The time has arrived, dear Whovians, where we once again go on another Christmas adventure with the Doctor. We’re back in 1842 Victorian England (9 years before his prior incarnation saved the era from the CyberKing in ‘The Next Doctor’) and there is another old alien adversary that seems to want to take over the Earth (naturally). However, the Doctor seems reluctant, rather stubborn, about getting involved after losing Amy and Rory. It takes the pluckiness of a soon to be new companion to get him out of this melancholy but is it enough to truly convert him back to his old self?
The episode starts off with a boy who is a bit of a loner as he makes a snowman that seemingly begins to talk back at him in the voice of Gandalf. The snowman (voiced wonderfully by Gandalf himself, Sir Ian McKellen) tells the little boy he can help him. Fifty years later, the boy becomes Dr. Walter Simeon who runs the Great Intelligence Institute (GI for short) and has cared for this “voice” that is now inside a sphere. As he spoons snow into the orb, they talk about how their plan to end humanity is coming along. The “voice” is really the Great Intelligence that the Doctor in his 2nd incarnation fought against all those many years ago.
Over at The Rose & Crown Tavern, bar maid Clara heads out into the back alley and suddenly notices a snowman that wasn’t there a moment ago. She asks the man that passes by if he made it but he tells her no. When he turns around, we see it’s the Doctor. Rather surly, he heads to the snowman to examine it and suggests to Clara that the snow may have remembered how to make itself into a snowman. She tells him that’s silly. He asks her what is wrong with silly and she immediately responded, “Nothing. I’m still talking to you, aren’t?” And so establishes the great repartee that will be seen throughout the episode between the two. Something about her rather audacious spirit hits a button with the Doctor, but he refuses to be drawn in.
As he walks away, she follows him. Obviously curiosity has gotten the better of her and she decides to catch up to the carriage that the Doctor is riding in. Inside, the Doctor is talking to Vastra over a “phone” saying that Clara doesn’t even know he is the Doctor. Clara overhears part of the conversation and emerging upside down and in his face from the “sun roof” of the carriage asks “Doctor who?”
(At this point, the new title sequence of the series was unveiled. What did you all think of it?… back to the recap!)
Meanwhile, Simeon is walking back to the institute after leaving Captain Latimer’s home and letting him know under uncertain terms that whatever is growing in his pond underneath the frozen water belongs to the ‘GI.’ Apparently the Captain’s former nanny had fell in and it froze over leaving her dead body in the ice. He meets up with Madame Vastra and her wife, Jenny. (Don’t judge!) Simeon is already on Vastra’s radar but he doesn’t care. A nice exchange occurs where Simeon informs them that Arthur Conan Doyle has been using the duo’s exploits as the basis for his novels – with a few alterations. Mainly Doyle excludes the fact that Sherlock Holmes is a lizard, he and Watson are both women and are married!
Vastra knows that Simeon is involved somehow with the low level telepathic snow that is falling – snow that can seemingly respond to the thoughts and memories of people around it. She issues a veiled warning to Simeon but he tells her that the last winter of humankind is coming and there is nothing she can do to stop it. (Some children never learn to get along with others, do they?)
In another part of town, the Doctor and Strax are investigating the GI and the snow. The Doctor realizes that the snow is alien but refuses to get involved any further despite Strax’s opposition to his apathy. While Strax tries to change the Doctor’s mind, Clara, locked inside of the carriage, is trying to get out. All her yelling about has exasperated the Doctor so he goes to her and threatens her with a memory worm that will erase the last hour of a person’s memory just by touching it.
What follows is a very humorous interaction among the three with Strax trying to obtain the memory worm, the Doctor encouraging his efforts and Clara sticking around watching it all happen. Frankly, it was such a great sequence that no recap can do it justice!
In the end, the Doctor and Clara begin to form a friendship. After all, isn’t that what normally happens when snowmen with jagged teeth emerge around you because you just happen to think of them? The Doctor tells Clara how to get rid of the snowmen (since the snow has linked to her telepathically, all she has to do is think of the snowmen melting) but when she informs him that if it happens again she won’t remember what to do (since he still had that pesky memory worm in his possession), he decides to let her go and asks Strax to take her back to where they found her.
