Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Doctor Who: The Snowmen

Clara: 'Run, you clever boy.'

Christmas specials are unique. Companions are usually absent (or have diminished roles), the backdrops are as festive as blue baubles balanced on Blitzen's bottom, and the stories generally take place outside of the main season arc. This year, however, the story focused mainly on new companion Clara Oswin Oswald, a mystery which started back in 'Asylum of the Daleks', and apart from the obligatory snow, a whistled carol, and the odd killer snowman, the Christmas elements were oddly low key. The result? Best Christmas episode ever!

Christmas, 1892, sees the Doctor stewing in his own melancholia, and living in self imposed cloud exile. He doesn't help people any more, so you just know it's going to take a Christmas miracle to shake him from his festive funk. Enter the ever resourceful, cheeky Cockney barmaid and part-time posh governess, Clara Oswald, decked out in full-on period costume, sporting magnificent hair, and proficient in two of television's favourite accents: Received Pronunciation and Mockney. All it takes to get the Doctor back in the game is the mention of the word 'Pond' and the bow tie's back, he's snogging the face off his companion-to-be (whilst pretending not to love every minute of it), and bellowing out cataclysm-averting instructions to the rest of Team Who.

I was so happy to see Clara back, that I completely forgot she was supposed to be dead—until she died again. Just when you thought Rory was gone, Clara's back to continue the tradition of having a character who's perpetually kicking the bucket. If you don't love Clara by now, then you have no soul. The mystery surrounding who she is, and what's going on with her, looks set to give the second half of season seven some much needed inertia. I've been critical of the first half of the season's mostly stand-alone structure—there've been a few decent stories, but there hasn't been the same kind of complexity and invention the Moffat era is usually famous (and infamous) for. Presumably the mystery surrounding Clara will to continue up until the show's 50th anniversary, which just so happens to fall on 23rd November, 2013—the exact same day and month Clara was born! Coincidence? I think not.

After 'Asylum of the Daleks', it was difficult to see how the Doctor could resurrect Clara. Now she's dead again, it's even harder to fathom—but bring her back he must. The epilogue showed Clara alive in the present day and on earth. ('I don't believe in ghosts'), and she's already turning out to be more romantically forward than the Doctor's previous companion. It took Amy five episodes before she managed to stick the lips on the Doctor—Clara managed it in two (and she didn't even have physical access to him in one.) She's more intellectually switched on, too. She already has a TARDIS key, after passing the Doctor's tests with ease, plus her chemistry with him is undeniable. Presumably she's neither a governess or a barmaid: so who is she? Just some stranded Junior Entertainment Manager from the starliner Alaska? Or was that just a front, too?

Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint being the inspiration for Conan Doyle's Holmes stories, and the Doctor trying to pass himself off as the famous detective, were nice tips of the hat to sister show, Sherlock. Under normal circumstances I'd have cringed at comedy sidekick, Strax, but in the context of tonight's episode, he worked perfectly. His desire to violently destroy everything was the perfect antidote to the occasionally sickly sentimentality. And let's face it, using the tears of a family crying on Christmas Eve to foil snowman Armageddon was a simply awful solution—but Strax, Vastra and Jenny were ample compensation. Yes, the way they're portraying the Sontarans and Silurians these days does do an enormous disservice to their historic roots (particularly the former's extreme militaristic leanings), but like I say, it's Christmas—different rules apply. And now the Sarah Jane Adventures is over, those guys should totally have their own spin-off series. Assuming the BBC would go for a children's show about lesbian lizards and belligerent potato heads.

The story itself felt a little underdeveloped, and Richard E. Grant, usually the perfect choice for playing the dastardly villain, gave an oddly wooden master-class in the art of acting without moving your jaw. The return of the Great Intelligence after 45 years was perhaps more of a treat for Classic Who fans. Obviously, the Doctor couldn't completely vanquish the GI as it appears in both 'The Abominable Snowman' and 'The Web of Fear' (stories which technically pre-date tonight's episode, despite following it chronologically), but I'm loving the meld of old and new. The new retro intro, complete with old school Doctor's face overlay, was a nice touch, as was the re-jigged theme tune. And how proud did the Doctor look of his revamped TARDIS? The internet has been alight with people complaining about how plain it looks. I disagree. I think Moffat's doing a fine job of blurring the line between the old series and the new.

Apart from Grant (and the sadly underused Ian McKellan), I thought all of the main actors performed admirably. Jenna continues to impress as the enigmatic Clara, Smith was as solid as ever, and Stewart, McIntosh and Starkey did a satisfactory job with the material they were given. I'm definitely feeling more optimistic about the second half of the season. Up until this point, it's felt a little like the specials of 2009: slightly disjointed, often throwaway, and ultimately uninspired. Now Clara's back and there's a mystery to be solved, the show feels as though it's found its feet again. How do I feel about Clara's obvious attraction to the Doctor? (Or at the very least his arse.) With Clara as a companion, I don't see how there can't be at least some sexual tension. The obvious obstacle to any ongoing Rose-like shenanigans is River—which isn't necessarily a problem as she's technically dead. The question is: how does the Doctor feel about Clara?

Other Thoughts:

—Way to milk the 'Doctor Who?' gag, guys. I fear that this particular comedy breast is now completely devoid of all sustenance.

—Lovely single camera shot following the Doctor and Clara inside of the TARDIS. That's the first time we've seen that happen.

—Some interesting puppet themes throughout, with the Doctor animating Punch, the frozen governess mirroring Punch, and the Great Intelligence eventually animating a swept clean Dr. Simeon. But who's pulling the Doctor's strings?

—Richard E. Grant played the Doctor in the animated mini-series 'Scream of the Shalka'. Bizarrely, David Tennant had a small role as a caretaker, before later being cast as the tenth Doctor.

—Nice inscription on Clara's grave: 'Remember me, for we shall meet again'. No shit, Sherlock.

—Clara invented fish (because she dislikes swimming alone) and was born behind the clock face of Big Ben (accounting for her acute sense of time.) Hmmm... I can't help but feel there's going to be some truth to both of those stories.

—Every time I heard the GI calling out 'danger, danger," all I could think of was Electric Six.

—Winter is Coming! Thrones, yeah, Game of Thrones, yeah, Game of Thrones... and so on. (For those of you who know the song.)

Quotes:

Doctor: “What's your name?“
Clara: “Clara.”
Doctor: “Nice name. Clara. Definitely keep it.”

Strax: “Do not attempt to escape or you will be obliterated. May I take your coat?”

Doctor: “Bow ties are cool!”

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

Strax: “Sir! Please do not noogie me during combat prep.”

Doctor: “It's called the TARDIS. It can travel anywhere in time and space. And it's mine.”

Clara: “It's smaller on the outside.”
Doctor: “Okay, that's a first.”

Clara: “Is there a kitchen?”
Doctor: “Another first.”
Clara: “I don't know why I asked, it's just, I just like making souffl├ęs.”

Doctor: “I never know why. I only know who.”

Clara: “The green lady, she said you were the saviour of worlds once. Are you going to save this one?”
Doctor: “If I do, will you come away with me?”
Clara: “Yes!”

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