Clouds and Mirrors: Dr. Who’s The Snowmen

Imagine Calvin and Hobbes, with A Christmas Carol, a Sherlock Holmes detective mystery parody, an English fairy-tale, some steampunk, and a hint–just a pinch–of true love in a whole lot of wonder.

And those were some of the most immediate feelings I had watching the Prequel to “The Snowmen” Christmas Special of Dr. Who.

Now, I am going to go into “The Snowmen” Episode itself: into Spoiler Territory.

First off, from the trailers and the title alone, I got a major Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons vibe: especially from the beginning when a young lonely boy–Walter Simeon–has a snowman of his own creation begin to talk back to him in 1842. I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for Walter because most of us have been there: where we don’t understand children our age–or even relate to them–and would rather have imaginary friends instead. Unfortunately, Walter made a very bad imaginary friend who would continue to be there with him for the next fifty years: essentially becoming a giant steampunk snow globe and, well, mutating with more snow being added onto it.

Also, a word of advice: if someone ever offers to feed you, it would probably be prudent to figure out of there are more words in that sentence: you know the ones after “I will feed you …” as the now-Doctor Simeon’s workers discovered to their chagrin.

Anyway, then we get introduced to Clara. And then we get reintroduced to The Doctor.

Clara goes outside of the bar that she is working at to see a Snowman appear there pretty much out of nowhere. We then see The Doctor walking by in passing and she accuses him of making it. The Doctor looks very different now: as much as the same Regeneration can. He looks … tired, and subdued. Really, he is very sad and he has reason to be when you take into consideration what happened to his last Companions. He wants nothing to do with anything save for the bare minimum of contact with some of his allies.

So after he gives her some advice, he leaves. But even when very depressed and angst-ridden, The Doctor says interesting things or his mere existence is a curiosity in itself. So what does Clara the barmaid–and later as it turns out part-time governess do? Well, it’s quite simple.

She follows him.

So we go from a the beginnings of a weird horror story to what is now a Christmas fairy-tale adventure as Clara continues to stalk The Doctor and discovers more strange and new things about him. The Doctor has a Sontaran friend/servant named Strax that attempts to get a memory-worm The Doctor has to erase Clara’s memories under his order. Strax is hilarious in that he often advocates militaristic force in all situations and speaks something like this, “Impudent human scum. Prepare to be destroyed … I mean, may I have your coat please?” The Doctor also refers to him as a Potato more often than not.

Of course, with such a mentality Strax keeps touching the memory-worm and forgetting where it is: though there is evidence to believe that the former clone soldier isn’t quite as “stupid” as he attempts to act and often does these things to annoy people if it amuses him: especially The Doctor. Also, Clara doesn’t really want her memory erased, but plays along with interacting with The Doctor: which is consciously what he doesn’t want to happen–he doesn’t want to make a new bond–but subconsciously continues to converse anyway.

This won’t be a part-by-part dissection of the entire Episode, just to let you know. The Doctor realizes that robbing Clara of her memory wouldn’t be a good idea because she needs to remember to “not-think” about the Snowmen so they don’t multiply and try to kill her … conveniently enough.

But while The Doctor is trying not to get involved with the world or–really–people, there are two other people trying to figure out what Dr. Simeon is up to. So if you watched the Prequel link above, you’ll know that there is a Silurian woman named Madame Vastra and her human maid-wife Jenny Flint who essentially solve crimes in the Victorian era.

Dr. Who has always, aside from being an epic show of crazy linked ideas has–at least in the twenty-first century–been very open-minded and progressive. I mean, Jack Harkness is an omni-sexual being and there is such a wide array of civilizations and times out there in the Whoverse that something like different kinds of sexuality is just a given really. So a primordial lizard woman and a human woman being a couple–and being married–in Victorian times is not very shocking to me.

