A Little Bit of Nip in the Air (The Snowmen)

(56 comments)

Abominable special effects.
It’s December 25th, 2012. Justice Collective are at number one with “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” blocking the X-Factor winner from its traditional Christmas coronation by being a supergroup charity recording for Hillsborough charities, which is basically the sort of thing it’s impossible not to have go to number one. Rihanna, Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift, and Psy also chart. 

In the three months since the Angels took Manhattan, Barack Obama took a second term, Hurricane Sandy took out a large swath of the New York/New Jersey coast, and Disney took over the rights to Star Wars. Much more bleakly, the fact that Jimmy Saville was a horrific and serial pedophile who sexually abused hundreds of people came out. Also, Nadine Dorries is suspended from the Conservative Party because she decides to appear on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! She was beaten by, among others, Colin Baker. 

While on television, after our five-week dalliance with the Ponds, the future promised back in Asylum of the Daleks finally fails to arrive again. We’ll tackle the problems and brilliances of the Impossible Girl story over the next season, so there’s not really a rush, but it is worth noting that some of its weaknesses start to appear here. This is by design a false start - the new companion is seemingly introduced and then killed. Unlike in Asylum of the Daleks, this one was billed as the debut of Jenna Coleman. If you paid a lot of attention you could tell there was a ruse, but for the most part, it was a solid bait and switch. Certainly this was necessary for the Impossible Girl arc, not least because without it the headline was “the new companion is a Dalek” and not “the new companion keeps dying.” 

The trouble is, the moment when Clara gets killed is the moment when a tremendously promising and interesting episode goes off the rails. Part of this is unrelated to the plot twist as such - the fact that “a family crying on Christmas Eve” as the only thing powerful enough to stop the snow is grotesquely unearned, for instance, has little to do with killing Clara as such. The real problem is simply that Clara’s death transforms The Snowmen from a relatively self-contained bit of Christmas fairy tale into a teaser for the next season. Which is, of course, always the problem (and brilliance) of the Impossible Girl arc - it constantly erases what’s actually there, replacing it with a mystery about what isn’t. 

So let’s, in effect, simply clip off more or less everything between Clara’s fatal fall and the cemetery scene, allowing this episode to be a tremendously charming Christmas fairy tale with one of the best images in the history of the series in the form of that impossibly tall staircase ascending to the TARDIS on a cloud that closes with a quick teaser to get everyone back in March. The future will come along eventually anyway, so no need to talk about it now.

If we do this, the first thing that jumps out is the fact that it looks for all the world like we’re actually going to get a companion who’s not from contemporary Earth. And more to the point, it looks like it would work. (Thich also raises the notable point that Clara is developed enough here that it’s possible to believe her as the companion - there’s enough work put into fleshing out her world. My trait of choice is probably that she has a “secret voice” for the kids, which I think is brilliant.) This is not exactly a surprise to anyone who remembers the myriad of times it did work in the classic series, but it’s nevertheless worth pointing out. There are essentially two supposed problems to solve with non-contemporary companions, and Clara here seems to knock both off nicely. 

The first is the way in which the contemporary show relies on the companion having a notion of home that they return to. You certainly could break this and start having companions with no lives outside the TARDIS again, but the fact of the matter is that it’s improved the show tremendously. A moderate recurring cast and a familiar location to return to are both effective tricks, and the presence of a larger life for companions makes them richer characters. But equally, you need a home that can be quickly sketched - the great trick of EastPowellStreet was that it painted a picture of a soap opera with only a few lines of dialogue. But the Victorian era is readily and instinctively familiar, or, at least, the television Victorian era is. Clara’s status as a barmaid/governess is lovely, but more importantly, makes swift, intuitive sense. The Paternoster Gang provides a sort of Victorian UNIT. You can sketch a Victorian world easily, and indeed, despite Moffat abandoning the idea of having the new companion actually be a Victorian governess, three of the next eleven episodes return to this setting. Indeed, between this and Into the Dalek, we actually see more of the Victorian era than we do Clara’s actual contemporary home. 

The second is ostensibly trickier, namely the idea that the companion’s job is to serve as an audience identification figure. This is, as anyone who’s familiar with my views on narratology will already know, a tricky phrase at best. With the exception of, really, Season One and Season One, the audience doesn’t need much of an identification figure. At any point in its history where Doctor Who is a major cultural phenomenon, it doesn’t need someone to mediate it for the audience. Doctor Who is an identifiable format. Identifying with the Doctor is easy enough. Nor is the other usual meaning of “audience identification figure,” where the companion’s job is to ask the questions the viewer would ask altogether straightforward. For one thing, the supporting cast can do that just as well, and indeed, once the companion’s onto their third or fourth story, it makes more sense for the supporting cast to do the “ask the obvious questions” work, as the companion isn’t a newbie anymore.

