Forlorn and bitter after the unexpected departure of Amy and Rory, the Doctor has retreated into hiding in Victorian London – actually, a cloud hovering above it – refusing to lift a finger to alter the destiny of the world. The human race is on its own, at least until a barmaid named Clara draws the Doctor’s attention to snowmen that seem to appear out of nowhere, during one of the Time Lord’s infrequent visits to London. Despite encountering Strax the Sontaran and the Silurian Madame Vastra, Clara unflinchingly asks for the Doctor’s help when she learns that the snowmen are made of snow that responds to the deepest fears of those around them. The Doctor follows Clara to her second job – as a governess taking care of the children at a mansion in the heart of London – and finds that something else lurks beneath a frozen pond on the estate. The mysterious Dr. Simeon is determined to claim it for himself, and he seems to command the slowly growing army of snowmen. But who is Simeon working for – and is all of the mystery finally enough to draw the Doctor out of his melancholy?
written by Steven Moffat
directed by Saul Metzstein
music by Murray Gold
Cast: Matt Smith (The Doctor), Jenna-Louise Coleman (Clara), Tom Ward (Captain Latimer), Richard E. Grant (Dr. Simeon), Catrin Stewart (Jenny), Neve McIntosh (Madame Vastra), Dan Starkey (Strax), Joseph Darcey-Alden (Digby), Ellie Darcey-Alden (Francesca), Liz White (Alice), Jim Conway (Uncle Josh), Cameron Strefford (Walter), Annabelle Dowler (Walter’s Mother), Ben Addis (Bob Chilcott), Sophie Miller-Sheen (Clara’s Friend), Daniel Hyde (Lead Workman), Ian McKellen (voice of the Great Intelligence), Juliet Cadzow (voice of the Ice Governess)
Notes: The second Doctor encountered the Great Intelligence in Tibet, 1935, and again in the London Underground in the late 1960s. By showing the Intelligence a lunchbox with a map of the Underground, the eleventh Doctor could well be ensuring that the disembodied being well attempt its fateful takeover of the London subway system (an incursion which leads to the Doctor’s first meeting with Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, later promoted to Brigadier). The Intelligence’s usual minions, robotic Yeti, do not appear in this episode. A 1995 fan film, Downtime (referenced once already this season), depicts a third attempt by the Great Intelligence to gain a foothold on Earth via the Yeti. Clara first appeared in the season premiere, Asylum Of The Daleks. Guest star Richard E. Grant was the ninth Doctor in an animated alternate universe in 2003’s Scream Of The Shalka (a web-based story that, while produced by the BBC’s interactive wing, has generally been relegated to the “unofficial” column), but is much better known for Withnail & I, in which he co-starred with Paul McGann. This episode debuts a new TARDIS interior (the second major rethink of the vehicle’s console room in Matt Smith’s era) and a new title sequence, only the third time in the show’s history that a new title sequence has premiered in the middle of a season (the other two occasions were the late-in-the-season transition from the fifth to sixth Doctor, and Patrick Troughton inheriting the William Hartnell titles for several episodes). The Doctor now says he is over a thousand years old, which lines up with the unofficial pre-publicity line that hundreds of years of isolation may have elapsed for him since The Angels Take Manhattan.
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: There are two ways to judge a Doctor Who Christmas episode – as an episode of the series overall, and as a piece of light entertainment largely disconnected from everything around it. Generally speaking, more viewers sample the Christmas episodes than any other installment of the year, so conventional wisdom dictates not making the story too “involved” in whatever story arcs are in progress for the show overall, and to avoid making it too continuity-bound. It should be a good taster of the show, in other words… minus nearly everything that the show happens to actually be about. This is why, so often, the Doctor arrives at Christmas minus his usual companions and does things that are almost completely unrelated to the season before or after. The Snowmen breaks that conventional wisdom in a big way, and emerges as the strongest Christmas episode of Steven Moffat’s era to date.
Without even so much as a “Previously, on…” recap, the Doctor’s state of mind is easily discernable and understandable at the beginning of the episode, with a lot of the blanks filled in by the amiable trio of obviously-not-from-this-time-or-place characters last seen in A Good Man Goes To War (and just mere weeks before in the Children In Need scene The Great Detective). The thought that a veiled lizard lady and a warmongering potato can operate more or less openly makes the characters even funnier in a Victorian context than when we last saw them. Strax begins a season-long streak of stealing every show he’s in, but all three characters share an unspecified bond with the Doctor and, at least initially in The Snowmen, shield him from the outside world as much as possible.
At least until Clara shows up. This is the character’s proper introduction (again), and yet it isn’t (again). The real surprise is that Moffat works such a mission-critical piece of mythology into what’s usually an isolated, stand-alone story. Even though Amy and Rory have appeared in the previous two Christmas specials, they’ve been kept off to one side of the main story in deference to equally one-off guest characters. The zinger, of course, is that the Doctor doesn’t even realize he’s met this character before, since he never saw her in human form in Asylum Of The Daleks; this is one of those cases in which te audience knows something major long before the Doctor does. Jenna Louise Coleman’s performance is once again all but calculated to endear her to the audience, and yet the character is clearly delineated from the Asylum character.
The Great Intelligence is barely great or intelligent here, having just gained a foothold on Earth (with the voice of Sir Ian McKellen, no less!); most of its bidding is done by the suitably icy Richard E. Grant, who is no stranger to travel in the TARDIS, though he’s an outstanding villain who’s able to flip a switch and become a lost child during the final battle. The Doctor seems to be very well aware of who he’s up against, since the lunchbox with the 1967 map of the London Underground all but steers the Great Intelligence toward its next encounter with the Doctor – an encounter the Doctor was already fully aware that he had won in his second incarnation. But at the same time, there seem to be several twists where the Doctor is somehow conveniently unaware of what the Great Intelligence can do to assert itself.
The other highlight of the episode is the first appearance of the new series’ best-thought-out TARDIS interior to date. While the whimsical bric-a-brac of the “Amy era” had a certain visual appeal, it’s nice to see a return to the notion of the TARDIS as an advanced, futuristic vehicle. There’s been something to like about every console room since the ’80s, whether it was McGann’s vast, Jules-Verne-inspired chamber or the Davies era’s “organic” look, but heading into the series’ 50th anniversary, it’s nice to get back to basics so impressively.
The Snowmen is unusually heavy for a Christmas special – right up there with part one of The End Of Time – but it works remarkably well and stays entertaining throughout, at least partially because it bucks the expectation of a stand-alone story with no connecting tissue to what comes before or after it.