Title: The Snowmen
Written by: Steven Moffat
It’s 1892! It’s Oswin! No, wait… It’s Clara! …or is it Oswin? The Snowmen! Are you thinking about them? Well… stop! Winter is coming. Sherlock Holmes! It’s smaller on the outside! Doctor Who? Dangerous question…
There’s so much new stuff in The Snowmen that I’m just going to say it right now: there’s a cool new title sequence and theme, a fabulous new TARDIS and – of course – a new companion… Phew! Now I can get on to the actual story…
Simeon is working with the story’s big bad – a giant snowglobe containing telepathic snow, voiced excellently by Sir Ian McKellen – to bring about Humanity’s last Winter. On hand are the Veiled Detective (Madame Vastra, played by Neve McIntosh) and her plucky companion (Jenny, played by Catrin Stewart), but they may not be enough to stop him. Can they convince the Doctor, who has become a recluse, to help them?
Right from the off it should be said that Grant; master of the stone-face and mouth-curling sneer, fits perfectly into the role of a Who villain, though (considering his acting talent) feels relatively underused throughout. It’s a pity to see the stellar Withnail & I actor go to waste, and reminds this reviewer of a certain Bill Bailey suffering a similar fate last year. The titular monsters of the story are actually far less central to the plot than you’d think, but still manage to make some menacing appearances.
Not to worry though, because this is balanced out by the bigger story that’s taking place; the introduction of new companion, Clara. Or is it Oswin? The new companion to be, Clara (Jenna Louise Coleman), is leading a double life: One as a barmaid and another as a governess, who shares many characteristics with Mary Poppins (Surely not a coincidence!). As the latter she also gets to tell some inspired and “true” bedtime stories. (I thought the one about fish was particularly good!)
Coleman gets to show her acting prowess throughout and is clearly set for great things aboard the TARDIS. She steps into Doctor Who with a confidence and talent that I’ve not seen since Billie Piper first graced our screens in Rose. There’s no pretence about whether or not she’s ever going to be the Doctor’s new friend – Clara simply seizes the initiative, quite triumphantly I might add, and makes the decision for us.
Matt Smith and Coleman have a wonderful chemistry onscreen and the scenes they share are a joy to watch. Both give energetic performances and seem to have a natural rhythm for each other that I look forward to seeing more of.
Smith is on top form, as usual, but one can’t help thinking that the Doctor’s moody phase of thinking “the universe doesn’t care” could have been used a bit more effectively. While Smith delivers the scenes in which he’s playing a more miserable Doctor excellently, the idea that the Time Lord has given up never really hits home.
Victorian London itself looks splendid in this story, and is reminiscent of Fourth Doctor story The Talons of Weng Chiang. Suitably, as in Talons, the Doctor also dons the deerstalker and inverness cape once more to impersonate the fictional Sherlock Holmes in a hilarious sequence of not-quite-deductions.
Making a return for the first time since A Good Man Goes To War are Vastra, Jenny and Strax. (Or, the Silurian, the Victorian and the Sontaran Nurse.) Vastra and Jenny are just as brilliant here as they were before, and the notion of their marriage is dealt with just as it should be; as a matter of fact. I think this is good as a.) it’s currently an issue in politics and b.) because it makes you wonder why it’s such an issue in politics.
In a brilliant tip of the hat by Moffat, it’s implied that the pair’s antics around London inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, and I thought the scene where Clara has to answer all of Vastra’s questions with one word was very cleverly written too.
Strax, on the other hand, takes over comic relief duty for this episode and does it rather well too. I’d like to see more of these three – and judging by the “coming soon” trailer for the rest of the series it looks like that’s definitely on the cards!
Favourite Moment: The Doctor, after thinking he’s sent Clara back to where she followed him from, retreats up into his home above the clouds – disappearing up an invisibly hidden ladder. Clara follows him and climbs the ladder, to discover a winding staircase that goes all the way up. When she gets to the top, we see the TARDIS and after she knocks, the Doctor pokes his head out. Scared, Clara hides, then runs back down before he sees her… Who says this episode wasn’t very Christmassy? Christmas stories are all about magic and wonder, and that did it for me!
