Doctor Who Christmas Special: The Snowmen

I think , before we get to tonight’s adventure, to Vastra and Jenny and the hilarity that is Strax The Butler, to the underuse of Richard Grant’s scenery chewing abilities and to all the rest of it, we’re going to need to have a talk on the subject of companions.

Specifically, the relationship that the showrunner of New Who has to his first companion. We saw, during the Davies era, just how overly attached he was to Rose. To the point where the only way to get rid of her was to shut her off in another dimension where the Doctor couldn’t follow and from which escape was impossible (and then she escaped anyway, but never mind.) I find it very interesting that Moffat’s way of getting rid of Amy echo’d the removal of Rose–sent back to a timeline in such a way that the Doctor couldn’t follow and from which escape is impossible (at least it is currently. We’ll keep an eye on any and all televisions to see if she turns up.)

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But then the next question is how to follow that? The big problem for many Who Fans with Martha was that she was very Rose 2.0. I mean, the details were different–where Rose was working class who hadn’t an A Level to her name, Martha was solidly upper middle, and at University studying medicine. But in all the emotional places it counted, Martha was not given a chance to be different. I mean she even married Mickey. It wasn’t until Donna showed up that Davis attempted to experiment with a different sort of Doctor Companion relationship, and then he short changed it with the ending.

I assume Moffat is determined not to make the same mistake?

The Doctor: “Clara Who?”
Clara: “Doctor Who?”

Clara Oswin Oswald. How many incarnations of her will there be? We joked here about Doctor Who’s relationship with Rory being only one Doctor/River exchange of “Oh my god, they killed Rory!” “You Bastards!” away from a South Park reference, but when Clara died tonight my first question was “Is this the Kenny of Companions?”

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One thing is for certain, Moffat, with this set up, has ensured that Clara will not be Amy 2.0….Now as for River 2.0… Well, we’ll get to that. But first–a moment on the new opening–I like the Doctor’s face made of stars as a nod back to the 80s opening with Six’s face in it, but the “non tunnel” part felt like a weird Star Trek TNG credit sequence. Also, I’m not sure how long The Doctor has been sulking since the Ponds left him, but it was long enough for one hell of a face lift on the TARDIS control room. One I highly approve of.

Let’s get to the romp, shall we?

Worker: “I don’t see any food here.”
Dr. Simian: “I do. I said I’d feed you. I didn’t say who to.”

Because that’s what this slightly supersized Christmas Special was. After two years of very “christmas-centric” specials, Moffat finally found reason to move away from retellings for Christmas (which is a relief), and go with his own story. And what Moffat does best is romping. From the opening image of the snowflake snapping at my nose, I knew there was no way this wasn’t going to be one long giggle fest. I almost felt like the snowman was referring to the writers as he hissed at the little boy “Don’t talk to them, they’re silly.”

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Strax: “Sir, do not discuss my reproductive cycle in front of enemy girls.”

Am I the only one whom everything Strax the Sontaran Butler said put my on the floor with laughter? From his constant suggestions that what we really needed was A GRENADE! to the automated laser monkeys, Strax proved to be the most entertaining psychotic potato dwarf ever. Apparently he’s the typical middle child of six million. “Sir, please do not noogie me during combat prep.”

Vastra: “Good evening. I’m the lizard woman from the dawn of time and this is my wife.”

During the lead up to this episode, I said I would watch a Vastra spin off. I know I was not the only one. Sadly, I think Moffat managed to kill that idea dead by linking her directly to Sherlock Holmes (a show which he is already making for us), and Doyle is simply telling her adventures…just with Holmes as a man, instead of a female lizard person, because no one would ever believe the greatest detective of all time was female. Just don’t suggest that her relationship with Jenny is somehow scandalous. “I resent your implications of impropriety. We are married.” Gay Lizard marriage was so much easier in the Victorian age when people hadn’t thought to make laws against it.

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The Doctor: “Oh! Talking Snow! I love new things!”

Oh and for the record, when the Doctor decides to investigate the snow (and reminds us all he’s no Sherlock), did anyone else hope when the Butler announced who it was, it might be Benedict Cumberbatch who pushed through that door?

The Snow: “You Are Not Of This World!”
The Doctor: “Takes one to snow one!”

I really liked the concept of “memory snow, snow that learns.” Even though I was a little confused why it was imbued with all the personality, and Richard Grant left to do nothing but grimace and growl and general not do what he does best, which is chew scenery. Sadly, I was mostly bored by his character, which was tragic because apparently it is him who drives the evil within the snow, creating “Carnivorous snow meets Victorian values.” The best part of Grant’s character was when he repeatedly stated that “Winter is Coming.” Considering he dies in the episode, it would have made more sense to cast Sean Bean (who can also grimace just fine,) and be done with it.