In fact, aside from Vastra–and even then people rationalize her existence as having something of a “skin-condition” (I find it hilarious how the people of Earth’s past never react at all to aliens in Dr. Who or even The Doctor when he or his Companions are wearing entirely different styles of clothes from that time-frame: it just goes to show you how most humans are either oblivious, more open-minded, or simply do not give a damn than even we believe)–two women having a relationship and even having an arrangement not unlike marriage in Victorian times is not unheard of at all. It is pretty telling that for the past while and it seems especially now in 2012, same-sex marriage has been gaining a lot of acceptance and support in–or at least is now really challenging–the social consciousness of many places. But really, I just like how these two characters work together and understand one another: actually complementing each other’s strengths and actions.

These two confront Dr. Simeon about his activities and he doesn’t seem bothered by this (in fact he doesn’t seem to have much emotion at all), and he states that it doesn’t matter what they do because, get this:

Winter is coming.

Oh, Steve Moffat. That reference to A Song of Ice and Fire was hilarious. My Mom didn’t know why I was laughing so much.

So Vastra and Jenny eventually find Clara: whereupon they ask her why she is so interested in The Doctor. By this point in the game as it were, Clara has seen the TARDIS after climbing a spiralling ladder like Psyche chasing Cupid, or Jack going up the beanstalk, into a cloud where it is resting and she knows that there is some bad stuff about to happen at the house that she is a governess at: particularly with a pool that is frozen over after a previous governess died in it. One of her wards has been having dreams of this former governess coming back to punish her and her brother. She knows she needs The Doctor.

Vastra and Jenny force Clara to answer the former’s questions with one-word answers. At one point, Vastra flat-out asks Jenny why she thinks The Doctor should help her. Of all the words that she could have chosen, she spoke one word.

Pond.

Yeah. Of all the words. That one.

So this does get The Doctor’s attention. So he starts parodying Sherlock Holmes: figuratively and literally. He beats the giant snow globe with a stick. Then he later he does more sleuthing where, despite himself he goes up to the manor where Clara is staying after exchanging hand gestures at each other. After Clara and her wards are being confronted with a snow-version of the former governess that drowned, The Doctor pulls a Punch and Judy play by having the wee-little puppet man of Mr. Punch use his sonic driver on her.

Because, you know, “That’s the way to do it!”

Doctor PUNCH!

In fact, making another popular cultural reference, this whole episode was–like many of them but particularly this one–a Tragical Comedy, or a Comical Tragedy. Yes, I am a Neil Gaiman fan. It also doesn’t help that Mr. Punch is an enduring English symbol and archetype. Or maybe it does.

It turns out that Dr. Simeon and the Snow Globe want the Ice Governess: to use her as a prototype to make a race of ice people that will supplant humanity. Clara and The Doctor lure the Ice Governess away. This is not before The Doctor tells the children’s father that he is Clara’s “gentleman friend,” though far less eloquently and more abstract-awkwardly as he usually says things and Clara herself decides to take matters into her own hands and kiss him. Because she seems to have a special kind of impulsive streak tempered and complemented by daring and a strange form of intuition. Not deduction like Vastra: Clara is pure intuition with a devil-may-care attitude. Right: that is my last Punch and Judy reference for today.

Finally, in the TARDIS, after Clara surprises The Doctor by not being predictable about her first impressions of said TARDIS, The Doctor finally seems to give into something that he really wants and gives her a key. You know the key: the one to said TARDIS. You also know what that means. This is a big thing for him to do: after everything that has happened. I honestly don’t know how he survives losing everyone he cares for, and I can understand why he has periods where he wants nothing to do with anything.

I also understand how he can’t not stay away when events conspire to bring him and this strange Victorian girl: who speaks Cockney and free in her pub job, and “proper crisp English” with a hint of mischief as a governess for upper middle-class children … and who is also immensely beautiful. Yes. I said it.

Their relationship unfolds fast, but what is Time to a one thousand year old Time Lord and to a human being, who only lives, let’s face it, in a brief moment of said Time? It’s everything.

That is the point where the Ice Governess comes after them and drags Clara and herself to a death by falling off The Doctor’s cloud.

Because the Universe seems to be a bitch to The Doctor like that.

