The Abominable SnowmenBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 13 December 2006 - Reviewed by Eddy Wolverson

Doctor Who’s fifth season will forever be remembered for the debut of two new sets of monsters – The Ice Warriors, who would show up in the next story, and the Yeti. “The Abominable Snowmen” was such a big hit with the viewing public that a sequel for later in the season was immediately commissioned, and whilst many don’t reckon this six-parter to be quite as good as it’s moody sequel, “The Web of Fear,” this story is still one of Troughton’s best and is a fantastic introduction to the Great Intelligence and their monstrous servants. Being the first story of fifth production block, this serial was afforded the luxury – still rare at this point in the series’ history – of a week’s location filming, which took place in Snowdonia, North Wales, at the start of September 1967. In the existing episode and the telesnaps from this story, the location footage looks superb on screen – the money really shows!

“There’s a great deal of difference between the Highlands and the Himalayas, Jamie” 

“Aye. They’re bigger.”

The first few episodes of the serial are slow moving, but nevertheless compelling. The surviving second episode (available on the Lost in Time DVD) probably isn’t the best showcase for the story, as the episode is bogged down for long periods in the Detsen Monastery, but even so the slow build-up allows the audience time to really get to know the characters, and they are a particularly fascinating bunch! Travers, the explorer, is played by Jack Watling (Deborah Watling’s father) who brings a lot of weight to the role and Krisong (Norman Jones), is also especially memorable as the warrior monk who takes an instant dislike to the Doctor and his companions. The serial follows the tried-and-tested plot formula where the Doctor is initially suspected of wrongdoing and then eventually earns the trust of the people who initially suspect him, and although it has been done time after time throughout the series it never works better than it does here. To see the Doctor finally win over Travers, Krisong and the monks is wonderful to watch.

Unfortunately much of the story has little dialogue and is therefore difficult to enjoy on audio alone. Moreover, a lot of the gags are purely visual – for example, the Doctor and Victoria mistake the Doctor for a “hairy beastie” early on, as does Professor Travers, who initially thinks that the Doctor may have attacked him (when in fact it was a Yeti.) Fortunately, when listened to in synch with the telesnaps one can follow the story far easier – my DIY reconstruction just about does the job!

Jamie has a great story, even by his high standards, and is at the heart of most of the action. One of my strongest memories of the Terrance Dicks’ Target novelisation that I read years and years ago is the underlying humour in the story, and Jamie is at the centre of most of that too. Along with the Doctor, the pair of them have some immortal one-liners: “They came to get their ball back”; “Bung a rock at it”; need I go on? Victoria, however, demonstrates exactly why she has the reputation as the helpless ‘screaming young girl’ companion. She does strike out on her own for a large chunk of the story – in the fourth episode, for example, it is Victoria that discovers that the High Lama Padmasambhava is possessed by the Great Intelligence – but even so she spends far too much time running around and screaming for my liking! 

The last half of the story is much more action packed than the beginning. The Yeti rampage through the Abbey; the Doctor confronts what is left of his old friend, Padmasambhava; and we are treated to an explosive ending that sees the Doctor immobilise the Yeti, but only at great cost. Songsten, Krisong, Padmasambhava, scores of monks… all lost. Despite the tremendous loss of life though, the story still manages to end with another lovely little moment of comedy, with Jamie declaring that he wants to go somewhere ‘warmer’ next time – blissfully unaware that he is on course for the second ice age! – and Travers discovering a real Yeti, a shy and timid creature!