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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

Doctor Who blogging: “The Snowmen”

Doctor Who Snowmen Jenna-Louise Coleman Matt Smith

(all spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode… or unless you don’t care if it’s spoiled for you. this is a love fest only — all complaints and bitching must come from a place of love / previous: “The Angels Take Manhattan”)

(get my downloadable discussion guide to “The Snowmen” for teachers, librarians, and everyone else who needs to keep kids amused, engaged, and educated at DoctorWhoTeachersGuides.co.uk)


It’s “The Angels Take Manhattan” all over. It’s “The Snowmen Take London.” Steven Moffat has once again taken a bunch of would-be cool ideas and wannabe iconic images and random science-fiction-ish notions and thrown them all together to make a kind of Doctor Who soup. This isn’t a story: it’s a wibbly-wobbly fuzzy-wuzzy ball of Doctor Who goo.

Lady lizard from the dawn of time is the “real” Sherlock Holmes! Would a Silurian say “Pray for a miracle”? Isn’t that not very not-human? But hey, she drinks a “refreshment” the color of red wine that is not red wine and probably not cherry Kool-Aid either, so we’re meant to infer that it’s blood. Vastra is scary! No, wait, she’s nice. No, wait, she’s not really any of these things. She’s not really a character at all. She’s merely a potentially interesting concept who is expected to stand on nothing more than that potential.

Carnivorous snow! Why would snow want to eat people? Even if the strange alien “snow” has memory and is telepathic, why would, say, Clara even think about carnivorous snow so that it can feed on her thoughts and manifest itself? How did that idea get into her head, and how did it happen to coincide precisely with the carnivorous snowmen she hadn’t seen (but we had)? Why does the presence of the alien snow represent a coming “last day of humanity on this planet”? What does that mean? This “Great Intelligence” “snow” makes the genocidal plans of the Daleks seem well-conceived, nuanced, carefully crafted, and elegantly executed.

By comparison, it’s barely worth mentioning such comparatively minor nonsense as Simeon walking around being generally creepy and no one finding that odd, and no one noticing that two dozen men have gone missing (having been eaten by carnivorous snow) and making the connection they were all working for Simeon on that day.

But this is what makes the least sense of all: The Doctor “doesn’t help anymore.” He “was different once, a long time ago” but “now he prefers isolation.” So why the hell isn’t he isolated? Why is he hanging around Victorian London? All this “not my problem” stuff is so woefully unconvincing, even if we try to consider it as a matter of the Doctor being in denial about what he does and doesn’t want. Because clearly — via Vastra and Jenny — the Doctor really has been “not helping.” But we aren’t really given any appreciation of what that means. Not in the slightest sense.

Doctor Who Snowmen

Instead, we are force-fed gobs of “magic.” There’s always been all manner of silly and/or fantastical stuff in Doctor Who, but the overall story has been generally rational, coherent, and relatively realistic on a basic narrative level. But stuff here simply makes no sense on any level. If the Doctor could hide the TARDIS up on an invisible cloud, why hasn’t he been doing that all along? (It doesn’t matter — Moffat just needed a hint of the fairy tale-esque.) How did Clara end up on the top of the Doctor’s moving carriage when she chased after him? (Don’t think about it — just enjoy the funniness of her popping her head in from upside-down.) Strax suggests “a full frontal assault with automated laser monkeys”… on what? on snow? (Never mind: he’s a psychotic potato!)

And there’s Vastra’s ridiculous “one-word test,” which is contrived solely to get Clara to say “pond.” Except there’s no reason at all why Clara would believe that word would mean anything special to the Doctor and hence draw him out of his “isolation.” And, indeed, we see that there’s no reason why the word pond, either in its context here or in the other context we’re aware of, would have the effect upon the Doctor that it inexplicably has. Because it’s not until after Clara’s “pond” has drawn him out and he goes — on no provocation whatsoever — to Simeon’s Great Intelligence Institute that he discovers Simeon’s interest in the pond in which the governess was frozen!

It makes my head spin just trying to figure out how any of this bears even the slightest resemblance to even the most loosely constructed attempt at a story.

