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TDP 290: The Snowmen - Christmas 2012

"The Snowmen" is the sixth episode and a Christmas special of the seventh series of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who. It was written by head writer Steven Moffat and was first broadcast on Christmas Day 2012 at 5.15pm on BBC1 in the UK. It stars Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor and Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara Oswald, his new companion.[2] The episode also features a redesigned TARDIS,[3] revised opening credit and theme music, and sees major changes to the Doctor's costume.[4]

The episode is set in the Victorian era and sees the Doctor brooding with the assistance of Silurian Madame Vastra, her wife Jenny Flint and Sontaran Strax, after the loss of companions Amy Pond and Rory Williams in the previous episode, "The Angels Take Manhattan." He is forced out of hiding to investigate mysterious, sentient snowmen that are building themselves and meets Clara, a governess also investigating the snowmen.

It guest stars Richard E. Grant and Ian McKellen as the villains.[5][6] McKellen provides the voice of the Great Intelligence, a disembodied alien previously featured in Doctor Who in the Second Doctor serials The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear. From the Great Intelligence's perspective, this episode occurs before those serials and several elements from "The Snowmen" reference and lead into them.

The episode received mostly positive reviews from critics, most of whom received the introduction and character of Clara well,[7][8] but some felt that Grant and McKellen were underused as villains.[9]




To promote the special, two prequels were released. The first was broadcast during the 2012 Children in Need telethon on 16 November 2012, titled "The Great Detective". A trailer for the special was also broadcast during this programme.[10] In the prequel, the Silurian Madame Vastra, her human wife[11] Jenny Flint, and the Sontaran Strax (all returning from "A Good Man Goes to War", with Strax's apparently revival after being killed off in the earlier episode explained in the special) describe a number of strange phenomena to a shadowed fourth detective. The fourth detective reveals himself to be the Doctor, and tells the group that he has retired.[12]

A second prequel, titled "Vastra Investigates", was released online on 17 December 2012.[13] At the end of a case, Vastra and Jenny converse with an officer from Scotland Yard, apologising for Strax's violent wishes for the culprit's punishment. Vastra explains Strax's alien origin as well as her own to the officer, much to his astonishment. She was awoken by an extension to the London Underground and initially disliked humans, though that changed when she fell in love with Jenny, which leaves the officer flabbergasted. On the carriage ride home, during a discussion about the Doctor's retirement, Jenny notices it is beginning to snow. Vastra voices that the snow is impossible due to the fact that there are no clouds in the sky.[13]


In 1840s England, a young boy builds a snowman but refuses to play with the other children. The snowman starts speaking to the boy, repeating his assertions that the other children are "silly". Fifty years later, the boy has grown up to be Dr Simeon, proprietor of "The Great Intelligence Institute". He hires men to collect samples of snow, which he places in a large snow-filled globe in his laboratory, before feeding the men to a group of animated snowmen. Meanwhile, the Doctor, still despondent after losing his former companions Amy Pond and Rory Williams, has parked his TARDIS above Victorian London among the clouds, descending to the surface via a long circular staircase, and instructed his allies - the Silurian Madame Vastra, her human wife Jenny, and the Sontaran Strax - to scout the city, through which he learns of Dr Simeon's interest in the snow.

Elsewhere, Clara, a barmaid, investigates a disturbance outside her tavern to find the Doctor walking by. She accuses him of building a snowman, but the Doctor realises that the snowman is made of snow with a memory. The Doctor attempts to leave discreetly, but Clara follows him to a coach. The Doctor, hesitant about gaining a new companion, instructs Strax to bring a "memory worm", with the intent to use the creature's touch to wipe away the last hour of Clara's memory, in particular her knowledge of him. As more snowmen form and try to harm them, the Doctor tells Clara that her thoughts are creating the snowmen, and to think of them melting; after she concentrates, the snowmen melt. Clara cautions the Doctor that if he wipes her memory, she will forget how to deal with the snowmen. The Doctor relents, letting her go, and returning to the TARDIS. Clara follows; she finds it locked and knocks, but hides and flees down the staircase when the Doctor answers.

Clara returns to her other job as governess for the children of Captain Latimer. She learns that Latimer's daughter has been having horrible dreams about the old governess, who had been frozen a year prior in Latimer's pond - returning from the dead and killing them all. Clara attempts to contact the Doctor but instead attracts the attention of Jenny, who takes her to see Vastra. Vastra tells Clara she gets only one word to impress the Doctor with if she wants his help; she chooses "pond", which arouses the Doctor's interest.

