Friday, 18 January 2013

"The Snowmen"

Those expecting a Steven Moffat take on It's a Wonderful Life or The Box of Delights were to be disappointed, as Doctor Who’s 2012 Christmas special is not a reinterpretation of a well-known Christmas story but, instead, weaves a tale set in that most Christmassy of Yuletides, the Victorian Christmas. This is probably because, for the first time, Moffat has more to do than to tell a tale of seasonal peril. He has to introduce the replacement for the longest running companion since the programme returned.

If there is a theme to the story, it is that of elective loneliness. The Doctor is in shock after losing Amy and Rory, so he has retired to his castle on a cloud. Captain Latimer loves his children, but cannot connect with them. And, of course, the entire crisis begins with a small boy who refuses to make friends. When the title of the episode was announced, as well as possibly paying homage to Channel 4's most beloved Christmas tradition, long-time fans of the programme spotted a similarity with a previous story which, as it turned out is no coincidence- amongst its other aims, this story could also be called "Genesis of the Great Intelligence". The development of the menace itself is, perhaps, the weakest aspect of the script Although the progression of the crisis does make sense, it is somewhat workmanlike (in that respect, very much like the Yeti stories!) and, it has to be said, that Dr Simeon is not given as much richness in the script as he should do and it is testament to the considerable skills of the would-be/sort-of-was Ninth Doctor, Richard E Grant that he makes as much of an impression as he does.

However, as with The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear, there is so much more to enjoy in the story. The dialogue is as tart as ever- the ‘answers of one word’ sequence has one expecting a standard writing exercise and becomes so much more and, of course, the comedy sequence are as funny as ever We also have the welcome return of Madame Vastra and Jenny, with the much-appreciated resurrection of Strax the Sontaran. Tom Ward gives a very convincing performance as Captain Latimer, and we have none other than Sir Ian McKellen lending his inimitable baritone as the voice of the Great Intelligence. However, the heart of the story is the Doctor meeting his new companion for, as it turns out, the second time. Jenna-Louise Colman continues to captivate and has no problem in filling Karen Gillan’s shoes. The Doctor’s reluctance to help and to reach out, with his joy in finding a new friend is effortlessly conveyed by Matt Smith.

Saul Metzstein directs a sumptuous production, which, whilst it doesn't match the extravagant visuals of the past two Christmases, is seasonally cinematic, nonetheless, with such breathtaking images such as the stairway to the clouds ('taller on the inside'). The Snowmen are genuinely memorable creations which will no doubt influence winter playtimes for years to come. A minor flaw in the production is that the masks for Madame Vastra and Strax could do with refurbishment and a fresh light test, but it hardly matters.

"The Snowmen" ends with the mystery of who Clara Oswin Oswald really is- did she go the way of Scaroth in the Time Vortex? Perhaps the fact that the Great Intelligence only ‘rings a bell’ with the Doctor is relevant- is it just one thousand years of memories, or have memories been stolen? Again, Easter can’t come too quickly...

NEXT: "The Bells of Saint John"