Review: DOCTOR WHO S7E06, THE SNOWMEN (Or, The Reluctant Doctor Is Coaxed Back Into Action By A New Companion)
Doctor Who's Christmas specials are rather fascinating occurrences. They try to appeal to a larger audience than usual and this has resulted in an interesting variety of episodes over the last few years. These installments don't always place much importance on continuity and strive to be enjoyable standalone adventures. This can work in the favour of fans or it can be frustrating. One of my favourites is 2005's "The Christmas Invasion," an episode so focused on the overall story that it is entirely devoted to introducing David Tennant as the Doctor. On the other hand, the relatively recent "A Christmas Carol" is about as standalone as they come, more of a wonderful tribute to Dickens than a regular episode of Who.
The other specials have been more inconsistent. "Voyage of the Damned" is a low point, but they've all got their flaws. It's difficult to approach the festive episode without just a little scepticism, and it's far from easy to gauge what the show will have cooked up. I'm happy to say that I found this year's "The Snowmen" really enjoyable - it's a world-saving tale that doesn't rush its story, it's exciting in all the right ways and it brings back some fan favourite characters while introducing the Doctor's new companion.
That may sound like a lot to accomplish in a single hour, but "Snowmen" takes its time and treats its steadily unfolding story with a sense of wonder and delight. I had forgotten how great it is to simply watch someone meet Matt Smith's enigmatic Doctor for the first time, and there's a lot of fun to be had just seeing how Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) reacts to certain things. It's fantastic to view things through her perspective and the evidence so far suggests that she'll be an excellent companion to the Doctor. Smith himself is on great form, and the character of the Doctor has clearly developed in both subtle and more obvious ways since the events of "The Angels Take Manhattan."
"The Snowmen" also allows for the return of the brilliant investigative duo of Madame Vastra and Jenny (played by Neve McIntosh and Catrin Stewart) and the scene-stealing Strax (Dan Starkey). It's an episode full of memorable lines and it's remarkable how many go to these characters. The best piece of dialogue, though, is Clara exclaiming "It's smaller on the outside!" upon first entering the Tardis (there's also a small nod to Game of Thrones, as the words "winter is coming" are said twice).
Before it slips my mind, I must add just how much I love the idea of the Doctor having friends in Victorian times and how brilliant it would be to have any or all of Vastra, Jenny and Strax appear again. The villain of this piece - a man looking to eradicate humans and replace them with ice people - is portrayed well by Richard E. Grant but is hardly the focus of the episode. His snowy accomplice is voiced by the marvelous Ian McKellen, who despite minimal screen time fills the threat with menace and impact.
Because of the earlier introduction of Coleman's character (albeit under a slightly different name) in the first episode of Series 7, there was really no way this episode couldn't be more tied to Doctor Who's mythology than last year's offering. I still find it striking just how much of her we get to see and I think it's likely "The Snowmen" will prove to be essential to understanding her character. I have a couple of half-formed theories about Clara that may work if she's revealed to not be human but I expect there are some things I'm missing and some surprises to come soon, though. I'm looking forward to those illuminating details.
I'd be cautious about using the word reboot, but with a new look to the Tardis, a new title sequence and a new companion, clearly the show has been refreshed. I think it's concerned with reestablishing the themes of Doctor Who (just in time for the 50th anniversary) and I really like the way it blends a mystical fairy-tale atmosphere with the usual sci-fi. I think "The Snowmen" ranks highly among the Christmas specials, and it continues the trend of this series towards more cinematic installments. If the purpose of this was to get us excited for more, it's really done the trick.