Thursday, 25 June 2009

The Abominable Snowmen

#54 24 Jun 2004, 4:42 pm

The Abominable Snowmen 1:

About half a lifetime ago, as a fan of approximately thirteen years of age, a mate of mine and me decided we'd do home video recordings of ourselves in reconstructions of the missing stories. We selected season 5 to do. Each recon would be half an hour long for the whole story, and we'd do the scripts ourselves. One of the ones I was allocated was The Abominable Snowmen.

So, to reconstruct as faithfully as possible I pulled out the old style DWM archive from around about issues 90-100... somewhere or other. And I scripted versions of each scene, deciding that I would then proceed to edit them down when I'd finished.

And I didn't need to. Using the scene breakdown, I couldn't make it last longer than five minutes.

We never did get around to filming those recons, sad to say, but it did come back to me when I was listening to this episode. It's not bad, but there really isn't all that much plot to sustain it. All of the regulars are pretty much in their positions for the cliffhanger with ten minutes to go, and the episode suddenly loses all sense of direction, merely filling in time til it's allotted time count is out. Now, I'm all in favour of taking time over things and not necessarily feeling you have to jam the story with plot, it's one of the things I like about Tomb, for example. But they spread it out over the whole episode, rather than lumping it at the end and treading water. Also, they use the extra time to examine the characterisation. The last ten minutes or so of this script really is everyone just restating their position. Travers is surly, Khrisong is doubtful, and so on. We don't gain anything from these minutes.

And it's a shame, because there's a lot of good stuff in the episode. There's an unusual atmosphere about the piece - most clearly in the absence of music, giving the story a quiet, serious, and yes, faintly religious air. It's quite hard to notice unless you're told, but it does add to the atmosphere. Add to this the location filming which seems to look quite impressive (even if it's never a convincing Himalayas), and a rather fine shot of the monastery from on high. It all adds up to a genuine attempt to create a world that is noticeably removed from our own, strange and slightly mystical.

The regulars are developing quite well. They remind me slightly of a bunch of squabbling children, all with that sort of innocence abroad air. Troughton is the reckless troublesome one getting into scrapes (a kind of grown up William Brown), Jamie the dumb but brave sidekick, and Victoria the token girl, bossy, practical and sensible for the most part. I'm actually surprised in this reviewing to begin to see how she ticks. The Doctor and Jamie are effortlessly fun characters to be around, playful, naughty and cheeky. The Doctor, obviously is terribly smart, but the two of them aren't really 'head-lead'. They follow their hearts. Victoria is more lead by her brain. This is most clear in the lovely free interaction they have in the terrific TARDIS scene, which is freewheeling and funny, with Jamie and the Doctor bantering but Victoria acting as a disapproving older sister. (Of course, like most bossy sensible people, she gets out of her depth pretty damn quickly. Jamie, with his greater experience is as a result behaving more intelligently, despite his intellectual inferiority).

The rest of the characters don't really make much impression. Travers gets the most screen time, but doesn't have a vast amount of personality beyond 'gruff' so far. The Monks are fairly faceless. Norman Jones makes Khrisong come alive through force of personality alone, but the actual character isn't clear yet.

The story goes along in the background, but it isn't really that gripping yet. You can tell that the plot proper isn't in the foreground yet, with this episode just setting up the threads. You're not rivetted... but you're not bored yet either.

#55 26 Jun 2004, 11:20 am

The Abominable Snowmen 2:

Well, an annoyingly dodgy internet connection has prevented me from updating with this episode for a day or so. Pleasingly it exists (part of the general conspiracy around this part of the Troughton era not to look as devestated as a lot of the rest - in deed, telesnaps help with a vengeance). OK, so my ancient Troughton Years VHS seems to be trembling a little - not looking good for Enemy and Space Pirates, but we'll worry about that later.

Is this the first episode with no actual cliffhanger reprise (like, say, Genesis 2?) Or has it just been edited from the copy we have?

Again, the episode is oddly paced - the discovery of the Doctor's innocence takes the vast majority of the episode, whereas the planning to and eventual capture of a Yeti is dispensed in an astonishingly easy manner over five minutes or so. Wouldn't it have been better to do it the other way around? It's statesmanlike in its slowness.