Oh, but that doesn’t stop the rather rare and inquisitive Clara. She manages to get out of the carriage without Strax knowing and trails the Doctor. She sees him grab a ladder seemingly out of nowhere and decides to follow. It leads her into the air toward a spiral staircase leading to a cloud that is housing the TARDIS. Clearly this is too much to take in and Clara runs back down to Earth.
The next morning Clara heads to her other job: as governess to Captain Latimer’s children. With her Cockney accent gone and a change of clothing, Clara transforms into Miss Montague, the proper English nanny.
The children (as well as the Captain) are happy to see her return and Francesca has informed Miss Montague of her nightmares of the previous nanny coming out of the frozen pond and coming angrily towards them to punish her. Digby shows “Clara” the still frozen pond and tells her that he thinks his sister needs is a doctor.
This gives Clara an idea. She returns to where she found the TARDIS ladder and unable to reach it, begins calling for the Doctor. Jenny happens to be there and takes her to see Madame Vastra where she plays the one word truth game with the governess to find out why she needs him so badly. She asks Clara to give one word that would make the Doctor decide to help her. In what could only be called as a brilliant bit of writing, she chooses the one word that would be the Doctor’s call to action: “pond.”
Down at the GI, the “voice” tells Simeon that he senses a great intelligence “beyond anything else in this time and place” in their mist. Soon after, Sherlock Holmes is announced to have come to see Simeon. But instead of seeing Vastra we see the Doctor dressed up as the detective himself! (This was a great nod to Steven Moffat’s other series ‘Sherlock’ as well as paying homage to Tom Baker’s Doctor when he donned the outfit back in 1977 in the story ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang). The Doctor manages to find out the plans of the “voice” (it needs human DNA to evolve into a being that won’t melt) and deduces that the dead governess in the pond is key to their plans! (The process was quite elementary, don’t you agree Watson?)
The Doctor heads to Captain Latimer’s home with Strax (who manages to get in some zingers where the Doctor is concerned) and examines the frozen pond. Clara sees him from an upstairs window and invites him in. While he tells himself he doesn’t want to go, his hand gives the thumbs up sign but as heads inside, the ice in the pond begins to crack.
While waiting for the Doctor to come in, Clara tucks the children in bed assuring Francesca that she won’t have any nightmares as there is a man called the Doctor who lives in the clouds that keeps children from having bad dreams. Unfortunately, he’s not there to help them as the Ice Governess comes through the bedroom door towards them. She traps them in the play room but before she can do any harm to Clara and the children, Punch (the puppet) appears and causes her to explode via a sonic screwdriver (okay, it was actually the Doctor).
Meanwhile Simeon has arrived to the Latimer house and has turned on the snow machine which causes the governess to reform. Unfortunately the sonic screwdriver doesn’t on her anymore (finicky thing, eh?) so everyone rushes downstairs where they run into Latimer.
He demands to know what is happening and who this man with Clara is. The Doctor tells him he’s Clara’s gentleman friend and they’ve just been upstairs snogging. Strax, Vastra and Jenny come into the home to help just as the Ice Governess shows up at the top of the stairs. Jenny throws a containment device around the former nanny. Strax tells the Doctor that the snowmen are in a defensive formation so there must be something they want. What they want is the Ice Governess as she’s the perfect embodiment of human DNA in ice form – she’s the perfect blueprint for the snow to evolve.
With Simeons’s and the “voice’s” plan all figured out, the Doctor lures the Ice Governess away from the house and away from Simeon’s snowmen. He and Clara head up to the roof where Clara grabs the invisible ladder with the umbrella the Doctor just happened to have grabbed and with a bit of back and forth flirting, head up to the TARDIS with the Ice Governess following closely behind.
He leads Clara into the TARDIS and reveals a newly decorated interior (which looked pretty cool, don’t you think?). To prove that Clara is not your ordinary companion, instead of the usual phrase that the previous companions have used to describe the TARDIS, Clara exclaims, “It’s smaller on the outside.” Again proving that she is something special, the Doctor gives the key to the TARDIS as a symbol of him giving in.
