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Thursday, 27 December 2012
DOCTOR WHO – 'The Snowmen'
written by Steven Moffat / directed by Saul Metzstein
The Christmas specials of Doctor Who have a unique potential to make fans of those who don't give the show a moment's thought during the year, as most British households containing Whovians will force their entire families to watch this seasonal episode. The eighth such festive special since Who's revival, "The Snowmen" was easily its best. There are various reasons for this, but it probably helped that the Christmas schmaltz was kept to a minimum (it was more of a winter-themed episode than anything trying to get us drunk on holiday spirit), and writer Steven Moffat tends to be at his best when an episode has a clear goal and intention. Here it was the introduction of a brand new companion in sassy barmaid/governess Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman), whose first encounter with The Doctor (Matt Smith) echoed that of any newcomers to the series...
Sherlock, and fan's desire to see Benedict Cumberbatch's sleuth on-screen with Smith's Time Lord), was particularly good because of Grant's seething resentment of this silly interloper.
Of course, the most notable aspect of "The Snowmen" was the introduction of Clara as the next companion—which itself contained many surprises and brilliant moments. Any fears about the difficulty of replacing Amy and Rory evaporated astonishingly quickly, because Coleman was incredibly charming and engaging as a screen presence. The twist that she isn't really an East End barmaid but instead a posh governess didn't quite add up to me (maybe I missed something the first time?), but otherwise the character was a winner from the second she appeared. Sexy, curious, tough, courageous, clever, voluble... she felt like more of an equal to The Doctor than all previous nu-Who companions. Amy was always in awe of The Doctor (her childhood hero), and then given storylines where she was usually a plot-device of some description. Hopefully Coleman's character won't be eroded over time (remembering that Amy's own introduction was brilliant), because she has obvious potential to be the best companion yet.
I'm genuinely struggling to pick at something that didn't work about "The Snowmen", but I thought it all hung together very well. It was great to see The Doctor in Victorian clobber; there was a beautiful moment with Clara discovering the TARDIS by following The Doctor up a retractable ladder to a spiral staircase leading to a cloud; the idea of returning to The Doctor's "gang" from "A Good Man Goes to War"—Sontaran manservant Strax (Dan Starkey) and lesbian detectives Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh) and Jenny (Catrin Stewart)—worked surprisingly well and didn't clog things up; it was one of the funniest episodes I've seen in a while (the worm that kept erasing Strax's memories, Clara's "it's smaller on the outside" comment about the TARDIS); it had its scary moments (the fanged snowmen and Ice Governess); moments of typical Moffat cleverness (rainy tears to melt the snow menaces); and we even had two extra treats of a brand new opening theme tune and titles (loved seeing Smith's face appear in the stars like old-school Who), and an updated TARDIS console room (smaller and cleaner with a classic feel).
Overall, "The Snowmen" was a very impressive episode on its own terms, but a particularly good Christmas special. It may have included elements that perhaps confused non-fans, but the core idea and motivations were clear and Moffat's sense of pace and effervescent imagination was firing on all cylinders. I just can't imagine anyone not being excited by the prospects of series 7's continuation next spring, or for how Steven Moffat's going to celebrate Doctor Who's 50th anniversary the same year. And Matt Smith... well, what can you say? Over three series he inhabits the role like a pair of gloves and commands your attention whenever he's around. We'll miss him when he's gone.
25 December 2012 / BBC1