The Snowmen sees Steven Moffatt return to form, being a story both festive and fun but also a good story in its own right. It sees the return of several side characters from previous episode “A Good Man Goes to War” and the return of The Great Intelligence, from all the way back in the Second Doctor’s run. Do all these elements add up? Do they pay off enough to ignore yet another story in Victorian London?! Let’s find out!
After losing Amy and Rory, The Doctor has retired to Victorian England, where Strax, Jenny Flint, and Vastra assist him. The Doctor eventually meets Clara Oswald, and takes a liking to the young barmaid who leads a double life as a governess. At the same time, a sinister plot is unfolding; snowmen are randomly appearing around London, growing in size and power…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Clara does the “knock on the door and hide” trick high above the clouds!
There is a lot to like about The Snowmen, it’s frequently funny but also tells a good story based around The Doctor isolating himself after the grief of losing Amy and Rory, and how he came out of it. He’s set the TARDIS to… somehow hover in the clouds and create a walkable surface up there, and then created a large hanging staircase and a pullable ladder to get up and down. It’s one of those magical things for the sake of s magical thing, even if The Doctor briefly tries to technobabble his way out of it, it’s Christmas, it’s fine. He has been assisted in his hiding by his old allies Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax, the latter having been revived from his death in the earlier episode and is now the butler for the Victorian duo. On a rare trip out The Doctor bumps into a waitress named Clara, who soon follows him about asking questions, including how a Snowman suddenly reformed itself. There was a funny comedy routine involving The Doctor, Strax and a “Memory Worm” but in the end the two part ways (the two being The Doctor and Clara, not The Doctor and Strax…)
It’s time to talk about our villain of the piece: The Great Intelligence (voiced by Ian McKellen, no less!). We see it arrive on Earth fifty years ago (from when this story is set) amongst some living… space… snow(?) then communicate with a child via a snowman it created. Flashforward to the present and that child is now Dr. Simeon (Richard E. Grant) and is under the influence of the intelligence as it seeks a human body, only doable by looking at a complete scan of a human, something he finally has after a Governess died in a pond that froze over a year ago. His control over the slightly sentient alien snow and ice means he can create evil snowmen and eventually a Governess made entirely of ice, which is an interesting power (and quite a bit different from the robotic Yeti he uses in the future…)
Simeon and his snow posse, as he never calls it.
This is where the story intersects as Clara is also acting as the new Governess at the house the old one froze in, and so even after meeting with Vastra and following The Doctor, she gets caught up in the alien trouble anyway, when the Ice Governess raises and comes after the children she once looked after. The Doctor arrives in time to help them, eventually running back to the sky-TARDIS with Clara, finally “giving in” and handing her a key while they chat in the time and space machine, realising he can move on with his usual life of picking up a human or two and going off on adventures… apart from this time, as the Ice Governess pulls Clara out of the TARDIS and the two plummet to the ground below. Although Strax manages to stabilize her, Clara doesn’t have much time left, so an angry Doctor arrives at the home of the Great Intelligence and uses the memory worm to try and erase the entity from Simeon’s mind and therefore from existence, but it doesn’t work and in fact the Intelligence possesses Simeon’s body instead. Then people start crying at Clara’s death and it somehow turns the snow into tears and … God, I don’t know, but the Intelligence is defeated by a strong mental wave of grief, I guess.
The Doctor puts two-and-two together and realises that the girl he talked to in the Dalek Asylum a while ago was a copy of this Clara, and therefore two women with the same name and similar pass times giving their lives to help him was too big to be a coincidence and so The Doctor heads off with a new mission…
Nothing too bad, beyond how the Intelligence was defeated, which as I pointed out in the rundown of the plot was more than a little contrived. Also the child actors were … average-to-bad, but weren’t really featured enough to drag anything down, and I’m not sure which accent was worst between Olivia Coleman’s attempt at cockney and attempt at Mary Poppins, but apart from that it was good!
The Great Intelligence returns, but as a large globe rather than some triangles. Upgrade, or downgrade?
Obviously the big one is The Great Intelligence, who first appeared in the Second Doctor story “The Abominable Snowmen” and then made a second appearance a short while later in “The Web of Fear”. This takes place before those stories from the perspective of the Intelligence, so The Doctor bringing the Memory Worm in a biscuit tin with a 60s map of the London Underground on it was obviously meant to be an elbow-nudging reference to “Web of Fear”, which takes place mainly in the Underground during the 60s. It’s often rumoured The Intelligence was written to return because Steven Moffatt had heard of the Web of Fear’s recovery before it was officially announced a year or so later, but he has never confirmed this, as far as I’m aware (though it would make sense…)
There are also several links to other Eleventh Doctor TV episodes, like Vastra, Jenny and Strax reappearing after “A Good Man Goes to War”, and The Intelligence, still in the body of Dr. Simeon, reappears in “The Name of the Doctor”. We also see references to the Clara that The Doctor met in “Asylum of the Daleks”, and in the very end of this story we see a Clara in modern times, leading to the next episode “The Bells of St. John”.
One more look at those oh-so-adorable Snowmen. They’re lovin’ it! Especially the one at the back!
The Snowmen is a really fun story. It has plenty of Christmassy cheer, but also some drama and a good old fashioned Doctor Who-y plot. It brings back The Great Intelligence and creates a fun group of characters for The Doctor to play off against. There are a few niggles, one of the lead character’s accents being one, but it doesn’t take away from the overall experience. A good story, making the previous story rather unpleasant sandwich filler in the middle of two very nice pieces of bread (that was a very weird analogy, sorry…)