Earlier this month, we were able to bring you a spoiler free review of this year’s Doctor Who Christmas Special. Spoiler: we really liked it. But now that the episode has played in the UK and US, we’re free to go hog wild with all the juicy bits we couldn’t talk about before. So hang in there folks... This recap is smaller on the outside:
Things kick off in Victorian London, pretty much the perfect setting for a Christmas special. There we meet Clara, a barmaid who almost immediately runs into some weird, menacing snowmen. From there, she also runs into our old friends Madame Vastra, Vastra's wife Jenny, and an angry alien potato man named Strax... But most importantly The Doctor, a man still recovering from the loss of his two companions Amy Pond and Rory Williams, a hundred years before (his time).
And how good is that cold open, huh? Jenna-Louise Coleman is pretty much perfect from her first moment on screen, and the true “introduction” of her character, hanging upside down in a carriage as she asks, “Doctor Who?” is probably the single best meet-cute for a Companion, maybe ever. If you’re not in love with Coleman by the end of the first scene? Well, you will be by the end of the episode.
Okay, let’s sort of skip through it a bit, because I’m writing this prior to watching the episode again in real time, and I’d like to enjoy all the jokes, heart-break, and general brilliance this special entailed, rather than writing the whole time.
Clara goes after The Doctor, as future Companions are wont to do. He pushes back, just wants to be alone, and to make her forget sends Strax to get a Memory Worm. This is a little bit of foreshadowing, but it’s also a laugh out loud funny sketch in the middle of an already hilarious episode. Strax, of course, keeps forgetting about the memory worm every time he touches it, then grabs the memory worm again. So The Doctor lets her remember, she eventually tracks him to his TARDIS in the sky, and we get one of the most beautiful sequences in Who history.
Look, I’m a sucker for old movie musicals, and all we needed from Clara climbing a winding staircase to a cloud created by The Doctor was a little soft shoe to make it perfect. She gets scared though, heads back down, and to her other job: Nanny for a bunch of kids who have a hard time connecting to their emotionally remote father.
The key here isn’t the family, though of course Dad’s remoteness nicely parallels the Doctor’s remoteness (and the villain's, which we’ll get to in just a moment). It’s that the previous nanny died in the pond, and was frozen there ever since. And despite the general warmth outside, it’s snowing again. And the ice is starting to crack.
If you’ve watched any Doctor Who Christmas Special, you know one thing: snow is never just snow. It’s ash, or created by aliens, or fish flakes... Or in this case, it’s an old Who villain called The Great Intelligence - voiced by surprise guest star Ian McKellan - who just wants to take human form. He’s responding to people's thoughts about the season by creating evil snowmen, like a Victorian Zuul... But wants to take control of the Ice Nanny, so he can have human form. This ice form, he reasons, will allow him to go attack warmer places. Like the Doctor says later in the episode, this is not a very solid plan, particularly for a guy called The Great Intelligence.
The Great Intelligence has also used a young boy as his puppet... And that boy has grown into an evil doctor. There’s again echoes of what our Doctor is going through, from him being a hollow shell of a man, to, without any human contact, becoming nothing more than an echo of a human. Sadly, the bad Doc ends up dead, and a puppet for the Great Intelligence (in one of the sillier scenes in the episode). But hey, he was a good metaphor while he lasted.
Back to Clara: realizing something is going on, she tracks down Madame Vastra, who proceeds to put her through a classic Steven Moffat type test. She can ask for help... But only using one word at a time. Clara doesn’t swimmingly, and even aces the one word ask for help test at the end. The word that will make the Doctor coming running? Pond. GET IT?
Clara ends up stuck in the house with the whole gang, matches Matt Smith for land speed speaking record, and then dies.
The Doctor tries to save her, but she straight up dies on Christmas, but not before she makes some allusions to soufflés, and says several other things that ring a bell. Finally, The Doctor puts it together: she’s died before, back in Asylum of The Daleks. He never saw her face then, but knows it was her. He met Oswin Oswald some time far in the future. He met Clara Oswin Oswald in the past. And in our last shot of the episode, he’s going to find her today.
So... What’s going on? How is COO coming back, time and again? Is she the new Rory, destined to die over and over? Is this is a reincarnation thing? A regeneration thing? Clearly, it’s something we’ll see play out over the course of this season... And if she can come back, can Rory and Amy? Or anyone else?
In total, not to repeat what I said in the previous review, but this is easily one of the funniest episodes of Who, ever. It’s also my favorite Christmas Special, right after ‘A Christmas Carol’ - which is my favorite episode of Who, ever. Point being: it’s really, really good. Coleman is a fantastic addition to the cast. Smith plays a gamut of emotions here. And Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax are so good, and so hilarious, I hope they either keep showing up or get their own spin-off.
Do I still think Rory and Amy are coming back? Yup. But given how well this hour knocks it out of the park, and brings us things we truly never have seen on Doctor Who before, I’m in no rush. The Coleman/Smith era can’t officially start soon enough.
- Hey, new TARDIS interior!
- Hey, new credits!
- "Good evening, I'm a lizard woman from the dawn of time, and this is my wife."
- Ian McKellan is definitely coming back, right? That was a nice surprise.
- In the upcoming episodes, I really hope the show keeps some of that sense of olde timey movie magic. I realize it’s a bit of a function of the setting, and the timing, but good gravy it was sweet to watch.
- I can’t stop singing the praises of Coleman and Smith together. We’ll see how it pans out, but so far they’re an amazing match for each other. I hope - despite the kiss - Coleman doesn’t end up all mooney-eyed over the Doctor she can’t have.
- Similarly, the scene of The Doctor giving Clara the TARDIS key is so sweetly written, it lifts the whole Companion-picking process to mythic levels. More of this too, please.
- I didn't notice this the first time through, but did watching the episode right after 'Angels in Manhattan:' The Doctor is wearing Amy Pond's glasses most of the episode. So when Clara guesses the correct word to stem him into action - "Pond" - he takes off the glasses.