It’s a lovely day for a snowball fight in ENGLAND 1842 (thank you, snow-caption). But young Walter Simeon builds a snowman. Alone. Clearly he’s doomed to serve an evil entity intent on world domination (I know, that old chestnut!) Case in point: the snowman comes to life, doesn’t thumpety-thump-thump over the hills of snow, but echoes Simeon’s whining with otherworldly menace. It’s the Doctor Who Christmas Special, folks! *twirls in threatening snowflakes*
Kids, if snow talks to you, don’t talk back! Don’t end up like Simeon, fifty years on, working for an alien overlord in the shape of a big ol’ snowglobe (watch its flakes whirl with malevolence!). Now to deal with workers who might gossip about snow collecting. Business tip: promise to feed them — and then feed them to razor-toothed Snowmen! Semantics, ha ha!
Meanwhile, at the Rose & Crown pub, a dead ringer for Oswin Oswald (Asylum of the Daleks) pauses in lusty bar-wench-y pose before randomly taking a tray of tankards out to an alley.
That there’s some tip-top waitress work; I pity the poor people waiting for that ale. She’s immediately suspicious of a suddenly-appearing snowman and pesters a passerby for information.
Hey, it’s Our Mutual Doctor! Aww, he’s like an overgrown thirteen-year-old in his A Christmas Carol costume. His talk of snow that remembers makes Clara object when he leaves: “when we was just getting acquainted!” “Those were the days,” the Doctor says. How lovely, the bittersweet longing Matt Smith in a line. But Clara dashes her shawl to the ground and follows.
“You can’t help yourself, it’s the same story every time,” a woman’s voice chides the Doctor through a speaker inside his carriage. Clara doesn’t even know he’s the Doctor, he objects. “Doctor? Doctor Who?” Clara pipes up obligingly to supply the two words, having run after the carriage, climbed atop it, and dangled herself upside-down to ask. Persistent and saucy!
Simeon, apparently on break from the Evil Snow Globe, trots over to reminisce with Mr. Latimer about his governess who drowned in a pond and wasn’t found until the ice melted. Good times! He remembers, Latimer scoffs. “Ice remembers too,” Simeon says. Yes, yes, snow with memory, we get it. While the pond is Latimer’s, “what’s growing in it is…ours,” Simeon says.
Two women interrupt Simeon’s evil stroll home, bringing up his “exceptionally evil institute”. Hey, it’s Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint (A Good Man Goes to War). He mocks “the failed detective and her fatuous accomplice”, noting Vastra (veiled to hide her green alien visage) is the model for Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock. This is supposed to be an insult?
Wow, has Steven Moffat been listening at Tumblr doors about a gender-bent version of Sherlock? No props until we get it as a series, Moffat. Simeon sneers at Vastra’s “suspiciously intimate companion”; Vastra declares, “I resent your implication of impropriety. We are married.” Meanwhile, where’s Simeon’s wife, huh? Jenny, Vastra’s wife, taunts. Because you can’t marry ice crystals that form a low-level telepathic field, can you? Can you?!
Stung by the barb, Simeon declares “Winter is coming,” because apparently he’s from House Stark. And it will be the last winter of humankind, he bites out before sweeping off. An end to childish snowball fights forever; that’ll show Simeon’s playmates! Madam Vastra and Jenny lurk intimately to ponder how they’ll get the Doctor who “never helps any more” to intervene.
HI STRAX (also of A Good Man Goes to War fame, apparently alive)!!! Strax reports on Simeon’s nefarious snow-collecting. “When you find something brand new in the world…what’s the next thing you look for?” the Doctor muses. “A grenade?” Strax blurts. “A profit!” the Doctor objects. Snow-collection-based Evil-Snowglobe-serving-world-domination is profitable?
“Sir, permission to express my opposition to your current apathy…Sir, I am opposed to your current apathy!” Eeee, I love literal alien sidekicks! The Doctor pooh-poohs Strax’s suggestions (automated laser-monkeys!), calling him a psychotic potato dwarf and refusing to solve the snow conspiracy. In over 1,000 years of saving the universe, the Doctor’s learned one thing: “the universe doesn’t care.”
