Doctor Who: The Snowmen ★★★★

Christmas 2012 brings deadly Snowmen, Clara’s skyfall, a dazzling new Tardis, and the welcome return of 1960s foe, the Great Intelligence...

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4.0 out of 5 star rating

Story 231

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Christmas special 2012

“Snow that can remember? That’s silly” – Clara

Storyline
Still grieving the loss of Amy and Rory, the Doctor is living a reclusive life in Victorian England, watched over by his old allies Vastra, Jenny and Strax, and with the Tardis suspended on a cloud. At Christmas time in 1892 deadly Snowmen swirl into being on the streets. They’re the product of sinister Dr Simeon, whose institute is under the control of an ethereal Intelligence. The Doctor befriends a barmaid, Clara, who also works as a governess. She and her young charges are attacked by an Ice Governess, created by the Intelligence. Clara dies in a fall from the Tardis but not before the Doctor realises she has a connection to Oswin from the Dalek Asylum.

First UK transmission
Christmas Day 2012

Production
August to November 2012. At The Coal Exchange, Cardiff Bay; Fields Park House, Newport; Cathays Cemetery, Cardiff; Treberfydd, Bwlch, Brecon; Insole Court, Cardiff; St Nicholas Market and Portland Square, Bristol; Llandough Castle; Treowen, Monmouth; Cardiff University; Merthyr Moor House, Bridgend; BBC Roath Lock Studios

Cast
The Doctor – Matt Smith
Clara – Jenna-Louise Coleman
Dr Walter Simeon – Richard E Grant
Madame Vastra – Neve McIntosh
Captain Latimer – Tom Ward
Jenny – Catrin Stewart
Strax – Dan Starkey
Alice – Liz White
Digby – Joseph Darcey-Alden
Francesca – Ellie Darcey-Alden
Bob Chilcott – Ben Addis
Uncle Josh – Jim Conway
Young Walter – Cameron Strefford
Walter’s mother – Annabelle Dowler
Voice of the Great Intelligence – Ian McKellen
Voice of the Ice Governess – Juliet Cadzow
Lead workman – Daniel Hyde
Clara’s friend – Sophie Miller-Sheen

Crew
Writer – Steven Moffat
Director – Saul Metzstein
Producer – Marcus Wilson
Music – Murray Gold
Designer – Michael Pickwoad
Executive producers – Steven Moffat, Caroline Skinner

RT review by Patrick Mulkern

The Snowmen? Baubles to that! Or at least that’s what I thought when I first heard that title. “Why can’t we have Abominable Snowmen?” I moaned. You know, the Yeti, those cuddly but ferocious beasties from 1960s Doctor Who – or as Patrick Troughton’s Doctor once described them: “Robot killers, instruments of an alien intelligence trying to take over the planet Earth.” I’d have done a little snow dance had the Yeti themselves made a long overdue return. As followers of RadioTimes.com’s Doctor Who Story Guide may recall, The Web of Fear (1968) is my all-time favourite serial.

Perhaps mindful of copyright issues surrounding the Yeti (and ancient wrangles the programme had with their creators), for Christmas 2012 Steven Moffat presented us with alternative abominable snowmen. He did, however, reintroduce the Great Intelligence, the malignant, disembodied force that controlled the Yeti, and established how it came into being.

Most viewers won’t grasp the significance of the Great Intelligence in Who mythology. Even for the Doctor the name only “rings a bell” because, oddly, he fails to recall clearly his second incarnation’s two encounters with it. But Moffat has not forgotten. And he’s brought the Intelligence back – for a greater purpose that will feed into episodes in 2013.

Fans who weren’t spoilered via Twitter or internet forums were no doubt whooping at this foe from the 60s. Sadly, I was spoilered in November 2012 as soon as I sat down in BBC TV Centre’s preview theatre. Point two on a list of embargoes we signed before the screening began was to avoid “any reference to the Great Intelligence”.

To have its wizardly voice provided by Gandalf himself – Ian McKellen – is a coup, and Richard E Grant is splendidly chilly as its human minion, Dr Simeon.

