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“It’s smaller on the outside!” or Doctor Who: “The Snowmen”

“The Snowmen,” 2012’s Christmas special of Doctor Who, has absolutely restored my excitement for this series about adventure and time travel and a “madman with a box.” That sense of wonder, eroded by lackluster episodes in the first half of Series 7, was alive and kicking in this holiday story of killer psychic snow and a contrary governess.

Seriously, after finishing it, all I could do was flail and shout “I AM EXCITE.” I’m sure my husband would’ve been annoyed if he weren’t doing his own version of the same.

This episode was a winner in spite of itself: it’s pretty weak as a standalone, and the villain did not impress. Can we just talk for a minute about how disappointing it is that the Great Intelligence ended up being both irrelevant and forgettable? I’ve got two names for you: Richard E. “I have waited so long to become canonical!” Grant and Ian “I am the boss” McKellen. Richard E. Grant is apparently such a fan of Doctor Who that he’s played the Doctor in two different non-canonical works1 and finally managed to land the role of a villain on the show itself. Ian McKellen is, of course, the might of Gandalf, Magneto, Iorek Byrnison and himself combined — he is not a person to be trifled with. So why stick them with a talking snowglobe and an army of snowmen driven by the petulance of a misanthropic 8-year-old? There was a deeper story available there that could have mined the GI’s longing for corporeal form and Dr. Walter Simeon’s longing to be alone. Mined them like a pathos-miner.

Hey, remember that time the Doctor pretended to be Sherlock Holmes when he barged into Simeon’s office for the first time? Remember how terrible at it he was? That’s even more evident once you remember the Doctor faced the GI twice before. Even if that was nine incarnations ago, you’d think the Doctor would have put it together before the very end of the episode. Oh well, at least it explains why the GI had RoboYeti’s terrorizing the London Underground almost a century later.

RoboYetis: not kidding.

Here’s what made the episode: Strax. Madame Vastra. Strax. Jenny. Strax. CLARA OSWIN OSWALD. (Did I mention Strax?) …I’m not sure I can explain to you in words the amazing quality of Strax, Vastra, and Jenny in this episode. Let’s do it in GIFs:

Mofatt was in his finest form when penning the dialogue for this episode. He managed to capture the perfect mix of whimsical humor, sarcastic barbs, and emotionally devastating moments of cosmic angst. This episode also witnessed the return to Mofatt’s use of fairy tale motifs – staircases into the clouds! Where a man lives in a box that’s bigger on the inside! Terrifying governesses made of ice! Snow that echoes yourself back to you! Sympathetic magic sorta saving the day, turning snow into tears.

(Mofatt also heavily taps into important British texts with each Christmas special – 2010 was Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. 2011 pulled from Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. This year was totally Travers’ Mary Poppins books.2)

Knock-knock-knockin' on heaven's door. Sorry. (Not sorry.)


And what can I say about Clara? Clara Oswin Oswald, the girl who can, the one who has died twice (so far). She was the perfect blend of Mary Poppins and self-made woman and I loved her to pieces.3 She had more than wits enough to go up against the Doctor. She never did as she was told, but that didn’t result in the Doctor having to save her as it has for so many others – instead, it just meant she was proactive and went after what she wanted. She intuited the Doctor’s intentions, surprised him, and pulled him back from the sulking abyss. She was a woman who took leaps, full of defiance and curiosity and steadfastness. The only tragedy is that she fell; I would really have enjoyed a Victorian Companion.

Of course, this is the second time we’ve encountered this woman – the first time, in “The Asylum of the Daleks,” she’d been converted into a dalek. As Seanan4 said, “This woman is TOO AWESOME not to exist ALL THE TIME.” (Clara also has a fondness for the color red, making souffles, and saying “Run, you clever boy. And remember.”)

Really, this has just made me terribly excited to see what’s coming – and I’m calling it now. Clara Oswin Oswald is a cosmic meme. It works, alright?

P.S. I was really remiss in not saying above that Matt Smith, as Eleven, was sublime. So, uh: Matt Smith, as Eleven, was sublime. There. He slouched around in Dickensian disgruntlement quite admirably.


1. He voiced Nine in Scream of the Shalka and portrayed Ten in the parody The Curse of Fatal Death. ?

2. Shhh, I know P.L. Travers is Australian. ?

3. Unfortunate phrasing, sorry. Given the ending and all. Perhaps I should say, instead, that she made my heart pitter-pat. ?