“Besides,” the Doctor continues, “we have a problem of our own to worry about” — which is Clara, who they’ve creepily trapped in the carriage. “Silence, boy!” Strax bawls out to her, because “two genders is a bit further than he can count,” the Doctor explains with an eye-roll.
But the Doctor’s more focused on using a large phallic toothy worm to penetrate Clara and make her forget everything she just saw. Um. Yeah. Aggressive sexually symbolic solutions aside, it’s disturbing how quickly the Doctor wants to mess with Clara’s memories, and how it’s obviously a regular practice for him these days if he keeps Wormy around.
But it’s a Christmas Special, and only the Snowmen are allowed to seem sinister! Effing with Clara’s observations gets played for laughs, ho ho! Silly Strax keeps forgetting the protective gauntlets to handle the worm. Clara objects she won’t escape until it’s explained “how the snowman built itself.” Honestly, if the ep could just decide whether she’s a savvy detective, investigating the same problems the Doctor and Vastra and Jenny, or whether she’s just very curious and involving herself in shenanigans Companion-ish-ly, that would be swell.
When the Doctor explains evil sentient Snowmen, they pop up like bad frozen pennies with nasty big pointy teeth! That’s the problem with ice crystals that form low-level telepathic fields: if you so much as think on them, they spring up fully-formed, ready to nom you! Picture them melted, the Doctor cries. Clara does, and WHOMP, it’s a bucket of water in the face for both of them.
Clara cleverly avoids being stripped of her memories by pointing out that if she forgets, she won’t know how to save herself from the Snowmen. The Doctor’s easily taken in instead of pointing out if she can’t remember the Snowmen, she probably won’t summon them by memory and then need to remember how to dispense with them (it’s not just me, right?).
Evil Snowmen! Warn everyone, Clara declares! Not my problem, the Doctor objects! He packs her into a carriage, and not noticing when Clara hops out. As the Doctor whistles “Silent Night,” Clara follows, observing him climb a ladder snatched from thin air. After comical leaping about, Clara catches the ladder’s rung and climbs. Well, it’s not as if she’s got anything better to do, like her job lusty bar-wench-ing job at the Rose & Crown!
Clara finds and starts up an “invisible” spiral staircase. Good on her sense of equilibrium; I would have been shrieking and clinging to the railing at the second turn. Aha, the TARDIS is parked on the clouds! Clara and the Doctor do a “Who’s there?” “Certainly not me, Clara, the lusty bar-wench!” searching circle outside the TARDIS.
When she scrambles away, he finds her dropped shawl (how many shawls does Clara have to drop in the snow and/or clouds?) and sniffs it, because he’s the Doctor and he’s disturbing and endearing at the same time.
“Tonight, the thaw; tomorrow, the snow will fall again yet stronger,” the Evil Snowglobe intones as Simeon lurks around uselessly to facilitate exposition. “The drowned woman and the dreaming child will give us form at last. Tomorrow the snow will fall, and so shall mankind.” I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE, EVIL SNOW GLOBE!
Clara wakes up, mischief and joy at being such a sassy adventuress clear on her face. When she quits the Rose & Crown, the publican begs her, “on my knees!” to stick around. I know just how he feels: it is so hard to find good help that will abandon pricey tankards in alleyways and run off for the rest of their shifts to follow strangers babbling about snow.
“I’ve got my own work to get back to,” Clara tells her boss. “What work? Why won’t you ever tell us?” Apparently Clara’s doings are the subject of much fevered speculation at the pub. I’m picturing a musical number, complete with rhythmic bar-top cloth-swiping before a spunky rendition of the can-can when the song increases tempo: “She wanders awaaayy/But she’s supposed to work all daaayyyyy,” etc.
