The Doctor (Matt Smith) returns just in time for Christmas and his new companion, Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman), is introduced. So what’s the verdict on this new pairing?
Let’s bitch it out…
In true Doctor Who form, the Christmas Special takes the opportunity to turn another beloved holiday icon into something truly sinister. This year it’s Frosty himself (well, maybe not Frosty directly, but his brethren!) I’ll admit, I found the Snowmen/Great Intelligence plot points of the episode completely preposterous, but that could be due to the fact that I also found it was overly convoluted and confusing. This may be attributed to the fact that it’s a callback to the Doctor Who of yesteryear, before it’s reboot in 2005 (which no doubt is a nice little treat for fans who have been with the show from the beginning). Unfortunately, I could not get on board with this whole “snow-with-memory-looking-for-human-form” to kill everyone. And how completely harmless is the CGI governess? Looks like the entire FX budget went into the new opening credits…
Richard E. Grant is utterly wasted in the thankless role of the Doctor Simeon, who remains isolated and hardened by the world (sound like another Doctor we might know?) and becomes the Intelligence’s puppet. He sulks around stoned-faced for his collective five minutes of screen time, only to be taken over by the Intelligence at the episode’s climax and then unceremoniously killed moments later because the family we’ve been following is crying. Really? And speaking of wasted powerhouse guest stars, look no further than Sir Ian McKellen who provides the omniscient voice of the Intelligence. I know it’s tradition to inject some big names into the Christmas special, but it’s clear that we’re not really supposed to care about this Snowmen narrative. It would have been nice to see talent like Grant and/or McKellen featured in their own episodes.
But even with such huge gripes about the episode’s Big Bad, I quite enjoyed this Christmas Special. This is primarily due to the re-introduction of the much-anticipated new companion, Clara. The Doctor, despite some minimal protests, instantly connects with her and I am right there with him. The chemistry between these two is excellent – a true exemplar of what a starring partnership should be. Clara is just so darn likable, and although it’s been awhile since we’ve seen her in ‘Asylum of the Daleks‘, it’s as if no time has passed. I absolutely love the exchange we get between the two on the rooftop: it’s a wonderful interplay between two very “clever” people. As much as I enjoyed Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill), Clara just feels like a better fit.
Coleman’s big expressive eyes and the ease at which she slides into Moffat’s quick-paced, complex dialogue is the perfect counterpoint to Smith’s Doctor. More importantly, Clara holds her own in scenes without the Doctor, admittedly needing his help but actively trying to work through a Plan B just in case. And Smith is also excellent in this episode, managing to portray an honest evolution in the episode’s short 90-minute span. Even without Madam Vastra (Neve McIntosh) explanation of the Doctor’s sorrow, loneliness and regret at having lost the Ponds, we can see it in his tired face from the first moment he appears on screen. It’s wonderful to see Clara’s inquisitive and flirty nature reinvigorate the Doctor.
Nor does it happen artificially or clunkily; it organically develops over the course of the episode. As Clara lies on her deathbed, there already appears to be a forceful connection between the two as he strokes her hair lovingly. Normally I would whip out the “oh come ons” but for some reason, the chemistry between these two make their expedited connection seem absolutely believable.
Before she dies (again) she whispers to him “Run, you clever boy… And remember”, the same last words she uttered before kicking-it in “Asylum of the Daleks”. This spurs The Doctor into his delightful old self and he excitedly begins his quest across time and space to find her. The Doctor’s exuberance is infectious in the episode’s last moment, easily tiding me over until the series returns in April.
- Surprisingly, I totally don’t mind the kissing between Clara and The Doctor. Generally, I think it’s better to have a more platonic relationship between The Doctor and his companions, although when Amy first met the Doctor, she overtly propositioned him, and the Rose/Doctor mutual love was one for the history books, so what do I know? Wouldn’t it be nice to see The Doctor initiate a kiss? The jury’s still out on this one. For now, I don’t mind if this pairing dips into romance territory, though I’ll admit I did have flashes to River (Alex Kingston) in my head (primarily because of The Doctor’s squirming). Is this cheating?
- I loved the numerous nods to other science-fiction/fantasy texts, including Men In Black’s memory wipe (i.e. the worm), the utterance of the Game of Thrones tagline “Winter is coming” (not once but twice), and of course, the nod to Moffat’s other brilliant series, Sherlock. (My heart quickened when the servant introduced ‘Sherlock Holmes’ hoping for a Cumberbatch cameo. Alas, it was not to be, but a great fake-out nonetheless).
- I still like the cheeky uses of “Doctor who?” throughout, but I feel that we’re just at the cusp of redundancy by now.
- I didn’t much care for the notion of “The Doctor & Friends”. It’s great that he’s got allies, but Madam Vastra, Jenny (Catrin Steward) and Strax (Dan Starkey) were merely utilitary characters to move the plot along rather than actually serving on The Doctor’s team. If the show is going to use these allies again, they need to be more integral to the proceedings.
- Although Strax’s function was minor, his comedic beats add a much-needed lightness to a rather dark episode (A woman trapped for hours in a pond because it froze over before dying a horrible death? Yikes! Merry Christmas, kiddies!)
- Equally hilarious is the whole bow-tie/mirror exchange between The Doctor and Clara. Anyone who can act that good in front of a mirror deserves some serious points for keeping a straight face.
- The “one-word” conversation is particularly well played by Coleman. A gamut of emotions is conveyed with that handful of words and gives us a clearer sense of who Clara is and why she deserves to become a companion.
What did you think viewers? Did you enjoy this Christmas Special? Did it hold up to the ones of season’s past? How do you like our new companion? Any theories on who or what Clara might be? Hit up the comments and let us know your thoughts.
Doctor Who returns to BBC America in April 2013.