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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Doctor Who: The Abominable Snowmen

Serial Title: The Abominable Snowmen
Series: 5
Episodes: 6
Doctor: Patrick Troughton
Companions: Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling)

The TARDIS arrives in the Himalayan mountains of Tibet, on Earth, circa 1935. The Doctor recognizes the time period, and excitedly fishes through the TARDIS archives for the Ghanta, a large ceremonial bell- and a holy relic to the nearby monastery. He assures Jamie and Victoria that it will grant them a warm welcome. As he heads off to the monastery, ordering them to stay there, Victoria leaves to explore, forcing Jamie to come with her.

The Doctor receives no warm welcome, however, as British expedition leader (and sole survivor… what is Series 5’s love of killing off expeditions?) Edward Travers, on the mountains in hopes of proving the elusive Yeti really exist, accuses him of murder. Travers, sheltering in the monastery, had his last man murdered by a Yeti- but, unable to rationalize the normally-shy creatures’ sudden violence, seizes on the Doctor’s fur coat and the dark night to believe that he was the true killer, only mistaken for a Yeti. The monks, also puzzled by a recent violent streak in the now-ferocious Yeti, lock him in a cell pending trial.

Victoria and Jamie, meanwhile, stumble into a cave and have a close-call with a Yeti, which proves to be nearly indestructible when they knock down a support and bring the roof down on its head… and it keeps on coming.

Back at the monastery, token Extremely Unreasonable Second In Command (tm), Khrisong (I’m sorry, that should be Gaston-Zentos-Tor-Khrisong, latest in a long, hair-tearingly irritating line) ignores orders from his superior, common sense, reason, and audience likability and bullies the other monks into letting him take the Doctor out and murder him… BECAUSE HE ISN’T WILLING TO WAIT AN HOUR FOR PRAYERS TO FINISH AND THE ABBOT TO COME AND HEAR THE CASE. Let me say that again, just to be clear: HE CONVINCES THE MONKS TO LET HIM TAKE THE DOCTOR OUT AND MURDER HIM BECAUSE HE DOESN’T WANT TO WAIT AN HOUR FOR PRAYERS TO FINISH. Yeesh. (Travers matches his idiotic obstinacy by admitting that the Doctor does not have the physical strength to have committed the murder, but insisting that he won’t be ‘distracted’ from his accusations.)

His preferred method of killing is to take the Doctor out and chain him to the gates as live bait to trap a Yeti, so as to determine the cause of their mysterious violence of late. Meanwhile, young initiate Thonmi has found the Ghanta that the Doctor was trying to return. He brings it to the Abbot Songsten, who is deep in communion with the Master of the monastery, Padmasambhava .(Note from Sarah: I am really glad that "Padmasambhava" will now be stuck in my head for DAYS after reading this! That drove me nuts watching this serial!) Thonmi is thanked (and memory-wiped of his encounter with Padmasambhava) and the Doctor is ordered to be freed. Travers returns from an exploration with Victoria and Jamie, and, anxious to see the Yeti that they have found in the caves, corroborates their testimony that the Doctor could not have committed the murder. 

As the Doctor is freed from his role as bait, however, the Yeti attack the monastery- one is beaten down and appears to suddenly die, while the others retreat- and the fallen is taken inside for examination. A small silver sphere, unnoticed by the group, has fallen just outside the gates- a sphere identical to one found in the Yeti cave by Jamie, which he has brought to show the Doctor.

The mystery of the Yeti only deepens when the inert creature brought inside is discovered to be a robot with an outer fur covering designed to make it look like a Yeti. The Doctor discovers a spherical impression where the silver globe had resided, its dislodging causing the robot’s shut-down… but cannot find the sphere Jamie brought back. Unbeknownst to him, they are moving on their own.

