Friday, December 28, 2012

TV Review: Doctor Who Christmas Special: The Snowmen (2012)

I liked the bit where Matt made a birdhouse out of a milk carton & pipe cleaners
When a TV series loses its head and embroils its characters in plots and incidents that strain the internal logic of the show it's known as "jumping the shark." But what colourful phrase do you use when a program does the exact opposite? When the show's producer throws in the creative towel and takes a long lunch, leaving a temp to stitch together a tired facsimile of previous shows? How about...taking the zombie for a walk? I think it gets across the idea of something tame, animate and yet lifeless, but be my guest and invent your own term; whatever you come up with will be a perfect description of the latest Doctor Who Christmas special.

I was a very late convert to the charms of the Doctor, only coming on board with the arrival of David Tennant. Nice timing on my part, because some of those shows aren't just great Doctor Who stories, they're excellent sci-fi films by any standard. The Matt Smith years have seen a slow and steady erosion in the quality of the series. The first problem is that Smith's Doctor is a watered-down, emasculated version of Tennant's Doctor. With Smith I can't shake the feeling I'm watching the host of an after school show for kids, the kind of program that features a lot of handicrafts and visits from zookeepers. There's no sense of darkness or anger with Smith, just a lot of bubbly conviviality. Another problem is that the plotting has become frenzied and slapdash. The final story of the last series, The Angels Take Manhattan, was a hot mess of opaque plotting and wholesale quantities of exposition delivered at auctioneer speed. Steven Moffat, the head writer/producer, thinks manic activity is entertaining all by itself. He's especially fond of having the Doctor and his companions trade His Girl Friday-ish banter at lightning speed; nothing wrong with that, but Moffat just doesn't do it very well. In relation to this, the trope of the Doctor and his companions having platonic love affairs has run its course. Can't they just be friends? Please?

This year's special managed to highlight all the faults of the Smith era. The story was a half-baked, underdeveloped piece of glittery, Victoriana-themed nonsense about sentient snow taking the form of killer snowmen. Sounds decent on paper, but the execution was awful, beginning with the problem that snowmen, even if they are equipped with mouths full of sharp teeth, can't do much when they lack arms and legs. They're essentially stationary, weaponless Daleks. Clearly, no one thought this idea through. In one scene snowmen "attack" some workers, and it's obvious the unfortunate director had no idea how to solve the thorny problem of immobile monsters, so he just shot close-ups of men shrieking and snowmen growling. It's inept beyond belief. The villain of the piece is played by Richard E. Grant, who can eat up the scenery with the best of them. Why, then, was he cast in a role in which he remains stone-faced throughout? It's a bit like hiring a top-class dancer and then asking them to sit quietly in a chair. The Doctor's new companion, played by Jenna-Louise Coleman, looks to be a retread of Amy Pond: sassy, independent, flirty, and sexy. She and the Doctor got into the machine gun-paced bantering within moments of meeting, and in due course she locks lips with the Doctor in what's sure to be yet another unfulfilled romantic relationship played out over the upcoming season.

The fundamental problem with the Who franchise at this point is that it's ossifying. It saw spectacular success with Tennant on the the job, and now the handlers are wary about meddling with a winning formula and have ended up becoming formulaic.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just one of many things:

"...snowmen, even if they are equipped with mouths full of sharp teeth, can't do much when they lack arms and legs"

It was mentioned that it was carnivorous snow. Just because they are snowmen doesn't mean they eat with their snow mouths. It was an alien.

TLDR; Stop hating you Tennant sob rag, you.