A more accurate way to phrase it is that the companion’s job is to try the things that might occur to the audience. In the default setup of a Doctor Who story, the Doctor is the one who is likely to behave unpredictably and try something that doesn’t immediately make sense to the audience, while the companion is the one who does the things the audience might think to try. But what that really means is that the companion’s job isn’t to be an audience identification figure, but rather to be a fairly straightforward enactment of the tropes of adventure fiction. The companion isn’t there to do what the audience would do, but rather to do what the audience would expect based on the genre tropes. And since Victorian Clara is actually closer to the original source of those tropes than a contemporary Earth companion, that’s not particularly hard either. She behaves exactly like an adventure heroine does, and is portrayed as someone with an instinctive understanding of those tropes. 

This is central to how the Impossible Girl arc works. The first thing we learn about Clara is that she’s very good at being a Doctor Who companion. Then we gradually learn what sort of person would be good at that. But since we’ve already seen Jenna Coleman play two other Doctor Who companions, we start unusually familiar with the ways in which she does companion stuff. This also being the stuff instinctively familiar with any companion, it plays its needed role of being much more obvious than anything else about her character, thus allowing the non-mystery to function. (Similarly essential is the fact that Clara is ultimately much more ordinary than her two exotic predecessors, which further serves to make her look smaller than she actually is.)

But we’re drifting off into the future again. Although that’s perhaps worthwhile for looking at the Paternoster Gang, who make their proper debut here. From the start, they are on one level a series of recurring gags. Especially when the “Madame Vastra Investigates” prequel is taken into account, Vastra and Jenny quickly become a running joke about shocking Victorians with lesbian marriage. (There’s a line of critique that views this as exploitative and as being about shock value, to which I’d point out that it’s never the fact of their relationship that’s used to shock, but the existence of same-sex marriage.) Strax debuts with the basic two jokes he’s always going to get, and there’s a strong case to be made that he actually never gets a scene as funny as the memory worm stuff again. 

While this observation is true, the idea that it’s a critique does not inherently follow. The joke that Strax’s reaction to everything is to try to wage war on it is one-note, but this just sets it up to be one of those sketch comedy bits where you take the same basic joke and then get new material out of it by varying the circumstances in which it comes up. Yes, Strax misunderstands everything by assuming it’s a military engagement, but all this requires is giving him a decent variety of things to misunderstand. (In this regard the highlights of Strax are probably the two intros recorded for Day of the Doctor and Deep Breath’s cinematic screenings.) What’s more interesting is the joke that largely drops out of the Doctor being, frankly, kind of a complete jerk to Strax.

But perhaps the more important observation is that Madame Vastra is that she’s an enormously useful character. There are a handful of characters in the history of the show who have been successfully used to provide a maternal figure for the Doctor, and pretty much all of them have been brilliant. Of them, however, Vastra stands out due to the fact that she has a worldview that is alien both to the Doctor’s and to the audience’s makes her a particularly compelling one. The one word game (and especially Clara’s response of “words”) is absolutely brilliant, and the complexity involved in her comment that she helps the Doctor’s isolation but doesn’t approve of it is similarly wonderful. With Strax to provide a contrast and Jenny to serve a role not unlike that of the companion, the Paternoster Gang is an effective supporting cast, even if Strax’s role as comic relief is at times limiting.

And then of course there’s the Great Intelligence, used here more or less as a straight-up joke for the handful of people who will get it. (Which at the time would have been pretty small, given that both of his Troughton stories consisted of a single episode.) In some ways it weakens the episode, in that it follows the problems with killing Clara up with a sense that the episode was just a shaggy dog story. And it’s not entirely unfair to ask “why,” especially given that more or less everything distinctive is taken away from the Great Intelligence and he becomes just another kind of generic villain - a sort of ersatz Master played with delightful lack of irony by Richard E Grant. Of course I punched the air at the time, but it was very much a gag that worked best on broadcast. (Although the knowledge that Web of Fear had been found does make it a bit more sensible.)

In some ways the more interesting thing about the Great Intelligence is that the Doctor doesn’t immediately place him. It’s not that it’s particularly odd that someone wouldn’t remember something that was centuries ago for them. But given that The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear are both iconic classics, the fact that the Doctor doesn’t remember them is striking, in that it firmly establishes that his own sense of his history isn’t equivalent to his history as a television character. One wonders what other classics the Doctor’s lost track of.


