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26 December 2012 @ 07:26 pm
The Snowmen  
I am amused that seeing Matt Smith in Victorian garb gave me flashbacks to The Ruby and the Smoke. Ha.

Well. Based on the Christmas special, I am no longer worried about the specter of Emo Doctor. In fact, I thought Moffat did a lovely job of leaving space for Eleven’s sadness without indulging in it, or forcing Eleven to be harsh and brusque to Clara because otherwise he’d be “forgetting all about Amy,” or something silly like that. (aka “Just one trip!” or “Don’t think you’re replacing her!” Don’t take it out on the new girl, Doctor; it’s not her fault you feel bad about liking her!)

(I still really don’t like the new TARDIS interior, though – it looks like a set, rather than a ship, to me. The previous interior had so much space in which to move, so many levels and odd corners, that it actually felt like it went on in all directions, like it really could have a swimming pool and/in a library. The new one feels cramped and shallow to me, like it doesn’t go very far back.)

Anyway…there are several reasons I found this episode rather delightful rather than wearisome. One is of course Matt Smith’s finely pitched performance, in which the Doctor is still kind to Clara, still fond, even as he’s telling her to forget him; he’s never hard or brittle with her, still reassuring her that no one’s going to hurt her. His response to Clara’s “I thought we were just getting acquainted!” – when he says, “Those were the days” – is a case in point, and the moment I started to relax: it’s somehow not self-pitying, not dark, but is instead warmly, wistfully nostalgic, possibly even in spite of itself.

[The one thing I found deeply problematic about their early interaction was the memory worm – and I get that it needed to be set up for the rest of the episode, and that it was actually used for comedy, but the idea that the Doctor was just casually going to erase even an hour of Clara’s memory because she happened to meet him was Not On. But I saw someone remark that the episode goes on to demonstrate that this is negative behavior by the way the Doctor’s plan backfires on him, so I will think more about this and see how I feel.]

And once the Doctor starts to respond to Clara in the usual way, he’s just lovely: the nervous fear in his face when he waves to her in the window is touching and telling, and his outraged attack on his own betraying hand when it gives Clara the “five minutes” sign is a delight. And the “bigger on the inside” scene (or "smaller on the outside," if you're Clara), too, played so sweetly: this is a much more tender-edged, vulnerable Doctor than the cocky one who told Amy, “Other planets. Want to see some?” He’s completely, touchingly open with Clara in that scene, all defenses down, and there’s no bluster in him when Clara (oh, good girl!) calls him on his faint attempt at a dodge (“Why are you showing me this?” “You followed me, remember?”) by pointing out that the umbrella was an invitation. (Also, “I never know why; I just know who” is a beautiful answer – for Clara, and for every companion.)

Then, at Clara’s deathbed, he doesn’t shut himself away again, although he hides a bit (and hooray for Vastra, for not letting him do it); he stays open and connected, kissing her hand and forehead, murmuring reassurances while the truth surfaces in his suddenly furrowed brow and grimly pressed-together lips. He doesn’t rage or go brittle, even when she dies; he even promises her obliquely that he won’t retreat to his cloud again.

The other thing about the episode is that in spite of what the Doctor says about being alone and not saving the world, he’s nevertheless surrounded himself with friends (or chosen to stay surrounded by them); he hasn’t left earth behind, he’s just pulled up the ladder behind him and made himself a little inaccessible for a while. Because, let’s face it: if you have a TARDIS and are actually serious about being alone, there are many better places to do that than a couple of miles above a busy city park.) And having his friends voice their disapproval of his apathy (as Strax puts it) really helps, too: it means the narrative has space to gently criticize the Doctor’s behavior, it gives us distance from it instead of supporting it wholeheartedly.

As for Clara...I liked her, and am therefore put out that she’s dead. Again. I was 98 to 99 percent sure that Clara wasn’t going to be a real Victorian companion, somehow, but there was that 1 to 2 percent that was hoping that the other promo shots were just Victorian Clara in modern dress, and those bits of me are disappointed. (I really, really want a companion from the past. It would be so fun!) Clara was clever and resourceful, and of course (being me) I wanted to know heaps more about how she learned to pass as a governess. I think I liked her most when she was whimsical, maybe because she did seem so canny and practical – the little stories she told her charges about her birth, for example. (I wonder if those remarks hint at the Clara mystery: does she fill that autobiographical space with outlandish stories because she doesn’t really know who she is?) I am a little worried that Clara might stay a Mystery rather than become a character, especially because she herself is the mystery – unlike the crack in Amy’s bedroom wall, which shapes her childhood and brings the Doctor crashing into her life; we can see how it affects her as she grows up, all protective attitude and abandonment issues, but Amy herself isn’t the mystery. But it’s early days for worrying about that sort of thing, I guess. And I like Jenna-Louise Coleman’s energy, so I’ll be interested in seeing the next version of Clara.

