“The Snowmen” – Review: Redux

Doctor “When you find something brand new in the world. Something you’ve never seen before. What’s the next thing you look for?”
Strax “A grenade”

The Snowmen

In the grand scheme of things and the fact that this one-hundred-and-two day Doctor Who extravaganza is now 93 days old, last Christmas seems like no more than a blink of an eye away. Throughout its resurgence since 2005, one of the only constants in twenty-first century Who’s life has been the Christmas special. So the question as we sit down to re-watch the the eighth and most recent is “Have they figured out what to do with them yet?. The answer is an unequivocal “Yes!” and as we sit here on the eve of the 50th Anniversary , looking forward to the next ‘golden’ special as well as the first Christmas Special to feature a regeneration, we can cast an eye back over the last festive outing and can assess a job well done.

“The Snowmen” opened with a fleeting look at some particularly bitey snowflakes before descending into a snowy courtyard where a young boy was building a snowman, only to find that it started talking back to him and teasing him with exactly what he wanted to hear. Cut to fifty years later and we find the boy all grown up and in the guise of the actor who played the not-quite-ninth Doctor, Richard E Grant. If there’s anyone out there who can offer seething malevolence in quite the same fashion that REG can, them I’ve yet to see him. No sooner was he on screen than we knew that Jenny and Vastra were to be no match for him.

Of course, the main thrust of “The Snowmen” was that the Doctor was in a post-Amy/Rory sulk and living out his days in Victorian England, minding his own business and living on a cloud. The now established trio of Vastra, Jenny and Strax (a spin-off show waiting to happen), were keeping an eye on things and the slightly odd snow at the heart of the episode barely seemed to pique the interest of the once intrepid Time Lord until a barmaid called Clara (nice name, ‘Clara’) started his synapses firing. The scene outside the bar as the two of them chat for the first time was enough to convince me that the casting of Jenna was spot on, as their exchange was just delightful (to wit; “I thought we was just getting acquainted?!” “Oh, those were the days.”)Despite a good first impression and a resilience to chase down the Doctor’s horse and cart, it still seemed like this new reclusive Doctor was not going to engage with the locals, until Clara was called before Vastra to face the one word test. A lovely little scene that added more the character of Meve McIntosh’s Silurian, than it did the plot but was lovely nonetheless.

Knowing what we know now, “The Snowmen” is an insightful look back at the Doctor / Clara’s early days. The bit that still puzzles me is that Clara, who jumped into the Doctor’s timestream near the end of “The Name of the Doctor” was fully cognisant of  what she was going in there for, so despite knowing the answer to the mystery of Clara as we watch, I’m still not quite sure why she didn’t know a little bit more about the Time Lord that she was letting on, given that she was there to save him from the Great Intelligence.

The plot continued at its brisk pace throughout and rewards multiple viewings in spades: the memory worm scene is a hoot, the arrival of ‘Sherlock Holmes’ (given the writer’s well documented association with the Great Detective) at the home Richard E Grant’s character was beautifully acted; and the setting for the final scenes at Latimer’s mansion were expertly realised. When Vastra turns up at the mansion and announces “I’m a lizard-woman from the dawn of time, and this is my wife” you just know that you are onto a winner.

Of course this all leads up to the two-fold conclusion. Firstly, the whole episode is revealed to be essentially a prequel to the two Patrick Troughton stories, “The Abominable Snowman” (whod’ve thunk it?) and the recently rediscovered “Web of Fear”, although Matt Smith’s “Hmmm, rings a bell” line near the end (once all the facts are laid out) belies a little laziness to explore this further . And secondly, it lays out the mystery of Clara Oswin Oswald even deeper: how could she be the Junior Entertainment Officer on the starliner, Alaska as well as a barmaid in Victorian Engalnd? Well, we know now, but I’m still not sure that it makes sense.

Highlight: The “Web of Fear” prequel link

Lowlight: Signing up Sir Ian McKellan but not having him on screen

Talking Point: Does it still make sense even knowing what we know?

Demon’s Run Rating: 18 out of 20

Original BBC1 Broadcast: 25th December 2012

Marathon Status: 94 down, 8 to go

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