But for all of this, I think the most interesting moment of the episode is one that’s both rarely commented on and future-looking, which is Clara’s snapping at the Doctor, “Oh, spoken like a man. You know, you're the same as all the rest. Sweet little Clara, works at the Rose And Crown, ideas above her station. Well, for your information, I'm not sweet on the inside, and I'm certainly not little.” What’s interesting here is, of course, that it is in many ways the key to the entire Impossible Girl arc. Clara tells the Doctor and us, point blank, that looking at appearances and going with initial assumptions about her is the wrong approach. For all that the arc ultimately hinges on a twist that isn’t guessable until it happens, the arc plays scrupulously fair. We’re told up front everything we need to know. And we faithfully miss it, just like we’re supposed to.

Comments

frank fair 2 years, 8 months ago

Reading the Doctor Who Companion for Series 7b, you can see why Moffat had second thoughts about having a Victorian companion. While I'm sure that Moffat would've handled her well (e.g. Madame de Pompadour-RTD "Why can't she be a companion?") and Neil Gaiman says his "Beryl" version of NiS was much better, but I think other writers particularly the reliable "solid adventure" writers would've really struggled

The magazine has a summary of Gattis's first draft of Cold War with a Victorian Clara, and Gatiss just can't make it work.
"Beryl" has to have the idea of submarines explained to her, then she has to have the Cold War explained to her, and then she has to change out of her cumbersome Victorian crinoline on the sub, before she can start adventuring. It just slows down everything and doesn't really work as a juxtaposition. It's not that he makes her stupid, but it does create problems. And this was from Gatiss-who loves Victoriana. So imagine how other writers would've struggled

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TommyR01D 10 months, 1 week ago

The Classic Series made it work with Jamie and Victoria.

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Bennett 2 years, 8 months ago

"And it’s not entirely unfair to ask “why,” especially given that more or less everything distinctive is taken away from the Great Intelligence and he becomes just another kind of generic villain..."

I consider the Great Intelligence to be an informed and ingenious choice for this story's adversary, irrespective of the 'snowman' joke. And I don't think it's unreasonable to tip a little heavily to the future here in explaining why, considering that is precisely where the meta-narrative of Doctor Who was focused at the time.

By this stage the audience has been trained to expect the seed of a series' 'big bad' to be sewn in early, to muster sufficient momentum for the eventual climax. As this is the earliest point where this can occur without disrupting the draining of the Ponds, it is almost out of necessity that The Snowmen has to engage with that 'big bad'.

We also knew that early 2013 would see a shortened run of eight episodes with Moffat penning just two - the premiere and the finale. And that that single episode finale must in some way tantalise the big event in its wake. If the 'big bad' is too big, the structure falls apart.

So I think that Moffat is not ignoring the established characteristics of the Great Intelligence - but playing to the only characteristic that was ever really established for it. That it's nebulous - a shapeless, formless entity that can glance across the master narrative of the 50th without distorting it.

And I think choosing a forgotten relic of the show's past is not about making an exclusive in-joke, but about providing a way to maintain relevance to this narrative. Doctor Who's past weighs more heavily upon it here than at any other point. So what else could the big threat looming in the anniversary's shadow be but having this past forgotten. For it to become a whispered babble of misremembered moments - shapeless and formless.

Not for nothing was the part deliberately cast as Richard E. Grant, the Doctor twice dead. Doctor Who has an open wound that needs to be healed - the time when it was forgotten, abandoned in the wilderness. And I can think of no more appropriate villain to pull apart the scar tissue as we await its Doctor.

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dm 2 years, 8 months ago

And the episode we got had so many interesting ideas and themes to explore! Thank god they trimmed the fat! A Victorian governess played by jenna Louise Coleman trying to navigate strange technology in a strange political climate sounds like SUCH a snoozefest! I shudder to think how it could have been any better than a beyond-generic action thriller with shockingly bad cgi and a couple of ultravox references.

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Aylwin 2 years, 8 months ago

Ah, you say, that, but what about the...the...er...hold on, I can do this...er...no, I give up.

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JJ Gauthier 2 years, 8 months ago

Equally, if there really is an episode where it's messing with the pacing or whatnot, it's a pretty easy fix, especially with a character like Clara who catches on fast. You just explain the submarine quickly (Eleven excitedly explaining that it's a boat that's entirely underwater), and she just deadpans, "Terrifying." (Alternately, given when she comes from, "Ooh, very Jules Verne.") Which can lead into a little banter or just move on, as required by the episode's pacing. But that sort of companion, as dm suggested, can lead to creating a sense of wonder for things we take as ordinary.

It can pay off later, talking with the Ice Warrior, "I'm already on a boat that's made to sink, and they tell me it's absolutely safe no matter how much water leaks in from everywhere. You? Not so scary." (Which sounds a little more like an Amy thing to say than Clara, but given that Gatiss just writes "generic companion" every time out anyway...)

