Thursday, December 27, 2012

"The Snowmen" Dr. Who Christmas Special Review

Here be spoilers...
I have never been one of those Whovians who hates Moffat because he's not Davies. I think that Moffat is a wonderful writer, and great at the big picture. I just wish he would hand the reins off more often. I don't think he's great at the in-between. And in general, I do think Moffat is losing his touch a bit. My first evidence? Seeing that he had tinkered with the opening sequence. I know that seems like a minor thing, but sometimes minor changes can stand for bigger ones. Between the changed opening, and the inexplicable change to the interior of the T.A.R.D.I.S, it seems as though Moffat is signalling to all of us that larger things are afoot.

"The Snowmen" is the latest example of Moffat not quite getting it. In fact, that is my biggest complaint of Moffat in general- he always has all the pieces, but when he puts them all together, they don't quite work as they should.. From the opening scene, where the snowman simply mimics the boy's statements, it's obvious that the snowman is not the "Big Bad". Instead, the main problem in this episode is the fact that the Doctor has lost all interest in the human race, interacting, and investigating. If you assume that this episode takes place soon after the disappearance of the Ponds from "Angels in Manhattan" perhaps you don't see this as a problem. But it is, and Moffat gives us the importance in a throwaway line- "Over a thousand years of saving the universe..." Given that he says he's 907 right after he meets Amy ("Flesh and Stone"), 1103 in "The Impossible Astronaut" and 1200 in "A Town Called Mercy", he has had the Ponds in his life for 300 hundred years. Note: Whovians who wish to argue with me that his age is never nailed down, or buy Moffat's theory that the Doctor doesn't KNOW his own age can stop right now. The exact age is not important. What is important is that...roughly a third of his life has been occupied with them, making the loss of them that much greater. It also makes Clara's choice latter of "pond" as her one word, that much more important, as it brings him back to the world. BUT it also makes the introduction of a new companion in the very next episode seem tacky. While it would certainly be harder to write several episodes with a brooding Matt Smith, as we saw with some of Tennant's run- a brooding Doctor can lead to some wonderful storylines. I like Jenna-Louise Coleman, both as Dalek Oswin Oswald and as Clara. But I think it shortchanges the series, and her character, to shove her in the series at this point (but more on that later).

Jenna-Louise Coleman, as Clara/Lara is different from the beginning- she's the one to chase after the Doctor, fairly enthusiastically, this combined with a fun scene where she pulls him behind her, as he states that's not how it goes- he's the one who does that, makes for a great entrance. The last time we saw curiosity like this was with Donna in "Partners in Crime" and it worked wonderfully there. Clara is certainly different from any other companion we've seen. For a start, she seems to have quite a few secrets herself, beginning with why a governess would pose as a barmaid, and ending with how she is exists in multiple times. The teaser for the rest of the season tells us that her secret, and the Doctor chasing across time and space to discover it, is what the rest of the season will revolve around.
I did like the fact that the Doctor gives her the key so easily. It was a cute moment...when taken all by itself. But again, when you stop to think about it, having the Doctor recover so quickly from the loss of the Ponds seem wrong.

Other than Jenna-Louise Coleman, there were two high points- all revolving around reintroduced characters, so Moffat can't take any credit. Jenny and Vastra, as the (wonderfully married) inspiration for Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, are a lovely little nod not only to these characters, but the space that they inhabit. The interview between Vastra and Clara is also a great bit of dialogue and interaction. Clara proves that she's not only the Doctor's equal, but perhaps the equal of everyone else she would meet as well, something we've never seen outside of River Song.
Strax, and the potato jokes, as well as his warped sense of humor, are another bright point. The back and forth between proper English gentleman/butler and bloodthirsty warrior are great- Grenades? Or may I take your coat?. The bit with the memory worm is especially funny, aided by Clara's interaction with the Doctor, and giving as good as she gets- working it out even before the Doctor does. We see this again with their interchange as they run away from the Ice Governess and escape to the T.A.R.D.I.S.

As happy as I am for the Christmas special, both for the fun that is possible because it's not exactly part of the timeline, and for the addict's need it fills before the second half of the season, there are some major flaws to this year's special.
  • Richard Grant, as Doctor Simeon, certainly gets the short end of the stick in this episode. His dialogue is trite, and recycled. I don't always agree with Moffat, but I've never accused him of being unoriginal. But lines such as "I serve at your will, as always" are just trite. Grant's character also doesn't seem to serve much of a purpose. Perhaps he's just a Whovian who just wanted to be in an episode. (This reasoning would certainly explain Sir Ian McKellan as the voice of the Snowmen).
  • Also, while the Doctor as Sherlock was funny, perhaps Moffat could have not ripped off the musical strands from his own Sherlock. We're not idiots, we get the joke without you banging us over the head with it.
  • The constant repetition of "Victorian values" made no sense whatsover. It doesn't add to the story. It doesn't explain anything. Unless it's meant as a signpost for Jenny and Vastra, but even that doesn't make sense, as their setting has already been signified to us through previous episodes, and through the Sherlock references in this one.
  • Then there's the (constant) Moffat issue of bringing something up and not answering it. In this episode, that's seen with both Clara Oswin Oswald's dead/not dead, and with the evil institute behind Simeon, and the evil snowmen- The Great Intelligence Institute. First, at the beginning, Simeon tells Captain Lattimer that what belongs in the ice is "his" and Lattimer pays no attention (?). Later, there's no explanation for why Clara would even survive her fall off the cloud long enough for Strax to even try to save her.
  • I don't know about anyone else, but for some reason, the kiss between Clara and the Doctor also seriously bothered me. Perhaps it's because I love the character of River Song. Perhaps it's because River and the Doctor seemed to have finally come to common ground in "Angels in Manhattan". Either way, I didn't like it.
  • The Doctor is many things, but he's not stupid. I find it hard to believe, that with as great as he is with figuring things out, that it would take him seeing Clara Oswin Oswald on the tombstone in order for him to figure it all out.
  • Moffat's introduction of Clara Oswin Oswald to the Doctor is also a bit hamfisted. Because we know she's Oswin Oswald. I (and I'm sure many others) spent the entire episode wondering how Moffat was getting out of this one. The lines about "I like to make souffle" "You're a foot taller than I am", and "Run, you clever boy. And, remember" are necessary to let the Doctor know who she is, but to the audience, it seems a little...boring. It was as though Moffat decided that he needed to introduce Clara Oswin Oswald and forced that episode onto the Christmas episode. It just doesn't seem a good fit. I'm not sure what a better solution would have been, but this just didn't seem on par with what I've come to expect of Dr. Who. It's too bold, too in your face, a little too crass. It also doesn't make a whole lot of sense, that Clara says these lines, but has no memory of the Doctor. It may end up being one of Moffat's grand plans, but the problem with that is we won't be able to tell until the end of Series 7.

Most fans have gotten used to Moffat painting himself into a corner, and then spending the entire season getting himself out of it. He did it with "The Pandorica Opens" and "The Big Bang". He did it again with "The Impossible Astronaut" and ending with "The Wedding of River Song". Most of us are pretty forgiving of Moffat, because we've seen what he can end up doing with it. But here's the problem- there are only so many times that you can pull that with your audience before it becomes boring, and routine. Perhaps because he's juggling this, the stress of the 50th anniversary, and Sherlock he's simply falling back on what works.

While this episode had some cute moments, and clever dialogue, it only proved my point about Moffat- all the right parts, but never put together in quite the right order.

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