In terms of Christmas episodes, Doctor Who doesn’t have the greatest track record, in particular, the last two with showrunner Steven Moffat and Matt Smith. This year isn’t much different but on top of the corniness of the of plot of demonic, people eating snowmen, this one also had to deal with the consequences of the departure of the Ponds.
It wasn’t awful.
However, how do people do this? To this day, any Who fan can tell you that they’re still hearing complaints about how Rose and the Tenth Doctor’s love was explored, how Martha was mistreated and how Donna was the best companion that the show’s ever had. A fan will tell you about how the Ninth Doctor should have had longer than one season and have multiple questions about when John Barrowman’s Jack is going to come back. Now, I only began watching at the beginning of Matt Smith’s Eleven—blasphemous I know—but I find David Tennant grating, so this is the first time I’ve had to deal with the loss of familiar faces. It’s weird, isn’t it? Not only have the faces surrounding the Doctor changed, but so has the Tardis, the opening credits and even the way he dresses. It’s oddly emotional to see him walking about Victorian London, morose and apathetic, lacking the usual spark and curiosity.
It’s one of the main parts that work so well for the episode and if it weren’t the Christmas special, it would have deserved much more time dedicated to it.
Let’s talk about the abysmal. And I mean, really, just embarrassing.
1. The Snowman Plot
It was just ridiculous and not in the absurd way we’ve come to expect in most Who episodes. It was on par with the pirate episode from last season. The snow has begun to take on a parasitic form and latches on to a young boy who’d rather interact with ice creatures than living, breathing people. The snow demon, or what have you, seeps into his psyche and uses him as a means to destroy humanity and replace all humans with the robotic ice sculptures.
If this plot was made to be silly, with some tongue and cheek involved, it would have been fine. At the very least, we’d know that the audience was supposed to be laughing. Instead we’re laughing at it as poorly animated snowmen grin manically as they stare down their victims.
It’s just ridiculous.
2. Moffat’s Unnecessary Meta Use
We get it Moffat, not only are you in charge of Doctor Who, but you’re also in charge of Sherlock. It would have been a cute little homage, granted to himself, if he’d just let it lie with the Doctor disguising himself as the famous sleuth. Instead he had to make jokes about how the real Watson and Holmes were instead women with curious intimacy and rather than being a fun tongue and cheek moment, again, it was instead an oddly self-gratifying moment that almost seemed to be poking fun at the naysayers of the show.
This once again indicates that Moffat cannot take a joke, or criticism.
Now let’s get to the good stuff because although the basic, bare bones premise was more than a little disappointing.
Jenna Louise Coleman as the new companion, Clara, is fantastic. She really, really is—even if Moffat is essentially writing a younger version of River Song since he has trouble writing female characters that he hasn’t written before. Coleman has just the right amount of spunk, charisma and talent that plays well again Smith. so that she is able to erase some of the sting of the missing Ponds. She immediately sparks onscreen when instead of allowing the Doctor to dismiss her, she literally chases him down through the streets of London, determined to understand this mysterious man and the wonder that surrounds him.
As the audience, we’ve met her before as Oswin the Dalek, and just as she enthralled us, then she does now, managing to keep the clichés at bay and playing her as feisty but also with a natural strong presence. We understand why the children she watches over would listen to her, why their father would go to her for advice and why the Doctor would ultimately come out of his hibernation to try and captivate her.
That brings us to one of the other major positives of the episode: the Doctor himself.
In Amy’s letter, she warned him to not travel alone and he’s taken heed. But he’s yet to rely on a new companion for company, and has instead a group of three who watch over him. However, he’s lost his curiosity and his want to help. He’s burrowed into a place of apathy, likened to many of the classic “Who” Doctors. He is comfortable wandering aimlessly around London helping no one, speaking to no one, and no longer searching for those who wish to run away. It’s sobering to see Matt Smith’s typical animated and energetic Doctor subdued, and he plays it wonderfully. One scene in particular, when he gets caught up in the chase of it all and he sees in the mirror that he’s put his bow tie on out of old habit, is played with such genuine surprise and glee that is so endearing and so in character that it moves the viewers who have been following Eleven since his start.
Putting Coleman and Smith together was genius casting as there is an instant spark between the two. While I’m annoyed that Clara kissed the Doctor since I would like one pairing that attraction doesn’t dominate, I liked that she initiated it, she did so because she found him attractive and interesting not because he saved her, and not because she was afraid. The chemistry between them works because while the contrived romantic aspect is inconvenient, this time Clara has the reigns. She seeks out her own adventure, she chased him in the carriage, she followed him up endless stairs onto the top of a cloud, she told him to run despite the fact that she was in danger. She does what she wishes to do as she grabs the Doctor by his hand and drags him to safety, despite his indignant remarks about how it’s he who usually leads and pulls and saves.
This brings me to the last real point.
The aftermath of the death of the Ponds and how it will affect the future of the storyline.
While I enjoyed the wrap up of this episode I’ll be peeved if this is last of the mourning we see from the Doctor. It was nice to see the Doctor find someone as interesting as Clara to ignite his sense of adventure again, finding a girl who’s lived before and deemed her fascinating enough to try to find and save. It’s perfect for the storyline and sets up hints of future episodes that seem promising. However, the first half of the season was dedicated to telling the audience just how close Amy, Rory and the Doctor were and indicating just how devastated the Doctor would be if he had to lose them and while we got hints of that devastation in last night’s special, it spent too much time on the snowmen to give adequate closure.
As the season progresses forward it would be nice to see a return of the old Doctor, his charisma and childlike wonder, with some of the new Doctor, the wariness and cynicism. Mixing that with his sense of adventure has the possibility of creating a wonderfully interesting dynamic.
There’s much to look forward to in the tail end of the season. We’re getting adventure and episodes that seem to focus more on space than Earth, which is always preferred. We have Neil Gaiman’s episode to anticipate with the return of the Cyberman and we have Clara, the girl who has died twice yet always seems to find the Doctor. Despite Moffat failing in the past season to successful tie together overarching plot points, I’m hoping, desperately crossing my fingers, that he doesn’t manage to mess it up this time and somehow portray the Doctor’s grief of his old friends and the joy of his new one.
For a Christmas episode, this didn’t actually feel like Christmas (which is good, because it means that if you missed it you won’t feel too weird about going back and watching it again). Ignore Moffat stroking his ego and instead concentrate on the new lead and the old and anticipate the upcoming last half of the season.