Similarly, you can have a little fun with the Cold War, since an outsider can laugh or joke about the sheer absurdity of the concept of a war where we keep threatening to blow up the world if the other side doesn't stop threatening to blow up the world. The idea can be sketched out in a line or two, given a little banter, and even given a little extra thematic resonance within that banter.

Really not a problem if you just let the companion be clever enough. I mean, once you have "bigger on the inside" out of the way, and put them on a spaceship, maybe give them a little scene to get the gist of a computer (and Clara turned out to not really get computers anyway), they should be able to accept pretty much anything. (robots may be some sort of "mechanical man" or whatever, but the basic concept shouldn't be any real problem)

It's sort of like Anne Chaplet getting replaced with Dodo because they can't just say "clever, quick study", have a little fun with it, and move on. Except, in this case, Clara turned out to be awesome anyway. But yeah, the objection doesn't hold water at all.

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mimhoff 2 years, 8 months ago

It doesn't make sense because Victorian Clara has never heard of "Hungry Like the Wolf".

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frank fair 2 years, 8 months ago

Well judging from article you would've gotten the same beyond-generic action thriller, with bad cgi, only with an extra 5 minutes of the Victorian companion having to have everything explained to her, while she talks about her "Mamma". Oh and in one earlier version the Ice Warrior also hypnotized her into starting the missiles

My point being, I honestly think writers like Gatiss, and Thompson and Chibnall are good at what they do. I can understand why Moffat keeps hiring them and likes their work. Sometimes they're even interesting. But based on reading about Gattss's script, I honestly think they'd have faltered with a Victorian Clara

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jane 2 years, 8 months ago

The One-Word Game

So let's take a closer look at the One Word Game, now that the visuals have been established. The construction of this scene is amazing. It is, above all else, a study in contradiction.

STRAX: Do not attempt to escape, or you will obliterated. May I take your coat?

It begins with a juxtaposition of opposites. On the one hand, the Sontaran offers violence. On the other, he offers etiquette, civility, manners. And he does it with two recurring memes: The Doctor is always engaged in escape, and since Amelia showed up, he's frequently told her to "get her coat."

JENNY: Sit.

VASTRA: There are two refreshments in your world the color of red wine. This is not red wine.


Jenny tells Clara to sit (a Buddhist meme) and Vastra begins by offering the power of negation, which is at the heart of contradiction. Vastra does not offer the truth of what she is drinking. She only offers what it is not.

JENNY: Madame Vastra will ask you questions. You will confine yourself to single-word responses. One word only. Do you understand?

CLARA: Why?

VASTRA: Truth is singular. Lies are words, words, words.


Already Clara has demonstrated that's she's more than qualified to play this game. The first response she gives is a single word, but it isn't an answer, it's a question. She has already reversed the roles that have been established, while adhering to them at the same time. Clara is a walking contradiction. Vastra, on the other hand, speaks the truth and lies at the same time. Truth is singular, but it is also manifold. It exists and is denied by words, simultaneously, as we shall see.

VASTRA: You met the Doctor, didn't you?

CLARA: Yes.

VASTRA: And now you've come looking for him again. Why?

JENNY: Take your time. One word, only.


Jenny stands in the background, behind Clara. While Vastra is the dominant one in the relationship, the "Doctor" to Jenny's "Companion," it emerges that Jenny has Doctorish qualities of her own. In particular, she is taking the role of Advocate. She encourages Clara, and eventually, as Clara reveals her qualifications, Vastra looks to Jenny to confirm that she's reading the situation correctly, that she's right to be impressed. So Jenny is both submissive and dominant, as is Vastra. Truth is singular and manifold.

CLARA: Curiosity.

VASTRA: About?

CLARA: Snow.

VASTRA: And about him?

CLARA: Yes.


Truth is bifocal. Clara is curious about the Snow, and she's curious about the Doctor. Vastra recognizes that one word may not be clear enough, and yet, it is. This story is called The Snowmen, but that's a misleading and revealing title. The Doctor is a Snowman. He is, in a sense, as much a mirror as the Snow. It's not a lie, or incomplete, for Clara to say Snow and mean more than one thing about it.

VASTRA: What do you want from him?

CLARA: Help.

VASTRA: Why?


This is not Vastra's first mirroring of Clara, but it's the first perfect reflection. Clara's first singular word in this game was "Why?" and now it comes back to her; Vastra has claimed it for herself, and she keeps coming back to it. It is, in fact, crucial to the climax of this scene.

CLARA: Danger.

VASTRA: Why would he help you?

CLARA: Kindness.

VASTRA: The Doctor is not kind.

CLARA: No?


