Doctor Who: The Snowmen
(1 episode, Christmas Special, 2012)
The cold birth of a great intelligence.
Prequel: The Great Detective
In Victorian London, the Paternoster Gang – Madame Vastra, her maid Jenny Flint, and their Sontaran servant Strax – meet with the Doctor as they pursue strange happenings. The Doctor shows no interest in their cases as he has since retired from investigating such matters.
Prequel: Vastra Investigates
Since the Doctor is unwilling to help, the Paternoster Gang strike out on their own. After they solve a case, Inspector Gregson of Scotland Yard talks with them about their adventures and membership. He’s confused about Vastra’s skin and Strax’s build, unable to grasp that they are both aliens. Vastra perpelexes him futher by talking freely about her love for Jenny.
As the carriage pulls away, Vastra and Jenny discuss the Doctor’s heartbreak, a deep emotion that has isolated the Time Lord in his TARDIS. They’re also confused about the continuing snowfall from a cloudless sky.
Winter, 1842: Children are playing outside but one boy builds a snowman by himself. He laments how the other children are silly and the snowman repeats his words. As the boy starts to run away, the snowman offers to help him.
Fifty years later, the boy has grown up and oversees the sampling of snowmen. This man, Walter Simeon, deposits the samples into a giant snowglobe before sacrificing the men who gathered the samples to the snowmen.
At an inn called the Rose & Crown, a familiar looking barmaid walks outside with a tray and spots a creepy snowman. She asks a passing man, the Doctor, about the snowman. He inspects it and asks the woman’s name. He think’s Clara’s name is a nice one and that she should keep it. As he leaves with his somber attitude, Clara gives chase and jumps onto the back of his carriage.
The Doctor calls Vastra on his carriage phone. Vastra is amused that he’s back in an investigatory mood, but the Doctor denies it. He’s sure that Clara will not be able to find him again since she doesn’t even know the name “Doctor”. On cue, Clara drops down from the carriage roof and asks, “Doctor who?”
Dr. Simeon pays a visit to Captain Latimer to muse about the pond where the captain’s governess died. The pond has frozen and Simeon wants the ice, declaring himself to be part of the Great Intelligence Institute. As Simeon departs, he is confronted by Jenny and Vastra. The doctor doesn’t find them threatening, and even taunts the duo as the inspiration for Dr. Doyle’s detective stories. Simeon states that no one can stop his plan, but Vastra knows differently.
The Doctor and Strax investigate the snow, leading Strax to express his discontent over the Time Lord’s apathy. The Doctor believes that the universe doesn’t care, then turns his attention to Clara. He tries to use something called the memory worm to erase her memory, but Strax botches the whole thing. The Doctor is fascinated by the fact that Clara hasn’t run during the whole affair.
They then face a group of snowmen as Clara thinks about them, triggering the telepathic nature of the alien snow. The Doctor has Strax take Clara back to the inn as he heads to a local common area. Clara follows him and finds the ladder that he’s hidden behind a perception filter. She uses the ladder to ascend into the sky where she finds a sprial staircase and the TARDIS resting on a cloud.
She knocks on the door of the TARDIS and then hides, rushing back down the staircase. The Doctor finds a scrap of her dress and knows it was her, but remains determined to stay out of Earth’s affairs. The next morning, Christmas Eve, Clara heads to her second job as governess to Captain Latimer’s children. She operates here as Miss Montague under a more posh accent.
Clara attends to the children, Francesca and Digby, amusing them with her “secret voice” which is her real accent. The children prefer her over the previous governess, the woman who drown in the frozen pond. Clara understands that the children think about the former governess often, and making the link about the telepathic snow, she rushes to the park to find the Doctor. She finds the ladder disabled but also finds an ally in Jenny who takes her before Madame Vastra.
Vastra offers her an audience, but is restrained to single word responses to Vastra’s queries. After all, the truth can be said in one word while lies are said with a string of them. Vastra tells Clara that the Doctor once saved many lives, but when he suffered a great loss, he chose to reture. She also sees a chance to reawaken the Doctor’s former sense of adventure, so she offers Clara a test: She must give her a message to pass onto Doctor; warning him of the danger, but she must do it in one word.
The word she chooses is “pond”.
The Doctor visits Simeon’s institute, an act that causes some discomfort to the Intelligence in the snowglobe. The Doctor recognizes the Intelligence and the danger it poses by inhabiting the former governess, but is forced to flee when Simeon calls for help. The Doctor investigates the frozen pond while denying such to Strax, but finds himself enthralled by Clara as she watches from a window.