Although, like last year’s special, it’s very light on story, The Snowmen is still a great piece of television. The whole thing is very character driven, which works because it’s a companion introduction episode, not just a Christmas one. There are plenty of references to past stories that will bring a smile to fans that catch them, and yet it’s also the bold beginning of a new era for Doctor Who as well.
The Snowmen is an enchanting visit to Victorian London, managing to feel like Christmas without even mentioning it very much. A brilliant introduction to new companion Clara and a triumph in storytelling. Roll on 2013 and the rest of Series Seven!
Thanks for reading! What did you think of this year’s Christmas special? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section, below. For more reviews, click here.
Yowza! It’s Halloween! That came quickly didn’t it?
Now, Americans think they’ve got the jump on Brits when it comes to scary-season. But you know what? We’ve got a secret weapon. The world’s longest running Sci-Fi programme just happens to be founded on that very institution. Doctor Who: Keeping kids behind sofas for fifty years (come 2013).
So, without further ado – I present to you GravityShmavity’s seven picks for Doctor Who on Halloween! (Note: This isn’t a “scariest episodes” list. I’ve tried to compile a mix of fun and scary stories. Enjoy! – M)
7. The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone (S5, Ep4/5)
Past readers will know this story is one of my favorites. “But why would you pick this Angels story over Blink?” you may ask. Simple – Blink is terrifying in it’s own way, but it’s also sad and wonderful and brooding and urban. Don’t get me wrong – I love Blink – but this episode tops it, in terms of action and pure Halloweeneyness. I mean come on! A forest, in a bottle, in a spaceship, in a maze – full of Weeping Angels and River Song! How cool is that?
6. Tooth and Claw (S2, Ep2)
Besides the fact this is a brilliant episode in its own right, Tooth and Claw does also feature a Werewolf – which basically guarantees it a place on this list! The Tenth Doctor and Rose are off to see Ian Dury & The Blockheads and all of a sudden they’re trying to save Queen Victoria from a group of monks trying to infect her with the nip of the wolf! What could possibly go wrong? It also features a crack at the Royal Family at the end too, which is always good fun. A cracking story for a spooky night!
5. The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit (S2, Ep8/9)
“This is the darkness… this is my domain.”
If you know your stuff, then you’ve probably realized that it is from this story that my online name originates. (“Gravity-shmavity, my people practically invented black holes…”) Ten and Rose land on a planet that’s in orbit of a black hole, and end up facing the devil itself – PLUS the Ood make their debut. Is any Halloween list really complete without it? Great set design and a stellar cast combined with epic storytelling that questions our beliefs in the supernatural. What more could you want?
4. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances (S1, Ep9/10)
“Are you my mummy?”
So you want more eh? Well I’ve got it right here. Steven Moffat delivers a trope-tastic, spookerific story that oozes style and excellence. The Ninth Doctor and Rose uncover a mystery surrounding a gas-mask-child who’s looking for his mummy that all comes back to a mauve-alert object that crashed in 1940’s London, in what can only be described as the story that convinced people Doctor Who was properly scary again. Rated J, for its use of Jack Harkness and the word “dancing”.
3. The Waters of Mars (S4.5, Ep3)
“Water always wins.”
While this story will be eternally remembered as the one where the Tenth Doctor declares himself the “Time Lord victorious”, it’s also the episode where we meet one of the most terrifying and uncompromising enemies Doctor Who has ever seen. The Waters of Mars is quite simply superb. The Doctor battles against what he knows he shouldn’t do with his own guilt, as the flood consumes all aboard Bowie Base One – and not even the famous Captain Adelaide Brooke can escape… A fast-paced thriller, that’s perfect for Halloween viewing.
2. Dinosaurs On a Spaceship (S7, Ep2)
“Dinosaurs… on a spaceship!”