It’s into a carriage for a change of outfit and identity so Clara can again become the Latimers’ governess: Miss Montague, who’s so popular with her charges that they ask after her “twice on Saturdays.” Franny’s having nightmares, Latimer reports. Clara/Montague sweeps off to check on the kids with a “now I’m in my fancy blue-green dress, and I am super sassy though no longer cockney and bar wench-y!” attitude.
Clara greets the children with proper RP accent, but does her “secret voice” to give the kids a cockney greeting, because class differences are hilarious! Franny and Digby are excited because (a) Digby made seven drawings, (b) they saw a dead cow and (c) their former governess is haunting Franny from beyond the grave in her dreams. Digby playfully offers to show Clara just where Icy Governess met her frosty end, scowling how much he hated her. Hi, Digby, you just became Suspect Numero Uno in The Case of the Governess On Ice.
Franny’s worried her governess threatened to return on Christmas to exact chilly revenge. Digby points out Franny’s going mad: “She needs a Doctor!” he crows, happy to distract from his governess-killing crimes. Later, Jenny intercepts panick-y Clara jumping around where she last found the Doctor’s ladder. “Do not attempt to escape or you will be obliterated!” Strax thunders when they arrive at Chez Vastra-Flint. “May I take your coat?” he adds. Strax is my favorite!
While Madam Vastra genteelly sips blood, Jenny lays down ground-rules for their threesome, er, conversation. Vastra will ask questions, but Clara must answer in one-word replies, because “truth is singular.” This seems more discomfiting to Chatty Clara than Madam Vastra’s green skin, but they soon suss out she’s seeking the Doctor’s help and kindness in a dangerous situation.
“He is not your salvation nor your protector,” Vastra scolds Clara. The Doctor “stands above this world and doesn’t interfere in the affairs of its inhabitants.” A Gnostic god, is he? I absolutely adore Neve McIntosh as Vastra; the only sticking-point here is why the brilliant, strategic Vastra would show so much of her own hand (her investment in the Doctor) when questioning Clara.
Told the Doctor suffered losses and “now prefers isolation to the possibility of pain’s return,” Clara offers the single word, “Man.” Substitute “manpain” and we’re totally in business. Vastra touches Clara’s lips and strokes her chin (which apparently Jenny’s totally cool with) telling Clara to explain in a word why the Doctor should help. “Pond,” Clara says firmly.
It’s a lovely and vexed moment both when Clara offers her “Pond” answer. There’s no way she understands how Franny’s dreams/the drowned governess are the key to the Evil Snow Globe’s plot. But if we’re talking about Doctor-pain, it’s actually not to put too fine a point on it to use Amy’s surname as the emblem of his immense hurting and loneliness.
At Simeon’s “GI” headquarters, “Danger, danger!” the Evil Snow Globe blurts, whilst we all add, “Will Robinson!” Apparently there’s an “intelligence beyond anything else in this time and place.” It’s Sherlock Holmes! Or at least, it’s Moffat having more Sherlock fun, with the Doctor in full Victorian/Holmesian regalia, and yet absolutely rubbish at deduction. The Doctor acting the part of fail!Sherlock to Madam Vastra’s awesome!prototype!Sherlock is perhaps my favorite bit in this ep — after threatening/polite!Strax and the toothy Snowmen, of course.
“We are the Intelligence,” the Snow Globe proclaims. The Doctor tells the Snow Globe he’s Moriarty to the mindless foot-soldier Snowmen. It’s trying to evolve, and needs “human DNA in ice form”. “Governess frozen in pond, gotcha,” the Doctor declares after finding GI’s “most opened file, most viewed page” and scolding Simeon, “You really ought to delete your history.”
The Doctor sneaks over to the ol’ Latimer place, telling Strax not to tease him with Sherlock cos-play jokes: “I’m the clever one; you’re the potato one!” The Doctor’s easily flustered tonight: meaning to signal to Clara in the window that he’s leaving, he instead motions he’ll be up in five. *makes ptchew-ptchew! whip!sounds*
“The human male from the Institute,” Strax points out as Simeon approaches. He suggests “we melt his brain using projectile acid,” and then interrogate him. At Vastra and Jenny’s skeptical looks, “Other way around,” Strax says awkwardly. *makes wah-wah-wah! trombone sounds*
The ice on the pond cracks maliciously, just so we don’t forget it’s evil, EVIL!