The Doctor visits Dr Simeon's laboratory, dressed as Sherlock Holmes, and finds that the giant snow-filled globe contains the Great Intelligence, the entity that has been speaking to Dr Simeon since childhood. The Doctor learns that the Great Intelligence has been controlling the snowmen and has taken interest in Latimer's pond, deducing that it contains the DNA to create a new snow creature. The Doctor visits the pond, where an ice creature in the form of the former governess rises out of the pond and enters the mansion. Vastra, Jenny and Strax arrive and trap the creature behind a barrier. Leaving Latimer and the children with his allies, the Doctor flees with Clara to the roof of the mansion followed by the ice creature. They ascend to the TARDIS and the Doctor gives Clara a key, explaining that he now considers her a companion, though he does not understand why. However, the ice creature grabs Clara and pulls her over the edge of the clouds.

The Doctor recovers Clara from the snowmen and returns to the mansion. He collects the ice fragments from the creature, ensuring they remain dormant but finding they contain ice-based DNA, the material that the Great Intelligence is looking for, and apparently places them in a souvenir London Underground biscuit tin. He travels to Dr Simeon's lab, where the Doctor reveals the Great Intelligence's plan to replace humanity with ice creatures, and holds up the tin, stating that it contains the ice DNA that is necessary for the plan. Dr Simeon grabs the tin, but opens it to find it contains the memory worm. It bites Simeon; the Doctor states that the Great Intelligence, which has been existing as a mirror of Dr Simeon's thoughts, will vanish with the erasure of Dr Simeon's memories. Instead, the Intelligence reveals that it existed long enough that it can now control Dr Simeon's body, which it uses to attack the Doctor.

However, the influence of the Great Intelligence quickly wanes, and Dr Simeon falls dead. Outside, a salt-water rain has started, and the Doctor realises that some other, more powerful psychic ability has taken control of the snow from the Great Intelligence. The Doctor deduces that it must be the Latimer family, crying for Clara. Strax informs the Doctor upon his return to the Latimer mansion that Clara only has moments left, and she passes away as the Doctor returns the TARDIS key to her. At her funeral, the Doctor reads Clara's full name, Clara Oswin Oswald, on her tombstone and realises she is the woman he met in "Asylum of the Daleks" who became a Dalek. He gleefully announces that a person dying twice is an impossibility he must investigate, says his goodbyes to his allies. In contemporary times, a young woman resembling Clara walks through the graveyard. Meanwhile, the Doctor dashes around the TARDIS console, echoing Clara's dying words: "watch me run!"


The Second Doctor previously encountered the Great Intelligence in the serials The Abominable Snowmen, set in the 1930s, and The Web of Fear, set in the 1960s. In these stories, the Great Intelligence uses robot Yeti as its physical presence. The events of The Web of Fear are alluded to by the Doctor in "The Snowmen" when he presents the London Underground biscuit tin to the Great Intelligence in Dr. Simeon's laboratory; the Intelligence states, "I do not understand these markings", in reference to the 1967 London Underground map design on the tin, an anachronism in 1892. The Doctor remarks that the Underground is a "key strategic weakness in metropolitan living", referring to (and possibly setting in motion) the future Yeti attack on London via the Underground.[14] In this respect, "The Snowmen" may be considered as a prequel to the Second Doctor Yeti serials, establishing an origin for the Intelligence and explaining its penchant for "Snowmen" and knowledge of the London Underground.

Vastra, Jenny and Strax first appeared in "A Good Man Goes to War". Vastra and Jenny were considered popular characters from the previous episode with some fans hoping for a spinoff series,[15] but while Moffat stated then he had no time to work on such a show, he would consider reusing the characters within Doctor Who.[16] Strax had died in that episode; the Doctor states that his death has been reversed ("He gave his life for a friend once. Another friend brought him back"), but the circumstances of how this occurred are not explained in full.

Clara is given a test by Vastra to ask the Doctor why he should help in one word. She chooses "pond", which is the surname of former companion Amy Pond.[4] In order to convey the emotional effect this word has on the Doctor, during the scene in which he hears it he is wearing the reading glasses Amy left him with at the close of "The Angels Take Manhattan".

Clara is played by the same actress, Coleman, as Oswin Oswald from "Asylum of the Daleks", though the connectivity of these characters is not established until the Doctor takes Clara into the TARDIS. There, the Doctor finds her to have an interest in soufflés, a trait that Oswin's character also had; the show uses scenes from "Asylum" to show the Doctor's recollection of this.[17] The final scenes at the graveyard establish that Clara shares the same name as Oswin, leading the Doctor to surmise they are the same person.

