Welcome to 2013, readers.
What better way to return from a break than to review the return of The Doctor to our television screens after leaving us in late September? There isn’t one? I didn’t think so.
If you haven’t seen the Doctor Who Christmas special, The Snowmen, then it would be recommended that you find your way to BBC iplayer and check it out. The plot concerns Clara, played by Jenna-Louise Coleman of Emmerdale fame and long touted as the next companion, who very quickly deduces that there is something odd about the snow and that The Doctor is the only one who can help. Clara is a Mary Poppins-style governess but works as a barmaid on the side. Her current clients are two children whose previous governess was frozen in a pond. That piece of information becomes important twice within the plot; once as part of the big bad’s plan to turn humanity into icicles and secondly as a means to drive The Doctor into action.
Starting with the obvious, Clara is a refreshing change of pace from Amy Pond and Rory Williams. I’ve always liked Amy, although Rory often felt tacked on to assure people there wasn’t going to be another romance between the Doctor and a companion, but even in the first half of this seventh season I was basically waiting for them to die. Clara on the other hand was enjoyable in Asylum of the Daleks and yet plays an independent but no less interesting version of the same character here. It’s a credit to Jenna-Louise Coleman and writer Steven Moffatt that they can supplant one character from a time period and place her in another without losing what made the character fun to watch initially.
That said, however, she didn’t really do much. When confronted by the ice governess she ran around the house waiting for The Doctor to show up. Sure, she made every effort to find him and explain the situation to him but when it came to the crunch she couldn’t fight for herself and it seemed like the Doctor saved her on at least two or three occasions during the episode. While it’s obviously realistic that she probably couldn’t do very much herself, she seems rather feeble compared to Amy and Rory. Amy never seemed bothered about needing The Doctor to save him, although she was certain that he would. Perhaps it’s because Amy was let down by The Doctor as a child that she knew sometimes she’d have to fight for herself. Clara on the other hand, while confident, needs The Doctor’s assistance more.
So what can Clara bring to the party, other than baking and running? Well, she does seem quite intuitive and both The Doctor and Madam Vastra test her deductive skills, so if anything she’s going to become the strategist while The Doctor does the leg work. And if we know The Doctor, we know he’s not opposed to a little running. He’s been doing it all his life. Which has created more than a few enemies.
Speaking of enemies, the big bad in this Victorian mystery was the Great Intelligence, a disembodied voice played by Sir Ian McKellan. I like Ian McKellan and all but it seems a bit of a waste to hire him to play a voice, especially one that only speaks three of four lines in the entire episode. I have my suspicions that this may not be the last we’ve heard of the Great Intelligence for this season, which would justify hiring such a high profile actor for what seems like such a small part. The Great Intelligence itself has appeared in the old Doctor Who serials so it could be brought back as a change of pace from the constant flow of Daleks, Cybermen and Time Lords.
With Ian McKellan playing a voice, the episode obviously needed a physical presence which came in the form of Richard E. Grant. Another fairly well known and renowned actor and another part that felt somewhat underutilised. Grant puts on a compelling performance but his character, Dr. Simeon, does very little but walk around looking moody and bitterly biting at people like Ebenezer Scrooge.
Unfortunately, I have to talk about the ending, so if you still haven’t seen the episode, go do that first. It’s been a couple of weeks since the episode but I’ll probably still end up spoiling the death of Grant and Coleman’s characters for someone. The first death is just disappointing because I’d have liked to see Richard E. Grant return in some fashion. The second death is different because we all know it won’t stick. Jenna-Louise Coleman is the new companion, even if she has now died twice. I’m hoping this isn’t going to end up like some kind of female version of Rory that dies in every other episode but still managed to find a way to come back. It does clearly mean that something is going on though because, as The Doctor says, it’s impossible to die twice.
This also means that we’ve got another companion whose existence is directly connected to a long over arching plot, just as Amy Pond was connected to River Song. It might be nice to have another companion like Rose or Martha who had no connection to the overarching stories when The Doctor met them. Rose did end up being connected to Bad Wolf and the blanking out of stars but that was because of her time with The Doctor, not something going on before he came along. And there’s clearly something going on, unless you believe that the dying tears of an average human can psychically override The Great Intelligence’s control. I don’t think so.
The Snowmen was a good episode and one of the better Christmas specials for a while but it was certainly far from perfect. If this wasn’t a Christmas special maybe the villains would have been better used or at least had more of a presence and it’s rather unfortunate that we’re going to have to go through another introduction to The Doctor. But that…that won’t be until the 30th of March.