Here’s what I can tell you about the new "Doctor Who" Christmas Special, “The Snowmen:” it’s very good. And funny. And the new companion Jenna-Louise Coleman is very good. And funny.
...And that’s about it. Okay, there’s a little bit more, but when BBC America showed off the upcoming, Christmas-airing episode yesterday to a select group of press outlets, it was with the promise of a Non-Disclosure Agreement, and strict outlines of what we can – and can’t – talk about. For example:
- Steven Moffat, who introduced the screening, made us swear, under no circumstances, to reveal anything about *** *** ******.
- I can’t tell you anything about the villain, *** ***** ************
- I also can’t reveal the mystery surrounding ***** ***** ******
- And I DEFNITELY can’t tell you about the Doctor’s new costume. Oh wait, yes I can. It’s cute. He dresses like Scrooge.
Okay, I’ll get into meatier bits, and a review in a moment, but here’s the setup: early Thursday morning – very early, in fact - I headed to the Meatpacking district in NYC to the venue for the breakfast chat and screening. There, I found the always helpful BBC America folks, bright, perky, and a stark contrast from the mumbly, tired journalists inside.
After about six cups of coffee, things got rolling, and in walked Matt Smith (The Doctor), Jenna-Louise Coleman (the new Companion), Steven Moffat (Head Writer), and Caro Skinner (Executive Producer).
Also, to much murmuring from the journos, Neil Gaiman – who is writing his second “Who” episode for next year – also came in, mainly as a fan who wanted to watch the episode. He sat down with Smith to nosh on a bagel, I took a picture, and then later on that day, Gaiman seriously razzed me in front of the entire internet.
Much to my surprise, John Hodgman also came in, as Neil Gaiman’s guest. I chatted with Hodgman briefly, asking whether he was doing something upcoming with "Who." "I wish," said Hodgman. "Here’s your chance," I joked, telling him to pull Steven Moffat aside and force his way into an upcoming episode.
“Oh, they’re very well aware that I’d like to be on the show,” Hodgman told me with a smile. So side note: who would you want to see Hodgman play in "Who," folks? Anyone, right?
Okay, back to the breakfast. It was more of a mingle than a sit-down interview, which led to the “holiday party” spirit of the whole thing. We snapped some pictures of Smith and Coleman, then headed into the screening.
The set-up of the episode, which I’m pretty sure I can tell you, is that evil snowmen are attacking Victorian London. I can also tell you that this picks up a long time after previous companions Amy and Rory Pond have “died,” and the Doctor has retreated from humanity. Along for the ride are returning, extremely welcome guest stars: Silurian detective Madame Vastra - who gets what is possible the funniest line in the episode, her human wife Jenny, and angry alien potato man Strax. And then they meet Clara, played by Coleman. And then Snowmen attack. And then things get much, much worse.
To say much more is to risk the wrath of the BBC, but suffice to say this is probably the second best Christmas episode ever after 2010’s superlative "A Christmas Carol." Since the latter episode is probably my favorite episode of "Who," ever, that’s certainly putting it in high company. The episode is laugh out loud funny, emotional, and more importantly, captures the spirit of the holidays.
There’s a beautiful sequence about halfway through that might be one of the most magical, storybook creations the show has ever done, more on par with a stage play than a TV show, but by golly, it works.
And I mentioned it before, but it’s worth repeating: Jenna-Louise Coleman is a brilliant, perfect addition to the cast. Her patter, delivery, and whole demeanor make her a female Matt Smith, and it’s brilliant. She matches him line for line, move for move, and if you’re not in love with her by the end of the episode...well...you’ll be in love with her.
If there’s one criticism, it’s that after a completely enchanting, laugh out loud funny, romantic three quarters, the episode briefly devolves into slightly more banal action – but this is a five minute bit in what is otherwise a superb hour for the show.
If I had two criticisms, it’s that after a completely accessible, exciting, new viewer-friendly hour, there’s some stuff right at the end that delves heavily into continuity, and might be off-putting for new fans. Hopefully I’m wrong, and it will just make them more intrigued to head back to old episodes for answers; but it’s a slight mis-step. An exciting one for current fans though, so look out. Whatever you think is going to happen? You’re almost definitely wrong.
Oh, and you’re not going to believe who they secretly got to guest star. You have no idea.
"The Snowmen" premieres Tuesday, December 25, 9:00pm ET/PT on BBC AMERICA.