But in this episode at least it doesn't really matter. The story proper seems to be kicking off, with the first appearance of Padmasambhva (or however it's spelt) promising a lot. The sequences with him are genuinely quite unsettling (especially the swinging between different voices, which you only catch on to a little late). Also, they're a genuinely good hook, as the identity of the person speaking is unclear and mysterious, and everything discussed seems to bear little or no relation to anything else that's happened in the plot so far, signalling that the story might go in a different direction from here on in. It's easy to forget, knowing these stories like we do, that for the first two episodes it seems that we're up against a natural threat in the form of genuine Yeti, maybe influenced by the spheres. Only with the mystery voice and the revelation that the creatures are robotic do we realise we're in a proper sci-fi story. Barring the two Dalek stories, this is only the second proper pseudo-historical we've had, after the Time Meddler - the Dalek stories don't really have the same impact, as the story's are already going by the time we appear in the past, acting as historical sideshow's if you like, both incursions being limited in scope (we barely see the Daleks in the period locations). We're already aware that there are sci-fi elements before we reach the past, so the shock is less pronounced. Here the historical setting is established first, giving a proper sense of culture shock as we realise that the appearances are belied by the material.

The characters are getting more interesting - Travers has a joyous childishness when he thinks about the Yeti that contrasts delightfully with his distaste for the Doctor. Khrisong has an engaging stubborness and pragmatism, effortlessly dominating his scenes. The other monks are much of a muchness, really. Thomni gets a lot of material but he doesn't seem to have much depth beyond 'nice monk' so far.

And the regulars are on great form - Jamie's brave, Victoria's sweet, and the interaction between them all is sublime (I love the 'Jamie's had an idea scene', it's relaxed and humourous about the main cast in a way the series hasn't been with any other team since the original two - there's a comfortable feel and ease in these scenes, a shared warmth that really does make it easy to feel these are friends travelling the universe together, rather than a bunch of colleagues).

A good episode then. Not exactly showy, but quietly pleasant.

#56 27 Jun 2004, 12:03 am


The Abominable Snowmen 3:

Well, my dodgy internet connection made this one a bit of a trawl - having to stop every few seconds to wait for the telesnaps to load, and then ocassional whole minutes whilst I logged back on.

It's a rather plotless episode. If I've been saying very little happens in the first two episodes... well, it's nothing compared to this one. The cliffhanger is only an inch or so forward from that at the end of the last episode (the whole episode takes place in the time it takes the sphere to travel a short distance).

There are only really two plot points in this episode, everything else just being window dressing. Firstly, we have the revelation of the Great Intelligence being behind everything - it's clear it controls the Yeti, and we gain some sense of what it wants. (The chess board controls are a fab image). This in addition to the spheres and the robotic Yeti being at least partially explained. And secondly, a lot of people try to leave the Monastery despite being banned, most succesfully (honestly, is Ralpachan the crappest guard ever? Half the cast get by him through one ruse or another) And that's pretty much it for the episode. A lot of the rest of the episode just ambles along. In particular, watch Victoria. She pretty much finds herself in a chronic hysteresis of her own, ambling towards the sanctum, back again, to the sanctum again for pretty much the last fifteen minutes. (Luckily, the vanishing sphere concerns no-one really, because that'd pretty much stuff the cliffhanger, wouldn't it? It'd be rather easy to find if you actually looked...)

But once again, none of this really matters. There's a lovely intelligence and atmosphere to the script that means it remains enjoyable and pleasing listening/sort of viewing despite the problems. The sedate, quiet nature of the story matches the location perfectly, becoming a truly 'Monkish' piece (can you find a more meditative Who story? Marco Polo at a push, maybe...) In deed, it's unusual that the monsters, in this iconic 'monster season' aren't a major feature. The story isn't as action packed as it's 'base under seige', 'monster story' reputation would attest. The Yeti are the garnish to the creepiness of the central villain, rather than just monsters. Despite its title, this story isn't about them, they're the muscle on the fringes, and even then they're not particularly threatening (despite the efforts to sell them as major threats - by this point, the killing at the story's start is largely forgotten). How much of this is the result of the design, and how much of it is down to the script is hard to tell. They don't come over as a threat waiting to be unleashed, let's say. More something vaguely menacing on the fringes. But to emphasise again, this doesn't really matter, as the tone of the story is essentially a cloistered version of the regular stuff. Everything is sedated down a notch, giving the script a unique atmosphere, and rather a nice feel.

