Doctor Who's scariest Xmas special ever

`The Snowmen` has more chills than thrills but is still a winter wonder
You can imagine the inside of Steven Moffat’s head is like the rush hour; ideas whizzing about in no particular order struggling for attention. Each time he writes one of these big episodes- a Xmas special, season opener or finale- it is a frantic race from start to finish which you probably need to watch at least twice to work out what is actually happening. It’s not as if the plot is that complicated- indeed `The Snowmen` has one of the most straightforward plots he’s ever written for the series. It’s just that the frenzy unfolding on screen is so relentless that any subtlety is sometimes lost amidst the cacophony. This is not to say it’s bad, far from it. At times invigorating and always interesting, `The Snowmen` is definitely a step up from last year’s Xmas episode, it’s just that if it actually stopped to develop some of the ideas it chucks about the results might be even more rewarding. It is the scariest one yet though and includes some memorable villains, a strong new companion and a dusting of continuity.

Freezing great spoilers beyond this point
The snowmen themselves are a great idea and I would like to have seen more of them because they are fantastically realised and in the great tradition of Doctor Who monsters. You could construct a chilling winter’s tale around them but Moffat seems to make the snowmen more incidental as matters progress. They are simply the foot soldiers and we don’t really get to see them menacing Xmas shoppers as we should.  What we do see of them however is sterling stuff including a marvellous bit where one snarls at the camera while the way they just pop into view is particularly effective.  The ice governess turns out to be memorable as well with a vicious air, sharp tongue plus a memorable catchphrase that will no doubt be remembered by younger viewers when they grow up and think back to this Xmas. This is certainly the scariest of the Xmas specials so why it was broadcast at 5.15, much earlier than usual, is a mystery in itself.

It’s taken as read that the BBC can always lay on a good Victorian drama spread but this proves to be mere window dressing for a story in which non period characters take the lion’s share. How much more interesting would it have been to have had a period detective- perhaps even a fan of Sherlock Holmes- investigating the snowmen? Instead we have a Silurian looking as out of place conceptually as she does visually. The triple act between Vastra, Jenny and Strax is actually quite funny and there’s a BBC3 sitcom – or at least a different Doctor Who story- in there somewhere but this adventure seems neither the time nor the place for them. I did however like the scene where Clara has to give one word answers and the fact that the key word is “Pond” has a good resonance for
regular viewers.. However the trio do clutter the narrative shoving the promising Dr Simeon – all pale countenance and silky threats – out of the way half way through. 

Any insight into Simeon- a potentially fascinating character- is reduced to a couple of lines after he’s died. Shame, because Richard E Grant is convincingly threatening as he stalks London like a cadaver come to life. The Great Intelligence continuity works quite well, not being layered on and suggesting perhaps a recurring enemy with enormous power that we will encounter again? As for Sir Ian McKellen doing the voice, how good is that?
One particularly successful element is Clara’s unusual story. I think- and this is only my theory- she may turn out to be the victim of a similar mishap that befell our old mate Scaroth of the Jagaroth. She is somehow splintered through time which would explain why we’ve now seen three versions of her. Jenna Louise Coleman manages to be slightly different from the version seen in the Dalek story- and her modern day version briefly glimpsed at the end seems different again. Let’s hope that her storyline ends up making more sense than the ultimately unclear Amy Pond scenario.  The rapport between her and Matt Smith sparks promisingly. Smith himself is grumpier than usual a mood that seem to be this Doctor’s weak setting. Just as some previous Doctors struggled to convey anger or be humorous, Smith’s ill temper doesn’t convince and when his eyes light up and he starts doing that excited energetic thing he does, he seems happier as an actor.

Ever since Michael Pickwoad started designing the show it has looked terrific and once again he pulls out the stops with the new look TARDIS. While the previous re-design at the start of Matt Smith’s tenure was initially impressive it subsequently looked less like a machine and more like an art installation. This new look is cleaner and most of the quirky accoutrements have gone. The overall impression is of a more uniform and predominantly blue appearance with a sweeping circular grandeur that seems at once ancient and modern. I do wonder if the show is edging towards some kind of clever Skyfall style reboot one step
at a time. It’s probably a one off costume but in this story Matt Smith’s clothes were definitely channelling Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton. It’s a long way from the leather jackets and boots of Christopher Eccleston.

Overall, `The Snowmen` starts well but like `The Christmas Invasion` it does suffer a bit from too much focus on the Doctor and not enough of the antagonist. It could do with a little more jeopardy near the end; the tussle with the ice governess is the high water mark of the thrills side of things, after this alot of characters just seem to be hanging around. How many other enemies would just wait outside for five minutes? However the Clara storyline is intriguing, the snowmen themselves excellent and the production successfully treads the line between fairy tale and adventure. There is a sense of a show renewing itself again and the `Coming Soon` bit at the end holds a lot of promise for the rest of the season.


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