The Doctor Who Christmas special has become one of fans’ favorite holiday treats and this year’s installment didn’t disappoint. The Christmas episodes are generally a bit lighter and sillier in tone, I suppose to keep in line with the jolly spirit of the season, but they’re never short on entertainment value or quote-worthy dialogue. There was a bit more to look forward to this year with the well-publicized (re)introduction of the Doctor’s new companion, Clara Oswald.
Below you will find my rather long-winded recap of the episode with a few thoughts of my own tossed in here and there. If you’re really patient you’ll find even more of my unsolicited opinions about the episode after the recap followed by a plethora of really fun quotes from the episode. Was it just me or did this episode have more than its fair share of quote-worthy lines?
This year’s frosty fun-fest centers around sentient snow and the sour, sinister Doctor Simeon who, even as a boy, never wanted much to do with people. Inside his laboratory, or whatever that large room is supposed to be, is a giant, talking snow globe that sounds just like Gandalf, which isn’t surprising since the Snow was voiced by Sir Ian McKellen. Menacing looking snowmen are spontaneously popping up outdoors seemingly at random and Simeon is taking samples from them which he then feeds to Gandalf the Globe.
Doctor Simeon makes a visit to a man, Captain Lattimer, whose children’s governess died in a small pond on their property. The pond froze over after the governess fell in and has remained frozen ever since. Simeon tells the man that while he may own the pond, what is growing inside of it belongs to his group, the Great Intelligence Institute. It should be pointed out that the Great Intelligence has appeared previously in the classic Who episodes The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear, so technically this is a classic baddie and not a new foe.
Some old friends from A Good Man Goes to War are back in this installment. We have Vastra, Jenny and Strax playing detective on the streets of Victorian London and it’s strongly implied that the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson are based on the exploits of Vastra and Jenny. They need the Doctor’s help with this one, but he’s been in a somber mood ever since he lost Amy and Rory. He’s decided to quit getting involved in the affairs of the universe and even has the TARDIS parked above a cloud, accessible only by a cloaked ladder and spiral stairway.
After meeting the Doctor and being intrigued, Clara manages to catch up to his cab and climb in. There’s a funny scene later when the Doctor and Strax are looking at this unusual snow while Clara is locked in the cab. The plan is to use a “memory worm” to make Clara forget about the Doctor. One touch, he says, and you’ll lose the last hour of your memory while a bite would make you lose decades. He sends Strax to get the worm, but the stubby clone forgets to put on his gloves and promptly loses his memory upon touching it bare-handed. This ends up happening again after Clara is let out of the cab, but she doesn’t leave because she knows what’s going to happen next. Yep, Strax touches the worm with his bare hands again.
Clara & the Doctor get caught between two groups of Snowmen. The Doctor realizes they’re appearing because Clara’s thinking about them, so he tells her to imagine them melting. His plan works and the snowmen are reduced to puddles. He then tells Strax to bring Clara back to where they found her, but she slips out of the cab and follows the Doctor to the hidden ladder leading to his TARDIS in the clouds. She goes all the way up and knocks on the door, but is afraid to enter and before the Doctor can find her she runs back down the stairway.
The next morning we learn that barmaid Clara is, in fact, the new governess for Captain Lattimer’s children, apparently hired after the last governess died in the frozen pond. The daughter, Francesca, tells Clara she’s having nightmares about the old governess who was always mean to them and Clara notices the pond is still frozen even though everything else has thawed. She goes to find the Doctor’s hidden ladder once again, this time in daylight, but is stopped by Jenny who takes her to Madame Vastra who questions her only allowing Clara to answer with a single word each time. Clara answers each question with perfectly chosen words and when Vastra gives her a final test, requiring that she explain why the Doctor should help, but again using only a single word, she answers with a word that has more meaning than she realizes. She says, “Pond.”
The Doctor is on the case! Dressed as Sherlock Holmes he visits Simeon in his lab and begins to deduce that the Snow/Great Intelligence needs to evolve from snow so it/they don’t melt when it warms. He finds an article in Simeon’s journal about the governess frozen in Lattimer’s pond and surmises the Snow is using the body as a template to evolve into something more. Inside the house, Clara begins to tell the children a story about the Doctor, expecting him to walk in since she’d seen him outside and motioned for him to enter, but instead they’re chased by an icy version of the old governess. In true form, the Doctor shows up and shatters the icy menace with his sonic screwdriver, but she begins to re-form so they all take part in the age-old Doctor Who tradition of running.
