, and Simeon is the head of an institute conducting ice and snow experiments on human test subjects. Enter Clara, who is accosted by one of these snowmen, bringing her into contact with The Doctor and his vast array of acquaintces, such as Madame Vastra and her wife Jenny, who are apparently the basis for Sherlock Holmes and Watson in this universe, and Strax, the Sontaran. There’s something to be said for how a dour, downtrodden Doctor still communicates an air of mystery and adventure, and Clara picks up on it. It’s not like she isn’t living a double life herself, yet Clara negotiates her dual existence with far greater aplomb than The Doctor, who seems resigned to never traveling again, much less with any other companion. But Clara changes his mind over the course of the episode, in any number of encounters that see The Doctor trading witty barbs with the prospective new companion, until the Time Lord can no longer pretend this isn’t a person he wants in his life. When talking to Clara about his taking on companions, The Doctor declares that “I never know why, I only know who.” Of course, even then the decision is occasionally out of The Doctor’s hands. When Clara is mortally wounded in an attack, The Doctor struggles to save her, announcing his intention to make her a full companion. But there’s not much he can do to save her. Like Oswin before her, Clara’s last words are “Run. Run, you clever boy. And remember.”
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the episode is aesthetically spectacular, from the horrific, razor-toothed design of the snowmen, to images such as Clara and The Doctor climbing a ladder to a TARDIS above the clouds, to say nothing of the episode’s Victorian setting, which is rich in period detail. If there’s a complaint, it’s that there wasn’t nearly enough of Ian McKellen, nor of Richard E. Grant’s villain, Walter Simeon, who chews the scenery in the episode’s bigger moments, and plays it subtle in the quieter passages. Series seven has been full of great one-off villains, and Grant’s portrayal is a fitting contribution to The Doctor’s rogues gallery. His brief resurrection from death upon the close of the show’s big, climactic action setpiece, in which The Doctor and Vastra defeat Simeon and his snowmen, is exceedingly epic, and marks just how far the visual effects have come for the series since its revival in 2005. Victorious once again, The Doctor sets out to get to the bottom of the Clara/Oswin mystery, replacing “Geronimo!” with a callback to Clara’s final words to him, shouting, “Watch me run!” It’s a triumphant return to form for our Raggedy Man (even if he isn’t Amy Pond’s anymore).
“The Snowmen” is a thrilling Christmas installment, and while it doesn’t give us an indication of what we can reasonably expect, it does provide a rich outlet of storyline possibilities. The Doctor’s discovery of Dr. Simeon’s business card, which lists his company as the Great Intelligence, threatens to reintroduce The Doctor to one of his most formidable villains. The back half of series seven looks to be rich with the kind of mystery, intrigue, and bombast that routinely makes this TV’s finest genre show.