Will anyone ever be able to match the pluck, the humor, the passion, or the sheer adorableness of the Ponds? How do we go on without Amy and Rory? These are the questions looming over this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special, “The Snowmen,” questions that are, of course, at play for fans of the three-way best friendship initiated two years ago during the fifth series but even more so for the Doctor himself.
Moping around Victorian England, Amy’s Raggedy Doctor (Matt Smith) is looking more raggedy than ever and decidedly uncool–no fez, no Stetson, no bow tie! He’s gone all scroogey, still reeling from his final adventure with Amy and Rory, and has stopped doing his intergalactic, cross-temporal hero deal. He’s a recluse, his TARDIS parked ever so romantically on a cloud.
The Doctor feels responsible for Amy and Rory’s fate and no longer travels, not wanting to risk the lives of his friends (this is the sort of guilt that this incarnation of the Doctor has repeatedly struggled with over the past two years). But the universe is conspiring against him, making it impossible to continue this moping by delivering a new foe named Dr. Simeon (Richard E. Grant)–a sour, withdrawn man controlled by a disembodied baddie (voiced by Ian McKellen) that plans to wipe out the human race and repopulate the world with ice people–and more significantly, a spunky, flirtatious young woman who, bit by bit, reawakens the Doctor’s spirit.
That woman is Clara, played by Jenna-Louise Coleman, and she will be the Doctor’s new companion. Though, that relationship isn’t solidified in this special. We are simply introduced to her (or a version of her…but more on that later) in “The Snowmen.” She’s a barmaid and a governess and from the moment she makes her first appearance–she’s the one who notices that the snow is acting strangely and mentions it to the maudlin Doctor–this becomes the Clara show.
“What’s wrong with silly?” the Doctor asks during the pair’s meet-cute. “Nothing,” Clara says. “I’m still talking to you, ain’t I?” And with that simple exchange, it’s already clear that she has the kind of gumption needed to keep up with the crazy spaceman. She proves even more qualified for the companion gig when she, unbeknownst to the Doctor, hitches a ride on the roof of his carriage, pops her head down below (like the cutest little Victorian chipmunk lady you’ve ever seen) after overhearing him discuss his identity, and asks the question: Doctor who?
This special kicks off the second half of the seventh series with the intended goal here being to allow viewers and the Doctor to begin to fall in love with Clara. On this front, the episode is an unmitigated success. Clara’s oddball factor is dialed up almost as much as the Doctor’s, so obviously their relationship will be very different from the ones that this or any other incarnation of the Time Lord has shared with his previous companions on the new Doctor Who, which began in 2005. The continued reinvention of that dynamic is a key part of what makes these cast shake-ups exciting and not immediately worrisome. Added to that, Coleman is perfectly suited for this role. The actress has the comedic timing to pull off showrunner Steven Moffat’s witty, rapid-fire dialogue and is able to convey so many emotions with the wide-eyed smirky expression that occasionally creeps up on her face–she’s confused, amazed, and cheeky all at the same time.
The chemistry between Coleman’s Clara and Smith’s Eleventh Doctor is irrepressible (though Smith is so unbelievably likable in this role that the character just might have this kind of chemistry with everyone), and when faced with this unflappable companion prospect, the Doctor is incapable of fighting his true heroic nature. He helps Clara combat her young charges’ former governess–the body of the children’s old governess had been entombed in a frozen pond and reanimated as the sort of evil ice creature that Dr. Simeon has been trying to create.
When victory seems certain, the Doctor introduces Clara to the TARDIS. “It’s smaller on the outside,” Clara says and being the first person to describe the ship this way (rather than the usual quotable), the idea of her traveling with the Doctor starts to seem even more enticing. What quirky perspective will she have on her journeys through space and time?
The calm is cut short, though, when the ice governess climbs up to the cloud where the TARDIS is stationed and pulls Clara down to Earth, killing her. She’s temporarily brought back to life by Strax (the Sontaran nurse from “A Good Man Goes to War” has been chilling with the Doctor, Silurian Madame Vastra, and Vastra’s human wife Jenny in Victorian England). Clara is alive just long enough to defeat the snow that threatens to engulf the world by crying (the disembodied villain of this piece is the Great Intelligence, an enemy of the second Doctor’s that seems to have its origins in this story, and it latches on to Clara’s thoughts, then melts away all the snow with salty, tear rain). After this, she imparts one final message to the Doctor. “Run, you clever boy,” she says. “And remember.”
As any Whovian would instantly recall, this is the same line that Oswin Oswald, the soufflé girl (also played by Coleman) from an earlier series seven episode, “Asylum of the Daleks,” says to the Doctor just before she dies. The Doctor visits Clara’s grave and sees her full name: Clara Oswin Oswald. They’re the same person! Or at least different incarnations of the same person, something that the Doctor didn’t immediately realize because he never saw Oswin’s face in the earlier episode as she had been turned into a Dalek by the time he met her.
The Doctor, Amy, and Rory had the most believable and infectious best friend vibe and, as I said, at the beginning of the episode the big questions looming over everything are about the Ponds. But by the end of it we’re left with a slew of new questions. What is Clara/ Oswin’s deal? She’s recurring throughout time, so is she part Time Lord?
This Christmas special is a lot of things. It’s funny (at one point the Doctor says to stocky, brown, neckless Strax, “I’m the clever one and you’re the potato one”); it’s a great ominous sci-fi fairy tale; it’s kind of sappy (get outta here with that whole “tears on Christmas have the power to defeat bad guys” stuff). But mainly, with this special and its ending (in which the Doctor is preparing to track down Clara/Oswin to uncover the who, what, where, and when of her) Moffat has effectively shifted the story’s focus toward the future and set the stage for a potentially thrilling and definitely mystery-filled conclusion to series seven.
What did you think of the special and the new companion? Do you think there will be as many versions of Clara during her tenure as there were of Rory during his? What will River Song think about Clara kissing the Doctor?