Written by Jeff Snyder
So last night, I was able to sit down and finally watch this season’s Doctor Who Christmas special, titled “The Snowmen”. All in all, great episode. The story picks up after an undetermined amount of time after the last episode, which ended with the sort-of demise of the Ponds. We now have a Doctor who has become little more than a hermit, living in the clouds above Victorian London. Many of the characters and circumstances that are seen early on in the episode, including Strax the Sontaran, the Silurian Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint, Vastra’s wife, were introduced to the viewers in an earlier episode, “A Good Man Goes to War”, and reintroduced in a short prequel, “The Great Detective”, that was released prior to the air date of the Christmas special. The prequel is not entirely necessary to view to understand the episode, although it is definitely helpful. Early on, I must admit that I was a little confused. About five minutes into the episode, however, this confusion was gone and I was completely swept up in the story.
The story, without spoiling too much, is a solid one. It’s not going to win any awards but it definitely wet my palate and got me very excited for the season to continue, and for the Doctor’s new companion. The episode never got too deep or intricate into itself. It was definitely a light adventure, until about ¾’s of the way through. We spend most of the episode getting to know Clara Oswin Oswald and don’t spend too much time with the villains, the Great Intelligence. The Great Intelligence, a recurring character from much earlier Doctors, is using snow in order to wipe out mankind. It has latched on to the mind of a young boy, now grown into a disgruntled man, and has been looking for human DNA in order to create non freezing ice-people so that it can take over the world. While the villain in this sounds like what Ebenezer Scrooge would be like if he had a wee bit of the Brain mixed in, Dr. Simeon (yes, kind of a crappy name but it’s Crimbo. I’m forgiving) satisfies. I’ve never felt that the villain on the Christmas episodes should be very dark. The Very Merry Doctor episodes are always supposed to be the preview of the season to come, to get us excited for more episodes. That being said, I felt that the viewer never really feels danger in this episode. Yes, we are told that the snowmen are dangerous and could wipe out mankind, but we never really see them in action. Okay, early in the episode we see them take out a group of hungry laborers. There is a big difference between tired, hungry day laborers who were caught unaware and an army, or even a group of people, who are expecting them. That’s the problem. We never really see them fight someone who could fight back. Could a well placed shot from Strax simply blown a snowman apart? We’re also shown early in the episode that you could defeat the snowmen by simply picturing them melted. So we are told they are dangerous but we rarely actually see the Great Intelligence’s foot soldiers being dangerous.
Another thing that I wasn’t a huge fan of was the writers’ choice of Clara’s single word to get the Doctor to come off his cloud. Clara’s word was “pond”, referring to the pond in lawn of the family she is a governess for. The pond the only thing that stayed frozen after all of the snow in London had thawed. She correctly believed this had something to do with the Snowmen. The Doctor, and the viewers, connects this to the Ponds, the family of companions he had lost. I feel there were so many better words out there for her to use. There is no way that Clara could have known “pond” would be significant to the Doctor. For all she knows, she mentions a pond and the Doctor could think she was asking him to join her for a picnic or to meet her by a pond to discuss the dangers at hand. The only reason pond is significant is because it is significant to the Doctor and to the viewer. It simply wasn’t a good choice of word. It makes it seem as though the Doctor only comes off his cloud to honor the memory of the Ponds in some way, or out of love of the Ponds. A better word, which would have expressed so much more, would have been a simple “please”. It would have been a realistic and powerful word. It is a plea for help and would show that even in a powerful sulk (and the Doctor is indeed capable of a powerful sulk) the Doctor can’t resist those who are truly in need. It’s not a selfish or narrow response to a reminding of the “Ponds”.
These were really the only bad things I found with the episode. There is much good to be found within “The Snowmen”. First, the reason we don’t spend so much time with the Great Intelligence, thus building up the episode’s villain, is because we spend a lot of time getting to know and falling back in love with Clara Oswin Oswald. She really is a great compliment to the Doctor, as she can hold her own and you get this sense that the Doctor gets butterflies in his stomach around her. It’s odd to see the Doctor stammer. I feel she is going to be a great companion. Also, she claimed to have invented fish because she was lonely swimming alone. That’s pretty awesome.
Strax was also great and I sincerely hope we see a lot more of him. He bounced off the Doctor well, with his violent and direct methods. He was a willing target of the Doctor’s jests and it seemed to not even phase him. My favorite line of this was when the Doctor referred to Strax as “Potato man”. It just bounced off Strax like a bullet off his armor. A person/alien that is immune to the Doctor’s wit is his greatest opponent.
The other two, Vastra and Jenny Flint, weren’t as interesting to me and, while I enjoy them as characters, I feel they shouldn’t be regular characters. Vastra acted as an excellent gatekeeper for the Doctor, giving us a great scene between her and Clara where she gives Vastra her word (Pond). They don’t strike me as characters that offer something incredibly different to what we already have. If this crew makes up what is to be the Doctor’s companions for this season and beyond, I will be very satisfied.
The final thing I want to note is what I perceived as references to notable television shows that many Whovians might have picked up on. This first is the phrase that is repeated several times throughout the episode. This phrase “Winter is Coming” is also a notable phrase (the words of House Stark) in the HBO series Game of Thrones. With the prevalence of the quote, the writers definitely had to be aware of it. The other reference that came to my attention was to Sherlock. While Sherlock Holmes has always been a go-to character for many British actors, the music that plays when the name Sherlock Holmes is announced (which is closely based on Doctor Who writer, Steven Moffat’s Sherlock) makes it clear just which Sherlock they are referencing. Both of these shows, Game of Thrones and Sherlock, are shows that Whovians would be very aware of, if not huge fans of. I, for one, am a die-hard fan of all of these and the references definitely brought about a childish giggle. Yeah, not my proudest moment but still.
At the end of the day, this was a great episode that leaves the viewers excited for what’s to come. It wasn’t a deep episode, bringing about too many mysteries or give us too much new information. At the same time, it was stagnant, giving us too much of the same. “The Snowmen” gave the viewers an excellent transition from the Pond era of Doctor Who to what lies beyond. I can’t wait to see what that is.