Clara later tucks the children in with a story about the Doctor, but they are interrupted by the reanimated ice form of the dead governess. The ice governess chases Clara and the children to the nearby play room where the Doctor appears and shatters her with the sonic screwdriver.
Meanwhile, Simeon activates a snow machine in the front yard as the Doctor admires his bow tie, unaware that he had even put it on. As the ice governess reincorporates, the group rushes downstairs to find Captain Latimer and the Paternoster Gang. Jenny restrains the ice governess with a force field while the team works out the problem, realizing that the Intelligence needs the governess to create an army of unstoppable ice creatures.
The Doctor orders everyone to stay in the study but Clara disobeys, giving the Doctor a kiss before Simeon arrives with an ultimatum. The Doctor arms Clara with an umbrella, disables the force field, and rushes the pair upstairs. Clara pulls the Doctor along as the pair end up on the roof, using the umbrella to snag the ladder and lead them (and the governess) to the TARDIS.
It is here that Clara is introduced to the TARDIS – “It’s smaller on the outside!” – and its beautiful new console room. The Doctor is reminded of another woman, Oswin, when Clara talks about her love of soufflés. He gives Clara a key to the TARDIS, effectively accepting her as his companion.
Unfortunately, the governess has ascended the staircase and drags Clara out of the TARDIS. The pair fall to Earth. The Doctor moves the TARDIS to the courtyard, but he’s too late to save Clara. Even though Strax can revive her for a little while, she will succumb to her injuries.
Unfortunately, the Doctor thinks that she’s going to live, believing that the universe owes him for all the times he has saved it. He sincerely believes that if he saves the world, the universe will allow Clara to live.
The Doctor confrons Simeon, presenting a piece of the shattered governess in a 1967 London Underground-themed lunchbox. Alongside Vastra, he discovers that the snowglobe contains Simeon’s darkest thoughts and feelings, a reflection of the man as a boy. Simeon is shocked by this revelation, but still grabs the box. However, it does not contain the governess.
It contains the memory worm.
The worm bites Simeon, erasing all of the memories from his adult life. Without the link, the Intelligence seems to die but surges back to life. The dream has outlived the dreamer. The Intelligence inserts itself into Simeon, defeats Vastra, and then attacks the Doctor.
At that moment, Clara begins to die with a single tear dropping from her eyes. The snow mirrors the emotions and transforms into salty rain, effectively disincorporating the Intelligence as the Latimer family mourns Clara. The Doctor rushes to her side, listening as she utters her final words: “Run you clever boy. And remember.”
The Doctor attends Clara’s funeral and discusses the Intelligence with Jenny and Vastra. He remembers the name, but can’t quite remember when he met the Great Intelligence. He is also shocked to learn Clara’s full name – Clara Oswin Oswald – and rushes off as he realizes that there is another version of her somewhere that he might meet again for the first time.
She is an impossible girl.
In the present day, the cemetery is overgrown with weeds. A woman and her friend walk through the neglected graveyard and observe the headstone. This woman is Clara.
The story overall is a good one, bringing the Doctor back from the depths of his mourning to a newly-restored sense of adventure and moral justice. There is an element of fridging involved with Clara’s death, but there’s also a great deal of heroism leading to it. Clara’s death was also anger-inducing since the Doctor let his guard down to wow her with his world.
To say that it’s complicated is an understatement.
What’s also complicated is the Doctor’s memory of the Great Intelligence. We’ve seen it twice on television – The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear – and the Doctor was definitely cognizant of what and who the Intelligence was. But here, the Doctor is far more cagey about the being, almost like he’s forgotten. That’s entirey possible, given that the altercations were nine or ten incarnations and several hundred years ago.
I do love the dynamic that Clara brings to the show: She’s flirty like Amy was, but she’s more inquisitive and takes more initiative than her predecessor. We saw this in Oswin’s appearance and in this Clara’s debut, and her personality will carry through the coming stories. I also like this idea of fragments as a unique approach to a new companion.
One more thing that I like that the Doctor is hiding in 1890s London, right under Queen Victoria’s nose. Despite the royal banishment initiated in Tooth and Claw, the recent change of face may be his saving grace.
The new title sequence and theme are my favorites of the Matt Smith era. The flash of the lead actor’s face is also a nice callback to the classic era, an element that we haven’t seen since 1989’s Survival.
Another neat callback is the Eleventh Doctor donning the Fourth Doctor’s Sherlock Holmes outfit – a fitting piece to the story’s theme – which we last saw in The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Surprisingly, the amount of Sherlock Holmes references in the televised side of Doctor Who is sparse, but the audio and prose side more than makes up for it.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Bells of Saint John
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.