Doctor Who's Christmas specials have a history of being rather uneven. For all the good holiday outings (2005's "The Christmas Invasion," 2010's "A Christmas Carol"), there have been plenty of dismal ones (2008's "The Next Doctor," 2011's "The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe"). Tuning into these Christmas specials has become a holiday tradition for many fans of the series, but part of that tradition is seeing if the episode is actually any good at all. This year's Christmas special, "The Snowmen," quite thankfully turned out to be the Doctor's best holiday outing yet.
"The Snowmen" marks a turning point for Doctor Who. Not only was it the episode that introduced a number of significant aesthetic changes (the Doctor's new outfit, the new TARDIS interior, the new opening titles), it (re-)introduced a new companion (Jenna-Louise Coleman's fantastic Clara Oswin Oswald) and set up a rather intriguing new story arc that will last for at least the rest of series 7.
What's fantastic, though, is how effortlessly the episode does so. With the departure of the beloved Ponds still quite present in the minds of the audience (and the Doctor), the episode takes time to examine the emotional impact of the last episode, "The Angels Take Manhattan." The significance of a pond to the plot of the episode was a beautiful indicator of the Ponds' notable absence: even hearing the word "pond" and seeing the Doctor's reaction to it was a surprising emotional punch. But the episode, thankfully, didn't dwell on brooding for too long; the loss of Amy and Rory was acknowledged and then the series moved on, this time to the fantastic and mysterious new companion, Clara Oswin Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman).
While speculation on what is happening with this character is enough to fill up an entire other article (and it will), the real reason to look forward to seeing more of Oswald is Coleman's absolutely fantastic performance. She's not as entirely different from Amy Pond as Steven Moffat would have you believe: there's much of that stubborn curiosity that made us fall in love with Amy present in Clara (and, of course, sexiness). But Coleman plays Clara as a character who is much more in control; she's more mature than Amy was and quite possibly cleverer. She's the Doctor's logical progression from the loss of Amy, it seems. And you know what? I already like her. Let's hope she sticks around for longer than this "multiple Oswalds" storyline, which very clearly has an expiration date.
The villains of "The Snowmen" -- Dr. Simeon and the telepathic snow -- felt quite a bit underdeveloped (and Ian McKellen underused!), but when the villains did appear, they were particularly effective. As is nothing new for the series, the villains were ultimately defeated by the emotions of the protagonists -- "a whole family crying on Christmas" -- but you really can't blame Moffat for embracing a sentimental deus ex machina in a Christmas special, and extra points should be appointed for not making it too cloying.
All in all, "The Snowmen" was almost certainly my favorite of the Doctor Who Christmas specials thus far. Its mini-reinvention of the series was the most rewarding aspect, but as far as Christmassy elements go, it managed to deliver on all fronts as well. And, of course, it also served another important purpose: it has me dying to see series 7, part 2 (which premieres in April). If this episode was indication, the series will continue delivering greatness.