One of the spheres soon reaches the Yeti, sliding into the cavity to re-activate it- and the risen Yeti battles its way through the monks, killing many before it escapes the monastery. Victoria and Thonmi, nearby at the time, are accused of having revived the creature, and the duo are imprisoned. Travers, meanwhile, follows the Yeti to its cave, and discovers a glowing pyramid, surrounded by the silver spheres, that breaks open, and begins oozing a strange living gelatin into the cave.

Padmasambhava, revealed to be controlling the Yeti via model figures on a game-board representation of the monastery, orders the monks to leave, ostensibly to seek safe shelter from the dangerous Yeti attacks. He is revealed to be a puppet of the Great Intelligence, a force possessing his body… and even now manifesting a body of its own, spilling out of the pyramid in the cave. The Yeti attack yet again, killing more monks, and withdraw, as Padmasambhava tries to force the monks to leave.

The Doctor goes in to meet Padmasambhava, a man he knew from the monastery 300 years before. Padmasambhava explains that he was traveling with his mind on the astral plane (a Buddhist monk thing) and encountered the Great Intelligence, which has since taken his body for its own and kept him alive as its puppet. Padmasambhava dies, expressing regret in his dying words... but after the Doctor leaves, he revives, once again animated by the Great Intelligence.

The Doctor is able to remove Victoria from a Great Intelligence-induced trance, and pieces together all the evidence to realize that Songsten, the Abbot, is the chief link between the Yeti and the monastery, also being used as a puppet of sorts. Meanwhile, the Intelligence continues to pour out of the pyramid, overflowing the cave and starting down the mountain.

Songsten kills Khrisong, and is then captured and bound. The Doctor convinces the monks to leave, removing them from danger as he battles the Intelligence. He ventures back into the sanctum and engages in a telepathic battle of wills with Padmasambhava, unable to do more than keep him at bay, and he seems to be losing, immobilized and in pain, while the Yeti-robots break in and advance menacingly to tear him limb from limb- but Jamie and Thomni begin to smash equipment in the hidden lab nearby- first destroying a large sphere which controls the others, deactivating the Yeti-bots once and for all, and then a large pyramid, linked to the other, which dispels the Great Intelligence. Victoria, meanwhile, is useless. (And no, that’s not just a notation on this situation, it’s a general overall commentary on her character.)

Professor Travers
Padmasambhava, freed from the Intelligence, finally dies in peace. The TARDIS crew and Travers leave the monastery, and as they head towards the TARDIS, they stop short when they see another Yeti wandering the mountain. It sees them, turns around, and flees, shy and docile- a real Yeti exists after all. An excited Travers gives chase, exultant that Yeti sightings have not always been the Intelligence’s robots, but are real creatures that were simply mimicked for the machines. As he pursues his prize, the TARDIS leaves the monastery behind for good.

This was an oddly conflicted episode- well written, and suspense-sustaining; I really enjoyed the plot twists- and yet chock full of unreasonable, irritating, dumb-as-a-post obstinate and obnoxious characters. How I could enjoy the plot whilst loathing the characters so much, I don’t know.
The Englishman begins as an unreasonable paranoid idiot who won’t let facts get in the way of his wild and absurd claims, even when directly confronted with the truth.
The chief of the warriors (you know, the pacifist monks’ elite warriors…?) was impatient, foolhardy, and stubborn… but strangely, everyone obeyed him even as he defied the orders of his (and their) superiors as if they were compelled to assist him even though he was clearly in the wrong… and he continues, even when the TARDIS crew have proven themselves, to leap to suspicions every other second, every time something inexplicable happens.

