Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Doctor Who: The Snowmen


One of my new Christmas traditions is to sit down for Doctor Who on Christmas evening. When this first started, it was always very exciting and the episodes were fun and a bit epic and always ended the day on a great note.

But lately, ever so slowly, that sense of fun and satisfaction at the end of the Christmas special has started to fade. It's the popular thing to gripe about, but back in the years of David Tennant, the Christmas Special was one of the highlights of the season. It wasn't just another episode, it was actually special.

I haven't really felt that during the Matt Smith specials, if I'm being honest. A Christmas Carol was good, and probably one of the best episodes of that season, but I wouldn't put it near the level of Voyage of the Damned or The Next Doctor.

And it's really just been diminishing returns ever since. The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe was alright. It was at the level of a pretty good episode, but it just didn't do much for me. These days I have trouble even remembering much about it. Why weren't Amy and Rory around? Was that when the Doctor was dead? I really can't remember because it had that little impact on me.

So I went into watching The Snowmen in a weird place. On the one hand, so many years of enjoyable episodes made my expectations high. On the other, the previous year had been a let down so they were a bit low. Having a new companion appear made me excited for the possibilities, but after how much I enjoyed the first appearance of Oswin Oswald it didn't feel like much of an introduction, even if she wasn't the same exactly.

There are things I loved about The Snowmen. While they were vastly underused and underwritten, Madam Vastra, Jenny, and Strax are interesting additions to the pantheon of the Doctor's associates, though it was a bit confusing to have characters that previously had only been in one episode being treated like they were the Doctor's closest friends since that's where he retreated when he was "retiring."

I loved Jenna-Louise Coleman, I think the actress is really talented and I liked the way she took a few of the expected moments and turned them on their head. Once Matt Smith decided to stop moping and brooding, he was fun as usual. And there were plenty of quotable lines and moments that made great gifs on tumblr.

The problem really comes in a few ways. First, the moping and brooding. I don't know what it was about it, but I never understood The Doctor's relationship with Amy anyway. When Ten and Rose are separated at the end of the second series, my heart broke because I understood completely what they meant to each other. When Ten leaves Donna behind, I was furious at the writers, but I could completely see why he was so upset that he lost himself for a while and wanted to travel alone again. I understood his feelings over the loss of Astrid more than I really could get behind him deciding to give up everything he's been doing for a century because he couldn't see Amy anymore.

In the end, that was the problem for me. The Doctor has a long series of companions he's traveled with, sometimes only for hours, sometimes for years. They all leave eventually, one way or another. They walk away, he leaves them behind, they die, he erases their memories, they get stuck in an alternate universe. Sure, it happens a lot, and it's tragic every time, and that has to wear a guy out. But he just finished having this problem during the last set of specials before Matt Smith took over. Then, it was believable. Now? It comes across as pouting.

There were also too many loose ends and half finished threads in The Snowmen. It was just an hour that tried to pack three hours worth of content so they just chopped out anything that might have really gotten into any depth. What was the point of the father not being able to connect to his children? Why did it matter? What the heck was Clara's deal with being a bar maid and a governess and what does it actually say about her character? Why is Madam Vastra the gatekeeper for The Doctor anyway? Why does he even talk to her if he's so ticked off at her and again, WHY is he hiding out in this particular place if he's retiring? And why did he change the desktop theme in the TARDIS again if he's retiring? Almost everything he does only makes sense if you apply the "well, because it gets the plot going" band-aid.

And for the love of Gallifrey, why does the show think they need to actually have somebody say "Doctor Who?" in every episode? Seriously, stop it. Immediately.

The Snowmen themselves weren't threatening, and they felt like a villain that had been done before though I can't quite place where. The climax was not particularly interesting to me, and while the mystery that the episode sets up regarding Clara/Oswin is interesting, I'm almost in the mood for another companion that's actually a normal person. You know, a shop girl or a medical resident that was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or a temp that wants more out of life. That kind of thing.

In general, I will still watch Doctor Who and I still love it. But I'm just not excited about the new season anymore because The Snowmen just didn't do much of what it was supposed to do. It was alright, but it would have made a better mid-season filler episode than a Christmas Special.

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