From here on out, please read Chief Justice Michael Stailey's reviews with the voice of Sir Ian McKellan.
Run, you clever boy…and remember.
Since Russell T Davies re-birthed the classic series, The Doctor's Christmas Special has become a much heralded annual tradition. It used to be we stateside Whovians had to wait months before seeing what the Brits consumed on Christmas night, but thanks to BBC America we can all share the love on the same day. And that programming decision has paid off in spades. Doctor Who: The Snowmen drew an audience of 1.43 Million Americans, up 54% over last year's Doctor Who: The Doctor, The Widow, and The Wardrobe. But this wasn't so much a standalone holiday adventure, as it was the re-introduction of Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman)—who we first me in "Asylum of the Daleks"—and the setup for the second half of Series 7.
London, 1892. The Doctor is in exile, far above the city, having parked his TARDIS on a cloud of heavy water vapor. It's been years since he lost Amy and Rory to The Weeping Angels. Though it's never clearly stated exactly how much time has passed, we learn The Doctor (Matt Smith) is now more than a 1,000 years old, whereas he was in his late 900s during his travels with Amy and Rory. He later refers to these missing years as "The Dark Times," during which Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), her wife Jenny (Catrin Stewart), and Sontaran Commander Strax (Dan Starkey) cared for him, and kept him from being isolated…as best they could. Because as Amy and River both warned The Doctor, he should never be alone, and we see this reflected in the cold sterile redesign of the TARDIS and the manner in which he is keeping himself physically and emotionally.
One of the ways our heroic other-worlders kept the good Doctor from stagnating was by enticing him with local mysteries. Though he rarely partook of these opportunities, Madame Vastra quickly earned herself the reputation as "The Great Detective," a legendary character upon who Sir Arthur Conan Doyle allegedly based the one and only Sherlock Holmes. However, there was one Christmas Eve when strange snowmen began popping up all over town at the same time people were going missing. Normally, The Doctor wouldn't care, but crossing paths with a barmaid in some random alleyway triggered a chain of events that would reveal this woman to be Clara Oswald, which of course is impossible. Isn't it? I mean, that young woman died in the far off future saving The Doctor from certain death at the hands of the Daleks. So how could she be here in Victorian England, and resourceful enough to re-ignite The Doctor's long dead sense of purpose?
As a Christmas tale, Doctor Who: The Snowmen fails, since the holiday has very little to do with the plot at all. As the first episode of Series 7, Part 2 however, Steven Moffat's adventure beautifully tees up what looks to be a intriguing rest of the season. Who is this impossible girl? Will Vastra, Jenny, and Strax play a key role in unraveling this mystery? And what is the endgame of classic disembodied Doctor Who villain The Great Intelligence, now voiced by Sir Ian McKellan (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) and partnered with malevolent millionaire Richard E. Grant (Hudson Hawk)?
There is undeniable chemistry between Matt and Jenna-Louise, making it easy to see why Steven Moffat's Who crew cast her. Amy and The Doctor shared a unique relationship, but Clara is challenging him on an entirely different level. Like Donna Noble, Clara Oswald is a critical thread in the fabric of a much larger cosmic tapestry, and it bothers The Doctor that he can't see it. Even more intriguing is the playful dynamic of all five characters, especially the comedic buddy team of The Doctor and Strax, played magnificently yet again by Dan Starkey. It's challenging enough to write time and space hopping adventures for two protagonists, let alone a whole gaggle of them, and yet in this instance it works for one specific reason. The villain here is the MacGuffin. Not to take anything away from the performances of McKellan or Grant, both of whom are iconic British performers, but his/their actions only serve to reveal the bigger mystery of who Clara is and why she exists.
That said, shame on BBC Video for making Whovians purchase this disc separately from Series 7, Part 2. There's no justifiable reason for doing so. This is as much a part of that eight episode story arc, if not more so, than the majority of those individual adventures. In fact, I long for the day when the only option we had was purchasing the entire Series collection, loaded with more bonus features than any fan could ever need. But in this instant gratification society, that delay is no longer acceptable. Pity.
Presented in standard def 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 Surround and English SDH subtitles, this is a step down from the 1080i HD broadcast presentation. Then again, if your home isn't set up for HD, Doctor Who: The Snowmen is perfect just the way it is. The detail goes a bit soft in the dark, but the production value comes shining through in every frame. No expense is spared in making Doctor Who these days, a far cry from what we see when revisiting vintage adventures with Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, and Tom Baker. The audio is wonderfully balanced between Moffat's rapid fire dialogue and Murray Gold's Victorian-esque score. Bonus features are limited to a brief making-of featurette "Clara's White Christmas" (3 min), and two prequel mini-sodes—"Vastra Investigates" (3 min) and "The Great Detective" (4 min), which was filmed for BBC One's Children in Need special.
Doctor Who: The Snowmen is another wonderful Steven Moffat story beautifully executed by director Saul Metzstein, the production team, and an ensemble cast game for almost anything. The only knock on it falls to BBC Video for not including it with the rest of Series 7, Part 2 where it belongs.
Damn memory worm. I forgot what I was going to say. What were we talking about again?
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