Vastra negates Clara's claim that the Doctor is kind. "Kind," of course, has been a key word in describing the Eleventh Doctor. Back in The Beast Below, it was how Amy realized that the Doctor and the Star Whale were alike...

(to be continued...)

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jane 2 years, 8 months ago

Clara responds to Vastra's contradiction with another negation, and puts it in the form of a question. She disagrees, and asks for clarification, taking control of the situation again. Her "No?" is also a mirroring of the first word she uttered that was not a question, "Yes." She has demonstrated the ability to Reverse Polarity.

VASTRA: No. The Doctor doesn't help people. Not anyone, not ever. He stands above this world, and doesn't interfere in the affairs of its inhabitants. He is not your salvation, nor your protector. Do you understand what I am saying to you?

CLARA: Words.


Perfect, absolutely perfect. Vastra is stunned that Clara has the kind of presence to take Vastra's own words and turn them against her. And this gets to one of the great points of this scene. Vastra says that singular words are more true than a multiplicity. Clara's rebuke of Vastra's description of the Doctor seems to be a confirmation of this philosophy.

But in hindsight, Vastra has not lied. The resolution of this story bears out her description. The Doctor does not save Clara, does not protect her. He doesn't even save the world -- Clara and the Latimer family are ultimately the ones who accomplish that task.

VASTRA: He was different, once, a long time ago. Kind, yes. A hero, even. A savior of worlds. But he suffered losses which hurt him. Now he prefers isolation to the possibility of pain's return. Kindly choose a word to indicate your understanding of this.

CLARA: Man.


Vastra negates her previous words -- which set of words are true, and which are false? Both, and both. However, she does point to the central concern of this story, which is the Doctor's reaction to loss. This is what the entire story is about, and the truth of it is spoken at the halfway mark of the episode, at the center.

When Vastra asks for Clara's response, she asks Clara to do so kindly. This establishes Clara as someone who is kind, who possesses the lost aspect of the Doctor, who can function as his mirror. And her response is beautifully two-fold, not singular. On the one hand, "Man" can refer to all of humanity, that this propensity to avoid grief is an aspect of the human condition, and this is certainly true. But it can also be taken in a gendered fashion. In this scene, we have three women. They all care, they all engage in relationship despite the inevitability of grief. Back in Victorian times, at least, this was also a truthful way of distinguishing the gender roles expected of men and women.

VASTRA: We are the Doctor's friends. We assist him in his isolation, but that does not mean we approve of it. So, a test for you. Give me a message for the Doctor. Tell him all about the snow and what fresh danger you believe it presents, and above all, explain why he should help you. But do it in one word. You're thinking it's impossible such a word exists,or that you could even find it. Let's see if the gods are with you.

CLARA: Pond.


We don't actually hear Clara give her response. In the climax, we get empty space, a beat before the reveal. The ultimate negation.

There are two refreshments in our world the color of red wine. This is not red wine. Wine is a metaphor. To the Sufis, it is used to talk about divinity, the movement of God within us. And the gods are with Miss Clara. Pond. A single word, which carries so many meanings. The physical pond at the Latimer estate. The loss the Doctor has suffered. And also the Frozen Mirror, the central metaphor of the story. Perfectly perfect. The work of gods.

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John 2 years, 8 months ago

Wasn't Ian McKellen the Great Intelligence in this story? I thought Grant was Dr. Simeon for the vast majority of the story here, with only a brief bit of playing the Intelligence. It's not until Bells of St John that Grant is playing the Intelligence.

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Nyq Only 2 years, 8 months ago

What I really like about this episode is that it is really a story in River's continuity. This doesn't become clear until the Name of the Doctor, when we discover that River's death has caught up with the Doctor's timeline. In retrospect the Doctor's grief becomes ore understandable.
Losing the Ponds was sad but it was not the most tragic loss of a companion. Losing River (having always known when and how she would die) is something else altogether.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 8 months ago

between this and Into the Dalek, we actually see more of the Victorian era

Do you mean "Deep Breath"? I'm not remembering the Victorian portions of "Into the Dalek."

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BerserkRL 2 years, 8 months ago

Oh wait. I was misreading "between." Never mind.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 8 months ago

One wonders what other classics the Doctor’s lost track of.

Well, "Girl in the Fireplace," for one. A particularly odd one for him to forget, too.

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Alan 2 years, 8 months ago

I was quite pleased with the reimagining of the GI and rather disappointed with how he(it?) was apparently killed off in Name of the Doctor. Moffatt wisely realized that the thing people remember about the two prior stories -- the ludicrous-looking Yetis -- were never nearly as interesting as the GI itself, a disembodied intelligence that wants to conquer the world by possessing all of its inhabitants. It was all wonderfully Lovecraftian ... until one of the novelizations ruined all that by making it literally Lovecraftian.

