It's only been one year (well, in our time) since the last, uplifting Doctor Who Christmas special — "The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe" — and with the tragic death of the Ponds still weighing heavy on the Doctor's soul, we knew we were in for much different outing than the one that ended in human tears of joy. It was a great episode — filled with comedy, heart, fun familiar faces, much-welcome Doctor-isms, and a kick-ass twist — but of course, the biggest news this Christmas was the introduction of the new companion, Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman).
Kudos to Steven Moffat for bringing Coleman onboard for "Asylum of the Daleks," as her performance in that episode was so scene-stealing that it probably softened the brutal impact of Amy and Rory's unfairly cruel fate. I loved the Ponds, but I'm ready to usher in the Age of Clara — though it was pretty sweet that a major focal point of this episode was a pond, eh?
Clara's first adventure has me immediately drawn to the character. She's already displayed the bravery of Amy and Rose without the cynicism of the former and the occasional helplessness of the later (Aside: Rose Tyler is my favorite companion, ever. Don't bite me.), as well as the heartwarming empathy of Donna Noble. She's plucky, bright, and undeniably bombshell — I mean, Karen Gillan was gorgeous too, but it will be interesting to see how Matt Smith does with a companion-slash-sort-of-romantic-interest. I mean, she checked out his ass!
A lot of people lambasted the Tennant/Tyler romance, but I personally loved it. Smith certainly doesn't have Tennant's classicly handsome looks, and he's always seemed a bit more "alien" (in a good way!) than his predecessor, so I'm ready to see him stretch his Who-chops by taking on a human sort-of-romance. But I digress. On to the (very funny!) show!
There were three other major introductions tonight — we saw a revamped opening credits sequence (complete with the Doctor's face, channeling the old series), met the newly renovated TARDIS, and (begrudgingly) faced the new and not at all improved Doctor, who had been in a state of grumpy mourning for some time. "He prefers isolation to the possibility of pain's return," the Silurian Madame Vastra explained to Clara.
Vastra, her human wife Jenny, and the Sontaran Commander Strax (who should just be in every episode, ever, because he's goddamn hilarious) had gathered to do the Doctor's job for him while he watched the world from above, refusing to interfere in its affairs. That is, of course, until Clara uttered the magic word: pond.
What is the pond, you ask? Why, of course it's a frozen one, that contains the soul of the former caretaker for the children of Captain Latmier. It couldn't be a Christmas special without some typical holiday fare, so this year's villain, naturally, was snow. Not just any snow — evil, intelligent snow voiced by Sir Ian McKellan.
This snow was fostered by the sinister Dr. Simeon, the proprietor of "The Great Intelligence Company," and it was being investigated by the Doctor's cohorts while he moped in the TARDIS. He went out for an evening stroll one night, and voilà — out popped barmaid Clara and an evil snowman, both at the same time. Their future as Doctor and companion was seemingly written in the stars, as after he dodged her and her questions, Vastra made it clear that this wasn't the first time that they had met.
The Doctor had been using creepy worm-things to erase her memory after each meeting, but it wasn't going to work this time — she managed to stay hot on his trail, and when they met again, a bunch of snowmen (who really channeled the titular villain from the 1996 horror classic Jack Frost, which should never be confused for the Michael Keaton movie of the same name) popped up. The Doctor realized that they were doing so because Clara's imagination willed it, so when she imagined them turning to water, to water they turned. The Doctor was a grump, but he wasn't cruel — he wouldn't delete her memory if it meant rendering her helpless to the snowmen's attacks.
Of course, this meant that Clara would secretly follow him to his new-and-improved invisible TARDIS in the sky. (Aside: WOW did they change things up in there.
And I love how her first words were "it's smaller on the outside.") She didn't get past the front door, but it was certainly enough to keep the lady interested. And when she woke up the next morning and went off to her day job — new caretaker for the children of Captain Latmier — we learned that Latmier's daughter, Francesca, had been having nightmares about the dead lady in the pond. Sir Ian McKellan had earlier said that the drowned woman and the dreaming child would bring about the snow-tack, and Clara already knew that imagination could make things real (she had seen Nightmare on Elm Street), so she wisely set off in search of the Doctor.
Which leads us to the aforementioned magic word: Vastra and Jenny administered their alien version of a lie-detector test, which consisted of asking Clara a bunch of questions and demanding a one-word answer. When she summed up her current problem with the word "pond" the Silurian's face lit up — she knew that that would be enough to snap the Doctor out of his funk.
He jumped out of the TARDIS and into Simeon's lair, where he discovered the giant snow globe housing Sir Ian McKellan's "The Intelligence." He then ran over to Latmier's house, where the old, cranky caretaker had risen from the pond, made completely out of ice. If the snow blowing in the air via Dr. Simeon's machine melded with the ice-lady, then an intelligent ice-army would be born, signaling the end of humanity as we know it. Dun dun dun.
Here's where things got really cool: It was fun, but a bit confusing, when Coleman was introduced as Oswin Oswald — a completely different person from the future — in "Asylum."
And throughout the episode, it was clear that their personalities were similar. When she accompanied the Doctor to the TARDIS to regroup, and asked if it had a kitchen for soufflés (the dish that Oswin kept dream-making throughout her episode), it became clear — we were dealing with a version of the same lady, here. So it wasn't a huge deal (for us, not the Doctor or her adopted family) when the ice lady showed up and pushed Clara to her imminent death. Clara/Oswin — she's our new Rory! But more on that later.
So, the Doctor saved the world. He realized that snow doesn't talk, dummy, so "The Intelligence" was just the sad child that Dr. Simeon once was. As a child Simeon spoke hateful, lonely words to his snowman, and this somehow resulted in a parasitic snow that fed off of this deranged man's ideas. So when Simeon was bit by the gross worm and lost decades of ideas, the snow was defeated.
...OR SO HE THOUGHT. Ian McKellan's voice came back and — like a mad scientist — was all, "Muahaha, you were wrong, now I control him," etc. etc. Then Dr. Simeon rose from the ground like Frankenstein's monster, now filled with the spirit of Ian McKellan. "Winter is coming!" he proclaimed, in what has to be a shout-out to Coleman's real-life-boyfriend's show, Game of Thrones. (Yup, Clara is dating Robb Stark. Let that one sink in, ladies.)
But winter didn't come, this time — instead, the snow turned to rain. Well, not rain — tears. "The only force on Earth that could drown the snow — a whole family crying on Christmas Eve," the Doctor proclaimed. This meant, of course, that Clara was officially dying. Before she left this Earth, she uttered one phrase into the Doctor's ear: "Run, you clever boy. And remember." We've heard that one before. So a relatively happy Christmas for the Doctor, but a tragic one for the Latmiers.
The family mourned at the grave of Clara — or, more specifically, at the grave of Clara Oswin Oswald. A "ding" went off in the Doctor's head — kind of like the "ding" that sounds when a soufflé is finished cooking. It was the same girl! The Doctor joyfully departed the sad funeral to find his new companion — who, as we learned, lives in the present day. Clara 3.0 appeared by her past self's gravesite, as the TARDIS left to find her...
To be continued. Wow. I personally felt that this was the best Doctor Who Christmas special, ever. Your thoughts, human scum? (Can't help it, love that Strax.)
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[PHOTO CREDIT: Adrian Rogers/BBC America]