Here there be spoilers! Do not read if you have not watched the episode yet. This is an episode of re-introductions the likes of which we have not seen for a while.
The Doctor returns for Christmas in the guise of a Victorian gentleman who lives on a cloud.
While the plot of “The Snowmen” does run a wee bit thin in places, this episode serves more as an introduction for intriguing new companion Clara (played to cheeky perfection by Jenna-Louise Coleman) than anything else. Or, perhaps, is this a re-introduction? More on that in a moment.
The Great Intelligence is also something Whovians have seen before, but it has been a very long time. For those who remember, the reference to the London Underground being vulnerable in 1968 tells you what you need to know. We last saw the Great Intelligence in the 1968 story “The Web of Fear”, when the Underground was, in fact, just a bit vulnerable.
Modern Who re-introduces viewers to the Great Intelligence in England in 1842, when a young Walter Simeon’s snowman offers to help him. Fifty years later, that boy (now played by Richard E. Grant) runs a company going about harvesting the snow for use by that same Great Intelligence (voiced with delicious malevolence by Sir Ian McKellen). Their plan? To use a governess who was accidentally frozen in a pond as a method of creating a race of ice people to end the reign of humanity on the Earth. Without human DNA, they can only manifest as the Snowmen. The unfortunate woman’s frosty demise gave the conscious water the time it needed to learn the DNA.
The gems here are also the dynamic trio of Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax. A Silurian, a human, and a Sontaran seems like the setup for a joke, but if these three don’t get the Steampunk spinoff that is so obviously there for the taking, it will be a true crime. Come along, BBC.
Unfortunately, the Snowmen manifest as more of a menacing presence than a true threat. They will probably have the children behind the sofa, but in the scheme of things, they’re the bodyguards who back Walter Simeon in his attempts to bring the Great Intelligence the conscious water it needs. Their presence is more of a threat than their actions. There is just one weakness in the snow, one that rings as more to Craig Ferguson’s ‘triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism’ that most Whovians come to accept from the series. Only this time, it’s more romance than intellect that wins the day. The deus ex machina is strong with this one. With the intriguing reintroduction of Clara, as well as the Vastra/Jenny/Strax teamup, most of this can be forgiven.
The less said about the memory worm Convenient Plot Device (TM), the better. It’s possible that the Doctor discovered the creature in his centuries of travelling without Amy and Rory. However, the question of why the Doctor didn’t just use a memory worm on Donna instead of the more traumatic wipe of her memory is just unavoidable with this creature. It’s best not to ask those questions.
The re-appearance Jenna-Louise Coleman’s Clara Oswin Oswald is one of the strengths of this episode. Yes, this Clara is related to Oswin Oswald, as we saw JLC in the series premiere “Asylum of the Daleks”. The true question, and the new question for the rest of this series at least, is how. This is not the Gwyneth/Gwen Cooper scenario that Whovians might expect. This is one that will keep folks talking until the series returns in April. Watch this space for further ruminations on that subject.
Even with the thinner plot, this is one of the better Christmas specials, with a creature featured that will have the children hiding behind the sofa, and character developments that will keep the adults talking until the wait for the rest of the series is over in the spring.