It's Christmastime, which means family, presents, tinsel, overeating, and for a lot of us, a Doctor Who Christmas special. Since 2005, fans have been treated to a holiday-themed Doctor Who every year on Christmas Day (if you don't count 1965's "The Feast of Steven," that is). Some of them have mimicked disaster movies, some have featured big guest-stars, but all were meant to be fun, accessible, holiday mini-movies. Since we've had a bunch of mini-movies in Series 7 thus far, we were prepped and ready to go, and this Christmas special did not disappoint.
The best Doctor Who Christmas specials, to me, are the ones that take something Christmassy and make it sinister, like the robot Santa Sycorax from "The Christmas Invasion." So imagine my delight when this episode introduced us to murderous Snowmen who appeared to have been controlled by a man named Walter Simian for his whole life. Their head honcho? Oh, he was a GIANT SNOW GLOBE voiced by SIR IAN MCKELLAN. It was fun and silly, but this episode wasn't about the monsters as much as it was about the monster the Doctor has become.
You see, since he lost the Ponds, the Doctor has been transformed into one of those men women go nuts for, one of those men who avoids human contact because "he's been hurt before." The Doctor is now a creature who hangs back, watching mysterious things happen without interfering. He's more of a documentarian than a savior, and he believes the universe doesn't care whether he saves it or not. His only friends are fellow weirdos—Madame Vastra the Silurian, her human companion (and wife!) Jenny, and Strax the Sontaran. You may remember these folk from "A Good Man Goes to War," and we got to spend a lot more time with them in "The Snowmen." We learned that Vastra and Jenny are the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes and Watson, and we learned that Strax is hilarious. Some people may not be into Strax's dim-witted humor, but I thought it was a lighthearted addition to the story and a fun counterpoint to our emo Doctor.
However, this is all led up to the biggest selling point of the special, our formal introduction to the Doctor's new companion, played by Jenna-Louise Coleman. We met her (again) as a saucy barmaid who immediately started bossing the Doctor around and didn't shy away from anything, especially not the mysterious Doctor she's just met. Clara, a.k.a. Miss Montague, was a bit of a mystery herself, as she appeared to be leading a double life—one as a barmaid, and one and a posh governess for two rich children. One of those rich children was having nightmares about their previous governess, who drowned and whose body was still frozen in a pond in the backyard. Surely that wasn't related to the Snowmen...
A scene between Clara/Miss Montague and Madame Vastra explained everything we needed to know about how the Doctor has changed in our absence: He lives in isolation, he's lost his spark, he doesn't care about humanity anymore, and Vastra wants to fix that. The Doctor agreed to check into the child's nightmares based on his apparent crush on Clara and her mention of the word "pond," and it was enjoyable to watch him fight that crush tooth and nail. After he battled an impressive-looking undead snow governess (my goodness I missed this show), he insisted that he doesn't do this sort of thing anymore, only to notice that he was once again wearing his patented Doctor Who bowtie.
The best scenes of the episode were the ones that focused on the Doctor and Clara, as they have some pretty dynamic chemistry. If you compare those first scenes with Clara to his first scenes with Amy Pond as a grown-up, it's easy to see that even though both women are feisty and adventurous and flirtatious, the Doctor is much more gaga over Clara. It's a nice change. The two ran from the undead snow governess, straight up to the TARDIS, which now resides on a cloud in the sky, and along the way, they got to know each other. She rightfully called out that he was sulking in a box in the sky, and he introduced her to the TARDIS in a lovely, breathtaking moment. The TARDIS has had some upgrades and looks like an analog future—it's new, but it's a close relative to the TARDIS of the past. I perhaps preferred its previous incarnation, which somehow looked like an underwater lair, but I'm sure I'll get used to this one. Seeing the TARDIS again and hearing its theme so late in the episode was worth the wait.
But maybe you're like me and were wondering the whole time whether this Clara/Miss Montague was really Oswin Oswald, the woman the Doctor bantered with in "Asylum of the Daleks," the first episode of Series 7. Oswin died in that episode. Both characters are played by the same actress, and when Clara asked about making a souffle in the kitchen of the TARDIS, we saw a lightbulb over the Doctor's head. He never got to see Oswin Oswald, but he was starting to realize this woman may be special. He'd done several seemingly meaningless things throughout the episode that indicated he wanted Clara around, even as he insisted he didn't. Why? "I don't know why, I only know who," he said. A giddy Doctor gave her a key to the TARDIS and bounced around with delight. So naturally, Clara was pulled away by the undead snow governess, fell to the ground, and was mortally wounded.
I perhaps found it a bit sudden that the Doctor changed his stance completely and decided to take on a new companion, but I decided to chalk that up to puppy love, and that he'd just been looking for a reason to come out of retirement. The Doctor, feeling horribly guilty over Clara's deathbed, made a deal with the Universe: If he saved Earth, the Universe would bring Clara back. The Universe doesn't make deals, Madame Vastra warned. Case in point, Clara died, and when the Doctor saw her tombstone, finally it clicked. Clara Oswin Oswald's final words—"Run, you clever boy. Run, and remember" made sense to the Doctor now. Somehow, he'd met this girl twice, and watched her die twice. Something impossible has happened, and now, the Doctor must find her again.
It's always made an odd sort of sense to me that the Doctor can never really be in love with any of his companions while being the Doctor. If he could, instead of going on adventures they would just hole up and watch Netflix and order in, like those in new relationships tend to do. The idea that the Doctor has found a companion he could love, but that he has to chase her through time and space (much like his wife River Song), is ridiculously compelling. This Christmas special brought more fun, magic, and romance to Doctor Who than I've seen this entire series. We're back to the witty banter, sly sex appeal, and outlandish monsters that made me fall in love with the show, and I am looking forward to the reset that Clara Oswin Oswald has brought to the Whoniverse.
– New theme! What do you guys think of it?
– "Winter is coming" was said at least a few times in this episode, an obvious nod to Game of Thrones, which I thought was pretty cool.
– I actually laughed out loud at Strax's line "Sir, emergency, I think I've been run over by a cab." There are a million inherent problems with a character who at some points appears to be impaired on a Memento level and at other points seems completely competent, but again, I enjoyed him.
– The Doctor was absolutely wearing Amy's Harry Potter glasses.
– I also appreciated the nod to Moffat's other show, Sherlock.
My favorite line of the episode: "I'm a lizard woman from the dawn of time, and this is my wife."
– I had trouble understanding the Doctor's response to Madame Vastra when she asked, "You missed this, didn't you?" Did he say "Sure" or "Shut up"?
– The writers are clearly setting up the Intelligent Snow to come back as a supervillain later; it dissipated without being vanquished, and there was a lot of talk about the London Underground tunnels. I wonder how it will return?