Of course, it’s not so simple as all that: Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy as it all may be. The Doctor ends up having his confrontation with Dr. Simeon and his Snow Globe. Dr. Simeon is the proprietor of the Great Intelligence Institute. There was something really ominous about the name “Great Intelligence”: as though it had more significance than being a one-off Dr. Who monster. The Doctor critiques his antagonists as stating that making a world of snow people is “Victorian values” incarnate: at least overt values.

See, that is the thing about Victorian times. There was how you were in public and how you were in private. Some people understood that you could be different in different spheres and there was an implicit understanding that what you did in private was your–and yours–own business. Of course, there is other side of it: in that some people chose–or felt forced–to embody stratified notions of gender and social interaction in all aspects of life.

The father of the two children that Clara cares for does not think it proper to show affection or even take of them himself, for instance. In addition, there were real laws in place that forbid overt or “discovered deviant behaviour”: otherwise known as displaying affection or sexuality in a non-sanctioned manner. Think of Vastra and Jenny’s relationship, or even the fact that Clara did not use her Cockney accent with the children often: to the point where they called it her “other voice” or the other voice of the lower class of Britain perhaps? Perhaps only in a society like this one can an accent be considered another voice.

Now consider that Dr. Walter Simeon grew up in this strange schizophrenic culture. The adults were sad and even considered it unhealthy that he wouldn’t interact with his peers at all. But while Clara flouted and manipulated the rules, and Vastra and Jenny were exceptions and lived as “an open secret”–with a great deal of geniality, politeness, honesty, and a whole lot of “none of your business,” Simeon dealt with it by deciding that human beings were “silly” and that he didn’t need anyone.

The Great Intelligence is a highly psychically-receptive being. It took all of these impulses from Dr. Simeon and anyone around it: shaping itself. Of course, it goes deeper than that. The Doctor talks about how the snow that is the extension of The Great Intelligence only mirrors living beings around it. But there are a lot of mirrors in this entire Episode: especially The Doctor and Dr. Simeon. Both–in a lot of ways–are scared and withdrawn little boys that do not want to interact with the Universe as it is. Dr. Simeon patterns the Great Intelligence with his need for order and an inner emptiness.

It actually reminds me of another mirror that The Doctor’s other mirror possesses:

His new Control Room desktop-theme is much different than the other recent ones. It is apparently reminiscent of the Fourth Doctor’s TARDIS room, but there is something more angular, far sharper in angle and just …. colder about that blue light in there. The inside of his TARDIS represents his past mood and mind after the loss of his Companions. Bear in mind, this is the first time we have seen this desktop of his and it is no coincidence that it looks as cold as the season of 1892. The fact is: Winter came to more than just Great Britain. If things hadn’t been challenged, The Doctor’s life would have been what the Great Intelligence wanted to make the world: a land of “always winter, but never Christmas.”

I also feel I need to make special note here: I do not say that Clara or any of The Doctor’s Companions are mere mirrors of him. Writing about mirrors reminds me of something that Virginia Woolf stated with regards to how women had–and are–perceived only entities in relation to men. This can be applied to Dr. Who and his trend of female Companions. All of them, especially Clara, are entities and fully actualized people in their own right: something that Dr. Who writers Davies and Moffat attempt to express. Whether or not this is successful is something that can be debated at length, but I personally think is something a very fine distinction that needs to be made: that just as The Doctor gives definition to them, they give definition to him as well. As it is, even though The Doctor’s desktop remains as it is so far, The Doctor himself is brought out of that mood by the warmth of another–exemplified by Clara already asking where the kitchen is in his TARDIS–prompting him to express his own and no longer deny what he is feeling.

Then you have Simeon, or the impulses that drive this otherwise emotionless man, that can only seem to function around extensions of himself … or hollow shells. Even the wrathful Ice Governess, the result of his and the Intelligence’s progress is just a mirror–a symbol–for the repressive aspect of the Age of Victoria. But as it turns out, it is Dr. Simeon who becomes the hollow shell when The Doctor’s attempt to destroy Simeon’s memory–as the thing that fuels the Great Intelligence as its mirror–backfires and the Intelligence possesses Simeon. However, as with most of The Doctor’s enemies, it made one miscalculation.