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Alan 2 years, 8 months ago

"This is by design a false start - the new companion is seemingly introduced and then killed."

To me, a weakness of the episode was the manner of Victorian-Clara's death (and that's before we get to the "sad Victorian family's tears kill the evil snow" business). Oswin's death was a stunning plot twist. Victorian-Clara, OTOH, died because the Doctor forgot to close the door. Intellectually, I know the plot (and the metaplot) basically demanded her death. But stupid, casually avoidable deaths annoy me.

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Jonathan Staal 2 years, 8 months ago

Although I think part of that could be attributed to the regeneration trauma of the episode.

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Jonathan Staal 2 years, 8 months ago

Wonderful analysis. I love everything about that scene, with the exception of her final response. After the brilliance displayed through the entire conversation, Clara ultimately succeeds on pure dumb luck. Hell, even Vastra knows it going in "let's see if the gods are with you."

She says Pond, only conveying where the danger is. It is only through the coincidence of it being the last name of the family he lost that it is able to convey to the Doctor (and of course the audience) why he needs to face the danger.

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peeeeeeet 2 years, 8 months ago

The Doctor is a Snowman.

Worth noting that "The Snowman" was a nickname given to the seventh Doctor in The Room With No Doors.

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encyclops 2 years, 8 months ago

I was just about to ask if someone could explain to me what was so wonderful about this scene, which I have never liked. I don't think I could ever expect a better explanation.

I still don't like it. But at least now I understand what other people like about it.

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encyclops 2 years, 8 months ago

Clara tells the Doctor and us, point blank, that looking at appearances and going with initial assumptions about her is the wrong approach.

I know what you mean, I think, but in fact isn't she exactly what she appears to be? It's looking past what she appears to be -- just an ordinary 21st century Earth woman who's brave and clever -- that turns out to be the error.

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 8 months ago

One wonders what other classics the Doctor’s lost track of.

Also, sliding into meta territory perhaps: isn't the Doctor struggling to remember the GI also just a cheeky nod to the fact the episodes are missing?

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BerserkRL 2 years, 8 months ago

Clara ultimately succeeds on pure dumb luck

In this scene future-Clara is cleverly disguised as the idea "Pond" flitting through past-Clara's mind.

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Adam Riggio 2 years, 8 months ago

If you're referring to the clockwork robots from Deep Breath, they were from the Madame du Pompadour's sister ship. And the Doctor never actually knew that name of the ship where the original clockwork robots from Girl in the Fireplace came from. All he knew in the 2006 story was that clockwork robots had fixated obsessively on Reinette; he didn't know that their confusion lay in the robots' confusion over their ship's name. So it isn't that the Doctor forgot about his relationship with Madame du Pompadour, it's that there was no immediate reason in his knowledge to connect the ship with the adventure. The comment in Deep Breath isn't so much about what the Doctor has forgotten, but what he didn't notice in the first place.

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Adam Riggio 2 years, 8 months ago

From the Doctor's perspective, Clara-prime initially appears to be a mystery, a strange signifier drifting across his timeline, an obsession that, as far as he's concerned, obscures her actual nature as an ordinary 21st century Earth woman who's extraordinarily brave and clever.

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Bennett 2 years, 8 months ago

Wasn't Ian McKellen the Great Intelligence in this story?

I did say I'd be tipping heavily to the future. And I find it difficult to imagine it was ever the case that Grant was cast as purely Dr. Simeon without an eye on his upcoming availability.

The choice of Ian McKellen for the Intelligence's initial voice feels like it comes from the angle of "let's get the most recognisable voice we can in for a day's work". Which is either a clever underlining of the theme of recognition, or a fun bit of yuletide stunt casting. (It's too much of a stretch, even for me, to claim that the Doctor's idea of himself as a 'Space Gandalf' from Meanwhile in the TARDIS has anything to do with it).

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Bennett 2 years, 8 months ago

Clara ultimately succeeds on pure dumb luck

There's nothing 'pure' or 'dumb' about it. As jane says, truth can be bifocal. "Pond" is not just a lucky response, it is also a clever response irrespective of its double meaning (and Moffat takes care to have the Doctor emphasise this when he first scans the frozen pond).

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Steven 2 years, 8 months ago

death is often stupid and easily avoidable.

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jane 2 years, 8 months ago

And yet, Clara isn't exactly who she seems to be. She puts on a persona of cheerfulness to mask her inner control freak. So there *is* something hidden inside, but that too is simply an ordinary 21st Century woman.

And the thing is, it was perfectly possible to discern Clara's temperament just by paying attention to her throughout Series Seven -- hell, it's practically spelled in Bells alone, from the say she bosses the Doctor around for coffee in Bells, yanks the laptop away to find the shard, and sets boundaries for their "dates."