OK, so it’s far flung in tone from the last few but that’s not a problem! Dinosaurs… is a fun, hilarious and ridiculous romp for all the family that’s great for light viewing. Peppered with laughs and featuring a wonderfully vibrant cast, it is hard to recall more stories that are so effortlessly fun to watch.
1. Midnight (S4, Ep8)
“I can’t imagine you without a voice. ”
Claustrophobic, terrifying and ingeniously fresh, Russell T Davies’ bottle episode takes the cake in this list. Tennant’s Doctor, usually all smiles and struts, is reduced to the status of victim by a sinister copycat and a group of scared humans. A truly intense story that bristles with psychological insight and leaves the monster a mystery in the end – the ultimate Halloween episode.
Thanks for reading. Agree with this list? What do you think the best Doctor Who stories are for Halloween? Let me know what you think in the comments section below.
All pictures taken from the BBC Doctor Who website.
So… I’m back blogging again, and this is my feature on Asylum of the Daleks. I’ve decided to call my new series of posts I’m doing on Series 7 “The Brilliant Blogs”, because a) I really, really liked the “Brilliant Books” the BBC published and the style they were done in and b) because these posts are going to be more than just reviews. In fact, the reviews are just one part. I want this series to be fluid in its structure – they wont always be the same – but also to be like a current-era version of the blueshift posts I was doing before I went travelling in March. Enjoy! (and I hope you find this interesting – I certainly had fun putting it together.) – Matt
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Nick Hurran
Main cast: Matt Smith (The Eleventh Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Arthur Darvil (Rory Williams), Jenna-Louise Coleman (Oswin Oswald), Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Daleks), Anamaria Marinca (Darla; the human Dalek-puppet who contacts the Doctor), David Gyasi (Harvey; crew member of Starship Alaska and the first person Amy meets on the surface of the Asylum) and Barnaby Edwards and Nicholas Pegg (both as Dalek operators).
Initial Broadcast date: 01/09/2012 (UK)
Other: The famous song from opera Carmen, featured in this episode, was Habanera.
Asylum of the Daleks is a story that wastes no time in drawing out its premise, beginning in true Moffat style: Straight away, the Doctor, Amy and Rory are plucked out of time and – as the Doctor so excellently puts it – “[fired] at a planet”.
“You’re going to fire me at a planet? That’s your plan? I get fired at a planet and expected to fix it?”
Tasked by the Prime Minister of his mortal enemies, The Daleks, with bringing down the impenetrable force field of the Dalek Asylum – a planet that has had its insides gutted and filled with a structure housing all the most insane of everyone’s favourite killer-pepperpots – from within (so they can blow the whole thing up), The Doctor must navigate the hellish “dumping ground” whilst trying to save his friends’ marriage and figure out a soufflé-related mystery that involves the most ingenious use of “ex-ster-minate” you’ll ever hear.
But what has got the Daleks so riled?
“What is the noise? Explain! Explain!”
Carmen, apparently. Or rather; somebody is playing Carmen, from the heart of the Asylum, which can only mean one thing… Somebody got inside, meaning it’s also possible to escape!
Enter Jenna-Louise Coleman, in what has got to be one of the best-kept secrets in modern television.
“Long story. Is there a word for total screaming genius that sounds modest and a tiny bit sexy?”
Playing Oswin Oswald, a survivor of the ship that crashed into the Asylum (and apparently breached its defenses, though this is never explicitly stated), Coleman immediately shines on-screen, her performance easily standing up next to Smith, Gillan and Darvil’s, despite the fact they are all seasoned juggernauts these days. Her performance gels effortlessly with the rest of the episode thanks to some ace writing by the Moff – despite the fact they must have had to shoot them separately some time after the original shooting bloc (with the rest of the cast) – and should wave away any lingering doubts that Coleman wasn’t the right choice for the role of next companion.
“It’s not one of those things you can fix like you fix your bow tie. Don’t give me those big wet eyes, Raggedy Man. It’s life. Just life, that thing that goes on when you’re not there.”
