At last, the much anticipated Christmas Special of Doctor Who (and yes, I realise this is being published about a month after it was broadcast, but bear with me, I had exams). Fans of the show were practically vibrating with excitement after two teaser mini-episodes were released before the episode was shown, setting up the story in Victorian London.
The Doctor has retreated to brood following the loss of companions Amy and Rory Pond in the previous episode. Typically, this brooding is accompanied by yet another silly hat and an entire new outfit, each component sillier than the last. Oh Doctor, never change. However, despite his new Artful Dodger look, the Doctor appears even more brooding and dark than before. Gone are the madcap antics, replaced by an attitude we haven’t seen since the days of the Ninth Doctor, who initially stubbornly refused to involve himself in other people’s problems for fear of hurting anyone else.
All that will change, of course, once mysterious things start happening… We begin the episode in 1842, and see a solitary young boy building a snowman that begins to talk back. Walking in the Air this is not. Fifty years later, the now older Dr Simeon (with a fantastic performance by Richard E. Grant, who already has some significant history with Doctor Who) has been communicating with the sentient snow, which, as it turns out, likes to manifest itself as the titular man-eating snowmen. The Doctor, ever curious, begins to investigate, assisted by a detective trio consisting of the Silurian Madam Vastra, her human wife Jenny and the Sontaran Strax, who you may remember from the previous series, in which they were totally awesome and really should have got more screen time.
Meanwhile, barmaid Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) bumps into the Doctor during his investigations, and accuses him of making the snowman outside the pub she works in. He discovers that the snowman is actually made with a memory – the plot thickens. Anxious to get rid of Clara, as he doesn’t want her as a new companion, the Doctor attempts to use a “memory worm” to erase her memory of the last hour. Unfortunately, he involves Strax (who as we all know isn’t the brightest clone in the batch of 6 billion), creating a brilliant comic scene, but failing to erase Clara’s memory. More snowmen appear and try to attack them, and The Doctor realises that Clara’s memory is creating them – they are only defeated when she imagines them melting. Undeterred by this frankly rather harrowing experience, Clara follows the Doctor back to the TARDIS, which is concealed, in true sci-fi fashion, up an invisible spiral staircase in the clouds.
Clara, having run away from her important plot point with the Doctor, returns to her second job as a governess for the children of Captain Latimer; a job which requires a drastically different accent to the one she uses as a barmaid. She learns that the daughter has been having nightmares about their previous governess returning from the dead and killing them all. This is made all the more unpleasant when we learn that this governess died a year ago, when she fell in the pond and stayed frozen there for quite some time. The word “pond” proves to be extremely significant. When Clara encounters Jenny and Madam Vastra, she must explain herself using only this word, which sparks the Doctor’s interest.
The Doctor, back in the game again, dresses up as Sherlock Holmes (I mean, why not?) and goes to visit Dr Simeon. In his laboratory, he discovers that the Great Intelligence (voiced by Ian McKellen), contained within a giant snow-filled globe, is controlling the snowmen. The Great Intelligence plans on creating a new snow creature using the human DNA left over from when the governess froze to death in the pond at Captain Latimer’s house. Unable to resist, the Doctor visits the pond, and sure enough, a crazy ice-governess rises from it. Vastra, Jenny and Strax arrive and are able to temporarily trap the governess behind a barrier (also the war-obsessed Strax gets to use some of his grenades).
The Doctor’s allies stay in the mansion to protect Latimer and his children, while he and Clara lead the ice creature away from them. They flee to the roof, but not before there are some clearly unwanted advances from Clara towards the Doctor (we’ll see what River has to say about that). A brief interlude in the new interior of the TARDIS (darker! Moodier! More hexagonal!) when the Doctor realises that Clara may be the new companion that he needs to stay sane (well marginally sane anyway) and gives her a key to the TARDIS is emotional, but feels cut short by the rather convoluted plot of the story. Too soon, Clara is snatched away by the ice creature, and both fall from the cloud and onto the rooftop.
This seems to be the end for Clara, and as she slips away we begin to wonder if the whole new companion thing was just an elaborate ruse. The Doctor, meanwhile, tricks Dr Simeon out of replacing humanity with ice creatures (probably one of the less plausible evil plans I’ve ever heard) using a memory worm hidden in a biscuit tin – 10 points for ingenuity! One bite from this nasty creature erases all the memories that the Doctor suspects have been sustaining the Great Intelligence, but this is one stubborn disembodied alien. Taking possession of Dr Simeon’s body, the Great Intelligence makes one last attempt to attack the Doctor; this is short-lived, and finally Dr Simeon collapses, dead, and the Great Intelligence is powerless once more.
Outside the window, a salt-water rain begins to fall, and the Doctor realises that the huge psychic energy of the Latimers crying for Clara, their beloved governess, has taken over control of the snow. Although, as with every Christmas special, emotion triumphs over evil, it seems it is too late for Clara, and she dies of her injuries just as the Doctor returns the TARDIS key to her. But hope is at hand! At her funeral, the Doctor discovers something intriguing about Clara; those of you with good memories for faces may notice that she bears a striking resemblance to Oswin Oswald, from Asylum of the Daleks. The Doctor has of course never seen her face, only heard her voice. This still raises a question for us all: what kind of person dies twice? Or exists in several different eras at once? And why is there another version of her in the present day?
Like all of Steven Moffat’s episodes this tended more towards the epic set pieces, fight scenes and convoluted dramatics that seem to stem more from the mind of an eight year old boy than a TV writer (I’ll forgive him, seeing as that is the target audience). However, overall this was brilliant episode, with extra points for implying that Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson were in fact a lizard woman from outer space and her wife. With a star-studded cast, a nightmare-inducing monster of the week and enough of a happy ending to leave your Christmas cheer unspoiled, what more could one want from a Doctor Who Christmas special?