“The Snowmen” is a vitally important, tentpole episode in Doctor Who’s seventh season, where the show changes gears and sets a different course for the latter half of Series 7. Companion departures happening without warning halfway through a season was a pretty common occurrence back in the classic series (where series regulars would depart the show at any given time), but they’re highly unusual in Doctor Who’s modern incarnation, where such a large change in the status quo is usually reserved for the season finales (the question of how the Doctor’s friends will leave the show is usually a nice way to boost ratings: for instance, Russell T. Davies milked the question of whether or not Rose would die in “Doomsday” for all that it was worth).
As a result of Amy and Rory checking out halfway through Series 7, Jenna Coleman had a much smaller number of episodes than usual to serve as her introduction in Series 7B, and I’m still not sure if that did her any favors when it came to winning people over to her character. A large factor in why she was cast as Clara Oswald in 2012 was because she was a fast talker – she could easily go toe to toe with Matt Smith and keep up him with during his rambling sessions – which is ironic, since Clara would actually spend most of her tenure as a companion with the Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi, which brought a completely different dynamic to Clara and the Doctor’s relationship. “The Snowmen” has a very important job on its hands as a transitional episode for the show: it needs to deal with the Doctor’s grief in the wake of “The Angels Take Manhattan” and put him on the path to healing, set up the main arc villain for the season by (re)introducing the Great Intelligence, and give the audience their first real taste of what Clara Oswald will bring to the show, with a little trickery from Steven Moffat.
By “The Snowmen”, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) has gone into seclusion and declared himself retired. It’s clearly been quite some time since “The Angels Take Manhattan”, and the Doctor is still slowly working his way through the seven stages of grief: at the moment, he’s still deeply depressed. He’s decided to settle down in the Victorian era with Vastra, Jenny and Strax – which is a significant choice, considering how much the Doctor usually hates to plant his roots in one time and one place. He’s really not in the spirit for saving the world anymore, and he’s grown disillusioned with the universe as a whole – wondering if anything he does really makes a difference. But he still sticks close by, in case anything major arises that his friends can’t handle on their own.
Eleven has adopted a pessimistic and miserly outlook on the world, where he’s rejected his inner child that he’s known for, and he wants to be left to his own devices nearly all the time. While he still looks as young as ever on the outside, when it comes to his personality, he’s letting his true age as a thousand year old time lord show a lot more these days. It’s ironic: one can only imagine what Kazran Sardick would think of him now. As the episode progresses, due to Clara’s snooping in alien affairs, getting herself involved in the Doctor’s business, the Doctor is steadily pulled out of his depressed funk and gets engaged with a good mystery – whether he particularly likes it or not – which allows him to rediscover how much he enjoys saving the world, and how much he enjoys the company of friends once more. Throughout the hour, the Doctor steadily progresses to a place where, even though Amy and Rory will always hold a special spot in his hearts, he’s ready to move on.
The script for “The Snowmen” is filled with Sherlock Holmes references, which is clearly Steven Moffat being coy, since he was the headwriter for “Sherlock” at the time and a lot of people wanted a crossover between those two shows to happen somehow: there’s even an entirely gratuitous scene where the Doctor dresses up as him to impersonate him. As they’re working together on their case, trying to stop killer snowmen, the Doctor decides to show Clara the ropes and see if she’s really companion material (like he has done with some of his other sidekicks), and while he’s doing so, he becomes just a bit smitten with her. The Doctor and River are married, but they’re not a monogamous couple – both of them tend to see other people on the side – and as such, the Doctor and Clara are given plenty of shiptease moments that will persist for the next two and a half seasons of the show.
