Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"The Snowmen"

Stick your finger in there. You know you want to.
Snowflakes with gnashing teeth. Oh dear. I'm honestly not sure if I can get through the rest of Series 7; sometimes I feel like I'm about to crack, and only the thought of watching certain episodes again that I didn't absolutely despise upon first viewing (and one which I definitely did) is keeping me going. It's Christmas, and with the slow but unalterable inevitability of the changing of the seasons we're back in Victorian Britain. Let me repeat that: Victorian Britain AGAIN. It's time for a count. Doctor Who (1963-89, godspeed) visited Victorian Britain on the following occasions: "The Evil of the Daleks", "The Talons of Weng-Chiang", "The Mark of the Rani" and "Ghost Light". Four times in twenty-six seasons. How many times has New Who visited Victorian Britain? "The Unquiet Dead", "Tooth and Claw", "The Next Doctor" and now "The Snowmen". I'll ignore early twentieth century "Human Nature" and "The Family of Blood" in exchange for similarly ignoring "Horror of Fang Rock". In terms of sheer story count, that's just under 2.6% of Classic Series stories taking place in Victorian Britain but just under 5% of New Who stories set in this period. If we go by time, however, Doctor Who had a story set in Victorian Britain every 6.5 years, while New Who recycles the setting every 2 years. Now New Who has more stories per year, but that should just encourage them to be more imaginative, not less. If we adjust our calculations to account for the fact that of all the Classic Series stories, two are considered good ("Evil" and "Talons") one is generally disliked ("Rani") and one is hated ("Light"), however unjustly, compared to New Who, where all four stories are basically arse, with the possible exception to a minute degree of "The Unquiet Dead", where does that leave us? It leaves us watching a repetitive Steven Moffat New Who Christmas special. Why does this show have Christmas specials again? At what point was Doctor Who ever an early Nineties sitcom? But audiences lap this crap up, and Moff, like his forebear RTD, know that the sheep need to get their cud.
"Well some of us can't afford to just do a voice role..."
So there's some little kid making a snowman while all the other little kids have fun. "He never talks to anyone," his mother complains. "He's so alone. It's not right." Christ on a bike! It's one of the first lines in the damn episode and Moff's already telling rather than showing! Turns out the snowman can talk, voiced by Ian McKellen no less, whose distinctive tones and massive thespian and Hollywood cred have been employed so he can say things like "Silly," in a childish voice. What was Moffat thinking? So the little kid grows up into Richard E. Grant of "Scream of the Shalka" fame, the man who would be the voice of the Ninth Doctor if RTD hadn't brought the show back. Ian McKellen's voice is now inside a glass bauble, getting to talk about its diabolical plans for world domination and so on. Forget mystery, let's see the baddie now! REG (Richard E. Grant) hushes up the workmen who've been building... something for him by getting some evil snowmen to eat them... somehow. Snowmen can eat people, apparently; I imagine Moff figures out his scripts by doing a Google image search for 'Christmas' and seeing what comes up.
"And a ham and cheese sandwich, please luv."
Look everyone, it's Jenna-Louise Coleman of "Asylum of the Daleks" fame! But now she's a sassy barmaid who notices Snowmen and grumpy Time Lords. The Doctor's in his worst costume ever, looking like Scrooge's humbuggeryer stepbrother and going into full on 'Tennant in the 2008 Christmas Special' mode by insinuating he no longer does the whole 'Doctor Who' thing with companions and the like. So that's pretty stale. It's very stale, in fact. Tavern Wench Clara (whose name I assume we've been told by this point) just ditches her tavern wench duties and follows the Doctor, who has a phone in his Victorian carriage somehow to talk to the Doctor, popping her head through the carriage's sunroof (?) to ask "Doctor who?" Spare me. The whole problem with New Who is its desperate desire to nosedive into absurdity - not the absurdity of 'reverse the polarity of the neutron flow' but the absurdity of 'stupid things happen for no reason'. Cue intro!
Imagine outrageous synth.