And Victoria… WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH VICTORIA?!?!?!? Does she have some sort of mental problem? Is she mentally stunted? Is she an IDIOT???? There’s a difference between curious, and out-rightly attempting to make trouble and insult your hosts repeatedly in defiance of their every request, demand, and tradition, and going out of your way to attempt to deceive and betray them to satisfy your apparently enchanted (along the veins of Sleeping Beauty or Diggory on Charn in the Magician’s Nephew) compulsion to do what is forbidden and what you have no good reason to do. Victoria was actively grating in this, as she went out of her way to get into trouble in a manner that was downright infuriating- and also betrayed her only ally and left him locked in a cell. The girl is cute as a button, but… rapidly becoming my least favorite companion ever (yes, that’s right, worse than DODO!!!) despite her strong showing in Tomb of the Cybermen. (It would appear to be her version of The Gunfighters- the single serial in which the companion is starring and instantly likable which makes you feel bad for saying you detest them…); we will see if coming serials reinforce or dispel this image.

Jamie is very sensible in this episode- though letting himself be pushed over by Victoria a little too easily- he is protective, clever, and prudent, doing the common sense thing- leaving me little to discuss in his actions, but much to recommend him. The Doctor was clever as ever, but likewise largely generic here- save for a few standout bits; his nonchalant order for Jamie NOT to be interested in the bagpipes he just found, his unexpected unease when he finds that the Holy Relic in his possession is potentially considered stolen, and of course the battle of wills at the end- the Doctor is always in top form when battling hypnosis.

And the Yeti. Oh, the Yeti. How we were cracking up… the bouncy gait, the chubby costume- like a fur covered Grimace from McDonalds’ mascot line, or a fat Talz from the Mos Eisley Cantina, this lumpy, hapless furball is hilarious and in no way threatening- in fact, you feel bad for the poor dear when it’s caught in a net and being repeatedly clubbed in the head, because the poor thing is so obviously helpless even before it’s hoisted up- the Yeti are not a credible threat. They’re kinda cute, actually- you want one as a pet. But they are fun, in an especially cheesy, dumpy, goofy kinda way.

The villain, the Great Intelligence, reminded me very much of The Animus from The Web Planet- while his motivations and background seemed a little hazy, the actor portraying  Padmasambhava, his stolen body, did an excellent job- creepy and effective, as was the slow and gradual reveal of him.

The story itself was a strange, meandering version of the Alamo, or some other last stand, and seemed to wander around a bit- like an episode of Lost, gradually revealing a large, multi-faceted mystery while conspiring in every way possible to keep the whole cast from being in the same place at the same time. The final assault was quite exciting, though- with the battle of wills and the oncoming Yeti, ever symbolized by the simple-yet-effective figures-on-a-model-board approach.

Aside from the aggravating characters and the laughable Yeti, I find myself at a loss to note anything of real substance about this episode. The re-creation we watched, a YouTube compilation set to the narration-enhanced audio tracks, was excellent if goofy- trying hard with it’s silly little moving-cutout figures, more reminiscent of Monty Python than Doctor Who- but it TRIED, and tried hard, remaining entertaining and energetic, and even splicing in video clips when backs were turned or lips weren’t moving, to great effect.

Yeti? Or Dufflepuds??
The dumpy Abominable Snowmen turned out to be a little absurd, but lovably goofball- endearing in that ‘six-year-old’s-best-effort-which-isn’t-really-very-good-but-is-adorable-because-of-the-earnest-effort’ way, just the same as the costumes of it’s titular monsters. And the coda with the eager explorer spotting a real Yeti at last, proving that they are indeed real, was fun. I still think the Yeti must have been the inspiration for the costume design of the Talz in Star Wars: A New Hope, if not a modified costume itself.

Great moments:
The… ha-ha-ha-ha…! The first appearance of the Yeti…ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!

4 out of 5 Electrified Cybermats (or should that be Electrified Control Spheres?) for the reconstruction, which may not have been as technically apt as some previous reconstructions, but really went the extra mile on it nonetheless, reminding me of some of the best early Loose Canons for Hartnell- and 2.5 out of 5 Electrified Cybermats for an innocuous (but oddly tangled in tone) story with fun camp, irritating characters, and a stellar villain. The factors balance themselves into an average… which would have been 2, save for the strength of Wolfe Morris as the villain’s puppet, Padmasambhava.

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