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BerserkRL 2 years, 8 months ago

True, but still ....

"SS Marie Antoinette. Out of control repair droids cannibalising human beings. I know that this is familiar, but I just can't seem to place it. ... Sister ship of the Madame De Pompadour. No, not getting it."

Okay, so he didn't know the Madame De Pompadour was a ship. But seeing the name might have reminded him that he had a romance with the historical Madame De Pompadour, and that his adventure with her involved "Out of control repair droids cannibalising human beings."

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BerserkRL 2 years, 8 months ago

And in real life hours go by with nothing interesting happening. Not an argument for putting it in a story.

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Alan 2 years, 8 months ago

"After the brilliance displayed through the entire conversation, Clara ultimately succeeds on pure dumb luck." But that's the thing. Our immediate impression is that Victorian Clara succeeded through almost miraculous luck. Our second impression (well, mine anyway) is that she succeeded through cleverness -- "pond" is such a strange non sequitur to the question asked that might have made the Doctor curious enough to investigate even without the Amy-Rory connection. It is only in hindsight that we know that Clara is the Impossible Girl and the seeming impossibility of her actions arises from the fact that she (subconsciously at this point, it seems) knows about the Doctor's past. The phrase "Impossible Girl" is not yet in our vocabulary, yet Clara has casually done something that Vastra has suggested is impossible.

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5tephe 2 years, 8 months ago

I want Moffat to start hiring JJ Gauthier.

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Jarl 2 years, 8 months ago

It would be silly and perhaps a little tone deaf to suggest that he forgets every Master adventure within a few days time, but there it is.

I'm also a little unclear about if he remembers Day of the Moon, even during the two parter they talk about how they can't remember the first part.

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Adam Riggio 2 years, 8 months ago

Though I was only able to get it up a couple of days later and it's a bit of a non-sequitur to appear on the Snowmen post, I've started my series of wrap-ups for the first Capaldi season. I know it's your reminder to go read it anyway, Phil.

It'll be the first of three this week, going through the core ideas Death in Heaven raised for me. I just didn't want it to be buried in the 8,403 comments to your review.

http://adamwriteseverything.blogspot.ca/2014/11/you-will-sleep-safely-tonight-doctor.html

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Nick Smale 2 years, 8 months ago

Clara is a "Victorian", yes -- but as Victoria was on the throne for 65 years, that can mean a lot of different things. Clara comes from 1892, a modern and technologically sophisticated time. I don't think she'd have any difficulty comprehending what a submarine is (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea had been published in English 20 years before, and the Royal Navy started construction of its first submarines only 8 years later), while the Cold War wouldn't come as a surprise to anyone versed in the pre-WW1 great-power tensions between Britain, France, Germany and Russia.

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Richard Pugree 2 years, 8 months ago

Yes, after Name of the Doctor we realise that victorian Clara is an echo, and imprint, a fragment of our Clara-prime, as is Oswin. She doesn't know who she is, but there is presumably enough of Clara-prime in there to be able to pick Pond, without consciously recognising its particular importance. So on first viewing that aspect seems like coincidence, but retrospectively it makes sense.

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Aylwin 2 years, 8 months ago

Plus the prediction of a world thoroughly dominated by America and Russia had been around at least as early as Tocqueville's Democracy in America of 1835, and was widespread by the end of the century.

Nuclear weapons might be harder to process, but for someone from an era familiar with high explosives, modern-style artillery and rapid technological progress it would really be just a matter of scaling up. The problem, if any, would be one of believability (in physical and psychological terms) rather than of comprehensibility, and, you know, Tardis etc.

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mimhoff 2 years, 8 months ago

Yes that was a fascinating part of the River chronology for me too.

We know where the story ends from River's point of view. But what about the Doctor's? One day, as you say, it "catches up with him". One day, he gets in the TARDIS after adventuring with River, and takes out his diary to record what happened... and all the pages are full. Because even though he's immortal and has a time machine, even though he can do things like run away for 200 years and be back in time for his scheduled death, the time they spend together is still finite.

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 8 months ago

I believe Ian McKellen did all of his lines over the phone or something, and was just a day's work. I suspect that, as Bennett says, they cast Grant knowing they'd be wanting him to take the role onwards after the Christmas episode.

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Anton B 2 years, 8 months ago

Surely a chance to do Victoria Waterfield with a Nu-Who spin was tempting for Moffat? How could Gattis screw that up?

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Anton B 2 years, 8 months ago

Hamlet Act II scene1

Lord Polonius: ...what do you read?

Hamlet: Words words words.

Vastra is also emphasising that the 'one word answer' rule does not apply on her side of the interrogation.