Look, it's the Smith's face in the stars. You can take this two ways: on one hand, it's a completely ordinary revival of the tradition dating back to the Troughton era of having the Doctor's face in the intro. On the other hand it specifically references the Doctor's face manifesting in the stars in all of the Eighties intro sequences. If you take it in the spirit of the former there's really no problem. If you take it in the spirit of the latter and you hate Eighties Who (I don't; I just find a fair bit of it rather disappointing) then it'll seem a cheesy throwback. I often feel like saying things won't reference Eighties Who because it's considered the black sheep of the Who decades but Moff's favourite era is Davison as far as I'm aware (it doesn't show) and he's Eighties, although not as Eighties as Colin or McCoy, so I wouldn't put it past him.
"I said good day, sir!"
Cue stately home. Richard E. Grant, or rather his character Dr. Simeon, wants something "growing" in the ice of a frozen pond. Is all this observation of the enemy's machinations really necessary? He gets accosted on the way home: look everyone, it's cross-species lesbian master-servant crime fighting duo Vastra the New-Silurian and Jenny! Dr. Simeon suggested that Sherlock Holmes is based on Vastra even though in 'real life' the "great detective is a woman". Oh my god, sexual politics! Sometimes I think that at Christmas instead of making a special Moff should just come over to my house and brain me with a mallet. Dr. Simeon makes some insinuations which Vastra denies because she and Jenny are "married". Somehow I doubt that two women, one of them not human, would be able to be officially married in the eyes of the law in Victorian Britain. One of the themes of this story, however, is rubbishing oppressive Victorian values so I suppose it fits. Apparently London is being covered by Richard E. Grant's telepathic snow. "Winter is coming," he tells the ladies. Really? Don't get me wrong, A Game of Thrones and everything associated with it can rot in hell for all I care, but did Moff seriously think that was a good dialogue choice? With all the villainous subtlety of Snidely Whiplash REG informs them that his plan can't be stopped, Moff trotting out the most banal, cliché-ridden dialogue he can come up with.
"If ya fight me, guv'na, I'll sue ya for discrimination!"
Anyway, the Doctor's snooping around Richard E. Grant's house. Look, it's Strax the Sontaran! How did he come back to life? Well there were three, yes, three 'minisode' prequels to this story which don't really explain anything, one of which features some horrifically hammy Mark Gatiss narration and two of which mostly exist so that Moff can pointlessly insinuate what we've known since series six: that Vastra and Jenny are a same sex couple. Wow. Go you Moff, promoting gay rights. What a champion. I didn't watch any of them on first viewing, but forced myself to sit through them to fully understand this rewatch (as if it should be necessary). Short review: they sucked arse. Moving on, Moff's fallback position in this episode is to make Strax suggest the unnecessary application of violence, although it goes beyond ridiculous in this episode, one of his weapons being, apparently, "laser monkeys". Really. Laser monkeys. It gets tired very, very quickly. On the other hand Strax informs the Doctor that he is opposed to his current apathy, which is fair enough because in this episode the Doctor spends a lot of time having a mope about how it's "not our problem" and "the universe doesn't care" like he's some teenager who just got rejected as a prom date by the alpha bitch at his American adolescent drama high school. He also calls Strax a "psychotic potato dwarf." What is he, a bloody racist? It's meant to emphasise, hopefully, what a bad place the Doctor is in emotionally, but it makes him look like an absolute twat, which isn't fun or interesting, although Smith playing a much more subdued character is actually something of a relief.
"No Strax, you have to sit at the back of the bus.
And don't even think about trying to use our bathrooms!"