Ignoring the rest of the human emotional spectrum.

Remember Clara? Well, she is dying. And the Intelligence feeds from emotion and memory. So as Clara is dying, everyone in the manor–the children she cared for, their father that cared for her, and the others–grieve and their feelings manifest on the Snowmen and turn into water.

Or, as The Doctor put it, he can no longer stay on his cloud … because it has turned into rain.

So the Great Intelligence seems to dissipate and Clara dies.

Or do they?

In the end, there are some … interesting details about Clara. You know, even without knowing these things before hand, I knew–from her very interaction with The Doctor–that Clara would be special. Each of his Companions is special, but she will be more so.

We have essentially been watching The Doctor grow up from his first incarnation onward. Each Companion has been integral to this. It is strange to watch The Doctor interact with his future wife River Song in temporal-reverse and she will only associate with him so far because she has intimated that he has a long ways to go before he is the man she paradoxically will meet later.

I’m going to intimate some more and possibly be very, very wrong. Now we’ve seen how The Doctor acts with his other female Companions. We know he had a family on Gallifrey ages ago: though they may have all been artificially Loomed. I believe he has been married before and is no stranger to having a romantic relationship. But consider that his whole world was destroyed. He has struggled with survivor’s guilt and has a certain kind of detachment to cope with it. Even when he travels with others it just reinforces that safety protocol of distance.

I will say this now and possibly be wrong, but the only time I had seen him look at someone like he did with Clara was with Rose.

And that says a lot.

Just that one scene where they looked at each other as he gave her that silver key.

All right, I admit it. I am a romantic. But I want to express one main thought: Clara made this entire episode. Period.

So as this look at “The Snowmen” comes to a close, I just want to say a few more things. I looked up The Great Intelligence. It has in fact been in the Whoverse before and … has Lovecraftian origins even. That just makes me smile. And that is it. It is good to see The Doctor up and out again. I look forward to seeing him try to figure out the physical–if not the humanly unique and individual–mystery of Clara Oswin Oswald and where he might have … seen her before…

And where he might see her again.

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About matthewkirshenblatt

I am a writer and blogger living in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario in Canada. When I'm not writing for the Sequart Research & Literacy Organization and GeekPr0n, I tend to write science-fiction, epic fantasy, horror, literary and mythological revisionisms, and generally weird fiction stories though I have been known to make poetry, television and comic book scripts. Also, when left to my own devices I tend to write weird and strange hybrid creative opinion piece articles like those you will find on this Blog. I am also very interested in comics, video games, Star Wars, table-top role-playing games, Neil Gaiman's works, H.P. Lovecraft, vampires, zombies, and budgies.
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5 Responses to Clouds and Mirrors: Dr. Who’s The Snowmen

  1. ladykatza says:

    The first companion of the first Doctor was his Granddaughter.

    • ladykatza says:

      Oh, and, as for River and The Doctor, you might want to watch or re-watch “Let’s Kill Hitler”.

    • Yes, Susan was The Doctor’s granddaughter. It’s also mentioned that at that time, at least from what I can remember reading, that Gallifreyans–and their Time Lord governors–used genetic material in their artificial Looms to create the next generation each time. I assume that they just take samples of their own DNA and place it in the Loom to make more of themselves: with built-in genetic variation. Of course, The Doctor is unorthodox by his very nature and I do know at one point they made it so that Time Lords and their species no longer had to use the Looms. It is interesting though, that, according to some sources Susan’s actual Gallifreyan name meant … something else. I’m not sure if any of this is what you were pointing out though.

  2. Pingback: I Wish You Help, Doing It Yourself, Insights, and a Happy New Year | Mythic Bios

  3. Pingback: I Wish You Help, Doing It Yourself, Insight, and a Happy New Year | Mythic Bios

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