The characterisation is developing. Every character is beginning to show new facets. There's a sly intelligence to Travers, a bravery, honour and honesty to Khrisong, and a seriousness to Thomni. The regulars are easily on fine form throughout the story, but they don't get a vast amount of memorable material here. Victoria, retaining her school prefect (who secretly wants to benaughty) air, gets most of the best material, proving herself as a companion.

So quiet, but fun.

#57 29 Jun 2004, 6:44 pm

The Abominable Snowmen 4:

One of the great bits of trivia of the past few years is the revelation that Harold Pinter played the role of 'Ralpachan' in the Abominable Snowman. Or did he? There's some debate on the matter, the confusion being derived from the fact that he did use the stage name David Baron... but when did he actually stop. He'd hit it big by this point... it's just a question of whether his former stage name was used by another actor or not. Even I, a dyed in the wool Pinter fan, find it hard to tell whether it actually is him or not from the little evidence we've got. A scan through IMDB would suggest he was still using the name until the eighties on and off (and in 'the troubleshooters' in 1965)... but then IMDB doesn't realise there are two Geraldine Fitzgeralds...

By coincidence, yesterday I happened to watch 'In Camera', or 'Huis Clos', a terrific play by Jean Paul Satre. This was being shown on BBC4 in their sixties season, placing it roughly contemporaneous with Snowmen. (there is no clear date I can find for it though, annoyingly, but he is definitely called 'Harold Pinter') Watching this episode and the playlet back to back makes me feel confident I know the answer.

I'm pretty certain it's not him. It's hard to tell - the guy looks similar. But it's mainly in terms of the voice... Pinter's is richer, more resonant to my ear. And slightly flatter in delivery. So there we go. Not exactly a definitive answer but the best I can do (anyone got the Love All episode of the Avengers... he's supposed to be in that too).

So, should I actually talk about the episode then? I suppose I must...The story is still slow, but likeable. There's a lot of fluffery in this episode with the regulars trapped on little diversions - the Doctor's kidnapping of a control sphere occupies him and Jamie for a while, but doesn't exactly progress the plot. Likewise Victoria's climactic arrival in Padmas...whatever's chambers is essentially where she's been aiming for for an episode and a half (like the last cliffhanger, it's an inch or so further on). His pronunciation is bloody odd, frankly. Every word seems to take two years ('you have no alternative' must take a minute). But I digress. Despite this, the regulars are well treated, with Victoria showing some balls, coming up with her escape scheme all by herself (and for a moment, it's actually convincing, which is rare). And there's lots of funny dialogue for the Doctor and Jamie. So despite the story having the pace of pensioner, there's lots to enjoy. Slowly.

Khrisong and Thomni show proper balls, defying the abbot for their beliefs. Travers doesn't get much to do apart from go a bit loopy. The real meat of the episode however lies with Pad and Songsten, as we begin to get some sense of what's going on (through the rare device of us overhearing the 'villains' plotting). There's a matter of fact feel to this planning of wholesale carnage that is rather chilling, and is a tantalising hint of where the story is heading.

Beyond that, I can't really remember all that much that happens, has to be said. Still, I'm enjoying it, in all it's slowness (there are a good few scenes you know are only there to pad it out, but considering I spent half this review wittering about Pinter that hardly seems a fair critique, now does it.)

#58 3 Jul 2004, 10:35 pm
Carlos R

Joined April 22, 2004
Last On: Yesterday 7:23 pm
Posts Here: 58
Re: Day by Day


Dorney come back! All is forgiven!!!


I wonder if Dorney is suffering from Who-fatigue. I mean, I'm posting my own day-by-day thread, (though I hasten to add nowhere near as detailed as Dorney's and I don't even rewatch the episodes each day), and I'm finding it to be more of a chore during the 5th season of the show, not because there is anything inherently wrong with it, but its the 3rd season in a row which mostly exists in audio form. Plus, these 6 parters can be a bit wearing one after the other...

In any event, I'm still loving your comments Dorney, and hope to see you real soon!


#60 4 Jul 2004, 3:45 am
Max K Wilkie


I can imagine the difficulties in doing Seasons 3, 4 and 5 in a row - but if you push hard enough, Season 6 will come quickly and you can start watching complete stories again! But, there is The Dominators. And The Krotons. And The Space Pirates...

Oh dear, that's the most depressing thought I've had all day.