Eventually, tragedy strikes and Clara is left fatally wounded, due to our heroes being incredibly careless (why the hell would you leave the doors to the TARDIS open, when you know there’s a monster at your heels?), which becomes a final test of the Doctor’s resolve. He makes a bargain with the universe: he can find the strength and the will to carry on, like he’s always done, if Clara survives. If the universe has any kindness in it whatsoever, Clara’s story won’t end here and she’ll get the chance that she deserves to see the universe – and she does. The Doctor can’t explain it, and neither can the audience at the moment, but he’s seemingly given another chance, since Clara is a woman who reincarnates herself over and over again throughout time. At the story’s end, the Doctor races off to find her again, somewhere in time, because he’s got a brand new mystery to solve and a promise that he needs to keep to a friend.
In “The Snowmen”, we’re introduced to Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), a Victorian barmaid who moonlights as a governess during her day job in the posh side of London. Clara is a people person: her charm is one of her greatest weapons, and she can easily win people over with words if you let her. Clara is very nosy: she quickly takes an interest in the Doctor and the alien conspiracy he’s investigating, despite his repeated attempts to shoo her away. Unlike Amy, who always seemed really awkward around kids who weren’t her own, Clara is great with them. Instead of talking down to them, like a lot of adults do, Clara tries to relate to them and make them feel comfortable enough to share the things that are troubling them (an approach that the Doctor often takes).
Clara is plucky, determined, resourceful and stubborn. She likes to put on the appearance of being prim and proper and unflappable – someone who’s on top of everything, just the way she likes it – but she gets flustered very easily when things slip out of her control, and she’s quick to lose her temper. Clara gets the chance to prove she has a good head on her shoulders when she’s put through the ‘one word test’ by Madam Vastra – a test that’s designed to scrutinize her deductive reasoning skills under pressure – to gain our heroes’ trust. The scene where the Doctor finally accepts her as part of his inner circle is really poignant in hindsight, in light of the Impossible Girl arc that’s explained in “The Name Of The Doctor“. Like all of Clara’s echoes, Victorian Clara is instinctively drawn to the Doctor and driven to help him out. Now that she’s finally done so, she’s the one who came the closest to joining him and seeing his world, like the original Clara who created her, before their timelines intersect for real. She even starts to tear up inside the TARDIS, as it seems like memories from a different life she lived start to awaken in her.
Everything that happens in this episode makes it seem like Clara is all set to board the TARDIS as the Doctor’s newest companion – she’s even given her own TARDIS key as a rite of passage – but it all turns out to be a elaborate fakeout. Clara’s life and her adventure with the Doctor is seemingly cut short when she dies saving the world from the Great Intelligence – though she still manages to help the Doctor one last time, as she’s on her deathbed, as well. Throughout “The Snowmen”, the audience gets to be one step ahead for the Doctor for a change, when it comes to noticing something strange is afoot. Clara looks an awful lot like Oswin from “Asylum Of The Daleks“, something that no one ever comments on, since most of the characters in this episode weren’t present for that adventure, and the Doctor never actually saw Soufflé Girl’s face, he only heard her voice.
It’s entirely possible that it could just be a coincidence – Doctor Who has reused actors before, who initially landed minor parts before they went on to be recast as the Doctor’s friends, like Freema Agyeeman and Karen Gillan. It’s not until the last few scenes of the episode that “The Snowmen” confirms this isn’t the case. As “The Snowmen” wraps up on a pretty bittersweet note, it finally clicks for the Doctor that Oswin and Clara are somehow the same person who lived and died in two different time periods. Something supernatural is at play here, something involving reincarnation: a concept that the Doctor normally wouldn’t believe in, but Eleven loves to discover brand new things, and in this instance, he couldn’t be more thrilled to be proven wrong about what is or isn’t possible. There’s a third incarnation of Clara living in the present day – who unbeknownst to the Doctor is the real, original Clara, the first in the line of her reincarnations – who will be receiving a visit from him soon, because she and the Doctor have some unfinished business.