Clara plays at being Mary Poppins with her “definitely true” bedtime stories for the children. This time, the tale’s about the Doctor who can stop Franny’s bad dreams, and here he is now! Whoops, nope, it’s Icy Governess with pointy teeth! “I can’t!” Franny wails when Clara tells her to imagine the Icy Governess melting. Good thing the Doctor’s there for a bit of Punch and Judy Sonic-Screwdriver-ing shatter-jolt to the Icy Governess! “That’s the way to do it!” the Doctor says in his puppet voice, before making Punch kiss and then smack him. “Oi! Ow!”
As Simeon sets of a snow machine to make sure there’s good powder for downhill skiing, the Doctor catches sight of the bow-tie he’d unconsciously donned. “It’s cooler,” Clara says warily, giving the Doctor a chance to preen before realizing the temperature’s dropped. Icy Governess resurrection time! “She’s not really a governess, she’s a beast. She’s going to eat you, run!” he tells Digby and Franny, officially earning him the distinction of Worst. Babysitter. Ever.
“I am your governess’s gentleman friend, and we’ve been upstairs, kissing!” the Doctor bluffs to Captain Latimer. ”I’m a lizard woman from the dawn of time,” Madam Vastra announces from the doorway, “And this is my wife.” ”We are under attack,” Strax declares. “Remain calm, human scum!” Do you know, he’s a jillion times more comforting than the Doctor still?
“You have a gentleman friend?” Captain Latimer says sorrowfully, clearly picking the least-pertinent morsel of information. Clara goes all cockney in her reply, because she’s like Nancy from Oliver Twist, Mary Poppins, and Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady all at once! All the allusive-play is great fun, but Clara feels more a convenience composed of references instead of a character with her own history and experiences.
When the Icy Governess stomps down the stairs repeating, “That’s the way to do it!”, Jenny tosses a device to the Doctor to contain the Governess in a field upstairs. Jenny is so steam-punk alien-technology awesome! “Nice to see you off your cloud and engaging again,” Vastra observes. Strax offers up battle observations to the Doctor’s affectionate delight, then pleads, “Please do not nookie me during combat prep!”
Okay, so just to make sense of why the tooth-snapping Icy Governess is important again: she’s the blueprint for the Evil Snow Globe’s plans to make a fusion of snow and humanity, or, if you will, snowmanity! If Simeon gets hold of her, soon there will be an Icy Army, and it’s the end of the world. Yes, yes, time to panic. But really, Simeon and the Evil Snow Globe are among the most tedious villains — Simeon’s so stone-faced, and the Snow Globe so, well, snow-globe-y, that they hardly seem threats. It’s the Snowmen that steal the show, with their toothy grins and huffs of evil snowflake breaths.
The Doctor heads upstairs, telling Clara to stay put, but she doesn’t listen, because “that’s why you like me.” “Who says I like you?” he replies petulantly, at which Clara snogs him while he flails and does an excellent impression of a horrified eleven-year-old boy. The Doctor flees, flustered, and Clara smiles mischievously. It’s less incipient romance than just plain ooky-wrong.
While Simeon issues All Tomatoes, the Doctor ends up with Clara in the Icy Governess’s force-field trap. When the Doctor runs holding Clara’s hand, we’ve reached an Official Doctor-Companion relationship. Moffat et al. seem determined this one will have lots of sexy innuendo and rapid-fire banter as Clara gets her bustle stuck and the Doctor blurts, “you’re going to have to take those clothes off!” for no particular reason as she lands sprawled on him.
