Monday, November 25, 2013

In-Class Movie: "The Snowmen" (Doctor Who, 2012)

“I am never precipitate in my actions, nor would I adopt so energetic and, indeed, dangerous a course, if any other were possible.”

--Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton”

Austin: I like to switch things up a bit. Instead of just referencing Doctor Who in every post, we're going to do that but be on topic! Last year we talked about the Tom Baker (Fourth Doctor) story The Talons of Weng-Chiang where The Doctor and Leela found their deerstalkers to investigate a wonderfully ridiculous Victorian mystery. Now we are back in that time, but it's an episode that was made in 2012 with Matt Smith (Eleventh Doctor).

This may be the trickiest one to write because the Sherlock Holmes aspect is just a small part of this tale. It's really just a straightforward Doctor Who story with The Doctor hiding himself away after the loss of his best friends. He meets a mysterious barmaid with a secret that she doesn't even know she has---all will be revealed in the season finale! There's a monster from the Classic era of Doctor Who voiced by Sir Ian McKellen. There is silliness, sci-fi gibberish, the power of the human spirit and plenty of humor.

Ian McKellen is the one on the left. Far left.

This episode was written by the showrunner Steven Moffat who also co-runs BBC's Sherlock. Since both shows sparked fans so wildly, plenty of people have demanded a cross-over where Benedict Cumberbatch and Matt Smith can chat about who has the most ridiculous bone structure in their face. Seeing how a time machine could ruin every single Sherlock Holmes story, Moffat has made the cross-over impossible by revealed who really is the inspiration for the Arthur Conan Doyle stories. 

So what would you like to cover first, Leigh? What do you think of who really is Doyle's inspiration for Sherlock and Watson or what do you think of the scene with The Doctor trying to imitate their style?

Leigh: As a fan of Richard E. Grant and Ian McKellen I have to say I was disappointed they weren't featured more. I felt like the evil bad guy in this episode was disjointed and needed a better explanation than "snow that learns and mimics." It felt a bit weak. 

I also have to say that the Sherlock Holmes bit just felt like a way to advertise for Moffat's second show without spending the money. It was such a minor part of the main show that it felt crowbarred in. I think the scene with the Doctor acting as Sherlock Holmes would've been just as humorous if the setup with Madame Vastra wasn't there. And it might've made a bit more sense almost. Richard E. Grant's character knows who "Sherlock Holmes" is in this universe so why would he even humor the Doctor when he comes in? Why did his butler(?) announce Sherlock Holmes was there? Grant could've had a better dialogue there that would've made the scene stronger. It felt sloppy to me.

Benedict Cumberbatch still looks more ridiculous than Madame Vastra.

What I do like is that Madame Vastra and Jenny as a possible inspiration of Sherlock and Watson. It is definitely crowbarred in here but the mini-webisode with them was much more entertaining and less crowbar-y. (I am going from memory though so I could be completely wrong about this.) But if they mention the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes and Watson and mention Doyle was using them as inspirations, then why not make that connection more obvious than just blatantly saying it. I don't like it when things are said to me. I like seeing them and making the connection myself. If there was a scene with Doyle sitting in his livingroom reading an article about a detective that was solving impossible crimes or even have Doyle be friends with Vastra and Jenny or have Jenny write the stories herself with a pen name then I think it would've felt more natural and less forced. Where it stands, it's a neat concept but needs refining. Come see me after a few more drafts of this script.

So I wasn't a fan. As a Moffat fanboy, convince me why I should like this episode. 

Austin: Whoah. You really didn't like this episode. This is my favorite one of Season Seven and watching it again just made me smile all over again because it handled Christmas a better than the Davies era. (Actually involving snow helps.) I love this version of Clara with the speed of her wit and the wonderful imagery of the TARDIS on a cloud with its stars and ladders.