I thought the villain of the piece was maybe a little too on-the-nose (a little boy who says he doesn’t need friends, in an episode where the Doctor keeps saying the same thing), and also spectacularly undermotivated; I would probably feel less of this if we hadn’t seen him as a child, to be honest, because the idea that “feeding all your darkest thoughts” into telepathic snow will turn you into an evil villain is not that convincing when it’s a child going “I don’t want to play with the other children; they’re silly.” That is not a particularly dark thought. The Doctor also makes a comment that the snow preyed on the loneliness of a child – which then makes it sound like the snow is the real problem, and Simeon had little choice, or at least that he was warped without knowing it, but the Doctor remains angry at Simeon. And then erases his memory and gets him turned into an ice zombie, but you can’t win ‘em all, I guess...

Other things:

- I really loved that long wordless sequence with Clara and the ladder among the clouds; it was beautiful, and we see an open sense of wonder in Clara that’s very appealing, and the scene itself is one of the things that shifts the tone of the episode away from melancholy in a very appealing way.

- Eleven wearing Amy's reading glasses.

- "Pond." I thought this was a great, understated little moment: sometimes it takes serendipity, hearing something the "wrong" way, to bring you back to yourself.

- The Doctor playing Punch, and the puppet "getting away from him" to kiss him. Also comes back in sinister form when the snow says that it controls Simeon's strings, just as "That's the way to do it!" comes back as sinister mirroring in the ice governess.

- But not all mirrors are bad: it's when the Doctor sees himself in the mirror and sees that he's put on his bowtie - "Old habits" - that he remembers who he really is. (And again with the hearing a truth in a misunderstanding: "It's cooler." Also, the...thing Matt's face does when it twists up as he says, "Yeah, it is," part tearful, part smug, is just marvelous.)

- "I'm allowed to be stupid! I'm good at stupid!" And I don't remember the exact line, but his disgruntled complaining that *he* is the one who is supposed to do the leading and the handholding was adorable.

- Vastra and Jenny really ought to have gotten more of a look-in here, because I liked them very much! But since I don't have much to say about them beyond flapping my hands and going "yay!" this will have to do for now.
viomisehuntviomisehunt on December 27th, 2012 01:28 am (UTC)
Moffat did kind through every complaint fans have made about former companions in our faces--with a lot of fun though. I like the new interior--it is not as organic as the previous ones, but it does bring the mind the plastic and cardboard painted Classic show sets.
tempestsarekindtempestsarekind on December 27th, 2012 03:04 am (UTC)
I think that's my problem with it, actually (well, one of them, anyway): it looks like a set that was made with limitations, rather than one that disguises its limitations. Obviously the TARDIS set is never going to be as big as a "real" TARDIS would be, but the new set really does look like all they have is a tiny soundstage to shoot on, even if that's not actually the case.
Emily-- Toppington von Monocle: eleven wall [doctor who]sadcypress on December 27th, 2012 07:33 pm (UTC)
I found this episode really lovely! I also quite like that it's playing with the idea of who Clara Oswin Osgood really is- loving souffles across time and space, and dying twice while helping the Doctor. I like having questions clarified sometimes, rather than receiving answers. Come onnnn, Moffat. Give us a winner.
tempestsarekind: eleven and amytempestsarekind on December 27th, 2012 11:07 pm (UTC)
I think "souffles across time and space" should have been on Clara's tombstone. :) I wonder if modern Clara will be as fond of them as Victorian Clara and future Oswin?

Fingers crossed - I'm looking forward to learning more!
harder, harder, hardest; i am the artist: dr who -- TARDIS | secondary consoleradiantbaby on December 29th, 2012 10:27 am (UTC)
The thing I liked about the new TARDIS is that it seemed a bit like an outward representation of the Doctor's grief.

I mean, the previous 'desktop' was light and open and airy, full of bright optimism with paths that could go anywhere! But then after he lost his best friends, it became lonely, 'too big for one person' (not really, but I sort of imagine him feeling a bit like someone living alone in a giant mansion), and probably every bit of it only reminded him of Amy and Rory, so he needed a change.

So, what did it change to? Something darker, colder, more closed-off, more self-contained -- all very fitting for where he was emotionally at the beginning of the episode. Perfect!

That's probably just me reading way too much into it, though. ;)
tempestsarekind: martha + ten + TARDIStempestsarekind on December 29th, 2012 03:45 pm (UTC)
No, I totally agree! I just keep thinking, "...but now he's got to travel in it for the unspecified future?" So I guess I'm worried about its limitations in that regard, even though I think it makes total sense for the Christmas special.