Wednesday, 26 December 2012


Retired in Victorian England, a disenchanted Doctor (Matt Smith) reluctantly teams up with his friend Silurian detective Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), her human partner Jenny (Catrin Stewart), and her Sontaran manservant Strax (Dan Starkey), against the snowy agenda of the sinister Doctor Simeon (Richard E. Grant). He considers having a companion again when he meets Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman), a young woman who already investigates on her own.

In september the first half of series 7 drowned Doctor Who under its marketing "blockbuster" concept, the blatant winks to the American market, and the Pond family soap opera. After that the announcement about an "iconic" star in the 2012 special, the title sequence and theme makeovers, the new TARDIS interior, etc, etc, could only be received with a shrug of despair. « Sir, permission to express my opposition to your current apathy? »  Though sometimes Christmas miracles really happen.

« Carnivorous snow meets Victorian values. »

Of course this special, like often with contemporary BBC drama entries, visually looks like someone didn't pay the EDF bill. Of course you have to buy the idea of a lesbian reptile detective in the Victorian era (« Good evening, I'm a lizard woman from the dawn of time. And this is my wife.» ) And to forget that certain scenes with Madame Vastra and Jenny, returning like Sontaran Strax from the calamitous A Good Man goes to War, almost shout "spinoff backdoor pilot" with a megaphone. Past that and given what preceded last autumn, The Snowmen, written by showrunner Steven Moffat himself and directed by Saul Metzstein, is surprisingly enjoyable and even fun.

You don't even need to swoon over Moffat's Sherlockian credentials or heavy nods to Conan Doyle and Holmes to taste the atmosphere of a story where Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman shine as the true Victorian sleuth duo of the episode. The way Smith can bring maturity to his portrayal of the Doctor and capture attitudes of his predecessors remains fascinating. Also it was clear that Coleman was an excellent choice for the new companion right from her role in Julian Fellowes's Titanic. And although it seems no evil race in the galaxy will be spared by the Grand Moff's sense of trivialisation, the comic relief provided by the "psychotic potato dwarf" Strax offers some of the best moments of The Snowmen.

« I said I'd feed you. I didn't say who to. »

Richard E. Grant's third visit to the Whoniverse (after The Curse of Fatal Death and Scream of the Shalka) could sound like stunt casting. But Doctor Simeon, the titular villain, concludes perfectly a month where the actor also showed all his talent alongside the great Peter Mullan in the superb The Fear. Simeon displays his cold wickedness while being himself instrumented since his childhood (young Simeon is very Damien Thorn) by a disembodied entity the Doctor previously met. This adversary is voiced by the legendary Sir Ian McKellen in a performance as brilliant as the vocal stint of Michael Sheen in The Doctor's Wife. Tom Ward (Silent Witness) guest stars as the father of two kids in a situation where The Turn of the Screw meets Sci-Fi Channel's The Invisible Man (the Ice Governess has a "quicksilver" bad trip).

« Nice name, Clara. You should definitely keep it. » Too bad Jenna-Louise Coleman's character augurs another of Steven Moffat's contrived storylines for the second half of the seventh series. Anyway this year's Christmas special is rather pleasant, the new title sequence with the revamped theme (reminiscent of the original 1963 version) is fantastic and the new TARDIS interior design is gorgeous. « How refreshing to see you taking an interest again.  » Christmas was good, now there's a birthday to celebrate.

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