Tag Archives: Victorian

Matt watches the Christmas specials #8: The Snowmen (Spoiler-free)

28 Dec

Doctor Who - The Snowmen

Title: The Snowmen
Written by: Steven Moffat
Year: 2012

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…

The Doctor, The SnowmenThe Doctor’s lost his mojo after the departure of the Ponds. But on the horizon is an impending invasion-by-ice, spearheaded by one Dr. Simeon (Richard E. Grant).

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?

timthumb (4)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.

Clara and The Doctor

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.

Vastra, Strax and Jenny

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!

Doctor and Clara on the cloud

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!

8/10

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.

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Matt watches the Christmas Specials #4: The Next Doctor

19 Dec

The Next Doctor

Title: The Next Doctor
Written by: Russell T Davies
Year: 2008

Victorian Christmas! Another Doctor! The one, the only and the best! Rosita! Allons-y! Cybermen! Tethered Aerial Release Developed In Style! Cyberking! Miss Hartigan! Bravo sir!

Few DW episodes begin as brilliantly as The Next Doctor: Straight from the off viewers are presented with a classic Victorian Christmas; complete with snow, mouthy young boys and nobles (no Donna’s) wandering around and, as it should be, somebody calls out for the Doctor just after he remarks that 1851 is a quiet year, prompting a meeting with another man claiming to be the Doctor (David Morrissey) followed by a Cybershade jumping out of a wooden doorway! Perfect.

A Victorian Christmas.

A Victorian Christmas.

The Doctor, after a brilliant pursuit scene involving a rope and a lot of bum-friction, is introduced to… The Doctor, and his feisty companion; Rosita (get it? HA). We learn that something is afoot in London town, that surrounds the mysterious disappearance of Jackson Lake, and the Cybermen may be responsible for the “next” Doctor’s mysterious memory loss.

This was of course, the first in a run of specials that mainly spanned 2009 (ending with The End of Time Part 2) and so naturally the theme of the episode is supposed to address the idea of the Tenth Doctor facing the real possibility of his own regeneration. However, this theme is only touched upon a few times – and rightly so; this is a Christmas special after all. There is a sequence that showcases all of the Timelord’s incarnations in chronological order similar to the one seen in future Smith-era episode The Eleventh Hour though, which is a nice touch for fans of the classic series as well as an informative nod for newer fans.

Gravecrashing

Cybermen gravecrashing a funeral.

But back to story-related matters, the villains of this episode are the Cybermen: Monsters viewers hadn’t seen for over a year at the time of broadcast, their previous appearance being in Doomsday, and they are a great addition to the plot. This time, the steely menaces are trying to use steampunk technology to raise something they call “the Cyberking” with the help of their shrewd , male-hating human accomplice Miss Hartigan (Dervla Kirwan). The cybermen get some good moments in The Next Doctor including a very cool storm-the-beach style sequence during a funeral scene and Davies plays to their strengths throughout the entire story. An interesting addition to the Cyber-ranks in this episode are the Cybershades but, as to their specific purpose, we are left guessing. They appear to be crudely cyber-converted bears, and apart from a few appearances in the story they are not really featured or used at all – let alone explained. However, due to the general effectiveness of the main plot on the whole, niggling points such as this (or another such as the rather conspicuous “Cyberking” and its apparent non-impression on history) are easily forgotten.

The Cybershades.

The pointless, although interesting-looking Cybershades.

In the run up to The Next Doctor’s broadcast date, there was a huge amount of speculation as to whether David Morrissey really was a future Doctor. Regardless of whether or not he turns out to be however, he is simply fantastic in this episode. Morrissey, as far as I’m concerned, really could be a future incarnation of the Timelord. He certainly has the talent, and manages to pull off the role with exceptional warmth and vulnerability when trying to recover what “was lost” – a lovely reveal in itself, that comes toward the end. In particular, a scene in which he and the Tenth Doctor talk of the nightmares a Timelord who has seen so much must have is particularly telling, as well as when he shows Tennant’s Doctor his own “TARDIS” – an eye-opening reflection of the shows hero in many respects.

Rosita

Rosita, played by Velile Tshabalala.

Tennant is also, as usual, on top form. Particularly during the final scenes of the episode when he talks about the companions who have left him: “In the end, they break my heart.” Also worth mentioning is the wonderful Velile Tshabalala, who plays Rosita, for so effortlessly filling the role of the Doctor’s companion – both of them! She gets the part pitch-perfect during the entire story and we are almost left wishing she had joined the Doctor on a more permanent basis by the end of the episode.

Meeting the Next Doctor

"Stand back sir, this is a job for a Timelord!"

Favourite moment: Even though it’s in the first couple of minutes, the beginning scene is easily my favourite moment of this episode. Emerging from the TARDIS the Doctor finds himself in Victorian Britain during Christmas time. After remarking that 1851 is a quiet year, he suddenly hears somebody shouting “Doctor!” Grinning, he sets off to discover the source – “Who? Me?” Finding a woman standing in front of a doorway that is being broken down from the inside he responds to her call only to be met with “Well there can’t be two of ‘ya!” Confused, he is suddenly told to stand back by none other… than the Doctor! “The one, the only, and the best!” Together the two Doctor’s stand side by side, sonic (and “sonic”) screwdrivers drawn to face an emerging Cybershade (both: “that’s new…”) before exclaiming in unison – “Allons-y!”

The Next Doctor is easily one of my favourite Christmas specials. It has Cybermen, a brilliant cast, an excellent score by Murray Gold and a solid (and satisfying) story. Humorous and touching moments alike can be found throughout and the whole episode is a delight to watch. Another wonderful Christmas cracker (if you’ll excuse the awful pun) from Davies indeed: “Bravo sir, bravo!”

9/10

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