Since the departure of the Ponds, the Doctor has been living in isolation on a cloud above Victorian-era England. With the mystery of carnivorous snowmen and a frozen pond that will not thaw, new companion Clara (who bears a striking resemblance to Oswin from “Asylum of the Daleks”) is able to coax the Doctor off his cloud and back into the action.
In addition to the return of Jenna-Louise Colman as Clara, we saw the investigative team of Strax, Madame Vastra, and Jenny (who we first saw in “A Good Man Goes to War”). In this episode, we discover that the latter two were Arthur Conan Doyle's inspiration for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, respectively. As much as I enjoy these characters, I still find it frustrating that their origins are talked about, but we never see how the Doctor saved their lives. It also seemed weird that the London Underground is randomly brought up again around Vastra (she has previously mentioned that this is where she met the Doctor) and then immediately dropped.
This episode also had special guest stars Richard E Grant as Dr. Simeon and Ian McKellan as the Great Intelligence. I was very excited for Grant to finally fulfill his longtime goal of being on Doctor Who. For those of you that are unaware, he played the Doctor in “The Curse of Fatal Death” and “Scream of the Shalka"—both of which are non-canon Doctor Who adventures. McKellan was great as always; however, I would have liked it better if he were more than just a voice. The Doctor does indicate that the Great Intelligence could return, so hopefully we will get him back sometime soon. Now that he has shown up, that means that two of Tolkien's wizards have also been on Doctor Who. He has played both the Great Intelligence and Gandalf, while Sylvester McCoy portrayed the Seventh Doctor and Radagast. This gives me yet one more reason to hope that Christopher Lee (who played Saruman) will get to voice Omega in the 50th anniversary next year.
Not only did this episode bring us many new things, but it also brought a few classic elements back to Doctor Who. The new design of the TARDIS interior incorporates a lot of classic elements. The console in particular bears the most resemblance to the older sets. It may seem like a small note, but Matt Smith's face appearing during the opening credits was a nice return to a more classic style.
I am quickly growing more frustrated with Steven Moffat's insistence to kill off characters and then immediately bring them back. During his run as head writer, he has killed and resurrected all of the main characters (some of them multiple times) as well as the entire universe. When characters constantly die and come back to life, there ceases to be any real danger, and there are no longer any sort of stakes.
This episode leaves us with a lot of questions, the biggest of which would be what is Clara's connection to Oswin and the new girl who makes a brief appearance. The Great Intelligence also raises some questions such as will he return and why does the Doctor say that it rings a bell when it is mentioned. Also, is seems that “Winter is coming” has replaced “Silence will fall” as the major thread of this series. While this is a great phrase teasing what is to come, I just wish they did not steal it from Game of Thrones. Another question was raised when the Doctor used his sonic screwdriver on a door: can he now use it on wood or was this just a mistake? If it is the former, then why was this upgrade not mentioned?
Now that the Christmas episode has come and gone, we can look forward to the second half of this series. With a new companion, Neil Gaiman's return to write another episode, and a 50th anniversary to lead up to, the future appears to be very exciting.