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Doctor Who: Christmas Specials Revisited – The Snowmen

Each day leading up to Christmas, we will be looking back at the Doctor’s previous festive adventures, with a different TGT writer reviewing each episode. In this review, killer snowmen are abound and an impossible girl returns…

‘The Snowmen’ is a particularly intriguing addition to the run of Doctor Who Christmas specials, as it takes place in the middle of the seventh series, instead of between two series. This episode lies directly on the path towards the 50th Anniversary special, therefore a great opportunity to reinvent, renew and sow the seeds of stories to come. A bright and energetic new title sequence introduces Christmas viewers into a whimsical adventure, and what better than to set the festive mood than killer snowmen?

Starting with the leading man, Matt Smith gives a wonderful performance when exploring a sadder side of the Doctor. It’s incredible that such a young and energetic actor can convey the heartbreak and sorrow of an ancient, weary traveller who is truly fed up of losing those closest to him. With ‘The Snowmen’ airing after the tragic departure of Amy and Rory in ‘The Angels Take Manhattan,’ the Doctor has taken a heavy loss and it’s clear to see from the lack of hope and wonder in his eyes. He’s in no mood to save the planet or any of the inhabitants on it. The trademark tweed jacket and bow tie are both gone, and he’s parked the TARDIS up on a cloud to have a good sulk. That sulk won’t last long however, as a young cockney barmaid tumbles into his life.

“Doctor? Doctor Who?”

Jenna Coleman wowed audiences with her surprise appearance in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, and makes a welcome return to the show to continue the enigma of Clara Oswald. This version of Clara leads an exciting double life, spending some days as a barmaid and others as a governess for a Victorian family. Jenna certainly takes the role in her stride as the transition from Clara’s cockney lifestyle to her ‘Mary Poppins’ style governess demeanour is effortless. 

The show could’ve taken a particularly interesting turn if the Victorian era Clara survived to become the latest companion to board the TARDIS. According to writer Neil Gaiman, this was indeed the original plan and would’ve been a fresh departure from the run of modern day companions. It’s a shame that this route didn’t work out, and instead makes Jenna’s performance as a Victorian-era companion even more special. Clara’s desire for adventure is infectious and she leads some of the highlights in the special, from the one word conversation with the returning Paternoster Gang to her journey up onto the Doctor’s cloud, laying eyes on the brand new TARDIS interior. The console room is a stunning piece of design from production designer Michael Pickwoad. Inspired by the aesthetics of the Large Hadron Collider, this new interior makes the TARDIS look more powerful, complex and technological than ever before.

The Paternoster Gang provide welcome humour to ‘The Snowmen’, from Strax delivering some classic one-liners to a glimpse into the escapades of Madame Vastra as ‘The Veiled Detective’, a very tongue-in-cheek reference to Arthur Conan Doyle’s own Victorian detective, Sherlock Holmes. An even cheekier reference to Steven Moffat’s involvement in the modern day version of Sherlock takes form as the Doctor makes a spectacular return from his cloud, dressed for the part complete with deerstalker hat and smoking pipe.

“Shut up! I’m making deductions, it’s very exciting.”

Richard E Grant is a fantastic new addition to the show as the mysterious and dark Dr. Simeon, and would turn out to be one of the many threads to carry on into the remaining run of episodes. Dr. Simeon is taken over by a disembodied intelligence hell bent on wiping out the human race – this intelligence would of course turn out to be the Great Intelligence. There are clever hints to the Intelligence throughout the episode – from the GI initials on Dr. Simeon’s business card to a lunchbox of the London Underground serving as a smart reference to ‘The Web of Fear’ – a great nod to the past that fans of the classic run of Doctor Who will appreciate. Sir Ian McKellen provided the deep and commanding voice for the Great Intelligence, a stellar addition to the world of Doctor Who, though perhaps a misused and understated role for such a beloved and talented actor. Richard E Grant would take over the role of the Great Intelligence in subsequent stories ‘The Bells of Saint John’ and the explosive seventh series finale, ‘The Name of the Doctor’, and the Christmas special serves as an excellent platform for the Great Intelligence to return.

By the end of ‘The Snowmen’, revelations finally begin to come together as the Doctor realises that the Victorian barmaid version of Clara is the same woman as Oswin, the sole survivor of Starship Alaska who had a tragic fate in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’. He leaves with an overwhelming sense of excitement in finding Clara again, and figuring out why she keeps appearing in his life. ‘The Snowmen’ isn’t a particularly Christmassy episode in comparison to previous specials, perhaps because of the various threads and storylines needed to bridge the gap between two halves of the series. However, a new TARDIS interior, a return to the Impossible Girl mystery, the return of old friends and the introduction of an even older enemy makes up for the lack of general Christmas vibes and provides a very strong and well-rounded episode that guides Doctor Who into 2013, arguably one of its most important years with the 50th Anniversary.

Join us tomorrow in the last hurrah of the Eleventh Doctor, as Andrew reviews The Time of the Doctor.