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Anton B 2 years, 8 months ago

"Well, for your information, I'm not sweet on the inside, and I'm certainly not little.”

I've always taken this as a hint that she's 'bigger on the inside'.
Victorian Clara is a fractal reflection of Clara Prime who is inside the Doctor's time stream which, in Name of the Doctor, will be shown as a visual effect inside the dimensionaly transcendental space usually occupied by the TARDIS console.

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Froborr 2 years, 8 months ago

What IS the other refreshment that looks like red wine?

Vastra is drinking the elixir of life throughout this scene.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 8 months ago

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iiXEGG8rkyw

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heroesandrivals 2 years, 8 months ago

@Alan
>I was quite pleased with the reimagining of the GI and rather disappointed with how he(it?) was apparently killed off in Name of the Doctor.

You misunderstand, the Name of the Doctor is the final step in the ORIGIN of the Great Intelligence.
In Lovecraft terms, the GI is supposed to be Yog-Sothoth, a being who exists in every point in space and time. That is what he BECAME in Name of the Doctor. His adventures against the Second Doctor came after NotD, causally speaking. Entering the Doctor's timestream is what transformed him into the Lovecraftian god worshipped my migu/yetis.

It was actually incredibly clever of Moffat... but only in an abstract sense appreciated after it's explained. Actually watching it was dull, anti-climactic and disappointing. Having it explained that "No, you just didn't enjoy it right, look how clever I was!" doesn't do much to help how bad Name of the Doctor was.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 8 months ago

I do not for a moment buy that Moffat was seriously attempting to engage with Andy Lane's 90s attempt to render a bunch of interesting Doctor Who stories H.P. Lovecraft fanfics.

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sleepyscholar 2 years, 8 months ago

I'd say it is an argument for putting it in a story. Not literally, as in having the story consist of hours with nothing intersting happening. But in the sense that we recognise that within the story hours have gone by with nothing interesting happening. Because for the viewer/reader that can actually be ... interesting.

I'd cite Michael Winterbottom's Everyday as a film which essentially employs this concept in order to weave a (fascinating) story.

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 8 months ago

The answer is above you: Badly.

Stephen Thompson pretty much wrote Clara in Amy-Pond-mode, anyhow -- meaning only Neil Cross really got to explore the character successfully (we see how Gaiman's went behind-the-scenes).

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heroesandrivals 2 years, 8 months ago

And yet; an incredibly contrived story to spread the Gi across every point in space and time, just like Yog-Sothoth.
And Moffat's version of the GI was clearly MUCH less powerful than the GI is 'supposed' to be. It fits.

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heroesandrivals 2 years, 8 months ago

We know that Night and the Doctor (the last time he saw River before Silence in the Library, when gives her the screwdriver) takes place prior The Snowmen because the other Doctor was still using the first control room too. That means that after The Angels Take Manhattan the Doctor then had to see River off on their last meeting before her death. The double gutpunch is probably what led to his retreat in the Snowmen.

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Herms 2 years, 8 months ago

As I recall, in The Name of the Doctor the GI just spread himself all throughout the Doctor's personal timeline. Did they ever say anything about him spreading throughout all of time and space? And whatever the GI did, Clara did too. So if anything, Moffat's implying that Clara is Yog-Sothoth.

For that matter, when in any of the classic GI stories was the GI described as being spread across every point in time and space? A quick read through the relevant entries in About Time Vol.2 just turns up the Doctor in The Web of Fear describing the GI as a "formless, shapeless thing, floating about in space like a cloud of mist".

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Daru 2 years, 8 months ago

One thing I enjoyed about this episode was the difference in filming style - where even though the story was (apart from the Clara stuff) quite a self contained fairytale type - it was given a more serious tone. Brilliant reveal of the new TARDIS too!

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Owlie 2 years, 8 months ago

Why would it be odd? its well over a thousand years ago in the Doctor's timeline.
In a recent interview, Moffat talks about how he wrote that to deliberately underline the tragedy of it, that the Doctor lives long enough to forget the times he fell in love.

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Martin Fowler 2 years, 8 months ago

I was very struck by the double-resolution of this episode. Moffat sets up a puzzle box solution to defeating the Great Intelligence by using the memory worm. I found that a very satisfying resolution since he'd used introduced the memory worm with a nice comic scene, given us time to forget about it, and then brought it back to defeat the monster.

Then having done such a good resolution, he then decides to arbitrarily toss it aside for the family crying resolution. I don't know why he did that, but I do find it interesting that he did it.

That's why I disagree with you that the family crying resolution was unearned - it was earned by setting up a better (for me) resolution, saying "see I know how to resolve this well" and then just kicking it over for something schmaltzy.

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