Spoilers From Here On!
This was always going to be an interesting episode as we moved into a new era in the 11th Doctor’s life, as he tries to copes with the loss of Amy and Rory Pond. Just how would the Doctor work with a new companion?
The Victorian setting worked well to explore the idea of repressing emotions as we are presented with three characters, vitally important to the story who do just that. The Doctor has withdrawn from the world, no longer interested in saving it and spends his time in the clouds. Dr Simeon finds he can only bear the company of his snowmen and so almost brings about the end of the world. Captain Latimer, whose governess has recently died in a frozen pond, feels unable to provide the comfort his children need.
This theme of coldness is reflected in the use of snow and ice as an ever present threat. Christmas is the time of year, in Britain at least, when it is coldest and darkest. It is why a vital component of our festivities involve the coming together of friends and relatives.
Clara is the light and warmth that melts the Doctor’s resolve not to get involved. Seemingly by chance she encounters both the Doctor and an alien snowman at the same time. Her dogged pursuit of him sets up her main traits. She doesn’t listen to the Doctor and she doesn’t give up.
Even without the knowledge that actress had appeared in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ Clara is presented as a mystery. Not only is she a part-time bar maid but also a governess, one who is partial for spinning wild yarns about her past. By the end of the episode her mystique has only been enhanced.
With the Doctor retreating into the shadows she is the audiences point of view character, as she overcomes every challenge presented to her. Whether it be finding the single perfect word to summon the Doctor out of retirement or working out how the Doctor plans to defeat a deadly ice woman with an umbrella we want her to succeed. She earns her place alongside the Doctor, rather than just thrusting herself upon him (although she does that as well).
The Doctor is ably assisted by returning characters Lady Vastra, her wife Jenny and the sontaran Strax. The prequels helped establish their dynamic in this time frame and it is easy to imagine that the Doctor chose to retire here because he knew that they would be able to deal with any threat.
Indeed they work so well I would love to see a spin-off series following more of their exploits. All are competent, well drawn characters with plenty of humour provided by their unconventional nature, especially Strax who stole ever scene he was in.
I greatly appreciated that Moffat didn’t attempt to draw out the plot. 7 minutes into the plot Lady Vastra and Jenny have confronted Dr Simeon with the existence of the alien snow and half way through the Doctor knows what the villains are after to conquer the planet.
To often the main characters are left in dark, with the viewer racing ahead of them. Here we kept on almost equal pacing, leading us not wonder when the Doctor is going to catch up but rather how he is going to deal with the situation.
It was also always a forgone conclusion that the Doctor would return to action although I liked the changes we saw here. The Doctor using an invisible ladder to reach the TARDIS atop a cloud made his distant and magical. You could no longer shout out the Doctor’s name and expect him to save you. First you had to prove that you were worthy, dealing with Lady Vastra and company.
The Doctor’s Victorian wardrobe worked well for his character and I liked his continued use of Amy’s glasses. It is a shame they aren’t keeping this look for the rest of the run of the series.
Richard E Grant made a fine villain as Dr Simeon. Cruel, intelligent and thoroughly unimpressed by the Doctor’s antics. Yet when the true nature of the voice from the Snow Globe was revealed you saw him become that frightened small boy at the start of the episode.
For all their build up the snowmen weren’t used to their full potential, no doubt because having them actually interact with the characters would have been difficult to create on screen.
It was the ice governess that proved the most intense threat during the episode. While the CGI was never completely successful it was menacing enough to convey the danger the characters were in.
The plot itself was pacey, being just complicated enough to prevent it feeling like the rather pedestrian ‘The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe.’ It was kept moving by entertaining performances from the cast and some big laughs, especially Strax’s improper handling of the memory worm.
The fate of Clara was shocking, evoking recent memories of Rory’s unexpected dispatch by Weeping Angel. It could be argued that this was ‘power of love’ ending but the emotional mirroring qualities of the alien snow had already been established.
I loved the reveal about how the alien intelligence connected to the 2nd Doctor’s adventures. I’d suspected the link once I’d heard that the story would feature snow men and globes but was ready to be disappointed that it was just a coincidence. It was therefore a delight when the Doctor made the connection and had in fact revealed a strategic weakness of 1960s London.
There was much to please fans of the Classic series here, including the drastically altered opening titles. Like an amalgamation of all the previous titles, in both visuals and audio, it seemed like a perfect way to lead into the 50th anniversary.
The redesigned TARDIS interior abandoned the makeshift feel of its previous incarnations, becoming more space aged and spacious. I liked the spinning dials above the console but felt that the additional terminals around the edges were redundant.
The thing that it really lacked were doorways leading to other sections of the TARDIS. It continues to feel as if the console room is the only thing within the ship. Even the classic series managed to show that the console room lead to deeper depths.
Those gripes aside the new TARDIS interior was another welcome sign that we are entering a new era of Doctor Who.
The conclusion of the episode built up the excitement for the second half of this season. It is nice that this wasn’t just a Christmas episode but the start of something much bigger. Rather than mourn the end of another Christmas day we have the anticipation of what 2013 will bring.