Sunday, 30 December 2012

Review: Doctor Who 7.Y: The Snowmen

Clara and The Doctor work well together. Like, really well.
Written between 25th and 30th December

In the past, Moffat Christmas Specials have taken a story from Classical Christmas Literature and given it a Doctor Who twist, with the main companions and storyline firmly out of the action. Taking a leaf out of RTD's book, Moffat has used this Christmas special as an opportunity to introduce the next phase of his era, with a new companion, title sequence and TARDIS interior. While it did come at the cost of some of the main plot, the sheer charm with which the new setup was introduced has got me thoroughly primed for the series' return in the spring. Even if Moffat's riddles confuse me a little.
     The Doctor is in mourning after losing Amy and Rory, and is hiding out in Victorian London under the protection of Madame Vastra, her wife Jenny and their Sontaran servant Strax. Clara (Jenna Louise Coleman), is a barmaid who, in her spare time, pretends to be the wealthy governess of a Stately Home. She accidentally comes across The Doctor while out, and follows his investigation as he discovers that sentient snow has been terrorising the peoples of London. The snow is being controlled by the Intelligence, an accidental creation of the mind of Doctor Simion (Richard E Grant, whose played non-canon Doctors twice). After Clara helps The Doctor to escape a solid-ice creature that the Intelligence was trying to give form, she falls from a great height and lies dying in the house. While the Doctor faces the Intelligence, the sadness of the Governer's family crying for Clara causes the psychic snow to turn to tears, releasing the Intelligence out into the world. The Doctor realises that Clara and Oswin from back in Asylum of the Daleks are different versions of the same person, hundreds of years apart, and goes to look for another version.
Jenna-Louise Coleman doesn't disappoint, again.
     While I was a tad annoyed that our companion is once again getting up and sexy with The Doctor, this felt different. Unlike River and Amy, whom the Doctor accidentally imprinted himself on when they were young, Clara has an instant chemistry with Eleven that's quite fascinating to watch. Moffat still ended up writing her with his obsession with sexual promiscuity, but it was a tad more tame here than in Asylum and worked a bit more smoothly. In a really intuitive way, there's something about Smith and Coleman that just really works on the screen, and it makes the episode a joy to watch. It was a shame that Richard E Grant's character, Dr. Simion, wasn't as well characterised.
     It was this lack of characterisation in our villains that actually provided the episode's main issue - while strong in its leads and very interesting conceptually, the main threat of the story was painfully underdeveloped because of it. Our solution is incredibly rushed and the "family crying on Christmas Eve" line was both cheesy as heck and on par with similar "Power of Love" feats that the series has thrown before. I suppose it was Christmas and all that, so we were due some doughy sentiment, but I got the feeling that the episode became so bogged down in the new mythos that it often failed to make a cohesive plot for itself to follow. The snow feeds on thoughts, suddenly it's made a body, we can't let the snow touch the body, it wants physical form, wait now it's the creation of a child's mind, now it can control people. There was a strange level of inconsistency behind the villain's actions.
      Strange, when said villain formed a major part of this episode's almost slavish reliance on the series' past. I think Moffat did manage to balance between entertainment for new viewers and references to the Classic Series, but he sure didn't make it easy for himself. The new title sequence borrows heavily from past versions and is the first since Sylvester McCoy's era to show the Doctor's face in the credits. The new TARDIS is much darker and features, rather wonderfully, a hexagonal console not unlike that ubiquitous in the old days. And, more relevantly to how I began this paragraph, the villain of the story is taken from two 1960s stories: The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear. It's really weird and awesome that Moffat saw fit to write a prequel to two stories that no longer exist in their entirety. (Even if it does have me thinking back to the Eighties and the hubub caused by the continuity references in Attack of the Cybermen).
Richard E. Grant's sociopathic Simeon comes off a bit wooden.
     My rambling aside, The Snowmen did have a lot of flaws when it came to ensuring that the story held together. But it was a balance of so many different influences and ideas both old and new that it's really a miracle that the main leads' had room to do their thing. The end result, on the face of it, is two very charismatic actors creating two very interesting characters, and a TARDIS team that promises not only to be unlike anything we've seen before and to take influences from the show's history. It wasn't perfect, but it was Moffat's best Crimbo special and one of the best things he's written in a long while.


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