Doctor Who and the Snowmen – Episode Review and Analysis

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Ah, Ah, Ah Spoilers: Episode Summary

A young loner boy is building a snowman when he is asked to play with the other children… young Scrooge-like he proclaims the other children “silly”. The snowman answers back with the voice of Gandalf “They’re silly… don’t talk to them… they’re silly… I can help you”.

Years later and the boy has morphed into Richard E. Grant and he has been sampling the snow falling on this Victoria Christmas period. In the middle of the room is a giant talking snowglobe without any ornaments inside. The men who have been collecting the samples are gathered in the courtyard. When Grant appears, they ask where their food is – they said they were going to be fed. “I didn’t say who to!” laughs Grant as snowmen pop up and promptly eat the men.

In the next scene, Oswin the not-Dalek walks out of a bar and finds a rather scary looking snowman loitering with intent. A Victorian gentleman passes and she asks him whether he built it. He responds in the negative and turns around – it’s The Doctor. Hurrah! She introduces herself as Clara and following a discussion about snow and snowmen, she follows his carriage.

After the credits we cut back to Richard E. Scrooge (Doctor Simeon) arriving at the house of Captain Latimer. We learn that a year previously, his governess had drowned in the pond which promptly froze over afterward. It has now frozen over again and Simeon tells Latimer that what is inside belongs to “us” – and he hands over a business card before strolling off into the streets of London where he is cornered by Madame Vastra and her wife Jenny. They challenge him about the snow, pointing out that it has a telepathic field. After he leaves, Jenny and Vastra discuss The Doctor and his isolation. They and the ostracisted Sontaran Strax are aiding him keep out of trouble’s way while at the same time investigating the snow but as always, trouble always manages to find The Doctor.

Strax and The Doctor are examining some snow and Strax is pleading with him to take some interest and do something about it (including using grenades to destroy it). The Doctor is having none of it and after insulting Strax, he storms off to silence Clara whom he has locked in the carriage. He wants to use a RetCon Worm on her so she’ll forget they ever met but Strax has forgotten that The Doctor sent him to get it. Clara makes no effort to escape, intrigued as she is about the pair’s antics searching for the worm and the snow when suddenly they find themselves surrounded by snowmen.

Following their escape, The Doctor relents and decides against using the RetCon Worm on her, puts her back in the cab and tells her to forget about him and not to follow him. Of course she listens to him and ignores his advice, jumps out of the cab and follows him. She watches him climb up a ladder that seems to lead nowhere and follows him up to a solid cloud on which the TARDIS is standing.

Back to Simeon and he presents a jar of snow to the giant talking snowglobe who says that the drowned woman will give them form.

Then it is the following morning. Clara looks serene, typically hair and make-up perfect and she wakes up with a smile. After getting dressed she steps out of the inn to see that the snow has melted. She is going to a secret second job (has she informed HMRC about having a second job?) and gets changed in the cab. It turns out she is the Governess for Captain Latimer and he asks to see her immediately on her arrival, stating his concerns about his daughter’s nightmares about the previous Governess. Clara (being referred to as Miss Montague) asks the daughter about the nightmares. The children did not like her and they explain about her death in the pond. Curiously, the pond is still frozen when the rest of the snow and frost has melted.

Clara goes back to the tree and hollers for The Doctor but is interrupted by Jenny who takes her to see Vastra who interrogates the girl, demanding only one word answers. Clara puts up a good fight, giving the overbearing Vastra a run for her money. Vastra concludes by asking for a single word that would encourage The Doctor to help… she replies “Pond” (clever touch!)

The Doctor is convinced; he goes to see Doctor Simeon and the giant talking snowglobe and summarises what the snow is and how it is able to mimic and even talk like Gandalf. She also realises that it is trying to evolve and requires human DNA in ice form…. ooooh, guess who that would be? He rushes straight to the house to investigate the pond, taking Strax with him. Simeon also goes to the house just as the ice in the pond is cracking.

Clara is reassuring the children about The Doctor when the Ice Governess bursts through the door and berates them. The trio escape into the next room but the Ice Governess follows them. In the nick of time The Doctor arrives and melts her. Outside, Simeon has a snow machine and turns it on… snowmen are growing and inside they notice the snow is localised. Captain Latimer with his Victorian values is clearly more startled at the revelation that Clara has a boyfriend than the spontaneously generating snowmen, the Sontaran, the Silurian or the Ice Governess.

The Doctor informs them that they must keep the Ice Governess and the intelligent snow from meeting because the snow would emulate her and evolve. Simeon and The Doctor finally confront each other, the former demanding that the latter turn over the Ice Governess. They lead her up to the roof and to the cloud that the TARDIS is parked on. The typical introduction of new person to TARDIS is made and the new interior, attractive as it is, is not explained. The Doctor accepts the inevitable, he now has another companion.