But the celebration doesn’t last long as the Ice Governess has reached the top and has grabbed Clara dragging her outside. The Doctor tries to make her stop but can only watch as the Ice Governess falls off the cloud edge with Clara falling alongside. Clara obviously doesn’t survive the fall.
But she’s not fully dead, at least not by Sontaran standards as Strax has a device that can momentarily bring her back but not for long. Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor is once again filled with guilt over her fall. He heads outside and hands Clara the TARDIS key once again. She asks if he’ll save the world. He counters that if he does, will she go away with him? Clara agrees and the Doctor is filled with a new found mission.
The Doctor is back! He straightens his bow tie and confronts Simeon with a piece of the Ice Governess and tells him to meet him in his GI office. The Doctor uses his screwdriver to strip Gandalf, I mean the snow voice, of its voice and disconnects Simeon’s link to the parasite. Simeon grabs the box that “contains” the ice shard but instead finds the memory worm (remember the memory worm from before?) which bites Simeon removing all his memory.
You would think this would be a nice tidy ending to the episode but the snow has evolved and now has power of its own. It begins to increase the snowfall and controls Simeon to attack the Doctor. As Simeon freezes the Doctor, things look bleak.
Ah, but Moffat has written this episode and it’s Christmas so expect a Christmas miracle. And it comes in the form of a teardrop. The tear that Clara has before she is about to die is mirrored in the snow and has transformed the falling snow into salt water rain – teardrops. It drowns everything associated with the snow and kills Simeon.
The Doctor heads back to the Latimer manor where Strax tells him that Clara only has moments to live. He tells her they saved the world together and he will no longer go back into isolation. With her last dying breath, she tells the Doctor to “run. Run, you clever boy… and remember.”
At her funeral, the Doctor looks at Clara’s headstone and sees Clara’s full name: Clara Oswin Oswald. The same girl who was trapped with the Daleks! He begins to remember, and although he never saw Oswin from ‘Asylum of the Daleks,’ he recognizes her voice. He becomes excited as he realizes the two are the same and have died twice! Something impossible is happening and he’s determined to find her once again.
In the future, a young girl and her friend are walking though the same graveyard where she stops by Clara’s headstone. The friend tells her the place is creepy but the girl turns around and says she doesn’t believe in ghosts. It’s Clara!
Back to the Doctor, he heads into the TARIDS and begins the journey to find her. He breaks the fourth wall and declares, “Watch me run!”
And so ends this season’s Christmas episode. There is so much to say about it! First, this is by far one of my favorite episodes. One of the things I found lacking in the previous two Christmas specials is that Moffat would write stories involving Christmas while during Russell T. Davies reign, the Christmas episodes were Doctor Who adventures that just happened during the season of Christmas. It was nice to see the return to the latter.
There is a lot of chemistry between Coleman and Smith and the back and forth banter is smart, quick and enjoyable. Not sure how I feel about the snogging considering the Doctor is a married man. Unless he and River have decided on an open relationship?
The Great Intelligence has been announced as the big bad that will hover over the rest of the season’s episodes. Those familiar with the classic episodes will recall that the 2nd Doctor had fought this foe once before in the London underground of 1967 (hence the importance of the box as the Great Intelligence at the time thought the London underground was a “key strategic weakness”). In a sense, the Doctor may have inadvertently caused his own adventure by giving the box with the map to Simeon.
There were many nods to the classic episodes and new revelations: the opening title sequence, the new TARDIS and the new companion! Lots to take in!
Although there were many new things, it was nice to see that the Doctor has remained true to his bow tie – after all, “bow ties are cool.”
Has the Doctor fully returned to his old self? What about Clara? Who is she really? My speculation is that she is a sentient being (not human) that may take on many forms but we see her in the form of Clara much like Sam Beckett in the series ‘Quantum Leap.’ What are your theories?
We have 4 months to speculate until the series returns so until then, speculate away and tell me your theories and thoughts about this episode!
And make sure you return to ScienceFiction.com once the series returns from hiatus as we’ll have the recaps and reviews for you to read after each one airs!