The Snowmen Spoiler-Free Review
While Steven Moffat’s first festive special, A Christmas Carol, was warmly received by most critics and fans, 2011’s The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe didn’t fare quite so well. So how does his third seasonal outing shape up? The Snowmen is, to use a bad pun, a cracker.
Most of the story takes place in Victorian England in the year 1892 and as those of you who watched the first “prequel”, The Great Detective, will know the Doctor is essentially retired at the start of the story. But his path soon crosses with that of a young barmaid/Governess called Clara, who seeks his help. Soon enough the pair have to deal with a threat in the form of the titular Snowmen, an Ice Governess and villain Doctor Simeon (Richard E Grant), whether the Doctor likes it or not!
First things first, this episode belongs to Jenna-Louise Colemen. Like The Eleventh Hour this is really all about the new companion and how she connects with the Doctor. Everything else is background detail. Coleman makes an excellent impression (again). Of course, the character comes with some baggage because we’ve already seen Coleman as Oswin in Asylum of the Daleks. Don’t go expecting all the answers, but it’s clear Moffat is setting up an intriguing new arc for the character. They’ll be plenty to speculate on over 2013.
Matt Smith is so comfortable in the role now that you know you can rely on him to deliver the goods. We’ve never quite seen Smith’s Doctor like he is at the start of this story. The exit of the Ponds has clearly had a profound effect on him – he’s a reclusive grump and doesn’t want to help anyone anymore. But that doesn’t last long, and quite right too.
This is all thanks to Clara who gradually brings the Doctor back out of his shell. At first he doesn’t want to know, but she keeps on trying anyway. Her persistence and quick-witted nature keeps the Doctor on his toes and forces him into action. Watching the process of him rediscover his adventurous side is a delight. Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman have an almost instant rapport. It doesn’t take long for them to feel like they’ve been doing this for a while.
The episode also features the returning gang of Vastra (Neve McIntosh), Jenny (Catrin Stewart) and Strax (Dan Starkey), last seen in A Good Man Goes to War. They get a fair amount of screen-time and they have a fun dynamic with the Doctor. Strax is purely here for the comedy and whilst there’s a couple of great lines, the humour sometimes feels a bit strained. Younger viewers will inevitably love his antics.
With so much attention on Clara and the gang it does mean that Doctor Simeon and the other foes are pretty underused. Richard E Grant puts in a suitably cold performance with the fairly limited time that he has. We also have to praise casting director Andy Pryor for securing Sir Ian Mckellen’s vocal talents, though it’s more of a cameo.
Fans will be desperate to learn about the new opening titles and they are definitely an huge improvement on the Pond era. They are much more colourful and exciting, with more than a wink to the classic era… As for the TARDIS, the recently released picture doesn’t really do it justice, it looks much better in action and there’s a great shot that shows it off in all its glory. It’s smaller than the Pond era one and more in line with classic designs.
The episode has a strong visual identity and returning director Saul Metzstein (Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, A Town Called Mercy) makes the most of the Victorian setting. There’s something about this era that fits Doctor Who so right at Christmas. There’s only a smattering of action scenes but they are all well done. The CGI monsters are very good, if used sparingly, and there’s a couple of creepy moments. This isn’t really an episode looking to scare.
Steven Moffat aims for a wider audience with the Christmas specials. They are usually lighter episodes that are written knowing full well that Grandma will be tuning in (and probably talking all over it). This year’s is no different, and could serve as a jumping on point for new viewers.
There are a lot of things that Moffat wants viewers to discover by watching the episode rather than reading about it on a site. It makes reviewing the episode beforehand tricky because there are several exciting moments here that you really want to talk about, but can’t. But let’s just say, there’s some stuff here for the most hardcore of fans to enjoy.