Jenny immobilizes the ice governess with a force field grenade while the snowmen are popping up all around the house. The Doctor says the ice governess is a perfect duplication of human DNA in ice crystal form and if the Snow gets to her it will learn how to make itself into living ice that never melts. Clara follows the Doctor as he leaves the room and then proceeds to give him a very serious kiss. Could this be the start of a companion romance for the Doctor?
The Doctor and Clara cross through the force field and race upstairs to lure the ice woman away from Simeon and the snowmen. They climb out a window onto the roof where the Doctor has moved his hidden TARDIS. The two go up the stairs, luring the ice woman along where the Doctor momentarily traps her in the super dense water vapor he uses to support the TARDIS. Clara finally gets to see the inside of the Doctor’s blue box and we get to see the new interior design, which is pretty impressive.
So a Victorian woman gets her first glimpse of a ship that can travel anywhere in time and space and what’s one of the first things she asks? “Is there a kitchen?” The Doctor is surprised by her question and she tells him she likes making soufflés. It’s at this very moment that he begins to suspect that Clara is “soufflé girl” from Asylum of the Daleks and he gives her a key to the TARDIS telling her, “This is the day everything begins!” Right about then the ice woman grabs Clara from behind and drags her outside where they both fall off the cloud, shattering the icy menace and killing Clara.
The Doctor materializes the TARDIS around Clara and the ice fragments. He tells Vastra the ice can’t reform while in the TARDIS. Meanwhile, Strax revives Clara using some piece of alien technology, but it’s only a temporary measure. With all the family gathered around her, the Doctor tells Clara he knows she’s going to live then he heads to the front door to confront Simeon and his snowmen telling them he has a piece of the ice woman in a small metal box he’s holding in his hand. He says, “Meet you at the office!” then flies the TARDIS back to Simeon’s lab where Gandalf the Globe resides.
Back at the lab, the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to strip the globe of its fake voice uncovering the voice of Simeon as a child. The snow is parasitic and has been feeding off Simeon’s fears his entire life. He gives Simeon the box, but when he opens it there’s no ice crystals inside, but instead the memory worm which bites him erasing the memories of his entire adult life. The Doctor says without the ice woman and Simeon’s memories the Snow will have no form or voice, but it turns out after all those years the Snow no longer needs Simeon. In fact, now that the memory worm has emptied Simeon’s mind the Snow is able to take over his body and attack the Doctor, trying to freeze him to death.
Back in the house, Clara is near death and she begins to shed a tear. Her emotions, along with the family’s, are so strong that it has a profound effect on the Snow, causing it all to melt into salty tears and saving the Doctor in the process. The Doctor says, “The only force on Earth that could drown the Snow; the whole family crying on Christmas Eve.” The Doctor goes to Clara’s side as she’s dying and tells her he’s not going back to his cloud. Her dying words to him are, “Run. Run you clever boy. And remember.” These are the same words “soufflé girl” spoke to him.
At her grave, the Doctor finally learns Clara’s full name; Clara Oswin Oswald. Even though he never saw her face the first time he recognizes her voice and realizes that Clara and Oswin are the same person. He runs to the TARDIS to find Clara while we see Clara’s gravestone in what is presumably the present day and standing next to it is none other than Clara herself. The Christmas adventure ends with the Doctor at his consoles saying, “Clara Oswin Oswald…watch me run.”
Let me start with probably the one thing I didn’t like about this episode; the new title sequence. Visually the new sequence is a seizure-inducing barrage of flashing, swirling and sparkling lights with an overuse of ancillary sound effects. I found it distracting and greatly overdone. However, in contrast I think the updated theme song is a real improvement from last season’s which seemed to be growing overly dramatic. This new version is reminiscent of the original, especially with the return of some familiar synthesizer sounds, but modern enough to not feel dated. It’s a nice tip of the hat to its origins.
