[Review] Doctor Who Series 7 Christmas Special, "The Snowmen"

Courtesy of the BBC
Considering that Steven Moffat ripped off a line from Game of Thrones in this episode, I feel it only fair that I point out this comic I made last June. Not for any other reason then to say "you weren't the first to think of that, Mr. Moffat."

I think it is fair to say that Moffat peaked early in the whole Christmas episode department, his latter two attempts paling in comparison with the fantastic Christmas Carol starring Michael Gambon. Last year's, with the... err, trees, was not the best thing ever, and Snowmen sits firmly between them. It's still heads and leagues and unfortunately genetic conditions above anything that was churned out during the Russell T. Davies era, and I guess for that we can be thankful.

I give this episode two points of leeway. First, while being a Christmas special, and taking place on Christmas, it has nothing to do with Christmas, which is my preference. Christmas is not a character in the play, and I'm thankful for that. Second, this is the strongest of the Moffat written episodes for series seven thus far. That is also quite a lot like saying this giant ball of hair is clogging my drain the least. It wasn't complete rubbish, but it wasn't that endearing either.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that also lead a double life as a cockney barmaid.

Like so much of Moffat's stuff of late (and by "of late" I mean since Big Bang), this episode is entirely too bloated. He crams everything he can into the episode, kitchen sink and neighbour's cat and all, and seems not to realise that it doesn't all fit, most of it is just hanging out the side, dragging along the ground waiting to peel off and roll into the ditch.

Part of that too is the episode doesn't have a clear narrative motivation. It is an introduction episode, which Moffat proved in Eleventh Hour he is more then capable of doing. It's also a standard monster show, which, again, Moffat has proven he is capable of in the past. But he never seems to strike the right balance between the two elements. So, the talking snow gets pushed to the background for long chunks while Clara goes fighting about, then Clara gets forgotten about when the Snowglobe starts kicking off. And because of this, neither story ever feels complete. There are beginnings and ends, and middley bits, but not all things for all people, and most of it feels rushed through.

Clara gets one look at the Doctor and that it, she's hooked. He didn't do anything particularly Doctor-ish, he was just a bit gruff, but that is apparently enough to get her to run after a cab, scale the back and drop in through the roof to drop the title (which, yes it's all very clever Mr. Moffat, but please stop flogging that horse now). Clara's immediate side-kickedness seemed like a symptom of not knowing a better way to get her into the action then anything naturally coming from the character.

So lets talk about bloat. Richard E. Grant is a complete waste, his character solidly one note and does nothing, except ham it up to a spectacular degree in the very end. So too is Ian McKellen wasted, and one wonders why, if they had access to him, not to hold off and give him a role that was substantial and meaningful. Or made sense. I've watched the episode twice now, and I'll be honest, I'm not certain what is actually happening throughout it. The snowmen want to create an ice lady to mimic ("exact replica of human DNA in ice" makes as much sense as nothing else), so they can destroy the world, that much was "clear." What I'm fuzzy on is exactly how that plan was meant to work, why there were deranged mutant snow goons throughout London, why Grant had miners sampling the snow, and what all the nonsense at the end with the snow talking like a child actually accomplished.

It's all bloat, worse then technobabble nonsense meant to pad out the episode. So too was the inclusion of the Victorian gentlemen who can't relate to his children, the children who are weak and can't fend for themselves, and the governess who warms all their lives. That bit, aside from being completely superfluous to the plot, was also cliched it bordered on insulting. First rule of editing: if it doesn't impact the plot, it's probably not needed (actually, that's like the ninth rule of editing. The first rule is: don't used semicolons, you'll just get it wrong).

And as much as I enjoyed seeing the return of the Lesbian Reptile Lady and her spunky companion, they served little reason in the episode, other then to provide the Doctor with a familiar to coordinate with, fill out some exposition, and drive home the "the Doctor is sad and lonely" bits until he stops being sad, and lonely. That, and their presence gave Moffat a reason to include several references to Sherlock Holmes, all the while resisting the urge to stare directly into the camera and say "isn't it all very clever of me?" The bit was good at first, and quickly out lives its welcome.

So what was good? Much, actually. Not the CGI, it was horrid, some of the worst since the first series. But Jenna Coleman proves herself just as effective here as she did when she was Dalek, more so even. I was right back when I said she and Smith managed to generate a considerable amount of chemistry while never interacting, and won't it be a wonder when they get together. And it was. There may well have been sparks. It's just a shame that the writing let them down from time to time. Smith, as always, was in fine form, and has got the Doctor down pat, if there was any concern. The comedy too, especially the memory worm gag, with Strax, was a reminder that Moffat is very good at getting the laugh. It's just a shame there weren't more of them.

The various redesigns worked well. The new TARDIS is fab, with all the spinning and lighting up. Seems a bit dank at times, though I suspect that was a reflection on the Doctor's mood then the actual set. But it was wonderfully old, and new, and I for one loved it. The new credits made me happy as well, with the return of the face, a much decried element from the old days that has been absent til now in the return, but an element I feel is an integral part of Who. As much as the TARDIS and the sound and the cheesy special effects, the Doctor's face in the credits sequence is part of the show, and needs to be there. The rest of it though, with the nebulae and all the moving about felt a little too close to the Seventh Doctor credits, which is not the style anyone should be looking to for inspiration.

A final word on Clara, or Oswin, or whoever. Moffat clearly wants to build a mythology around her, like he did Amy. And when they cast Jenna Coleman, I voiced my concern: another young woman for a companion, another human from the modern day. That is the exact opposite of original or clever at this point. But I backed down after the series started, and was happy to welcome a Dalek future girl, or a Victorian whatsit. But the end of the episode brought it all back to the least interesting place a companion can come from: a modern, probably London-based, young woman. Something we've only seen with every companion since the series returned. So I don't care how interesting her arc is going to be, she's starting out from a place of laziness and predictability.

And considering how much Moffat has been pushing the show back in the direction of the old days, to show no imagination with the companion is the most disappointing thing of all.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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