But let's get to your complains. The villains weren't used very well. Ultimately there is a lot more of an explanation than that but it's scattered throughout the show's past and future. Ian McKellan voiced The Great Intelligence who was a villain back in the 60s when he went up against the Second Doctor in "The Abominable Snowmen" and the recently rediscovered "The Web of Fear". Then we get him more throughout the season in "The Bells of St. John" and "The Name of the Doctor." Part of his allure is that we really don't get how he exists. He uses his psychic powers to take over the Yeti and Richard E. Grant. But typically I don't watch Doctor Who for its sci-fi-ness. Gandalf says he can manipulate snow, he manipulates snow.

Also even though The Stand was popular at this time, I think it's reasonable to assume that the butler doesn't read it. The Doctor has psychic paper; he can say whoever he wants. Simeon/Grant was interrupted and he probably thought it was Madame Vastra being amusing. I really really don't think it was a plug for Sherlock, just a nice little parody. He doesn't need the ratings… To have the theme was an especially nice touch because The Doctor is too silly to do the Sherlock investigation right. He doesn't even figure out it's the Great Intelligence until he goes ahead and gives him a map of the London Underground. (Setting of "The Web of Fear".) 

Fun fact: Matt Smith first met Steven Moffat when he auditioned to play Watson.

Even with the parody scene, Moffat still uses Sherlock plotting to play fair with its scenes. This was a character based episode first. It's about The Doctor getting back into the swing of things and learning to accept loss and failure. At the end of this Clara dies (again) and now he is inspired to save the day again. That is from finding joy and hope in the people around him. Clara is tested several times in this episode but the most Sherlock one is why did he tell her to grab an umbrella. Much like a Sherlock story, all the clues are in front of you and it's up to her to logically get to the point and it's a great sequence. (Aside from the not so perfect effects of the ice monster.)

With Clara figuring out that mystery and others, Vastra being the real Sherlock, Jenny being the real Watson (We'll see them investigate their own mystery later in the season in "The Crimson Horror"), this may be as close as we get to looking into a female Sherlock Holmes story. (Unless there's a big example, I don't know about.)

Also, I'm glad Moffat didn't do a scene with Doyle because that would be way too similar to an amazing scene in Jekyll that involves Robert Louis Stevenson. Thinking back, Moffat hinted at Vastra being Holmes earlier in the show when in her introduction she is the one to stop Jack the Ripper...

Leigh: I think you hit the nail on the head as to why this episode was so problematic for me. I'm American, if you hadn't realized this. I'm also only 25 years old. I only started watching Doctor Who after I saw the guy who played Barty Crouch Jr on TV one day and decided to look into it more. So with this knowledge, there is no way that me, a casual fan of Doctor Who, would've been able to know ANY of that backstory about the Great Intelligence. I'm glad that Moffat is reintroducing older bad guys from the Doctor Who canon but not at least having a throw away line of "Oh, you again." or "Didn't I already defeat you?" or something along those lines to give a clue to the average viewer. There's a difference between a nod to long time fans and completely alienating a good portion of the audience. I have absolutely no desire to watch all of the older Doctor Who episodes and I know I'm not the only one who watches Doctor Who who feels that way. I think to fully utilize this character of the Great Intelligence, there needed to be more of a primer for those who aren't in their 60s and/or British or have gone and watched all of the episodes. 

A clue!

And I honestly don't quite get the connection of Sherlock Holmes aside from the blatant references. Yes, Clara explaining a line of logic as to why she has the umbrella could be seen that way but I saw it more as her showing that she understands the Doctor even when he doesn't understand himself. She's a step ahead of him. Now if that's Holmesian or not, I don't think so. We can agree to disagree there. The Doctor has been compared to Sherlock Holmes numerous times and there are definitely times when they do seem like similar characters, especially in the David Tennant years. I think that Matt Smith is too moody to observe the little details and find the connections so Clara comes around and helps him.

Next time, we read a story that seems reaaalllllly familiar......

And now Austin with the final words:

Austin: You asked why he could manipulate the snow! That's not essential to the story and within the episode they said he was a powerful psychic figure without a physical body. That's pretty much all we know from the old series as well; in fact "The Snowmen" takes place before those 60s episodes.

"Sir, how is the Great Intelligence controlling the Yeti?" "Who cares, they're adorable!"

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