4. McGuire. This episode gave us Kermit arms: ?



Note on the Doctor Who GIFs: I found each of the Doctor Who GIFs on Tumblr and am crediting them to who posted them. If I have misatrributed any, let me know and I’ll fix it. The Strax GIFs were found at jupid and the Madame Vastra/Jenny GIF was found at dustily.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Yenifef February 28, 2016, 6:01 PM

    This is weird and rambly so bear with me. Basically, there is alot of stuff out there on how Moffat is sxeist and this point of view is derived from a quote from an interview on Amy Pond’s character and the casting of Karen Gillan. These thoughts are not on that Per Se, but rather on the nature of writing and what agenda comes through in writing because I noticed something really strange last night. What I noticed was this. When River is present in the story, the story ceases to be about The Doctor and becomes the story of River through The Doctor’s eyes. Last year in my English class at university we studied a book called Praise by Andrew McGahan. This was not an enjoyable book for me. It was about realism, teen angst, drugs, alcohol and life at the centre of the dirty underbelly of a city. All things which I’d rather not depress myself with in reading. However, one of the very interesting things about Praise was its title. It is never specifically explained in the book, but from the male protagonist’s perspective, it is heavily implied by the author that the object of the book’s Praise is Gordon’s girlfriend Cynthia, a young woman who refuses to fit into either a virgin/whore dichotomy or into traditional feminine stereotypes. It is these attributes that make her the object of the novels Praise. Whilst watching the incredibly shippy Doctor/River scene last night, it occurred to me quite suddenly that River has become the object of Moffat’s Praise and this is reflected in the storylines she is in. As I stated above, because we see River through The Doctor’s eyes, and if we assume that Moffat, unlike RTD (who placed himself I think in terms of companions) is placing himself when writing in the role of The Doctor, it is River, and not The Doctor, who becomes the object of the story’s Praise. This has to be really unusual in any television show. I can’t think of one other show that has attempted to pull something like this off. Because New Dr Who, for as long as I can remember, has always been about having The Doctor as the centre of the writer’s Praise or human beings in general for the essential qualities that make us human but no one but The Doctor could be seen as the individual character of Praise. It has never been about one person. Let alone about one female human person. One could argue that Rose was praised by RTD BUT we are never told what makes her an object of Praise in the actual story, other than in her relationship with The Doctor ie she only is praiseworthy because of her affections for The Doctor. In the same way women on TV are usually praiseworthy because they fit gender norms, not because they break them. Moffat rewards River for breaking them. He absolutely does.What’s really interesting to me about River is the fact that Moffat gives us very good reasons for praising her. Reasons that are written into the story. Reasons that are shown and are explicitly canon, rather than implied or just assumed. Reasons that do not always even rely on The Doctor to place River as an object of Praise. She is praised, not punished by the storylines she is in for being who she is; a confident, mature, sexy, smart, dangerous, yet still loving older woman who refuses to fit into a gender stereotype because Moffat does not allow her to. She is praised for being River the woman, rather than River in terms of her relationship with The Doctor. The Doctor admires her and respects her and perhaps is even already in love with her but he feels these things because of the qualities she has without him, as much as for the qualities she has when she is around him. I don’t about what others think, but to me that is a really awesome television developement.River will always be equal to The Doctor because of the praiseworthy characteristics she already has. We know her stories ending. We know that she is praiseworthy right up to the bitter sweet end. But on top of that, when River enters the storyline, the story ceases to be about The Doctor and actually becomes about The Doctor in terms of River. That is a very interesting development. The male personality as defined by the woman exactly as Gordon was defined in Praise by Cynthia. If Cynthia was McGahan’s object of Praise, than River is Moffat’s object of Praise. And that makes me so very, very happy. I will watch this development with excitement. Because regardless of whatever issues with sexism Moffat has, River’s character is not sxeist. Her character is absolutely feminist. And if River is the type of woman that Moffat has as his personal idealised woman of Praise, then gosh darn it, I for one am not complaining. Women like River should be praised and not punished for the traits that they have (in real life and in popular culture). It is right that River should be praised for who she is. A woman who is herself, and is not punished for being herself. I only wish that there were more River’s on my television screen.

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