In “The Snowmen”, the supporting cast is primarily populated by Madam Vastra, a shrewd Silurian warrior who’s recently decided to put her intellect to good use as a detective, her human partner (in more ways than one) Jenny, who can walk freely among humans as an undercover agent, and their Sontaran medic / footman, Strax. Strax is a thick-witted, violent-minded individual, and very impulsive, but he’s still useful to have around, because like all Sontarans, he’s very good with battle strategy. Vastra, Jenna and Strax are certainly an odd group, and like with River Song, it’s implied that they get up some really weird stuff offscreen all the time, catching dangerous criminals that the local police can’t handle – but it is cool to see some Doctor Who species that are usually cast as villains receive some positive representation.
Vastra, Jenny and Strax were previously introduced as one-off characters in “A Good Man Goes To War“: Steven Moffat decided to bring them back as recurring characters for Series 7B, the Doctor’s main support group now that the Ponds are gone, which proved to be a good decision. They’re all certainly charming in their own unique ways, and since they’re given a larger amount of time in the spotlight, Mr. Moffat has an ample opportunity to humanize them some more as well. The dilemma they’re faced with in this episode is surprisingly relatable, if you’ve ever had a friend who’s suffered a great loss, or is currently in a bad mental state. They’re torn between their desire to help the Doctor and their obligation to give him all the time and space that he needs. They’re concerned about him, but they’re also concerned about what the world will do without him in the meantime, so they decide to give the Doctor and Clara little nudges to step up and come out of their respective shells, without overstepping any boundaries.
In “The Snowmen”, a psychic alien parasite resembling snow falls to Earth, and it makes first contact with a lonely, bitter orphan boy that it proceeds to use as a pawn for the next fifty years, giving us a human antagonist and an alien antagonist working together for this special. Dr. Walter Simeon grew up shunning human contact, with only a disembodied voice in his head to keep him company, as he spent decades working towards their mutual goal of world conquest. As a result, he became an extremely maladjusted adult – an icy, spiteful man with a sociopathic lack of regard for human life. The alien snow mirrors thoughts and it wants to create an army of carnivorous snowmen – creatures that will never melt that can wipe out humanity. Doctor Who manages to pull in some surprisingly large star talent for the relatively minor roles of Dr. Simeon and the Great Intelligence – Richard E. Grant, who previously played the Doctor in the show’s expanded universe, and Ian McKellan from the “X-Men” series and the “Lord of the Rings” series.
The way the Doctor eventually deals with the Great Intelligence is surprisingly dark, and another example of how the Eleventh Doctor can be ruthless as hell. The Doctor tricks Dr. Simeon into mindwiping himself to the point where he erases his entire life from his head, leaving him a hollowed-out empty shell of a human being, in an attempt to destroy the Intelligence he’s connected to – this is very much the ‘No Second Chances’ Doctor that we often saw with Nine and Ten in the RTD era. The Great Intelligence eventually decides to use Dr. Simeon as a host, to take on a life of its own, and when that fails, it escapes into the world again without a body, swearing vengeance on the Doctor. So the main threat for Series 7B will be the Great Intelligence working behind the scenes, setting up its revenge on the Doctor and Clara.
Saul Metzstein, who previously helmed “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” and “A Town Called Mercy” steps up to direct “The Snowmen”, and he brings the same quality of work to this Christmas special. When it comes to the set design, and all the impressive work that was done by the show’s costume department, the main aesthetic of this episode is once again a Victorian Christmas, albeit one of a grimmer variety than “A Christmas Carol“. The Doctor has been given a new look and a new wardrobe, inspired by Victorian era fashions, that’s meant to signify how his personality has become a bit darker after losing Amy and Rory. Likewise, the set for the TARDIS’s console room changes as well: it’s a bit colder and more metallic compared to the previous one, that was always warm and golden and teeming with life.