Strax and the Doctor try to erase Clara's memory which involves a lot of arseing about with a 'memory worm' that will wipe an hour of her recollections. This sequence goes on, and on, and on with Strax losing his memory several times. Compare it, even, to the first episode of 2012's Series X of Red Dwarf where Rimmer orders Kryten to wipe his own memory. Cue Kryten shaking a bit, looking around with surprise and walking off. Boom, end of joke, done. Also, Red Dwarf is a sitcom. Doctor Who is not. It's my conviction that the show would be much more palatable if all the characters weren't cracking jokes every five seconds. The evil snowmen reappear and can only be dissolved if Clara imagines them melting, which is kind of like a reverse Stay Puft effect which is pretty much never used again. They only appear if thought about, and seem to stand around doing nothing, possibly New Who's worst ever baddies. Clara convinces the Doctor not to wipe her memory and he follows her back to the TARDIS after an overly-long scene of her jumping up and down and basically doing everything we saw the Doctor do thirty seconds previously involving grabbing an invisible ladder. There's an absolutely atrocious special effect where the ladder just disappears into the blackness about ten feet in the air where it's obviously just been edited in from being held behind a black sheet or something. The ladder leads to a spiral staircase for some reason (not sure why it couldn't have just been a ladder) and we get a reasonably effective shot of Clara climbing over London, but it's needlessly slow. Up the top the TARDIS is sitting on a cloud. Why is it on a cloud, besides pure spectacle? Couldn't the Doctor park it in Vastra's cellar or something? Clara knocks on the door and then 'hilariously' walks around the TARDIS without the Doctor noticing, before running off again. The Doctor gives her dropped shawl a good old sniff because he's a bit pervy that way. What was the point of that? What a waste of time.
"Remember, one word."

We get some god awful mock poetry from the bad guys about the "drowned woman and the dreaming child" before Moff fulfils his 'woman taking her clothes off' quota as Clara gets changed in a cab, although to be fair it's mostly just implied. It turns out that she mostly spends her time as a governess at the stately home REG visited earlier. Why was she moonlighting as a barmaid? It's never explained. She has a brief interview with Captain Latimer the horny old widower before meeting the generic laughing children, Latimer staring out the window at them like a massive creepasaurus. One of the children is called "Digby". Captain Latimer's a dick. So the daughter, Francesca, has been having nightmares about the previous governess, who fell in the pond REG was interested in and it froze over her. How long was she in there for? How did no one notice? How did she drown in this tiny pond? Clara suspects shenanigans are afoot so off she goes to visit Vastra, who has another atrocious 'telling over showing' moment about drinking blood, and demands one word answers to her questions, coming off as a pointlessly difficult bitch. This Vastra-Jenny thing would be a lot more ballsy if Vastra looked like a Classic Silurian as was originally intended back during Series 5's design phase. Jenny could give that a right tonguing.
It's insulting even to elementary students, my dear Moffat.
Clara has a long winded gasbag with Vastra which is totally pointless because we know the Doctor's gone into isolation after losing Amy: it's obvious. Yet it's spelt out for us again. "He prefers isolation to the possibility of pain's return." Clara's one-word response to this is "Man." Good old self-hating Moff. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that he gives his todger Chinese burns when he's all alone. The word to get the Doctor into action is "Pond." Good grief, is this going to go all 'Rose references in New Who Series 3' on us? Well fortunately, no it doesn't, but it's still unnecessary. Meanwhile at REG's laboratory Ian McKellen's given some more top-notch dialogue: "Danger. Danger. There is danger here." It sounds like a joke; to reference Red Dwarf again, it reminds me of Holly's "There's an emergency going on." The danger is the Doctor bursting in dressed like a generic Sherlock Holmes while Murray Gold titillates the fangirls' ovaries with a little trill which is almost the theme to Moff and Gatiss' Sherlock. In other hands I might find this amusing, but the fact that Moff is already the writer of a massively successful (overrated) Holmes adaptation just makes him look like a tosser. It turns out that Ian McKellen is 'the Intelligence', the Great Intelligence no less, villain of two Troughton-era serials: "The Abominable Snowmen" and "The Web of Fear". Both of these are lost, conveniently enough for Moff, making it harder for anyone to go back and see if this Great Intelligence is anything like his Classic Series origin. I suspect not. As an aside, I can't help but think REG would make a good Holmes. In fact I can't believe he's never done it.
The Doctor's abseiling advice.