As seen on her gravestone, Clara's birthdate is 23 November, the date Doctor Who was first transmitted in 1963.[4]

Cultural references

Doctor Simeon posits that Doctor Doyle is basing his stories in The Strand Magazine on the exploits of Vastra, a reference to Arthur Conan Doyle's stories of Sherlock Holmes. The Doctor later uses the alias 'Sherlock Holmes' to gain entrance to Simeon's house, bearing the deerstalker and magnifying glass associated with the character. Doctor Who lead writer Steven Moffat, who wrote this episode, is also the co-creator of the BBC series Sherlock, a contemporary update of Doyle's works, for which Matt Smith auditioned for the part of Doctor Watson.[18] The Doctor Who novel All-Consuming Fire features the Seventh Doctor sharing an adventure with Holmes himself.[19]


Promotional poster for The Snowmen

Writing and design changes

Writer Steven Moffat stated that he wanted an "epic" quality to the Christmas special. He compared the withdrawn Doctor seen at the onset of the episode to the first appearances of the First Doctor (William Hartnell) in 1963 and the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) in 2005.[20] He also attributed the idea of a retired Doctor to a plot proposed by Douglas Adams in the 1970s, but rejected by the production team at the time.[21] As with the first half of series 7, "The Snowmen" was written like a movie. A movie poster was released in the Radio Times, showing the Doctor and Clara ascending the ladder to the TARDIS.[22]

According to producer Caroline Skinner, the concept of introducing the new companion as Oswin in "Asylum of the Daleks" occurred to Moffat during casting auditions for Clara.[23] The production team requested that the press and fans who attended advanced screenings keep Coleman's appearance a secret until "Asylum" was broadcast; the effort was ultimately successful.[24]

The episode saw several major design changes for the series. "The Snowmen" is the debut of a redesigned TARDIS interior,[25][26] as well as a new title sequence and variation of the theme tune (although the closing credits still use the previous version of the tune).[27] The new title sequence features a brief glimpse of the Eleventh Doctor's face, the first time since the end of the original series in 1989 that the Doctor's face has been seen in the title sequence. Moffat had noticed that the TARDIS' design was getting "progressively whimsical" and resembled more of a "magical place" rather than a machine.[1]

The Doctor also wears a new costume, tying in to the purple colour scheme, which Smith described as "a bit Artful Dodger meets the Doctor".[28] Moffat described the new outfit as a "progression" as the Doctor was in "a different phase of his life now" and felt more "grown-up" and fatherlike.[29] The costume was designed by Howard Burden for this episode.[4]


This episode marks the return of Jenna-Louise Coleman, who previously appeared in the series 7 opener, "Asylum of the Daleks".[30] Coleman was cast because of her chemistry with Matt Smith, and especially because she was able to talk faster than him.[31] She auditioned for the role of Clara, not Oswin from "Asylum", as the concept of the two characters being the same only occurred to Moffat whilst casting for Clara.[23] Smith said that Clara was different from her predecessor Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), which allowed the audience to see a different side of the Doctor.[20] Moffat felt that the introduction of a new companion made "the show feel different" and brought the story to "a new beginning" with a different person meeting the Doctor.[32] Also returning are Neve McIntosh as Madame Vastra, Dan Starkey as Strax and Catrin Stewart as Jenny. All three previously appeared in "A Good Man Goes to War" and reprised their roles both in this episode and in the prequels. They returned due to the popularity of Vastra and Jenny; Moffat considered a spin-off featuring them, though he did not have the time to do it. Instead, he decided to bring them back in the main series.[33]

Richard E. Grant had previously played the Doctor on two occasions, as an alternative Tenth Doctor in the spoof charity special Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death, which was written by Moffat and as an alternative Ninth Doctor in the animated story Scream of the Shalka which had been intended to be a continuation of the series before it was revived in 2005.[20] Smith commented that Grant was "born to be a Who villain. He pitches it on that perfect level and tone".[34] Grant's appearance in Doctor Who was teased by the BC via Twitter, announcing his appearance at midnight August 5 2012.[35][36] Tom Ward was drawn to his role because of the quality of the script, and also stated his young children were pleased that he appeared in the programme.[20] The Great Intelligence was voiced by Sir Ian McKellen.[37] The two children Clara is governess to, Digby and Francesca, were played by real-life brother and sister Joseph and Ellie Darcey-Alden.[4]

