Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 828: The Snowmen
What a difference a year makes! Sitting down to watch this one, Christmas day 2012, was akin to some kind of religious experience. The Ponds were gone, the Doctor was about to get a whole new costume (it wouldn’t debut until the next episode, but the tweed was gone, and with it the weight of the entire era up to this point), there was a new companion about to debut, along with a new TARDIS, the return of Vastra, Jenny, and Strax, who’d been rather fun during their brief appearance eighteen months earlier…
And as if all that excitement wasn’t enough, the episode was bloody brilliant! Haha! Oh, I mean, come on, watching this less than a week after the last Christmas special really does serve to highlight how much better this one is. Watching it today has been one of my absolute favourite parts of this entire marathon, and it easily slides into the ’10/10’ bracket.
I’ve got simply loads of notes for today’s episode, but I’m going to try and refrain from turning this entry into some kind of gushing list of everything I like about this one. Instead, I’m going to try and focus in on a few things that stand out as particularly brilliant.
First of all - the pacing of the episode. It’s another one of those stories that plays out with no real desire to rush. The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe crashes onto Christmas Day screens with an exploding spaceship and the Doctor plummeting to Earth, whereas this is an altogether more measured affair. It’s very talky, as episodes go, and despite the odd menacing snowman popping up from time-to-time to give us a bit of action, not a lot really happens in that regard until the Ice Nanny arrives on the scene. It’s never boring though. There’s no danger of my attention wandering off this Christmas, because every scene is so perfectly crafted, and it all sweeps you along with the story.
That’s likely my second point, actually - how well crafted the whole piece is. Take a scene like Clara’s first meeting with Vastra, for example, and just watch how it’s constructed. The one word test is so clever, and the exchange of information handled so well between the pair. We could have done with something like this when Dodo was introduced. That careful back-and-forth of information between characters allows the story to play out in its own way, allowing the audience to work it out as we go, as opposed to trying to shove it down our throats and explain everything as it drudges along.
All of that makes it sound a little bit dry - especially for post-Christmas Dinner - but that’s not the case at all, because Strax has been turned up to eleven, and works as simply brilliant comic relief throughout the story. Oh, I hooted along as I quoted all his lines back at the screen today. Frankly, it was all a bit pants in here at some points, but I don’t care because it was brilliant.
And then there’s the reveal of the big bad villain behind it all - and it’s only the Great bloody Intelligence! Haha! Oh, that shocked me first time around. I worked it out fairly early on while watching first time around, but then decided that I was probably wrong, and it was only there to wrong-foot us fanboys who’d be giddy at the thought of the Intelligence making a return. But then it is him! Oh, I should have guessed with a title like this, frankly, but it’s such a brilliant reveal. And voiced by Sir Ian McKellen of all people! I can bang on about the scope of the programme increasing in terms of its visuals, but when you can lure stars like this for what’s seemingly quite a small part, that’s when you know how big Doctor Who has gotten…
In case you can’t tell, I’m just rambling now. This always happens when an episode comes along that I don’t just enjoy but actively love, and The Snowmen is certainly in that top tier. I’ll stop now otherwise today’s entry will just become unbearable, but I think this has to be by far my favourite of the Christmas specials, and the perfect way to begin a big new chapter in the programme’s life.