So the Doctor deduces that the Intelligence is a "crystalline organism" which looks like snow but isn't, and is seeking to upgrade the Snowmen by finding "a perfect duplicate of human DNA in ice form." What? 'DNA in ice form'? What is this, Marvel Comics? 'Ice form'. That's really what Moff's gonna go with. The source for this will be the old governess who conveniently drowned in the lake. I don't mind the way the Doctor figures out where to go by seeking the most opened page in REG's notes, but this whole sequence is a little grating. Matt Smith got turned down for the role of Watson in Sherlock because he was, apparently, more of a Holmes. Not here, he isn't, although I realise that's the point. In "Weng-Chiang" it was enough for Old Tom to slap on a deerstalker in reference to the Great Detective. Now we literally have to have the bell boy announcing him as "Sherlock Holmes" and REG spelling out that Holmes is a fictional character from the Strand magazine. It's just unsubtle time wasting nonsense. So off the Doctor goes to the frozen pond where Strax trolls him about dressing up as Holmes, although I don't quite get the joke. The Doctor calls Strax the "potato one" because he's a racist bastard and claims it wasn't due to Clara that he got involved because he doesn't do that just because "some bird smiles at me." Smashing dialogue for the Doctor, there. The best bit in this sequence is when the Smith attempts to wave away Clara, observing from the window, and accidentally signals that he'll be up in five minutes, giving him a bit of actually physical comedy to do rather than constantly waving his arms around. We also get some more of Strax's jokes about killing people in elaborate ways, but enough is really enough.
"Let me finish..."
Upstairs Clara tells the kiddiewinks a bedtime story about the Doctor, which is basically Moff's New Who in a nutshell. Somehow the drowned governess has been turned into or replaced with or used as the basis for an ice woman who bursts in ranting at the kids, who all piss themselves and piss bolt into the other room where the Doctor kills it with his magic wand with the green light on the end. I think the bit where he kisses the Punch puppet is kind of amusing, to be honest, although I feel guilty about it. Richard E. Grant has set up some kind of bullshit snow projector device just outside the walls of the estate for some reason, the Doctor admires his bowtie like it's a superhero cape representing his return to form, and an unnecessary cavalcade of backup characters arrive: Vastra, Jenny and Strax. "I'm a lizard woman from the dawn of time and this is my wife," announces Vastra to the maid. What was the point of that line? The maid freaks out at all the weirdness because we must have as much comedy as possible and now the Doctor's got all his plums here to stand around doing nothing so that the Beeb can sell more action figures. The Doctor reveals that the ice governess is the "ultimate fusion of snow and humanity." That clears that up, then. Clara kisses the Doctor for absolutely no reason because the leading lady has to kiss the main man now. It's funny to think that concepts like the Doctor kissing his companion and characters being killed and then resurrected in really contrived ways have their origins in the TV Movie, which is something that your average, cliché Who fan conformist is expected to hate, along with Adric, the Sixth Doctor's coat, Mel and the like. The hypocrisy of the New Series is odd sometimes.
Batteries not included.
So the Doctor and Clara pop onto the roof, the ice lady dissolving through the window behind them so that no one has to animate her climbing the windowsill, and they head up to the TARDIS, which has a new console, kind of evocative of the old days but far too dark and gloomy for my tastes, kind of like the lighting of the McGann console room with none of the warmth and charm. "It's smaller on the outisde!" remarks Clara, spunky as can be. Doh hoh hoh, another glass of sherry, Moff? "The Curse of Fatal Death" should definitely be canon, I agree. Anyway, Clara's shattered all of the Doctor's defences with her charming personality and button nose and he's already giving her a TARDIS key; he moves fast these days. If I'm going to be perfectly honest the whole process of Clara getting the Doctor out of his shell is handled reasonably well, but I don't see what makes her any different - especially once she gets hauled out of the TARDIS to her death by the ice lady. The plot of this episode has been completely flushed to oblivion by this stage. What happened to Simeon and the Great Intelligence's dastardly plan? We've seen some Snowmen around the house, but that's about it; all the rest of the episode has just been pointless stuffing around.
They did the mash!