As introductions are made, the Ice Governess grabs Clara and tears her out of the TARDIS. The pair go tumbling to the ground and Clara hits the floor with a thump, life signs fading fast. The Doctor transports her and the smashed Ice Governess into the TARDIS and he indulges in some more self-punishment. He tells Clara that he knows she is going to live because “he always knows who”. He takes a container with a map of the London Underground outside to Simeon, holds it up and demands they meet him at the office. Separately, they go to meet for the final showdown with Gandalf The Giant Snowglobe. Naturally, The Doctor arrives first and when Simeon turns up, he points out that Gandalf had offered no pearls of wisdom. The Doctor deduces the true nature of the device and hands over the container… but it does not contain the ice, it contains the RetCon Worm and it bites Simeon and erases all the memories of his adult life, therefore apparently destroying Gandalf’s power.

But it isn’t that easy. Gandalf no longer needs Simeon and snowmen are popping up all over London. Gandalf’s mind, fully evolved, now occupies the body of Simeon and he attacks The Doctor and Vastra, like any villain explaining how he was able to do this. Gandalf Simeon overcomes both and tries to freeze The Doctor.

Inside the TARDIS, Strax is urging Clara to fight to live. She tells Captain Latimer to embrace his children and then sheds a tear. Bizarrely, the snow turns to rain but The Doctor quickly realises that the snow is locking onto a more powerful emotion than Simeon’s misanthropy, it is the sorrow of the family at Clara’s impending death. The Doctor returns to the house and comforts her for a few moments. At the funeral, the penny drops… he recognises her voice, her taste for souffle and a few choice phrases he has heard before and then he sees her full name on the gravestone CLARE OSWIN OSWALD.

We cut briefly to the modern day where we see another Clara picking her way through the cemetery with a friend before cutting back to The Doctor. He has found a new purpose… he is going to find her and the story is set for the new series, what is the enigma that is Clara Oswin Oswald?

Analysis

This is Matt Smith’s third Christmas special and easily the best of his reign, arguably the best Christmas special yet (my previous favourite was The Next Doctor with A Christmas Carol coming in second). Typically, Doctor Who Christmas specials are stand alone episodes to keep the interest of casual viewers and to attempt to capture new audience for the upcoming new series. David Tennant’s first and final episodes were Christmas specials and this time, the BeeB has used it for a mini reboot.

The plot line is an alien invasion story typical of most Who stories of the last 50 years. We expect nothing complicated of a Christmas special. It is however, a bit of a departure for The Moff who in the previous two Christmas specials has plundered A Christmas Carol and Narnia. Arguably, Grant has been cast in a role that is a fusion of several Dickensian villains.

The return of the trio of Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax was a welcome move but not really surprising considering the period we know they live in. They are used to good effect in assisting The Doctor in his self-imposed exile while simultaneously trying to get him to snap out of it.

The Ponds are gone and to tantalise long-term viewers, we have the new addition of Clara with one of the most intriguing plots of the modern era. Though she is not our Oswin (proven by her death at the end) what is clear is that the two characters have a blood and possibly some sort of psychic link.

The Doctor’s realisation of this gives him a change of direction from the Space Family Pond back to the problem-solving of the great conundrums of the universe that is his forte. This stroke of genius intrigues the viewer about the nature of Oswin (or possibly the importance of her bloodline) and gives The Doctor back the more traditional role he once had.

Already we see more heartache for The Doctor if the destiny of the Oswin he will pick up from the modern day is to become a Dalek (though it is possible that this is a third person in the same bloodline). But with this episode being heavy on ideas about fate and destiny (The Doctor’s quote I never know why, I just know who). Something tells me that if this is our Oswin and when she does leave, he will accept her fate far more readily this time.

The new series is scheduled to start around Easter 2013.

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4 thoughts on “Doctor Who and the Snowmen – Episode Review and Analysis

  1. I especially liked the hat tip to the second doctor with the return of the Great Intelligence from The Abominable Snowmen and Web of Fear. Deftly done.
    A new console room makes sense for the character though, too many old memories… and who’d want to sulk in Victorian England with a Steampunk console room in warm colours?

    1. Yes, I wondered about GI too and whether it would mean anything in the next series.

      I do like the new console, I would have just preferred to have some explanation for the change.

  2. I loved this episode but Christmas Carol is still my favorite Christmas Who. It’s the only episode I’ve ever lost track of time while watching. I loved this story though and Clara is very intriguing. However, if I may postulate, I think she is an advanced version of the very enemy he fought in this episode trying to perfect human form. But that’s just my idea.

    Two things I didn’t like about this episode though are the changes for the anniversary. The them tune now has the old stone synth tones again which although iconic ruin the new melody that I associate with Who. Secondly the Tardis. Yes it looks a lot like the old one now, but its very boring. I hope they change it as soon as the anniversary special is over! The Pond era tardis was way cooler.

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