Frightening Christmas for the Doctor

CHILLY RECEPTION: Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor faces off against Richard E Grant and The Snowmen, Boxing Day.
CHILLY RECEPTION: Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor faces off against Richard E Grant and The Snowmen, Boxing Day.

The jolly snowman isn't really a familiar figure around these parts at this time of year.

But in chillier countries, you'll tend to find a roly-poly chap made of snow standing tall whenever the flakes start falling.

Trust the makers of Doctor Who to take such a friendly staple of the season and put a sinister twist on it.

"Sometimes we play along with something a bit frothier," Doctor Who writer Steven Moffat said of the show's traditional Christmas episode.

"This year, though, we might just give them a fright."

The title of this year's hour-long Doctor Who Christmas special is The Snowmen - but don't be looking for friendly Frosty in this episode.

Instead, beware of an army of snowmen baring sharp, icy teeth and harbouring hostile intentions.

It's been a turbulent time of late for this 11th incarnation of the much-loved Time Lord, played by Matt Smith. He's lost his companions, Amy and Rory Pond, and has been left so despondent that saving the world has become less of a priority.

"The Doctor, when we meet him, isn't in a good place," Moffat said.

"This is a cold and withdrawn Time Lord, wanting no part of the world around him. It's going to take a lot of Christmas spirit to get him back out of those TARDIS doors."

So while the Doctor, travelling through time and space in his trademark TARDIS, has a dreadful villain in the form of Doctor Simeon (played by Richard E Grant) and his army of "evil and hungry" snowmen (the leader of which has the voice of The Hobbit's Ian McKellen), he also has a new companion to help him save the day.

With The Snowmen set on Christmas Eve 1892, the Doctor's new ally is Clara, a "mysterious" young woman from the Victorian era played by Jenna-Louise Coleman.

Now Coleman may be familiar to Doctor Who fans - she briefly but memorably appeared in the recent episode Asylum of the Daleks and, true to form when it comes to this show, everyone involved is being a little coy about whether her earlier appearance and this re-appearance are connected.

"It's going to be quite a journey of discovery with Jenna and her character," Moffat said. "For now, it's enough to say the Doctor in his darkest hour, long ago in a Victorian winter, meets exactly the right person. Or does he?"

They don't make it easy, do they? So what does Coleman have to say about her character and how she fits into the Doctor Who universe?

"(Clara) isn't intimidated by the Doctor," she said. "She finds him amazing and ridiculous. But she is on her own mission and lives by her own means - she is very resourceful."

OK, well, that's some information, I suppose. Could Grant maybe tell us something about his villainous Doctor Simeon?

"I have been told on pain of death I am not allowed to reveal anything about my role in the Christmas special," said the UK actor, recently seen opposite Jane Turner and Gina Riley in Kath & Kimderella.

All right then, Matt Smith, it's up to you. What does The Snowmen offer its viewers?

"Lots of snow and a rather good villain," Smith said. He added that the audience will see a different side of the Doctor after the loss of companion Amy Pond.

"Grieving has its place," Smith said. "But it is important to show that and then propel back into adventure. That is the great thing about this show - reinvention. It keeps me as an actor on my toes."

So expect to see Smith's Doctor and Coleman's Clara sharing further adventures with eight new episodes scheduled for next year. But before all that, there's what Moffat describes as a "more epic" Christmas special.

"There are snowmen - you probably guess that from the title," he said. "But that's not all. Dear me, no! This Christmas episode is Doctor Who - only more so."

* Doctor Who: The Snowmen airs on Wednesday, December 26 in New Zealand, at 8.30pm on Prime.