But, fan that I am, I did spot one continuity glitch. The Intelligence comes fully into being in The Snowmen: “Something terrible is born”; “Now the dream outlives the dreamer and can never die.” The year is 1892. However, when Troughton’s Doctor first thwarted the Intelligence in The Abominable Snowmen, a serial set in a Tibetan monastery, it had been controlling the high lama Padmasambhava for “nearly 200 years”. The date was 1935. Mmmm… something does add up there. And the idea that the Intelligence exists on an astral plane doesn’t answer it.

Anyway, enough already with Great blooming Intelligence, I hear you cry. What about all the sexy new stuff – such as the title sequence, the new Tardis and, vitally, the new companion?

In Asylum of the Daleks, I found Oswin’s perkiness a tad wearing – but then she was a woman in denial that she was actually the maddest Dalek in the asylum. However, I’m won over by Jenna-Louise Coleman in The Snowmen as she switches with apparent ease between Clara, the perky Nancy-like barmaid, and Miss Montague, the hoity governess with her secret, common voice. And what’s important is she has an instant rapport with Matt Smith’s Doctor.

If I was unmoved by her death (another top secret of course), it’s because Clara still looks so decorous after falling hundreds of feet through the sky. I know this is family viewing, but it’s plainly silly that she isn’t the slightest bit crumpled.

More effective are Clara’s final words – “Run, you clever boy. And remember” – exactly the same as Oswin’s in Asylum. Didn’t you just know they’d come back to bite the Doctor? Moffat is deft at these clever touches.

There are lots of lovely images (the Jack and the Beanstalk-like spiral staircase leading to the clouds), and my favourite moment being the truly wonderful effect of the camera (and hence the viewer) following the Doctor and Clara directly through the police box doors into the huge Tardis interior. Has this effect ever been achieved before..? I may have forgotten. And how was it done? Where’s BBC3’s Doctor Who Confidential when you need it!

The new control room, designed by Michael Pickwoad, is a thing of beauty – superior to the domed Eccleston/Tennant Tardis with its coral columns and clattering floor; less fussy and ornate than the interior that debuted with Matt Smith. At first the control room looks like a mausoleum, reflecting the Doctor’s grief. It’s solemn but conveys latent energy, has subtle detail, a carousel ceiling and a hexagonal central console that looks like it might actually control something.

The new title sequence is… well… busy. An amalgam of earlier versions (Sylvester McCoy’s space debris, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker’s time tunnels etc), it has quickly grown on me. The tweaked theme music has urgency and pizzazz, but still lacks the menace of the Radiophonic Workshop versions.

The Doctor’s three chums lend good value: “psychotic potato dwarf” Strax fumbling with his Memory Worm, and “green lady” Vastra now married to sidekick Jenny. That’s all deliciously Sarah Waters. In another neat touch, it’s implied that their investigations are inspiring “Dr Doyle”. Moffat, also behind BBC1’s Sherlock, is clued up and – unlike so many others – knows that “Conan” is a middle name, not part of the surname of Holmes’s creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

I love Matt Smith’s comedy turn as Doyle’s detective, launching himself into the villain’s HQ with jokey élan, just as Troughton and Tom Baker’s Doctors would have done. Smith is such a terrific Time Lord – I enjoy seeing him steadily maturing in the role.

Here he convincingly puts the Pond into despondency, still mourning the loss of Amy and Rory. We buy his gradual thaw thanks to Clara (“I never know why – I only know who,” he says) and his delight when he spots in a mirror that he’s inadvertently donned his bow tie again. He gives the most endearing delivery yet of his catchphrase “Bow ties are cool”. We’re fully engaged with him in the final moments as his spirit of adventure flushes back and he eagerly activates the Tardis for a new mission – “to find her, to find Clara… Watch me run!”

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With a bewildering Coming Soon trailer (lots of new monsters) and the enigma of Clara unsolved, we were primed for 2013 and the 50th anniversary…