Asylum of the Daleks is an impressive spectacle, dramatically and visually. Particularly, the relationship between Amy and Rory has been taken to another more fascinating and mature level and we are shown that Amy can make heroic sacrifices for Rory as well, nicely shifting things from the usual focus on his all-enduring faithfulness. For a romance subplot involving the Ponds, the episode’s darker take on things is actually a refreshing (and in some moments shocking) change, and it’s welcome too.
New and old viewers alike will love this one: The story contains a good mix of tragedy and reconciliation, the whole cast is on top form, there are plenty of continuity throwbacks and, to top it off, the Daleks are (in this reviewer’s opinion) scary again.
After calling them “the most reliably defeatable enemies in the universe”, it looks like Steven Moffat just saved the Daleks after all.
Questions hidden in plain sight…
If it’s so easy for the Daleks to “acquire” the Doctor, why haven’t they just killed him before?
Why doesn’t Rory pay for his bus ticket?
Why do the Daleks have a parliament and a Prime Minister? (Did the “new paradigm” of Daleks from Victory of the Daleks decide to remove the Emperor Dalek and push forward democratic reform?)
Why are Daleks, in the intensive care section of the asylum, chained when they can (apparently) break free from the bonds so easily?
How is Oswin linked to future companion Clara? (Besides being portrayed by the same person.)
Spot all of these continuity references?
- In the opening narrative, it is implied that the events of The Wedding of River Song did indeed make most of the universe believe The Doctor had been killed, but the Daleks appear to know better.
- Skaro, the home planet of the Daleks, makes its first television appearance since Seventh Doctor story Remembrance of the Daleks – in which it was destroyed when the star it was orbiting went supernova, due to The Doctor’s trap involving the Hand of Omega (a Timelord device). It had, however, recently appeared in the Adventure Game story City of the Daleks before Asylum of the Daleks was broadcast.
- Nanogenes, a creation of Moffat’s from two-part story The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, are used once again as a tool for rewriting biology – in this case, to turn humans (dead or alive) into Dalek puppets.
- Daleks from multiple Who eras can be seen throughout the episode. In order of appearance: RTD-era Bronze Daleks (featured heavily throughout, first seen in Dalek), New Paradigm Daleks (White/Supreme, Red/Drone and Blue/Strategist, first seen in Victory of the Daleks), Special Weapons Dalek (first seen in Remembrance of the Daleks), Hartnell/Troughton-era Silver Daleks (first seen in The Daleks), Renegade Daleks (first seen in Resurrection of the Daleks), Grey Daleks (first seen in Day of the Daleks), Black RTD-era Dalek (first seen in Daleks in Manhattan). While I’ve done my best to make this as accurate as possible, if you think there is a mistake here, please let me know!
- Rory recalls guarding the Pandorica (with Amy inside) for 2000 years, in 2010 episode The Big Bang.
- Amy states that she is now infertile and believes it is because of what her captors (Madame Kavorian and The Silence) did to her while she was imprisoned in Demon’s Run, before the events of A Good Man Goes to War.
- Oswin informs the Doctor that the Daleks in intensive care are survivors of the wars on the planets Spiridon (from Third Doctor story Planet of the Daleks), Kembel (from Second Doctor story The Daleks’ Master Plan), Aridius (from First Doctor story The Chase), Vulcan (from Second Doctor story The Power of the Daleks) and Exxilon (from Third Doctor story Death to the Daleks). The Doctor comments that they are “the Daleks that survived [him]”, when she asks if any of the names ring a bell.
- The Doctor once again demonstrates his skill with teleporters, mentioned in Ninth Doctor stories The End of the World and Boom Town, at the end of the episode when he manages to teleport himself, Amy and Rory into the TARDIS onboard the Dalek ship with “pin-point” accuracy.
If there’s something you think I missed, something you thought I could have done better, or would even just like to say you enjoyed it, please let me know in the comments section below!