#61 4 Jul 2004, 8:12 pm
Time Lord

Re: Day by Day


Hi - sorry for the delays... I listened to AS 5 a few days ago, and didn't get a chance to write it up, so I'm going have to do a refresher when I do the write up (can't think of a thing to say!). Since then, it's been difficult finding the precise time to do episode six - (just the wrong set of DWM's to lose!) I'm going to try and squeeze it in today, whilst my sister and her chap watch the footie, which I couldn't care less about.

This seems as good a point as any to say that I'll probably have to take another bit of a breather around the end of Warriors or Enemy - not fatique as such, with the telesnaps and nine episodes, this half of season 5 isn't too bad, but more due to time factors. I'm due to be in a play or two at the Edinburgh festival and will be rehearsing and performing (meaning I'll certainly find it impossible to update during August). Rather than do it piecemeal and get ahead of myself, I'll try and save it up...

(Soviet Union, it's been so long since I've watched the Dominators and the Krotons that I'm actually looking forward to them. Heck I've always been slightly fond of the former.

The less said about Space Pirates at this moment the better).

#62 11 Jul 2004, 10:01 am
Time Lord


Just a brief update. Should hopefully be getting the next three episodes done on Wednesday, if I'm lucky. I've watched to the end of Abominable Snowmen, but it's far to busy to write up at this moment. But it will be soon - and I'm not starting Ice Warriors til I catch up with meself.

#63 13 Jul 2004, 11:15 pm
Time Lord


Yes, at last

The Abominable Snowmen 5 & 6

Well, many apologies to those of you who actually follow this strange little thread. I haven't had this big a gap since I went off to record Faith Stealer (Sept, Big Finish, bound to be good, I've read it).

Part of the problem is that part 5 really doesn't have much to it, so it was sort of hard to gear up the enthusiasm to go through it. In deed, I have a sneaking feeling I might change the format of Day by Day a little to fit the way I did the last few episodes of Evil - a general write up and then slightly less detailed thoughts on some of the episodes (I do find myself saying the same thing, it must be said).

So. Let's get on with it.

TAS finsishes off as rather a nice little story. Kind of quiet, and it's never as clear as it should be why the Great Intelligence needs to muck around with the yeti's and the monks at all (he's just drawing attention to himself - and considering that Jamie defeats him by just smashing his stuff up suggests this is quite a risky scheme [ok, so I know that the Doctor aids this by struggling mentally with tGI, but this doesn't stop the whole scheme seeming more than a little pointless, and veers worryingly close to the story being desperately tied onto a cool concept, i.e: the abominable snowmen myths).

The characterisation is increasingly a strong point. Khrisong's journey from callousness to trust, or rather our increasing understanding of his inherent nobility makes his death deeply shocking and sad. Likewise, Travers covers a number of bases across the story, always seeming like a plausibly human character - brave at one moment, joyous the next. It's easy to see why he was brought back. He's a warm figure, immensely likeable.

The action really kicks in in these last two episodes. The Yeti storming the Monastery is a good set piece (the crushing with the buddha being a nasty image, caught in one of the telesnaps, showing a thematic element - the intelligences great disrespect for the religion he's perverting, and getting to show a gruesome and dramatic moment too). In deed, part five has one other nice set piece - Victoria speaking with Pad's voice, and her subsequent hysterical repetition has a faintly creepy air. There's a bit of frippery and time wasting in resolving this though (the Doctor goes on about needing more information, but doesn't even seem to try when speaking to Pad). But it does make for a nice, slightly bittersweet scene in the inner sanctum.

Looking at the synopsis on this site, it's hard to see that there's twenty five minutes there for part six. It's a surprise because this episode is probably the strongest... especially considering the climax is really weighted for a change. It's delivered at a breathlessly high energy level, high paced and frantic, and it really feels like a huge struggle is going on, and that everyone is needed. The Intelligence is a very good villain, it has to be said, seemingly all powerful, and really rather creepy in so many ways.

I have to say, that I think that's going to have to be it. Sorry that these last two aren't as detailed as normal, but real life got in the way (something i was berated for not having many months ago). But also it's partly because AS is good, but not exactly earth shattering, and hardly packed. You just can't write all that much about it. Perfectly pleasant, but nothing to get too excited about.

I should have Ice Warriors 1 a bit sooner...

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