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The Doctor: Go on, say it. Everyone does.
Clara: It’s smaller on the outside.
The Doctor: Okay. That is a first.

Alright, back to Clara. Tonight we got to see the beginning of her story, whereas when we met her before…were we seeing the end? A random spot in the middle? This meeting her semi-out-of-order certainly feels taken from the River Song playbook. The difference being that although Clara herself is an interesting person–a governess who moonlights as a bar wench, who doesn’t run when confronted with odd potato dwarves who keep accidentally touching the memory worm they’re supposed to use on her without gauntlets, and who has no fear of climbing an invisible staircase to the clouds (even though she doesn’t quite have the nerve to enter the TARDIS the first time she sees it) certainly suggests she has the pluck to be the next companion, she’s no River. Because the thing that makes her really interesting isn’t her.

The really interesting thing about her–the Greater Intelligence.

Clara: “Is there a kitchen?
The Doctor: “Another First.”
Clara: “I don’t know why I asked that. It’s just I like making souffles.”

So back in Asylum when we first met Oswin who was somehow magically also Clara, there were many theories– was she a replicant? Were there many copies (and perhaps had a plan?) But the major complaint was how did a mere hacker impress the Doctor so much? Now we know. It’s not that she’s a “mere hacker.” She is a person who when she died the first time (tonight) she was taken hold of by a parasite called the Greater Intelligence. Exactly what this does to her is not clear–to be reborn over and over–or does she simply start existing again with fake memories like a cylon that doesn’t know it’s one of the Final Five? I assume we will learn more in due time.

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Strax: “I suggest we melt his brain using projectile acid vision, then interrogate him…. Er, Other way round.”

But what I’m really curious about is this: Is the Greater Intelligence the same Great Intelligence found in old Who? (Yes, I mean the Yog-Sothoth.) Exactly how did the GI decide to reside in Clara? Is it because she was strong enough already, creating (and melting) snowmen at will? Or because she happened to reside in the house where the frozen ice body they were planning to use was located? Obviously, the daughter Francesca was somehow also being used, with the pond feeding off her dreams. And what destroyed the snow? Was it Clara crying? The Doctor seemed to suggest it was the family. I am confused.

Vastra: “I gave her the one word test.”
The Doctor: “Always pointless. What did she say?”
Vastra: “Pond.”

Speaking of Ponds….the “one word” interchange between Clara and Vastra was a highlight of the episode. Even if Clara’s choice of the one word of “Pond” was an accident, it was still a happy one, and the right one, even if she didn’t know it.

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So now Clara is dead–that’s twice now in two episodes–but she left enough clues that The Doctor has put her and the Mad Dalek Souffle Girl together. He may have stood over her grave tonight, but he knows she’s still out there. And she is. At the end of the episode, we see the modern day version was standing over her own grave.

Clara: “Run you clever boy. and remember.”

The Doctor: “Watch me Run.”

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6 thoughts

  1. There were a couple of bright moments for me (e.g., “It’s cooler” … “Yeah, it is cooler, isn’t it? Bowties are cool.” was the highlight of the episode for me), but on the whole, I found it to be too much of what I’ve come to expect from Moffat’s Doctor-Who-as-fairytale schtick, which is fine in small doses (like Christmas specials), but which seems is–again–going to be the main driver of the narrative for at least the next six episodes and maybe all the way to “The Fields of Transalor.”

    Unable to stick to his statements of mostly standalone episodes, with Clara, Moffat seems to have gone back to doing what he’s been least successful at doing as the showrunner: creating a long arc revolving around cracking the mysterious identity of a single, cheeky character. And again, I don’t like the way he writes women.

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    1. The most interesting part of this is if Clara is inhabited by the Great Intelligence–that will be a first where the companion and the Big Bad are one and the same. That’s where I’m really hoping they go with this. But that would require first of all the GI to be the same GI from Old Who, and second for Moffat to be really outside the box, which I’m not sure the show is willing to let him do.
      But I figure the explanation for all this is going to frustrate half the viewers and piss off the other half. And I still don’t understand how the parasite taking Clara over causes her to reappear over and over in time. Does she just “appear” full of false memories? Or is she (to borrow the phrase from the WOT series) spun out into the pattern once a century?

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      1. I believe the GI is meant to be the same GI from previous incarnations. Putting aside the Who-verse’s willingness (by necessity) to ignore all of the historical discontinuity inevitable for any long running time travelling series–but particularly this one–it just wouldn’t make any sense to introduce two essentially identical baddies with the same name and have them not be the same character.

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  2. Neil Gaimen writing Cybermen… And the new control room is back to round. And we’re promised no story arc this time, so I’m looking forward to this.

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