Clara gets temporarily resurrected so that the Doctor can get his character motivation to thwart Richard E. Grant, who wants the bits of the ice lady, which the Doctor recovered from Clara's irreconcilable corpse. How was making more ice people going to help take over the world? I guess they were going to be soldiers. Can't you shoot them? No one ever seems to really try. This recap's getting more and more rushed but actually these parts of the episode are torturously drawn out and I'm glossing over the numerous long, overwritten 'please experience an emotion now' sequences of dialogue. The Doctor and Vastra take the TARDIS to REG's lab, the Doctor waves the ice bits around in a London Underground lunchbox which apparently sets up "The Web of Fear", although I believe other parts of the Great Intelligence's backstory in this are completely contradicted in "The Abominable Snowmen", and he strips away the Intelligence's voice to reveal it's just little kid Richard E. Grant because it reflects all of his negativity. It's a parasite, "Carnivorous snow meets Victorian values," sneers the Doctor, judging from his massive high horse. What a tool. So the Great Intelligence grew from the personality of kid Richard E. Grant, who opens the lunch box to get the ice bits. Fooled ya, it was the memory worm! His mind is erased, the Doctor hoping the loss of input will kill the Intelligence, but it's independent now and takes control, turning Richard E. Grant into Winter Zombie Richard E. Grant™ now with magical cold freezing Matt Smith's face powers somehow. 'Somehow' is basically the explanation for most of this episode.
Hurr durr.
Back at the house Clara starts to croak again, and Captain Latimer and his kids have a big cry. The Great Intelligence turns to tears and it starts raining salty eyeball liquid. The large concentration of alien snow at the Latimer household has fed back to the Intelligence; apparently the only thing that could kill the snow is "a whole family crying at Christmas Eve." For god's sake, Moff. This must be a new low for him in cheap, cop-out resolutions. Why is it fine for Ian McKellen to be a bunch of snowflakes in a jar but not tears in a jar? Well apparently it's no good because he's out of action while the Doctor pops off back to Latimer HQ where Clara finally kicks the bucket for good. It's a death scene for a new recurring companion, because we all known Jenna-Louise Coleman is playing Clara in Series 7 Part 2, and it reeks of Amy and Rory's innumerable fake-out deaths. We know the character is coming back, more or less, so it has about as much impact as the tone and style of the Classic Series ever had on New Who. Apparently Victorian Clara was originally meant to be the companion, and it was only when it actually came to writing "Abysmal of the Daleks" that Moff seized upon the idea of multiple Claras. Personally I think if that was the case he should have killed off a different alternate Clara, because snuffing this one just makes it look like he lacked the balls to have a companion who wasn't from the magical kingdom of Earth in the Present Day.
'Here lies David Tennant's career.'
Bells ring. "It's Christmas... Christmas Day." Thanks, Jenny. I hadn't figured that out yet. They bury Clara, who is Clara Oswin Oswald like the character we've seen before, the Doctor vows to go find another of her to discern the truth and we're done. We get to see both past Clara and future Clara say "Run you clever boy, and remember." We just saw Victorian Clara say that. I think if you enjoy this it basically means you enjoy Moffat treating you like an idiot. So what was that all about? We get some almost barely decent character stuff for the Doctor, loads of unnecessary supporting cast, two completely wasted performances for the villains and a plot which disappears up its own arse and refuses to come down again about halfway through. It feels like sixty minutes of, basically, nothing. I can't even justify it as good Christmas viewing, because it's not. Maybe it's moving if you're easily manipulated, but apart from getting the Doctor out of his rut I honestly don't see the point of it. Maybe if it actually had a story, it'd be good, but it doesn't, and the only reason the absolutely pathetic resolution cop-out isn't completely infuriating is because the narrative dissolves about halfway through anyway into nothingness. It's like the plastic frog toy inside the cheap discount crackers while the rich kids down the street have fancy department store crackers with copies of "The Time Meddler" and "Tomb of the Cybermen" inside. This is not good storytelling. It's not good television. If Christmas is an already ambiguous tradition which has been totally bastardised by corporate interest, nothing embodies it better than a New Who Christmas Special. You can take someone's bare arse and dress it up in a Father Christmas hat and beard, but at the end of the day it's still going to fart in your face.

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