The Snowmen is, in a nutshell, the 2012 Doctor Who Christmas Special, an hour long episode that bridges the two very distinct parts of the storylines that run through series seven. When the episode, written by producer Steven Moffat and directed by Saul Metzstein, begins we travel to the England of 1842 where a young boy builds a snowman. Though his parents wish he'd socialize more with the other kids, he claims he doesn't need them and that they're silly: and then the snowman he just built talks to him. A half a century later, that young boy grows into a curmudgeonly man named Dr. Simeon (Richard E. Grant) who has built a successful, albeit mysterious, business entity called The Great Intelligence Institute. When we meet him as an adult, he's hired some down on their luck types to bring him samples of snow gathered up in various parts of the city. He puts these into a giant glass globe inside his office and then fulfills his promise of feeding the men for their efforts - but not in the way you'd expect.
Meanwhile, The Doctor (Matt Smith) is still grieving over the events that closed out the first half of series seven. Content to spend his time alone reading in the TARDIS which he's parked on a cloud, he employs the help of the Silurian alien Vastra (Neve McIntosh), her wife Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart) and warmongering Sontaran alien Strax (Dan Starkey) to keep an eye on things in London and to more or less run interference for him whenever anyone comes calling for him. While out strolling one night, the Doctor meets a pretty young woman named Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) who is curious about the appearance of some snowmen in the alley outside the bar she works at. Curious about the Doctor as he passes by, she decides to track him down and after passing Vastra's test, he agrees to see her. She tells him she needs his assistance helping to solve the recurring nightmares being experienced by a young girl she nannies for. It seems their previous nanny fell into the pond on their property and froze to death and she's certain that the dead woman is going to return to exact her vengeance. When it turns out she's right, The Doctor and his team tie all of this in to Simeon and that giant glass globe full of snow, the one that he refers to as The Great Intelligence and which seems to be telling him what to do (voice work provided by Sir Ian McKellen).
So a big part of this episode is setting The Doctor up with his new companion, and it does just that but at the same time it manages to bring Vastra, Jenny and Strax into the spotlight a little bit more and tell a decent story as well. There's a lot of fun to be had here - the episode does a great job with the period attire, allowing for a slight costume chance on the part of The Doctor and, of course, the obligatory bowtie line delivery. The sets and locations used also look great here with a voyage up to the cloud allowing for our first glance inside the redesigned interior of the TARDIS. So obviously changes are afoot and the special is setting the stage for the episodes that would come in the second half of the series.
The cast do a fine job here. Smith has found his footage as The Doctor, he's great in the role: charismatic, funny, heroic and just really likeable. His fast talking ways suit the character and he's quirky enough that he fits the part well. Just as important, however, are the supporting players. Casting Vastra and Jenny as a Holmes and Watson type duo is far more effective than it should be and throwing Strax in as comic relief, while a little forced in spots, is also generally pretty effective. Richard E. Grant makes for a great villain, he's pompous and arrogant and sinister and dastardly in all the ways a villain should be, and Ian McKellen as the voice of The Great Intelligence? Perfect casting, really. Maybe most important of all, however, is Jenna-Louise Coleman. Fans will remember her from the first episode of series seven, but here her character is expanded on and set up for big things to come. Although by the time this episode is over we have more questions than answers, that's not a bad thing as we've obviously got a few more episodes after this one in which the writers will flesh things out and further explain her part in all of this.
The Ponds are missed, of course, as over the two and a half series' before this episode they were such an important part of the Doctor Who universe, but this is a solid effort from all involved. It does feel a little bit rushed towards the end, making you wonder if maybe stretching things out to an hour and a half might have allowed for more with Simeon and The Great Intelligence (they are underused a bit here), but otherwise this is top tier Who and absolutely worth seeing for fans of the series.
The Snowmen was shot in HD and is presented here in AVC encoded 1080i 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen. Black levels are generally pretty strong and detail is generally good. Some of the CGI work looks a little goofy in spots, as is typical with the series, and there are occasional bursts of aliasing that are hard not to notice from time to time but if these aren't reference quality they're at least very good looking transfers. The 'i' in place of a 'p' might instantly put some people off - but really, that would be a case of not seeing the forest through the trees. Colors are reproduced beautifully throughout the episode and detail and texture go far beyond what standard definition is able to provide - you'll really notice this in close up shots where facial detail is excellent. All in all, the material here looks very nice indeed and we wind up with a sharp, clean colorful transfer that consistently offers impressive depth, detail and texture.
An English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is provided for episode and it too is pretty impressive. Overall, this track has some good bass response and a fairly hefty low end going for it - you'll definitely notice then when the snowmen open their mouths and attack but also when the TARDIS â€˜whooshes' in. The high end never gets shrill and surround activity is pretty constant with the action scenes not surprisingly having the most going on in that department. The finale has some great activity when the Doctor takes on The Great Intelligence and Sir Ian McKellen's voice sounds wonderful here. Dialogue stays crisp and clear and is never hard to follow while the really wide spectrum of sound effects used throughout the show adds some fun to the proceedings. The electronic score that has been employed also sound quite good, punctuating the action rather than burying it, and generally, minor complaints aside, the BBC have done a very solid job in the audio department - and that revised theme song? It sounds awesome. Closed captioning is provided in English, there are no alternate language audio tracks or subtitles offered.
There aren't a ton of extra features here, to be honest, but we do get an interesting, albeit, brief making of featurette entitled Clara's White Christmas in which we get to go behind the scenes of the Christmas Special with some behind the scenes footage and some interview clips with the lovely Jenna-Louise Coleman. We get to see how the TARDIS was put on a cloud and learn about the significance of the way that her character's introduction to the device was shot. There's also some fun footage of fans watching the shoot freaking out when Matt Smith appears.
Outside of that, we get two short prequels, the first of which is The Great Detective in which Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint are joined by Strax talk about some strange things that have happened in Victorian England. They tell all of this to an unseen fourth party who turns out to be, not surprisingly at all, The Doctor. The second prequel is Vastra Investigates and here Vastra and Jenny talk to an officer of Scotland Yard about a case. On the way back, while in the carriage, Jenny notes that it's snowing outside. Vastra responds that this isn't possible as there are no clouds in the sky. Both of these shorts help to set up the main story itself and are fun little introductions. Animated menus and chapter selection are also included and all of the extras on the disc are presented in high definition.
Doctor Who: The Snowmen will almost certainly wind up being bundled with both parts of Season Seven at some point in the not too distant future, so there are those who will inevitably want to hold out for that set. For the more impatient fans out there? When judged on its own merits, consider this one recommended. The episode is a lot of fun and it expands the Doctor Who universe well by bringing to the forefront some interesting characters. On top of that we get an amusing story and some memorable set pieces in a storyline that does a very good job of bridging the gap between the first and second parts of the seventh series. A few fun extras and a very nice audio/video presentation are also notable.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.