Snow shrouds the Doctor Who set, dusting a Dickensian street with a silvery shimmer while Matt Smith and a Sontaran chum rehearse and director Saul Metzstein scrutinises a monitor with the rapt attention of an expectant mum at a baby scan. But another blanket also covers the proceedings that is much more perplexing: secrecy.
Fort Knox-style security always surrounds the making of Doctor Who – and no one is clearer than showrunner Steven Moffat that spoilers are so called for a reason – but his third Christmas episode, The Snowmen, warrants special measures. Security is tight, confidentiality agreements are signed and RT has been warned that prematurely breathing a word of what we’re about to see may result in a big sleep with the fishes in Cardiff Bay.
For The Snowmen marks the first proper appearance of the Doctor’s new companion Clara, played by Jenna Louise Coleman, after her brief introduction on Children in Need night in a special “mini-sode”. But before that, Coleman has already graced Doctor Who: the Emmerdale and Waterloo Road actress made an unannounced appearance in September in Asylum of the Daleks, playing the doomed Oswin. This surprise cameo caused all sorts of speculation among fans -were Oswin and the then-unnamed companion somehow the same person? If not, how were they connected? Did the Doctor – who never saw Oswin’s face and only heard her voice from within a Dalek know who she was? Just what was Moffat playing at?
So in a bid to get to the bottom of the mystery of how Clara and the Doctor meet, and just what lies beneath all this snow, RT decided to investigate. On the hunt for clues, and intent on quizzing witnesses, we encounter Jenna Louise Coleman who – it quickly transpires – is clearly hiding something.
RT: So Miss Coleman, is there a connection between Oswin and Clara?
JLC: “The connection is that it’s me playing both. I’m not Oswin: I’m a different person who looks and sounds like Oswin.” A mistress of deception and obfuscation, to be sure. Perhaps Matt Smith will be more helpful…
RT: What can you tell us about this episode and the Doctor’s new companion?
MS: “I’ve got a whole new Christmassy outfit and the best hat! A bit Artful Dodger meets the Doctor. There’s a lot of purple this year, which is nice. I’ve always wanted something purple but they were always reluctant. It’s taken three years to get a jaunty hat and a purple coat!”
As well versed as Smith is in keeping secrets, he admits that the Doctor’s mood is, initially at least, more melancholic in this Christmas special.
“The fall of the Ponds had a grave effect on the man. I think he’s quite lonely and removed from the universe and not really as engaged as he was, at his best with Amy and Rory,” says Smith. “Handily, he meets a jaunty new companion…” Describing Clara as “a hot chick”, he says meeting a beautiful woman does strange things to the Doctor – “Again!”
“What’s interesting with a new companion is that it changes the way he is and affects his personality. I think, in one way or another, the Doctor is always attracted to his companion and he’s certainly taken by this striking young lady.”
Introducing a companion is never easy, especially when the Doctor’s connection with his previous fellow traveller is intense. Some thought that Martha Jones (played by Freema Agyeman) suffered due to David Tennant’s Doctor’s strong bond with Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler – that Martha was effectively a rebound relationship for the Doctor. Does Smith worry that Clara will suffer the same fate?
“I don’t think that will be the case with Jenna’s character. A great deal of time has passed in story terms but the burden of that loss will always be with him, like the burden of losing Rose,” says Smith. “With my Doctor, Amy and Rory are especially significant. It’s important for the show for that grieving to have its place but to move on. I felt it affected Martha’s journey quite a lot that the tenth Doctor was always talking about Rose – understandable, because they’d had such a wonderful connection. But the show has to propel forward, back into adventure mode.”
Judging from RT’s time on the set, The Snowmen promises to be quite the adventure. Silurian Madame Vastra and her human companion Jenny are returning, along with friendly Sontaran Strax (they all helped the Doctor in the 2011 episode, A Good Man Goes to War). Richard E Grant plays a dastardly villain, and the Doctor and Clara face an army of ferocious-looking snowmen with icicles for teeth.
But much of the tale remains a mystery. Perhaps this is where another star can shed some 2010 light: actor Tom Ward, who appears as Captain Latimer in The Snowmen. Famed for his forensics as Silent Witness’s Harry Cunningham, might he be able to offer some insight?
“My character is an archetypal Victorian gentleman,” he volunteers. “A repressed, Establishment-type chap who is distant from his children and can’t communicate with women. I couldn’t resist him as he’s so well written – he has to be because the action moves so rapidly that you don t have time for him not to be. Besides, a part in a Doctor Who Christmas special was just too good an opportunity to pass up.”
Of course, Ward is no stranger to being in hit BBC dramas. But, he says, there’s a difference between being a series regular and being a guest star. “When you’re a lead [as he was in Silent Witness], you feel a responsibility, as if you’re the host of a party. You want to make sure everyone feels welcome and confident. As a guest star, you’re like the guest at the party. I admire Matt enormously because when you’re playing a part like the Doctor, you have to be a leader and your energy has to be unremitting.”
Ward is impressed by the whole Who production team’s stamina and ability to function on a calendar so out-of-sync with the rest of the country. “We filmed the Christmas special in August, when the Olympics were in full swing in London. When I finished filming for the day, I was glued to the Games in the evening. I think the nation was collectively surprised at how much we enjoyed it.”
For Ward, it sounds as if being part of Doctor Who was similarly feel-good, not least because of the kudos it earned him with his own children.
“They were away in the summer when I was filming so couldn’t come to visit, but Matt very kindly wrote them a card each,” he says. “The Doctor Who Christmas special is such an event, with such a special sparkle.” Mention of this “sparkle” may be the biggest clue Ward gives when it comes to revealing the secrets of The Snowmen – particularly when considered with something that Coleman says of the story. “It’s very snowy,” she teases, “and that’s more of a hint than you think.”
This may not sound terribly telling, so perhaps the best way to solve the pleasingly perplexing puzzle is the same way you solve any puzzle – look at it long and hard. For an hour on Christmas Day!
The Doctor Who Christmas special is on Christmas Day at 5:15pm on BBC1