It’s Valentine’s day! So what better thing to do then post an article that finds a way to relate the subject of love to Doctor Who?
10. The Doctor’s Wife
Ok, so this one might seem like an odd choice at first, but think about it: the Doctor and Sexy (the TARDIS, obviously), the only consistent companions throughout the show’s entire history. If that isn’t a love story, than I don’t know what is. Neil Gaiman’s episode is quite frankly just too good not to include on this list. Scenes in particular where the Doctor and his time machine argue like a married couple, or are zooming off together to save Amy and Rory, just perfectly illustrate the relationship they share. A love letter to the show’s other main character, the TARDIS, and a delight from start to finish.
9. Love & Monsters
Love & Monsters! Remember that hidden gem in Series 2? It featured the lovely Elton and Ursula and the rest of Linda! Point in case, this story is all about how ordinary life (without the Doctor) can be a thing worth having as well, and featured a heart-warming romance sub-plot too. While Peter Kay (as the Abzorbaloff) can be a bit testing at times, this really is a rather good episode that is often overlooked. Try out Love & Monsters for a different kind of Who experience on Valentine’s day.
8. Amy’s Choice
You will of course remember this episode as the story in which the Dreamlord, played chillingly by Toby Jones, was to make his first (and hopefully not last) appearance. It was, though, also the episode where Amy finally realises that she couldn’t live without Rory. This episode is filled with brilliant moments, and the whole thing is particularly well written (kudos – and a plea to Steven Moffat to give another episode commission – to Simon Nye). We get to see another angle of our nine-hundred year old hero and some revealing observations about his travelling habits, not to mention a sterling performance from all of the cast (watch out for Audrey Ardington, who plays Mrs Poggit, the actor who played the Abbess in The Sarah Jane Adventures). Most importantly though; Amy makes a choice and she chooses Rory; a triumph for true love. Good show, Pond!
7. The Lodger
Probably two of the most endearing characters to ever grace Who, Craig (James Corden) and Sophie (Daisy Haggard) are hopelessly in love with one another but can’t seem to find the right moment to say it. Suddenly though, one day, the Doctor turns up and everything begins to change. This episode is masterfully written by Gareth Roberts (who wrote the follow up story in Season 6, Closing Time, and also the new novelization of Shada) and Smith and Corden have a chemistry that is just delightful to watch on screen. Being such a brilliant episode, it also became the subject of Chameleon Circuit song “Kiss the Girl” mentioned in a previous review of mine. The Lodger was the “budget” episode of Series 5 (like an excellent Series 4 episode I remember: *cough* Midnight *cough*), replacing the overly expensive The Doctor’s Wife, (yes) that one I just wrote about above here, yet still manages to meet all the expectations of a normal episode – and beat them. This is a classic love story with a lovely ending and a great cast – a must watch for any Valentine’s viewer.
6. The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang
Perhaps one of the most epic love stories DW has ever offered us, came under the banner of a much bigger story. The Doctor had to reboot the universe and wipe himself from existence to ensure it would work; you pretty much can’t get bigger than that. So yeah, you could say that there was other stuff going on. However, alongside all that, Rory Williams – who has now earned himself the awesome title of “the Lone Centurion” – waited for 2000 years, guarding Amy while she slept in the Pandorica. 2000 years. How romantic is that? For the ultimate moment of love-related dialogue in this episode, and one of Mr. Williams’ finest moments, click here. This is a master class in grand storytelling from Steven Moffat and a worthy no.6 on your list of Valentine’s stop-offs.
