Doctor Who has returned, at long last, and with it the usual quota of sinister baddies, pluckily inquisitive earthlings, cheesiness and (fingers crossed) plot arcs being cleverly seeded. Although unfamiliar with the 60s episode ‘The Abominable Snowmen’ to which this current episode apparently pays homage, I still found plenty of delightful tidbits of DW-geekery to keep me happy. I almost completely avoided ‘sneak previews’ between the last Pond episode and this one* and so was coming to it with fairly fresh eyes. And they were needed! This episode was different in many ways to any of Matt Smith’s thus far, reinforcing my utter relief at the once-and-hopefully-forever departure of the Pond-Williamses.
But that’s rehashing old grievances – moving on now. In ‘The Snowmen’ we were subjected to yet another reworking of the theme tune & the beginning titles; the former was somewhat shrill but not too bad, but the titles! Ack. Where did the TARDIS go?And what’s with Matt Smith’s disembodied face in the clouds? I half expected to hear ‘Simba…remember who you are…’ suddenly come floating through the over-orchestrated theme tune.**
These relatively minor aesthetic quibbles aside, I am a little anxious at the number of times the ‘Doctor? Doctor WHO?’ gag is being used in recent episodes. It lacks the ring of ‘Blimey! It’s bigger on the inside!’ or similar New Companion Being Amazed kind of lines, and tries to achieve on an almost Pantomime-like comedy*** but ends up falling a bit flat. And why would someone like Madame Vastra, lizard woman from the dawn of time, have those two words in mind, rather than just ‘Doctor’? That one word seemed plenty to scare the Vashta Nerada (in the Library/Forest of the Dead) or the Daleks. Do we really need constant references to the show’s title?
In fact, some of this episode’s best bits were references to other shows/cultural phenomena, namely, Sherlock Holmes and A Game of Thrones (at the same time, in some cases – it’s like fan fiction gone wild, or perhaps just an occupational hazard of hiring Steven Moffat as head writer). By the end of the episode I was a bit bored with ‘winter is coming’ as a repeated line and feeling rather loyal to George R. R. Martin, but que sera sera.
The erstwhile Holmes-inspiring detective, Madame Vastra, lizard woman from the dawn of time, her wife Jenny, and Strax the Sontaran were all fabulous additions to the episode. I was not a big fan of the lizard people from the dawn of time in previous episodes, but Vastra and Jenny do provide an added amount of asskickery that’s always nice to see coming from female characters. And Strax – well, his first scene with the memory worm was enough to win me over to him entirely. ‘Sir! Emergency! I think I’ve been run over by a carriage!’ Or even better, later: ‘Do not attempt to escape or you will be obliterated. May I take your coat?’ Excellent comedy relief.
Clever Clara Oswin Oswald the companion, though, is really the character that everyone’s wondering about. My previous hope that she was somehow a regeneration of River Song seems off the mark now, but I am brimming with curiosity as to where and how her character and the Doctor will meet next. I think what I liked best about her is her real self-sufficiency, especially as a foil to the Doctor’s emo-tastic, ‘I am alone, let me be alone, I am oh so aloooone’ schtick that he seems so very good at falling into these days. When is he going to realise, as I believe every companion since the show has restarted has told him, that he’s no good at being alone? Probably never.
Back to Clara. She’s smart, she’s resourceful and she doesn’t scream or always do what she’s told, and she apparently fancies the Doctor. Is this another Martha Jones? Maybe, but for the one condition that the Doctor seems more minded to pay attention to her properly instead of moping about a past companion.§ And there’s that tricky thing with her apparent lack of ability to die and stay dead. One theory of mine yet to be disproved is that Clara is somehow connected to Jack Harkness, who similarly unable to die until ‘Gridlock’ in Season 3. Is she one of the barely-mentioned ‘Boe-kind’ of which Captain Jack / the Face of Boe was only one? (I should admit that the Face of Boe story arc is one of my absolute favorite things about this show, full stop.)
The lovely sparkly bits of continuity between the first episode of Season 7, ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, in which Clara (Oswin) made her first appearance included: Clara’s first death§§ after being revealed as a Dalek with mental health issues, her recurring love for baking souffles (I assume a Victorian barmaid/governess could enjoy these more than a Dalek could), and last but certainly not least, snow zombies! There’s something decidedly fishy about the snow zombies, I think, especially given Lord Vold–er, The Great Intelligence’s disembodied form. We’ve not seen the last of the GI. §§§
So, all in all, despite some plot and script weaknesses (continual tirades against Victorian values, really? the snow’s inability to infiltrate the Latimer household? the fairy tale life of the TARDIS-on-a-cloud?), I think that ‘The Snowmen’ kicked off an intriguing new era of Who-dom. Roll on, Clara Oswin Oswald, and save us from the eye-roll-inducing, if quintessentially British, schmaltz of snow turning to tears at Christmas.
* Aside from a Daily Mail set of photos about the TARDIS redesign and (how is this related?) the Doctor & Clara kissing.
** Oooh, now there’s a thought. Can the Doctor et al do Hamlet as brilliantly as Disney, Elton John & a pack of lions can?
***Doctor: Where’d the TARDIS gone in the title sequence? Audience: IT’S BEHIND YOU.
§ Doctor: Rose! Rose, you’re so stupid! Come back, Rose! (A sadly non-utilized Titanic reference, especially given that ‘Voyage of The Damned’ fell smack-dab in the middle of the 10th Doctor’s Rose-related moroseness.)
§§ And when I say ‘first,’ of course, the normal rules of chronological order are, as usual, thrown to the wind. Also, doesn’t repeated death lend a punch to the phrase, ‘famous last words’?
§§§ Did anyone else just start chortling when they saw the business card, thinking, ‘Bwa ha! The bad guy’s initials are the same as gastrointestinal! Ha!’ ? Anyone? Anyone at all?
And lastly: this episode confirmed why ‘We’re walking in the air’ is creepy.
Merry Christmas, all.