Filming and effects

"The Snowmen" was originally intended to be produced in the fourth production block of the series and be the first episode Coleman shot as her character;[38] however it did not begin filming until the week of 6 August 2012[39] after Coleman had worked on later episodes while Moffat was writing the Christmas special.[32] The read-through had taken place on 2 August 2012.[4] This was the first Christmas special to be filmed in BBC Wales' new Roath Lock studios.[4] Scenes featuring Coleman and several guest stars in a Victorian setting were filmed in Newport, Wales,[40] while Coleman and Smith were also spotted filming in Bristol two weeks later on 21 August.[41] Some scenes which used snow props were filmed in Portland Square, Bristol, where filming took place overnight on 21–22 August 2012.[42]

Director Saul Metzstein explained that it was difficult to achieve the desired look for the snowmen; the first ones he likened to Zippy from Rainbow which was too "cute" of an appearance, and so the effects team created more menacing CGI faces.[43] Clara's introduction to the TARDIS introduced two novel effects for the show. The first was a single-shot camera tracking from Clara's point of view, from a few feet away from the TARDIS to its interior, with the implication of the TARDIS's trans-dimenional nature shown to the audience. This was a shot that has been postulated throughout Doctor Who's production history, as documented in the Doctor Who: Thirty Years in the TARDIS special, but only first to be realized in The Snowmen.[44] In the following shot, the camera does a complete circle of the TARDIS console, an effect not seen since the early days of the show. Metzstein wanted to include this shot to further emphasize the "bigger on the inside than the outside" nature of the time machine.[43]

Broadcast and reception

"The Snowmen" aired on BBC One on 25 December 2012 at 5:15 p.m.,[45] the same day on BBC America in the US[46] and Space in Canada[47] and the next day on ABC1 in Australia.[48] UK overnight ratings showed that the special had been watched by 7.6 million viewers, coming in sixth for the night.[49] Final consolidated figures (not including BBC iPlayer viewers) showed that the episode was watched by 9.87 million viewers, coming in fourth for the night.[50] It also received an Appreciation Index figure of 87, higher than most of the Doctor Who Christmas specials.[51] The iPlayer version had 1,467,220 views,[52] making it the most popular TV show on iPlayer over Christmas.[52] The US airing was seen by 1.43 million viewers, with a 0.6 rating in the demographic of adults aged 18–49.[53]

Critical reception

The episode received mostly positive reviews. Dan Martin of The Guardian called it "actually the best since 'The Christmas Invasion'" and the first to be "actually scary", with "everything we like" about Doctor Who and Christmas. He praised Coleman's introduction as Clara and the gang of Vastra, Jenny, and Strax.[7] IGN's Matt Risley gave "The Snowman" a score of 9.4 out of 10, describing it as "a rollicking, riveting masterclass in storytelling" which "refreshingly" lacked traditional Christmas references "in favour of some sparkling dialogue, gorgeous set design and fascinating characterisation". While he felt that Grant and McKellan were underused, he was very positive towards Coleman's "unpredictable" Clara.[8] Radio Times reviewer Patrick Mulkern was pleased with the return of the Great Intelligence despite an inconsistency in the timeline he found, and praised the "lovely images" and direction of the special, though he felt the variation of the theme music "lacks the menace" of the original. While he was positive towards Clara, he was "unmoved by her death" as it was "plainly silly" that she did not look injured.[54]

Nick Setchfield of SFX gave the special four and a half out of five stars, writing that the "the power of emotion saves the day again" was appropriate in light of the festivities and many fairytales referenced in the story. Setchfield was positive towards the "terrific" comedy with Strax, Coleman and the "surprisingly underused" Grant, as well as the new title sequence and TARDIS. While he wrote that the subtle callback of the Great Intelligence was "a tad more interesting than the usual 'So, we meet again!' schtick", he ultimately felt their threat "never quite comes into sharp relief".[9] Neela Debnath of The Independent wrote that "The Snowmen" was stronger than the previous year's "The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe" as it was connected to the overall story of the series, but "still has a way to go if it is to live up to 'A Christmas Carol'". Despite feeling that it was "enjoyable", she noted that "the story feels truncated and rushed"[7]

The Mirror's Jon Cooper also praised Coleman and the new side of the Doctor that was shown, comparing it to Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) challenging the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston). However, he felt the character-heavy story was to the detriment of the plot, which was "a classic Who set-up that ultimately suffers from a lack of explanation [and] more set-pieces than a coherent whole". He felt that the episode may not have been accessible for casual viewers, but offered much for fans in time for the programme's fiftieth anniversary.[55] Dominic Cavendish of The Daily Telegraph gave "The Snowmen" three out of five stars, disappointed that it was not as scary as it had been hyped to be. While he was positive towards Smith and the TARDIS on the cloud, he criticised Strax and the "Sudoku-like complexity" of the script.[56]


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Direct download: TDP_290_Snowmen_Christmas_2012.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 8:33am UTC