5. Human Nature/The Family of Blood
It’s 1913, in pre-WW1 England, and school teacher John Smith is having wonderful dreams: As his alter-ego, “The Doctor”, he travels through time and space in a blue box and witnesses impossible things. However, this being Doctor Who, his dreams turn out to be real. Taking on the ultimate form of camouflage, re-writing his own DNA to become human with a device called the “Chameleon Arch”, the nation’s favourite Timelord goes into hiding from his pursuers, the Family of Blood, at Farringham School for boys. Leaving companion Martha Jones a list of things to watch out for while the “real” him is gone, he forgets one thing; love. John Smith is forced to cope with the realization he has to give up everything, so that the mysterious Doctor can take his place again… at the cost of his own love life with Joan Redfern (who is played, pitch-perfect, by Jessica Hynes). Paul Cornell (who, by the way, should also get another episode, or two), delivers a truly touching piece of drama that notably adds to the “lonely god” image that was a running theme throughout David Tennant’s time as the Doctor, but contrasts this beautifully with the completely unimportant, ordinary and humble character of John Smith. This is a stirring love story, albeit with a sad conclusion, unparalleled in Doctor Who and definitely worth a watch.
4. The Girl Who Waited
After watching Karen Gillan in this episode, it is awe-inspiring to see how far her portrayal of Amy Pond has come. Gillan has never been better as young and old versions of Amy meet, and Rory shows his ultimate love for both to be timeless, in this brilliant Series 6 episode. Torn apart in different time-streams where Amy ages faster than her travelling companions, Amy is forced to wait for more than three decades alone while Rory and the Doctor try to save her. What unfolds is a brilliant re-telling of the feelings that hold the couple together, and affirmation that Rory Williams, played perfectly (as always) by Arthur Darvill, is one of the best new characters to come from the Matt Smith years.
3. The Girl in the Fireplace
In what regular readers will know is one of my favourite episodes, comes the most tragic of love stories in Doctor Who to date. The Doctor finds his soul-mate, in the form of the famous 18th century French mistress Madame De Pompadour. They see each other for who they really are, and in the end are tragically torn apart. Sophia Myles is stunningly good as the French King Louis XV’s mistress and her scenes with Tennant are simply enthralling. After watching this episode you wish, more than anything, that the laws of time would break so that Myles could join the permanent cast forever. No seriously, forever. But then it wouldn’t be as poignant, would it? Another cracker by current head-honcho of Who, Steven Moffat. If you’re interested in finding out more about this story, see my earlier Blueshift post here. Anybody spending Valentines watching Who, watch this.
2. Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead
It was close, but in second comes the episode which began the greatest story never told. River Song, the show’s biggest enigma besides the leading character himself, makes her outstanding first appearance (played by the marvellous Alex Kingston) in this two-parter and begins a legendary tale that will span 3 series and beyond. Though their story begins tragically, we can be assured that we’ve still got plenty of wonderful things to see the Doctor and River do in the future, and that makes her sacrifice (and realisation that he must have known she’d die there the entire time he’d known her) that much more inspiring: River gives up her life, so that the Doctor can experience the one he’s yet to have with her, and tells him she wouldn’t want to change a single thing. Stunning, romantic and captivating; you won’t see many better episodes of Doctor Who that hit this standard of story telling. Bravo Moffo (and please, please, please let us see the Singing Towers of Darillium one day).
1. Army of Ghosts/Doomsday
At number one, you guessed it, is a true heavyweight of all the episodes in the RTD era. It was a dark day for all fans of the new series when the episodes we’d been dreading for an entire season came to fruition. Not dreading because they were bad, but because it signalled the departure of Rose Tyler and, by extension, an end to one of the best love stories ever told on television. Russell T Davies takes the viewer through a roller-coaster of emotions and finally delivers Rose’s last bow with grace and emotion. Without a chance for proper goodbyes, Rose is wrenched, quite literally, from the Doctor’s reach and trapped behind the most unbreakable (except that one time) barrier imaginable just, heartbreakingly, before he gets the chance to say those three words. Be warned, if you’re prone to getting into the moment when it comes to film and television, the ending to this episode will have you in tears. RTD takes the crown for best romantic writer in Doctor Who in my books – and episodes like this are precisely why.
So there you have it! I hope you’ve found this post interesting. I’d love to hear some opinions about whether you think I got the list right (or not), so please like this post or comment below.
Thanks for reading, and happy Valentine’s day!