Dear Steven Moffat: The Snowmen

drwhochristmas111820125

Dear Steven,

What did you get for Christmas? I know what I’d have bought you, if you’d shown some seasonal kindness and lifted the postal embargo: the classic pamphlet, The Rudiments of Drama by Joseph Hesterkefilis. It would seem a ludicrous purchase for the head writer of TV’s most successful juggernaut but even seasoned hacks may require the odd refresher. I recently rediscovered the charms of Idiot Blogging for the Undiscerning Webhead, and you’ll see some of that remastered technique in what follows.

Assuming you were ever rooted in the dramatic tradition, being a one-time jokemonger, you need to be reacquainted with Hesterkefilis’ basics now. You have lovely ideas, you ejaculate whimsy and you use gags and word association as a balm to bind those elements together; a technique I once used in English Literature essays to fell examiners; but we’re now wise to this misdirection, we know your act, and we’re starting to crave the kind of involvement in the affairs of man (and feminoid) that only carnivorous snow can understand.

The Snowmen, your perennial Doctor Who special, confirmed that you’re officially the Heston Blumenthal of Christmas iconography. In previous years you’ve reinvented Dickens, given us a new flavour of C.S Lewis and now you’ve taken the central conceit of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman and made it sinister. No longer will our little darlings bound through the snow, hoping to fly to the North Pole to meet Santa with a friend built from crystalline cloud cum. Instead, parents in the coldest parts of the land are attempting to comfort Eustace and Pancetta, who’ve soiled the winter wonderscape with mulled urine.

There’s nothing wrong with borrowing you understand; God knows it’s easier than starting with a blank page, but I worry that you’re too busy stripping the detail from stories to notice the skeleton underneath. Dickens, Lewis and Briggs have one important thing in common, they all wrote by hand. Well, that and they devoted a great deal of time to getting the story right before adding the original detail.

A Christmas Carol is considerably more than the sum of its iconic parts. Yes, it’s about Scrooge and the three spirits, Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit, but fundamentally it’s a well-structured tale about a man bent out of shape by circumstance and bad choices who’s ultimately redeemed via a supernatural precursor to therapy. The characters are vivid, as types often are, the telling is straightforward and the message couldn’t be clearer. There’s conflict, Scrooge is excavated and consequently we never lose interest. Dickens, incidentally, was a funny writer like you, he loved a gag, but he never forgot his principle task.

Your Snowmen had some jokes, some of your favourite chestnuts (which many families will have consumed by an open fire), for example the monster that repeats a single incongruous phrase and slowly chases The Doctor and friends while he explains the plot, not to mention some great images – the spiral staircase to the clouds, Clara’s bust – but it didn’t hang together too well. This hour never felt substantial. You can take a fork and mash Channel 4’s yuletide centrepiece with The Turn of the Screw, Conan Doyle and any other late Victorian shit you can think of, but without structure and dramatic red meat, what is there for the adults to cling on to? Clara, you say? Okay, I can see you came to this argument well prepared.

It seems to me that you could have been forgiven for wasting Richard E Grant and having a generic “hidden alien menace plots to destroy world” story, if you’d pulled harder on the two threads that had caught our attention from the get go.

The Doctor, traumatised by his failure to permanently separate Amy from Rory, had retired: an embittered loner. Those of us that had suffered similar heartache could relate to this enforced reclusivity. Then you had the mysterious, generously apportioned Clara: cor blimey barmaid by night, well-to-do governess by day. A shrewd customer to be sure and, we suspect, based on her sort-of appearance in Asylum of the Daleks, not what she seems.

Well the Doctor never seemed more than a mite cankerous – too involved in a plot we didn’t care about to tell us how he felt or why, while Clara, busy jerking off the eyes, spent too much of the running time playing the minx and doing Downton Abbey impressions, when a little more time on her character might have paid dividends. In fact she only became interesting in the last ten minutes when it became apparent that she wasn’t Amy’s replacement at all, but River Song’s: the temporally affected, space-time head fuck that’s going to keep Internet forums in business until the summer.

What a pity, I thought, knocking back the last of the Elderberry Wine, that you hadn’t pared back the broad comedy and the yuletide monsters, and brought these two front and centre. Then we’d have had an episode, Steven: something to soak up the blended brussel sprouts. Instead you buried our Christmas Feast in a bowl of colourful canapés.

Nevertheless, some of those bites were rather tasty. I like the new opening credits. Aside from the major bonus that the sequence finally includes The Doctor’s face, it was interesting to see something that looked like Doctor Who fucking Star Trek during a fireworks display. The new TARDIS interior is moody and functional, a little reminiscent of the Eighth Doctor’s console room. The Victorian setting and the Doc’s new garb also had a streak of McGann in the thinking. Do I take it you’re a fan, and does this mean we may see him again in the 50th anniversary special? I wish you’d reply once, you self-important creep, these are real questions y’know. Oh, and I enjoyed the return of The Great Intelligence and with it, the allusion to The Abominable Snowmen. You showed some of yours in this episode, Steven. Angle your shank a little more in the next episode and have Commander Strax stand on a landmine, would you? We’ll call it a late Christmas present.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

The Past:

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

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