New companion, new TARDIS, new Hat. Doctor Who show runner Steven Moffat uses the latest, in the now annual Christmas specials, to debut several mid season changes ahead of the show’s 50th anniversary this coming year. Following the slightly lacklustre first half of Season 7, Moffat’s tenure sees a return to form, with an episode that contains all the elements of a perfect Who story – action, romance and mind worms – providing us with the best special since The Christmas Invasion.
This year’s festive tale, The Snowmen, begins in England 1842 with a socially awkward orphan boy who identifies more with his Snowman than the other children at the orphanage. Conveniently, said Snowman (classic Who villain ‘The Great Intelligence’, voiced by the great Sir Ian McKellen) is able to talk back and fifty years later, with the help of the now adult Dr. Simeon (Richard E. Grant) is the perpetrator behind a series of attacks by razor teethed Snowmen in Victorian London. After a chance encounter with the Time Lord, barmaid Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) seeks The Doctor’s help in solving the mystery behind the killer snow. Unfortunately, following the loss of The Ponds, The Doctor has turned his back on humanity, leading a reclusive lifestyle and refusing to intervene with the affairs of the universe…
Thankfully, The Snowmen is the least Christmassy Christmas Special of recent years and whilst containing enough sentiment to capture the festive season, Moffat and director Saul Metzstein handle The Snowmen as a much more canonical episode. The special does what Doctor Who does best; it takes something comforting and warps it into something monstrous. In this case we were treated to carnivorous Snowmen and Ian McKellen’s intimidating snow globe, the gothic design of which, coupled with the veteran actor’s sonorous voice created something truly chilling.
However, the highlight of this festive special was the new companion herself, and after her brief but memorable turn as Oswin Oswald earlier this season, Jenna-Louise Coleman once again steals the show as Clara – the first assistant to out quirk The Doctor himself. Coleman effortlessly plays an acerbic, mischievous mirror to Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor and looks set to easily supersede her predecessor’s popularity. Aside from the delightful Ms Coleman, the Time Lord is again outshone in The Snowmen by another returning figure. The grenade happy and acid loving Commander Strax, provided the perfect comic fool to counter the disinterested, pained time traveller and I for one wouldn’t have minded if the disgraced Sontaran warrior turned out to be the new companion instead, or just had a spinoff series of his own.
However, as to be expected with the introduction of a new companion, the actual plot of The Snowmen is secondary to the companion’s “It’s bigger on the inside” shell shock. The villains are arbitrary; Richard E. Grant’s Dr. Simeon in particular lacks any real gravitas and is thus very forgettable as a character. Similarly, the inclusion of Madame Vastra and Jenny feels more like an unnecessary cameo and provided an unwanted detraction from the threat of the episode.
Nonetheless, a few plotting qualms aside, this little comedic tale is the perfect Christmas treat and as the mystery of the “Soufflé Girl” thickens, it looks like we’re in for a very exciting second half of the season.