Clara uses the umbrella the Doctor gave her to pull down the ladder to the Invisible Staircase and informs him she’s going to watch his backside as he climbs up. Urgh. With Ten, it would have been coy sexy banter. Hell, with Nine, it would have been seriously suggestive prelude. With Eleven, I want him to shriek, “I need an adult!” “The position is taken,” Clara informs the previous (Icy) governess. “Good night!” She raps the ladder with her umbrella and Mary Poppins herself away.
The Doctor asks if Clara is barmaid or governess (OR, I keep wanting to know, actually an investigator of some kind instead of just a person who happens upon sentient evil Snowmen and randomly takes work-study holidays to learn lusty bar-wench-ing and/or governess-ing). It’s no time to chat with the Icy Governess after them, Clara claims. “Well, we can’t chat if we’ve been horribly killed, can we?” the Doctor demands, and, well, fair point.
Ahahaha, I love the “staircase is taller on the inside” nod to the classic TARDIS is bigger-on-the-inside joke. The Doctor’s lived up on a cloud in a box for a long time. “You really know how to sulk, don’t you?” Clara asks briskly, and yes, more of this companion-ish corrective, okay?
Tah-dah, it’s TARDIS introduction time for Clara (and TARDIS renovation revelation for the rest of us). She does the traditional circle-round-the-TARDIS dance. “It’s smaller on the outside,” she says, and well. “That’s a first,” the Doctor notes, and it is, but though I like Clara being smart and clever, it’s a bit of a cheat of the usual Companion astonishment at the TARDIS.
“Is there a kitchen?” Clara follows up to ask, another first. Turns out she likes to make soufflés. Cme on, you’re almost there, Doctor! She points out he gave actually her the umbrella so she could follow him up. “I never know why,” he replies to her inevitable question. “I only know who.” He’s got a TARDIS key for Clara already, and my, my, we’re rushing things just a bit!
But the moment’s cut short when the Icy Governess reaches the TARDIS and pulls Clara back with her, both plummeting the incredible distance to the ground. Wow, it’s the entire Companion arc narrative from start to finish in about twenty seconds. Back at the house, everyone watches Clara outside in her perfectly-composed heap with absolutely no blood or gut spill (impressive!).
“She’s dead,” Madam Vastra says when Latimer proposes they get her because she’s hurt. What’s that? Why, it’s the grinding sound of the TARDIS (how I do love that sound). The Doctor lands over Clara, and then in the house, bringing her inside. “This technology has capacities and abilities beyond anything your puny human mind could understand!” Strax yells at Captain Latimer. “Try not to worry,” he finishes gruffly. <3Strax!<3
The Doctor greets Clara. How will she live? “I never know how; I just know who,” he tells her, kissing her hand. Weird how the ep and the Doctor tell us constantly how different Clara is, at the same time that he explains how she fits the established narrative perfectly. If he saves her, will she come away with him? Okay, Doctor what happened to (a) River, and (b) Yowza?
The Doctor heads out to deal with Simeon, who I wish we’d gotten a snow-plow’s worth more development for, saying he has a piece of the governess in his London Underground lunch box. Eeee, the hatred on the Snowmen’s faces! They’re fabulously dynamic, and I wish we’d gotten more of them.
Vastra deduces the Doctor’s saving the world to let Clara live. Someone missed out on an important memo: usually the Doctor has to choose between saving his Companion and saving the world. They TARDIS it over to GI headquarters. The Doctor observes the London Underground lunch box image circa 1967 is a “key strategic weakness and metaphor for living, if you ask me, but then I have never liked a tunnel.” Tunnels and worms, folks. Ahem.
Using the Sonic Screwdriver, he “strips away the disguise” of the Evil Snow Globe’s voice. Aha, it’s a child’s voice: Simeon’s childish voice, in fact! “You poured your darkest dreams into as snowman,” the Doctor rails. Sheesh, this ep has it in for lonely kids. The Evil Snow Globe, or the Great Intelligence (it will also respond to DJ Jazzy “GI”), is a parasite, reflecting fears, “feeding on the loneliness of a child and the sickness of an old man.”
