Doctor Who Christmas Special – The Snowmen Review (Spoiler Free)

There are less than 2 weeks to go before Christmas and in recent times for a Doctor Who fan, one...

Jonathon Carley

Contributor

There are less than 2 weeks to go before Christmas and in recent times for a Doctor Who fan, one of the highlights is of course the Doctor Who Christmas Special. The bonus with this episode is that it is the first of the 50th anniversary year, which started on 23rd November so it’ll be interesting to see how that begins to impact on the show. I however, have managed to skip all the drama and indulgence of Christmas day, for my eyes have been privileged to witness the Christmas Special ahead of transmission at a preview screening in Cardiff.

Now I’m going to share some of this knowledge with you because I’m a nice guy, but I’m not going to spoil anything as everyone at the auditorium was told that if we do, Steven Moffat will turn up at our house with a Dalek and do unspeakable things to us. Regardless, you read this at your own risk. Consider your choice wisely.

If you’re reading this, you’ve clearly given in. Well done.

‘The Snowmen’ is an original story, departing from the Moffat tradition of adaptations, we have had ‘A Christmas Carol’ and ‘The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe’ which is a nightmare to say after a few too many Egg Nogs. In fact this episode boasts a number of firsts but I’ll come back to those later and given it’s the 50th Anniversary, a few subtle nods to the past as well. I have to say that the fact this is a brand new plot, make this special a triumph for both style and substance and a great deal more entertaining rather than following literary plots with varying degrees of success.

Put simply, ‘The Snowmen’ makes the Christmas Special feel fresh again, so much so it may as well be vacuum packed and wrapped with foil. So the firm underpinning of a good script is there, and I can tell you this will reward repeat viewing afterwards to reassess the intricacies of the plot. I myself am looking forward to re-watching on Christmas day if my family can tolerate my smugness. But there is also plenty going on to keep you entertained if you’re feeling quite relaxed about it.

Indeed there are actually a number of laugh out loud moments throughout the episode as Moffat has actually come up with quite a witty as well as dramatic script. Returning Sontaran Nurse, Strax is the comic relief of the episode with a number of well-constructed scenes, brilliant dialogue and great comic timing from Dan Starkey. A personal highlight is ‘The Carriage’ scene. The character is most welcome on Christmas Day to lighten the mood. Across the board we see great performances, the returning characters of Madame Vastra and Jenny who I didn’t become all that attached to in series 6 are a lot better developed and comfortable in their own surroundings. Not to mention they have more to do as part of the Doctor’s entourage, the Doctor himself still mourning the loss of the Ponds, is ‘retired’.

Matt Smith I swear gets better and better as the Doctor as each episode goes on and this is no exception. We see a new broody and angsty side to the Doctor that we haven’t seen since the Tennant era. However Matt Smith plays it in such a way that he’s not really angsty and brooding, he’s sulking, like a child on the naughty step.

The naughty step in this case being the TARDIS, on a cloud, in the sky, at the top of a magic staircase. Like I said, this episode had style as well as substance. Hats off to Saul Metzstein, who delivers one of the most visually stunning episodes to date. It really is a beauty to behold. You could watch this episode with the sound off and your jaw would still drop. But coming back to the Doctor’s sulking, like a child he just needs a little bit of coaxing to come out of his shell and revive that energetic persona that has never really gone away. It’s Christmas for goodness sake. So rest assured he isn’t a total misery guts. Typically though, this encouragement comes from a pretty girl.

Enter Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara whose cheeky and somewhat mischievous attitude is as they say ‘just what the Doctor ordered’. Clara’s character just fits into the Doctor’s life and Jenna-Louise Coleman builds upon her previous experience in the Doctor Who universe to make a fun, cheeky and yet inoffensive character of Clara, unlike previous companions who have interpreted ‘feisty’ as rude, frosty and at times pain in the backside like Amy Pond or Rose Tyler. I have a good feeling about this TARDIS team, more so than I have in the past. But I can say no more about Clara but I can assure you her story will leave you intrigued and hooked.

Speaking of the TARDIS, the Doctor has been redecorating during his time off or to put it another way, they couldn’t move the old TARDIS to the new studio and it’s an excuse to bring out another toy. As a result we have a new TARDIS interior, which is smaller, but I think more efficient and traditional. It puts the machine back into time machine rather than looking like a children’s playground and I was sick of that coral effect. Also did anyone else notice that the old console room could only achieve about 4 different camera shots because it was so awkwardly shaped? In this set we get a 360 shot around the room, which is stunning!

A cryptic glimpse of the new TARDIS interior.

The only person I haven’t mentioned is Richard E. Grant. Hello Richard. I jest, he fits the bill all right as the frosty Doctor Simeon although if you watch him speak you’d swear his teeth are stuck together with toffee or he has lock-jaw or something, for some reason I found it very distracting. Nevertheless a chilling character and well used. On paper the character is almost cast from the same mould as Ebenezer Scrooge but fair play to Richard E. Grant for making it different enough. His finest moment comes at the climax of the episode but I wont give that away. Suffice to say it left one child in tears buried in his mother’s coat. Box tick. You know Doctor Who is doing its job.

The titular Snowmen however I think get the rawest deal. The best way to describe their use is ‘sparing’ not because they aren’t in it much or they aren’t scary, believe me they actually are, the way they’re shot makes them quite terrifying and intimidating, they certainly make their presence felt at times. It’s only because there is so much going on to distract the audience from them. I mean, look at all I have mentioned already, we have a new companion, new TARDIS, a lesbian mixed species couple, a dim Sontaran, Richard E. Grant and the voice of Ian bleeding McKellen! As well as some things I can’t mention under threat of extermination. At least the Snowmen don’t fight for screen time. The Snowmen are just the foot soldiers, the pay off when you find out what is behind them is really rather interesting and I kicked myself for not getting it sooner, the clues are there from the beginning! The reveal ultimately is two fold but I simply can’t say what. Suffice to say there is something for everyone in this special so sit everyone you can in front of it and they’ll be hooked. It’s a great jumping on point for anyone who hasn’t seen the series before. It’s fun, it’s dark, it’s thrilling, it is everything Doctor Who should be on Christmas Day. Given that this episode had a lot to deliver it has ticked all the boxes and having dropped the baggage of the Ponds is better for it and as I said, refreshing. Personally, I think this is the strongest Christmas Special since ‘The Christmas Invasion’ as it delivers something substantial as well as being something of a romp and actually feels special rather than gratuitous or indulgent.

I have covered pretty much all I can without risking my life and I hope that this has left you excited for the episode like peeking under the wrapping paper rather than like I have stomped into your home and unwrapped all your presents. But if you want more, then read on for 5 small bonus teasers of varying significance.