Doctor Who Christmas Special and the Aborted Reveal

If there was one big let down in The Snowmen, it was the treatment of Dr Simeon.

This is the character the episode opens with, the species traitor who seeks to wipe out humanity and replace them with ice replicas. This is the Victorian Englishman revealed to have given the Intelligence their dark purpose.

Seconds later, he is revealed to be nothing.

You know what, plot climaxes are important. The moment when we come to realise Simeon is not the standard, misguided human being drawn in by a manipulative alien power but the root of that power’s malice, that is a climax. That is the moment when the rest of the episode draws together. Which it does, for that moment.

We already know about the psychic field and the snow’s tendency to manifest the thoughts of those around it. Furthermore, the Doctor reminds us frequently of Victorian Values, the same isolating, profiteering tendencies that Simeon steeps in from childhood, all his darker impulses echoed back to him and never challenged, as it is acceptable for a businessman to be ruthless and uncaring.

That groundwork, that build up, makes for a satisfying reveal, full of potential. Here is a foe who has become what he is through negligence and isolation. There is no easy way to dismantle years of anger, but without the echo chamber of the Intelligence fortifying his worst thoughts, perhaps redemption is possible for Simeon. How will the Doctor go about that? How long will it take? What will it mean for the Intelligence? What will Simeon become, given time?

Rather than engaging with the opportunity the plot has wrought – the chance to critique, pull down and rebuild that damaging Victorian ideal – The Snowmen neutralises Simeon by wiping his mind and then revealing the Intelligence is quite fine without him, thank you. No sooner does he become the centre of attention than he is sidelined, turned into a blank slate and then a puppet, and for no greater purpose than a few seconds of ice-zombie staggering. The power in that moment of realisation, the potential for a meaningful critique of the era, all lost in a moment.

I understand that Moffat was looking to highlight Clara’s situation as “the woman twice dead”, and that the Intelligence is probably going to become relevant later on. Neither of those facts justify cutting short of accumulating elements in the current episode, and resorting to a cop-out ending with Simeon dead and the Intelligence defeated by an insubstantial Christmas Eve platitude.

Why is the Doctor so set on repeating this notion of “Victorian values” if, in the end, they’re irrelevant? Why are we introduced to Simeon so young, if the notion of a whole life dominated by internal impulses is there merely to be erased by a gag worm, rather than dealt or explored in any meaningful way? Why do we have this supposed reveal, this accumulation of human minds making monsters manifest, if the monster proves dominant in the end?

I’m unconvinced there’s a solid answer to any of those questions.


Doctor Who Christmas Special Best Bit

Finding an invisible staircase.

Ascending that staircase kilometres into the air.

Stepping from that staircase onto a cloud.

Fantasy becomes truly enjoyable when the weird and fantastical things inspire wonder, excitement and a sense of adventure in the minds of the characters.

Clara does not hesitate here. She sees something fantastic and, awed but not disbelieving, she rushes over to investigate. She climbs up, all the way into the clouds.

Not all scenes have to be drawn out and gritty. Not all scenes need to drill at human fear and failure. Make something fantastic, and let your characters enjoy it once in a while. There’s every chance the reader will too.