“Carnivorous snow meets Victorian values, and something terrible is born,” the Doctor scorns. I guess…money-making, is the Victorian value he’s disparaging? I’m still not sure how money fits into the equation of snow-collection and Icy Governess duplication; the ep assumes we’ll somehow get to that last step of “Profit!” without any of the lead-up.
Guess what’s in the London Undeground lunch box? If you guessed large phallic toothy worm, you’re right! Simeon gets the bite instead of a bit of Icy Governess, erasing his entire life. Without his personality and memories, the snow will have no voice; without the governess, it will have no form. Vastra sheaths her sword (I AM DISAPPOINT!).
But wait, the Intelligence, even upset as it is with the layering of child-like and adult voices (nice bit of sound effect there) gets vicious! “Did you really think it would be so easy?” it snarls at the Doctor. Snowflakes rush in greater speed and volume all over London as the scary toothy Snowmen are back in greater numbers, growing.
“Once I was the puppet,” the Evil Snow Globe roars. “Now I pull the strings! By erasing Simeon you made space for me.” Whoopsie! It’s a nice tie-in to the puppet-show the Doctor put on earlier. But it also makes me worry how puppet-like Clara is at this point; she hits a lot of Companion-like marks, but other than all the fun allusions and the sassy poses and banter, we’re not getting much sense of who the hell she really is.
While Clara keeps right on dying, she insists Latimer comfort his kids. A single tear rolls down Clara’s cheek. Well, now! Puppet!Simeon starts to spasm while the snow turns to rain. “Salt water rain,” the Doctor realizes. Because “a whole family crying on Christmas Eve” is the only force that could drown the snow. It’s simultaneously moving (genuine sorrow has a saving grace and power) and hokey (really? We just met this family; we can’t be expected to feel intensely about their quick grief for a character who is currently more a placeholder than a person).
Clara has “moments only” when the doctor returns. “We saved the world, Clara, you and me,” he tells her. Will he go back to his cloud now? No, no more cloud; the metaphor of grief has gone literal: the rain has drained out the Doctor’s hiding place. It’s a clever though somewhat convoluted mirroring of the Doctor’s re-engagement with the world. “Run, you clever boy,” Clara murmurs as she slips away, and hey, Oswin Oswald line-echoing.
The Latimer family mourns Clara at her gravesite. The Doctor runs to see Clara Oswin Oswald on the stone. “Run, you clever boy,” we hear repeated: the Doctor explains Oswin had the same voice as Clara (though how Oswin managed that through her Dalek armor and voice-box implant is still completely unclear). “Same woman, twice,” and “she died both times!” he exclaims.
“Stay right here, don’t move an inch,” the Doctor instructs Jenny and Madam Vastra (a bit rich, since he answers “shouldn’t think so!” to the question of whether he’s coming back). He’s going to find Clara. “Perhaps the universe makes bargains after all,” Madam Vastra muses as we see written on the tombstone, “Remember me, for we shall meet again.”
Present day: we see Clara/Oswin at her own grave. “No, I don’t believe in ghosts,” Clara decides, turning to meet her spooked-out friend. It’s a poignant parallel to losing the Ponds in a cemetery; now we re-discover Clara in one. Let’s hope we get a real discovery, that Clara becomes more than a changeable and allusive figure — becomes, in short, a fully realized Companion with her own personality, flaws, and bravery. “Clara! Oswin!” the Doctor exclaims back in the TARDIS, looking at Clara’s image on the screen. “Watch me run.”
Ooo-wee-ahoo-pthooo! Holy moley, it’s been forever since we Doctor Who‘d together! I’m so glad we’re back in Series 7 (weird as it is to have the Christmas Special in the midst of it), though a little petulant we have to wait until April 2013 for more brand-new Whoniverse. However, there are more Doctor Who recaps to be had! For those of you following along in the past with the previous-season Doctor Who recaps, let me assure you that after a regrettable absence due to personal matters, I’ll return with those, back on schedule, the second week of January 2013. Please join me then!