Wait, this is a Christmas special where the villains, yes villains, are played by Richard E. Grant and the voice of Ian McKellen? And it’s the re-imagining of a Second Doctor foe that hasn’t been seen in decades?
There is an awful lot to like about this one beyond that bit up there. True, we only hear McKellen’s distinctive voice, and even then not that much, but Grant glowers gloomily the entire time he’s onscreen, clearly disapproving of everything he sees. There’s also the return of Madame Vastra, her wife/assistant Jenny Flint, and the Sontaran Strax who isn’t as dead as he looked the last time I saw him. We’ve got a lot of Victorian England scenery, where it’s far more scandalous that Vastra is married to another woman than it is that she is a lizard.
And the Doctor appears to be channeling his inner Scrooge. After the loss of Amy and Rory, he isn’t interested in doing anything. Wandering around London, frowning all over the place, there isn’t much his three friends can do to change his mind even as Grant’s reclusive rich guy, even Scroogier than the Doctor, is harvesting intelligent snow for a giant snow globe that speaks in the voice of Gandalf the Gray.
But there is one thing that might get him into looking into the smart snow: a young girl named Clara Oswald who won’t take “no” for an answer, and someone the Doctor may have met before. He just doesn’t know it right away. Also, he’s in a different time period. More on that soon.
See, the snow is intelligent and it came from space. It attached itself to young Dr. Simeon, and he hates, oh, everybody. It would be bad if the snow bonded with a different human, one that could turn it into indestructible ice people instead of rather silly looking killer snowmen. Clara might have the key to getting the Doctor’s attention because she works as a governess for a rich family, and out back where the previous governess died is a frozen pond that never thaws.
Yes, the word “pond” will get the Doctor to maybe stop moping in the TARDIS hidden high amongst the clouds.
Small problem: while imagining hard enough the snowmen melting will melt them, the ice governess that wants Clara dead is another story. Sure, the Doctor can delay, and he even knows what the snow is: a parasite that steals intelligence and ideas from its host, in this case the antisocial Simeon in Victorian times. Of course the snow is antisocial and wants everyone dead. It’s just taking ideas from Simeon and it’s really a rather immature thing that Simeon is calling… the Great Intelligence.
For what it is worth, the Doctor may have inadvertently given the Intelligence the idea to invade the London Underground, something he dealt with in his past but the Intelligence’s future. And while the episode ends with the Intelligence more independent than before, what ultimately stops it is Clara dying. Not because she sacrificed herself, but because the death of an innocent young girl on Christmas got the entire family she was working for crying, and the psychic backlash turned the Intelligence into harmless salt water that likewise rained down on the city and destroyed the snowmen.
Well, is the Doctor back? Well, not quite, but then he notices something else: he recognized Clara’s voice. This is the second time he’s met her, and the second time she’s died. The first time, she was converted into a Dalek. This time? She fell from a great height in a different century on a different planet. How did that happen?
Well, it’s enough to make the Doctor decide to look into that.
That was a rather brief retirement…depending on how much time passed between episodes.