Murray Gold’s score features a few new milestones for the series as well. After it was previously hinted at in “Asylum Of The Daleks”, “The Snowmen” is the first episode to give Clara’s theme a full showcase. It’s performed by a choir in “Clara In The TARDIS“, a beautiful, wintery track that’s primarily led by a piano and backed by several fluttering woodwind instruments. “Clara in the TARDIS” is gentle, inquisitive and adventurous, and it really brings this episode’s score to life during the scene where Clara follows the Doctor into the clouds, back to his home in the TARDIS – one of the most visually striking scenes in Series 7. Clara’s leitmotif is then given a somber, understated reprise in the track, “Remember Me“, creating a link between this episode, “Asylum Of The Daleks” and “The Name Of The Doctor”. A few other notable pieces that Murray Gold creates are “A Voice In The Snow“, “Antifreeze” and “Whose Enigma“, a melancholy track rooted in grief, that eventually soars with rising hope for the future during the coda, when the Doctor discovers there’s more than meets the eye with Clara.
“The Snowmen” is another solid Christmas special for the Eleventh Doctor that is quite different in tone from both “A Christmas Carol” and “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe“. It sets up a lot of good things to come in Series 7B, and it gives Jenna Louise-Coleman an impressive show to win over the audience, before she makes her proper debut in the next episode, “The Bells Of Saint John“.
* “Beg pardon, Dr. Simeon. It’s been a long day. I don’t see any food here” “I do. I said I’d feed you, I didn’t say who to”.
* “That’s silly” “What’s wrong with silly?” “Nothing. I’m still talking to you, aren’t I?”
* “She’ll never be able to find me again, she doesn’t even have the name ‘Doctor’!” “Doctor? Doctor who?“
* “I resent your implication of impropriety. We are married” “More than can be said for you, eh, dear?” Damn, Jenny, that was savage. No wonder the GI decided to kill her first in “The Name Of The Doctor”.
* “I think winter is coming. Such a winter as this world has never known. The last winter of humankind. Do you know why I’m telling you all this?” “I am intrigued” “Because there’s not a single thing you can do to stop it“.
* “This snow is new. Possibly alien. When you find something brand new in the world, something you’ve never seen before, what’s the next thing you look for?” “A grenade!” “…A profit”.
* “Sontaran. Clone warrior race. Factory produced, whole legions at a time. Two genders is a bit further than he can count!” If Strax has trouble keeping two genders straight in his head, then he really wouldn’t fare well on Tumblr or Twitter.
* Clara drops her cloak outside of the TARDIS, and the Doctor immediately starts sniffing it. Doctor, what the hell?
* “Do you want to see where she died?” Well, that was unexpectedly morbid.
* “I hated her. She was cross all the time” Damn, kid, that’s cold. Clara is talking about how someone died horribly, and this kid does not hesitate to start talking about how much his old governess sucked as a person.
* “You are not of this world” “It takes one to snow one, eh?” r/Cringe.
* “Good evening. I’m a lizard woman from the dawn of time, and this is my wife” “Wauuggghhhhh!!!“
* “You’re going to have to take those clothes off!” Doctor, you perv.
* “After you, I’m wearing a dress. Eyes front, soldier!” “My eyes are always front!” “Mine aren’t” Clara, you perv.
* “That thing is after us, and you want a chat?” “Well, we can’t chat after we’ve been horribly killed, can we?”
* “It’s called the TARDIS. It can travel anywhere in time and space. And it’s mine”.
* “You took it for me. Why?” “I never know why. I only know who” “What’s this?” “Me. Giving in”.
* “It was my fault. I am responsible for what happened to Clara. She was in my care!” Ah, I see the Doctor’s ‘duty of care’ to Clara starts in this episode, half a season before the Twelfth Doctor shows up.
* “But you were just Dr. Simeon. You’re not real. He dreamed you. How can you still exist?” “Now the dream outlives the dreamer and can never die. Once I was the puppet. Now I pull the strings!“
* “But Clara’s dead. What’s he talking about, finding her?” “I don’t know. But perhaps the universe makes bargains after all”.
* “Clara Oswin Oswald! Watch me run!“