Clara’s different, but in a smart and funny way. I hated losing Rory and Amy, but they’ve done a wonderful job with the new companion. The added mystery of just who or what she is that she can be the same person in different places and times, but somehow die and yet still be alive is intriguing to say the least. I really hope this isn’t going to be a season long mystery, but if it is I can live with that. I’m just curious and impatient.
The tavern sign at the beginning of the episode says “The Rose & Crown” with the word “Rose” centered and well-lit while the rest of the sign was a bit darker. Was this a coincidence or a nod to the first companion of the new series? If it was a bit of a wink, I’m curious if there was a reason or if it was just for fun.
The Snowmen may look like a new menace, but in actuality the Great Intelligence has previously been featured in two classic Doctor Who episodes, “The Abominable Snowmen” and “The Web of Fear.” So we really had an episode centered around an old enemy, just with a new twist added.
When the Doctor shows up at Simeon’s dressed as Sherlock Holmes, the music that plays is a bit of a shout-out to Moffat’s other series, “Sherlock.” These guys love having fun with the audience and I’m completely okay with that.
At the end of the episode we see Clara’s birthdate shown on her gravestone is November 23. While not the same year, that’s the original airdate of the very first episode of Doctor Who in 1963.
Clara makes no secret of the fact that she finds the Doctor attractive, even kissing him passionately in the midst of all the snowy chaos. It seems clear the feeling is mutual. This could be the start of a very different Doctor/companion relationship and I’m all for it. After all, the one constant on Doctor Who (besides the blue box) is change, so I’m ready to embrace any changes thrown at us this time around. In fact, I welcome them. After all, it’s one of the reasons the show has remained so popular for half a century.
Quotable Quotes (And there are plenty!):
Simeon: I said I’d feed you. I didn’t say who to.
Vastra: It’s the same story every time and it always begins with the same two words.
The Doctor: She’ll never be able to find me again, she doesn’t even have the name “Doctor.” What two words?
Clara: Doctor? Doctor who?
Simeon: I doubt the readers of The Strand magazine would accept that “The Great Detective” is in reality a woman and her suspiciously intimate companion.
Vastra: I resent your implication of impropriety! We are married.
Jenny: More than can be said for you, eh dear?
The Doctor: When you find something brand new in the world, something you’ve never seen before, what’s the next thing you look for?
Strax: A grenade!
The Doctor: Thank you, Strax. And if I’m ever in the need of advice from a psychotic potato dwarf you’ll certainly be the first to know.
Strax: Sir, do not discuss my reproductive cycle in front of enemy girls. It’s embarrassing.
The Doctor: Typical middle child of six million.
Vastra: There are two refreshments in your world the color of red wine. This is not red wine.
The Doctor: Talking snow. I love new things.
The Snow: You are not of this world.
The Doctor: Takes one to snow one.
The Doctor: Shut up, I’m making deductions. It’s very exciting.
The Doctor: What are you doing here?
Strax: Madame Vastra wondered if you were needing any grenades.
The Doctor: Grenades?
Strax: She might’ve said help.
The Doctor: Don’t be clever, Strax, it doesn’t suit you.
Strax: Sorry, sir.
The Doctor: I’m the clever one. You’re the potato one.
Vastra: Good evening. I’m a lizard woman from the dawn of time and this is my wife.
Strax: Sir, please do not noogie me during combat prep.
The Doctor: That was stupid.
Clara: You were stupid, too.
The Doctor: I’m allowed. I’m good at stupid.
The Doctor: No, I do the hand-grabbing. That’s my job. It’s always me!
The Doctor: You’re going to have to take those clothes off.
The Doctor: I didn’t mean…
Clara: I know.
The Doctor: I just…
Clara: I understand. I do.
The Doctor: Good.
Clara: After you, I’m wearin’ a dress. Eyes front, soldier.
The Doctor: My eyes are always front.
Clara: Mine aren’t.
The Doctor: Stop it!
Clara: How did we get so high so quick?
The Doctor: Clever staircase; taller on the inside.
The Doctor: It’s called the TARDIS. It can travel anywhere in time and space…and it’s mine.
Clara: But it’s. Look at it.
The Doctor: Go on, say it. Most people do.
Clara: It’s smaller on the outside.
The Doctor: Okay. That is a first.
Simeon (Possessed by the Snow): Do you feel it? Winter is coming. Winter is coming!