Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 186: The Abominable Snowmen, Episode Six
This final episode of the story has made me even more convinced that my new timeline for the Great Intelligence might just work. There's a point where we're told Padmasambhava had slaved for around 200 years to build the robot Yeti and 'all the other wonderful machines'. Yeah, yeah, I know it's meant to be referring to the Control Spheres and the little Yeti playing pieces, but in my mind now, he also build a machine that allowed the Great Intelligence to possess the snow, thus setting him off on his course to London and Doctor Simeon. What do you mean 'grasping at straws'?
Sadly, though, trying to fit the Great Intelligence's appearances together in a coherent timeline has been the thing I've enjoyed most about The Abominable Snowmen. It's a real shame, but I just couldn't seem to get into it. I think - and I've said this about the story before - that it's one which would fare better with me if I could actually watch it. The tele snaps give the impression of it looking very dark and mysterious, with some wide open locations (they look nice enough in the surviving episode) and some interesting performances.
In other ways, the story is almost designed for audio, with the beeping spheres, the dark ominous voices and it's digetic soundtrack. There's a lot in there which you can very easily imagine Big Finish doing in a release, and they're experts at making Doctor Who for an audio medium.
This final episode, especially, is ripe for listening to through headphones (and probably the perfect example of why so many people think the series would work best on autumn evenings, when the nights have drawn in and there's leaves blowing around outside). The final confrontation between the Doctor and Padmasambhava is extremely effective, as the Doctor warns his companions to trust him, before heading out of the room, and almost immediately issuing a bloodcurdling scream.
It's rare that we see the Doctor in such a situation - he's not always one step ahead of the game, but he is the one who usually comes up with a plan and reassures us that everything is going to be all right. In the same way that the TARDIS is automatically our 'safe' place at the start and end of each tale (even the Doctor uses it here, when trying to convince Victoria that she's safe), the Doctor is the man who makes things all right. With the exemption of that early-Season-Three period in which he seemed to lose at the end of every story, the Doctor is the one that you can feel safe with. To hear him in such pain and terror… that's chilling.
And yet, in spite of several really brilliant moments like this in the final episode, and throughout the story, The Abominable Snowmen just hasn't really grabbed me. Throughout, people have mused to me that it's a favourite of theirs, but the one thing that seems to come up time and time again is that The Web of Fear does the Yeti story better. I'm hoping I'll think so too in a few weeks time…