Thursday, 27 December 2012

Review - "The Snowmen"

To use Madama Vastra’s “game” and sum up “The Snowmen” in one word is actually relatively simple.  Yowzah will do it quite happily and I’m very glad of that because this episode is extremely important.  “The Snowmen” is not only the episode that takes us into the anniversary year but it also introduces us formally to new companion, Clara, played with great aplomb by Jenna-Louise Coleman.   We were also promised new titles, new music and a new Tardis interior - as such, it HAD to be good…and indeed it was. 

The new titles and music were fantastic.  The title sequence was just so much sharper than it has been and saw a very welcome return of the “face” – fleeting though it was.   The vortex was still there but it was more of a Pertwee/Baker type than the “cloudy” vortex of recent years.  Also, entering the episode via the opening doors of the Tardis was a masterstroke.  The new theme tune was a most definite nod to Classic Who – it started similarly to last season’s theme then segued beautifully into a more retro version.  Definitely, less jazz and more scare.

The new Tardis interior is, quite frankly, gorgeous and, as usual, the promo pics released beforehand did not do it justice.  It’s so much more mechanical – the console is much more logical than the hodgepodge of junk that the previous one consisted of.   The Gallifreyan language is a very nice touch and, again, the sheer simplicity harks back to the Classic era.  This episode featured, I believe, the first continuous shot following the characters as they enter the Tardis from outside and right into the new Control Room.

The plot itself was …well, I would hardly call it “insignificant” and it was miles ahead of last year’s  but this episode was really geared up to introduce Clara and set up the next 8 episodes (or perhaps more).   A nice, simple plot then – with psychic snow, killer snowmen, an ice governess and a cold villain all linking together with a real nod to the past: The Great Intelligence.  Classic fans will know the Great Intelligence well and I’m sure little touches of significance to the Classic brigade would have gone over the heads of casual viewers but it wasn’t really necessary to have decades worth of Who knowledge floating around your brain in order to watch and enjoy this.  Personally, I loved the little nods such as the London Underground tin and mention of the underground as a “weakpoint” in 1967 thus, in true “timey-wimey” fashion, the Eleventh Doctor in 1892 plants the idea for the Great Intelligence to use the London Underground in the Second Doctor story, “The Web of Fear”.

We didn’t just get nods to Classic Who though – we had returning characters from New Who in the form of Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax.  I love these three – especially Strax who turned out to be a perfect comedy foil for the Doctor.  Vastra and Jenny as detectives with Strax as their butler, living quite happily in Victorian England whilst keeping a wary eye on our sulky, grumpy and depressed Doctor shouldn’t really have worked – but rather wonderfully, it did.   The other characters in the episode such as Captain Latimer, didn’t really have a lot to do and I did feel that maybe Doctor Simeon could have been used a bit more.  

The main focus of the episode was, quite rightly, the Doctor and Clara.  As promised, we had a very different Eleventh Doctor than we’d previously seen.  Still in mourning really and living in the Tardis…which was on a cloud…reached only by an “invisible” spiral staircase, he walked through Victorian London and refused to get involved or help anyone.  “The universe doesn’t care”.    We don’t know how much time has passed since he lost the Ponds but the impression was given that it was considerable.  Yet, it still hurt – look at how that one word, “Pond”, affected him.  He needed someone to snap him out of it – and it took bouncy and extremely clever Clara to get through to him…but once she did, the Doctor embraced the universal problems once again and set out to foil the Great Intelligence.  We saw glimpses of our fun Doctor again – dressing up as Sherlock Holmes to get answers from Doctor Simeon and the Great Intelligence Institute was one of the best Christmas scenes ever – and I can’t have been alone in laughing like a drain at the Doctor’s “takes one to snow one” pun.

As for Clara, I will hold my hands up right away and state that I love her character.  She’s fun, excited by it all, clever – and a mystery.  And like the Doctor, I rather love a mystery.  He was completely taken with her – her use of the word “Pond”, her reactions to the Tardis, her intelligence – all caused him to give her a Tardis key extremely quickly.   So wrapped up were we in this delightful new relationship that Clara falling to her death was a complete shock.  Her final moments were a bit like hammer blows – following on from earlier soufflé references we suddenly heard her say “run, you clever boy…and remember”.  Oh, Moffat … you utter genius.  The Moff lies – just like the Doctor.  We knew that and yet, I suspect, most of us were taken in by him saying that Clara and Oswin were two different characters.   The gravestone reveal of “Clara Oswin Oswald” made the Doctor realise that something strange was going on – two people, the same girl, meeting him twice and dying twice.  This could have sent the Doctor spiralling back into his previous sulky and depressed state but Clara was “impossible”, she was a mystery – and the sheer joy on the Doctor’s face when he said “to find her, to find Clara” was a delight.

Visually, this episode was stunning.  The spiral staircase leading up to the Tardis sitting on a cloud was breathtaking and, once again, we saw that when it comes to Period Drama you really cannot beat the BBC.  The Snowmen, the globe  - all very effective and my only real complaint was that, presumably due to the early time slot, you didn’t actually get to SEE the Snowmen “devour” anyone.  You heard it – and whilst sometimes that’s enough – in this case, I felt we needed a bit more.

The guest cast were top notch but a special nod has to go to both Richard E Grant and Sir Ian McKellen.  Richard E Grant may have been a tad underused but he has an extremely effective way of chilling the screen merely by an expression.  His “chill stare” was impressive and very threatening – so much so that I probably would have handed over the Ice Governess with nary a quibble.  Of course, we didn’t see Sir Ian McKellen but he has a fabulously rich and melodious voice – perfect for the Great Intelligence and it was great to finally get him in Who.

The two main stars, of course, were fabulous.  Matt Smith excelled once again with a different take on Eleven, proving yet again that nothing is out of his range.  He really is so at home and comfortable with the role that you do wonder, especially when watching interviews, just where the Doctor ends and Matt Smith begins.  Jenna-Louise Coleman showed us in “Asylum of the Daleks” that we had no cause to worry and she confirmed it in “The Snowmen”.  Certainly, she’s a cracking actress and Clara is shaping up to be a very intriguing companion.

All in all, “The Snowmen” both was and wasn’t a typical Christmas story – it had Christmas elements such as the snow but, unlike previous Christmas episodes, it’s the start of a mystery that will continue next year.  Mysteries that are centred around Clara – not just who she is (and theories about that range from a character split through time like Scaroth in “City of Death” to her being a manifestation of the Key to Time) but also points like how she knew to use the word “pond” and whether the birthdate on her gravestone of 23 November is a nod to the anniversary and when the show actually started or whether it’s far more significant.    Will the mystery of Clara be solved in the anniversary episode?  As a good man once said, “time will tell.  It always does”.

Episode Rating:  10/10 - a Christmas special with an ongoing mystery.  What could be better?