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Review: A 'Doctor Who' Christmas calls for pluck, killer snowmen

This Christmas, a new companion and a rampaging icy army make for a delightful 'Doctor Who' adventure.

December 25, 2012|By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • Richard E. Grant plays the evil Dr. Simeon in the "Doctor Who" Christmas special.
Richard E. Grant plays the evil Dr. Simeon in the "Doctor Who"… (Adrian Rogers, BBC )

Although it may never be the yule log in the electronic hearth that it is in the United Kingdom, the "Doctor Who" Christmas special, like "Doctor Who" itself and by extension its BBC America home, has gained a lot of American currency in the past few years.

Airing here, as it does there, on Christmas Day, the special is inevitably a celebration of Dickensian mood and Victoriana, with high-profile guest stars and particularly poignant story lines. This year is no different, though it does have the additional joy of introducing the Doctor's new companion, played by Jenna-Louise Coleman — photos of an apparently steamy kiss between the two have been circulating on fan sites for weeks.

As have the words "killer snowmen," who are preparing to, as so many others have before them, take over the world beginning with London. But as in so many holiday tales, the real villain of this piece is isolation. While delightfully fanged snowflakes fall from space over Victoria's kingdom, the first malevolent snowman, voiced by Ian McKellen, grows beneath the hands of a shy and angry boy who grows up to be a particularly dour Richard E. Grant, human organizer of this icy army.

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The Doctor (Matt Smith), meanwhile, has become if not a fallen angel then a solitary one, moping above the clouds in his TARDIS and refusing to come to the aid of humankind as he has for so long. He is in mourning, you see, for his previous companions Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill), who were dragged away from the Doctor, and their own time, by killer stone angels in the mid-season finale.

They are not the first companions he has lost; the double-dip tragedy of the Doctor is that, being a Time Lord, he will outlive any human he loves and being a hero, he will risk their lives again and again.

Even when summoned by Silurian warrior/former foe-turned-ally Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh) and her human wife Jenny (Catrin Stewart), the Doctor prefers, as Madame says, to sulk in the sky. Having vowed to never take another companion (we've heard that before) or help an infuriatingly ungrateful species, the Doctor initially rebuffs both the news of potentially lethal snowmen and the cheeky-charming advances of comely barmaid Clara (Coleman), a young woman with pluck to spare.

Not only is she fearless, and shameless, in her pursuit of the Doctor, whom she chases to his police box eyrie, she is also living a double life: a Cockney barmaid who is also a posh governess to two lovely children. One of whom is having nightmares about her former governess who drowned in an ornamental pond only to be instantly frozen over.

Clearly this is a key part of the ice-ification of humanity. But before anything can be accomplished, Clara must thaw the Doctor out of his protective storage.

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Coleman is not an entirely unfamiliar face to "Doctor Who" fans and she promises to be a brilliant addition to the panoply of companions who have included, since the resurrection of the series by Russell T. Davies in 2005, Rose (Billie Piper), Martha (Freema Agyeman) and Donna (Catherine Tate). Where others have been doubting (Rose), reluctant (Martha) and sarcastic (Donna), Clara appears to be a mirror image of the Doctor: fearless, curious and intuitive, a match not only of wits but of shared delight in the power of knowing.

That is the perpetual tension that fuels the Doctor. A Time Lord weighted with the wisdom of the ages, believing himself to be the last of his kind, has only his sense of wonder to protect him from the great sorrow born of endless knowledge and experience.

Fortunately it is boundless, like his energy, and of all the recent Doctors, Smith best captures the power of willful youthfulness. Not in appearance, though he is the most boyish of the canon, but in resilience, the springiness that allows a child to find miracles in the mundane, to truly believe that today will be better than yesterday.

The world always needs the Doctor, but perhaps never more than on Christmas day.

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'Doctor Who'

Where: BBC America

When: 6 and 9 p.m. Tuesday

Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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