This isn’t Doctor Who — it’s a pantomine of Doctor Who. (My brother Ken, whom I hope will comment here, suggested to me that what we see here is the fairy tale that grew up around less absurd “real” events.) It’s a cartoonish approximation of Doctor Who, not Doctor Who itself. This is not satisfying to me, as a fan who loves Doctor Who. I want real, proper Doctor Who, not some lashed-up approximation of it.

I dread Moffat’s 50th-anniversary story.

Random thoughts on “The Snowmen”:

• New credits:

Doctor Who Snowmen

Just because.

• Is this all the Doctor has been doing with all that time was he “wasn’t helping”?

Doctor Who Snowmen

Redecorating? And did he forget to replace the sensors and scanners?

Doctor Who Snowmen Matt Smith Jenna-Louise Coleman

Must he open the door and look out to see what’s happening outside now?

• Thinking about how the Snowmen manifest reminds me of Ray going bye-bye after accidentally choosing the form of Gozer the Gozerian. (The giant homicidal Stay Puft Marshmallow man was a helluva lot scarier and a helluva lot funnier, however.)

• The memory worm: it’s Torchwood’s retcon drug. So why not just use retcon? It’s already established in the universe, after all. Except… it’s not “funny.” It’s one thing to ignore established canon for a good story. But to ignore it for a few bad, obvious, juvenile jokes?

• Speaking of juvenile…

There’s a whole “girls are icky and strange” thing going on, as if Moffat thinks he’s writing only for eight-year-old (hetero) boys. Like with Strax’s “Sir, do not discuss my reproductive cycle in front of enemy girls!” (even though all of Strax’s other references to Clara involve him mistaking her for a boy). And this:

Doctor Who Snowmen Jenna-Louise Coleman Matt Smith

Really? He’s a thousand years old, he’s been everywhere and done everything, and kissing is strange and funny to him? What is Moffat thinking?

The director, however… Saul Metzstein is more like 13:

Doctor Who Snowmen Jenna-Louise Coleman

(Note that this is only the camera — and by extension, the viewer — leering. There is no other character present whose perspective this could be. On the other hand, when Clara checks out the Doctor as he’s climbing up the ladder to the TARDIS ahead of her, do we get an ogling zooming closeup of his ass, which would at least have some context? Of course not. Cuz that would be “icky,” I guess.)

• “Winter is coming,” Simeon says — twice. Is Moffat riffing on Game of Thrones? It’s all I could think of at those moments. And it’s impossible to imagine that Moffat is not aware of GoT’s most famous line, even if he’s never seen the show.

• So, Victorian not-really-a-governess Clara has the same birthday as Doctor Who:

Doctor Who Snowmen

Although she was born 97 years earlier. Should we read anything into this?

• I haven’t Googled it, but I have no doubt that someone has already written new lyrics for Les Misérables’ “Castle on a Cloud”: “There is a TARDIS on a cloud / I like to go there in my dreams…”

• Complete waste of the fine figure of a man that is Tom Ward.

Doctor Who Snowmen Tom Ward

He had nothing to do except stand around exuding stiff, cold Victorian fatherhood. Shame.

• I haven’t actually read any of the Darkover books so I don’t know if there’s anything to this.

Doctor Who Snowmen Darkover

Is there something going on in this episode that is Darkover-ish? Or is this a coincidence or a one-off joke?

• Thoughts on who Clara really is:

She has “an acute sense of time,” so perhaps a Time Lord? Romana? The Rani? Is she regenerating after her deaths? Can perhaps some Time Lords regenerate without changing appearance?

It’s all dreams within dreams! Oswin dreamed herself, in a way, as Soufflé Girl. Could the Doctor be dreaming Clara? (It was the Doctor’s line about the Great Intelligence and Simeon — “He dreamed you. How could you still exist?” — that prompted this.)

• Horrible quotes:

“Truth is singular. Lies are words, words, words.” –Madame Vastra (as if someone couldn’t lie in a single word)

“Sir, please do not noogey me during combat prep.” –Strax (ugh)

“You’re not clever or funny, and you’ve got tiny little legs.” –the Doctor (since when does the Doctor make fun of people?)

“The ultimate fusion of snow and humanity.” –the Doctor (whut?)

“It’s not rain. It’s crying.” –the Doctor (*groan*)

(next: “The Bells of Saint John”)



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