It’s been a few years since the Doctor Who Christmas special “mattered” to the show’s ongoing plots – in fact, not really since 2009’s The End Of Time, when David Tennant sniffled his way off our screens.
The last two with Matt Smith have been standalone festive stories, but with 2012’s The Snowmen, we’re introducing new companion Clara, played by Jenna-Louise Coleman (except she already appeared in an earlier episode, maybe). So, can he take the pressure? Will it better than last year’s to-be-honest-not-that-good effort? (Spoilers, big spoilers, watch it on iPlayer first.)
Christmas = Underadvertised Magic Spiral Sci-Punching
Thankfully, yes. As ever with these festive specials, this is from the crowd-pleasing section of the Doctor Who toolbox: big emotions, big moves, broad comedy, big guest stars (Richard E. Grant and a surprisingly underadvertised Ian McKellen) and showcasing the new girl. And then, um, killing her. Anyway, we’ll talk Clara in a later heading.
There’s a lot of vague/probably meaningless sci-babble about telepathic snow, and to be honest they’d have probably been better off simply saying “Yup, it’s magic”, but the character banter and silly running about is worth it. I can forgive this show a lot of vague plotting if I like the characters and the jokes, then care about the inevitable emotional moments at the end. If you’ve lost that affection, yup, you’ll probably want to punch it.
Yes, the TARDIS now floats on a cloud and has a spiral staircase. And? It provides several lovely visuals, and helps make the Doctor a little more aloof. And, although I did enjoy the Doc as lovable uncle to the Ponds in recent episodes, bringing in fresh eyes and making him distant and impressive works well here too. And the deadly snow, even if the explanation was vague, was another good-looking image.
Clara – Dead And Deader
Providing those fresh eyes is Jenna-Louise Coleman, playing a variation on her smart, flirty, strong character from Asylum of the Daleks, and apparently they’re the same person, or something? Don’t really understand, but presumably we’re getting the 21st century incarnation of Clara as the ongoing companion. (Shame in some ways, the idea of a Victorian companion was interesting.)
Regardless, Coleman/Clara is hard to dislike, and I’m looking forward to more of her going forward. Her mystery could be interesting, could also be a confusing trainwreck, but it’s off to a good start. Oh, and more of the Vastra/Jenny/Strax gang wouldn’t be a problem either. Happily, I think I glimpsed them in the trailer after the credits.
I’m not pretending this was a perfect slice of televisual joy: a family’s tears beating the bad guy felt a lot like gibberish, but it seems Christmas is the one time we still have to let Who get away with love saving the day. At least it happens less than it used to.
In short: Matt Smith’s best Christmas special yet, possibly among the top few ever. Enough strong character stuff, cool scenes, funny jokes, good acting and intriguing future hints for me to just run with the slightly silly storyline. It’s Christmas, after all – now is the time to do ridiculous stories about magic snowmen.