Our story begins in 1842, with a very antisocial little boy called Simeon. He’s built himself a little snowman friend with the voice of Gandalf, and that’s all the company he needs for the rest of his life. Even some 50 years later, he’s still at it, only now Gandalf lives in a literal snowglobe, and Simeon feeds him snow collected by workmen, who then get eaten by spooky snowmen with shark dentures.
Elsewhere, a barmaid spots another spooky snowman, and asks a passing Time Lord if he built it. This Time Lord is somewhat grumpy, but lingers long enough to ask her name – it’s Clara – before striding off. This seems to be enough to pique her curiosity, and she gives chase, jumping on his cab and sticking her head through… well… is it a sun roof? Did they have those? Anyway, there she is, upside down and in his face.
Meanwhile, at a country house, Dr Simeon is reminding the owner, Captain Latimer, of the grisly events that happened a year ago, when his children’s governess died in the pond, which then froze over, leaving her hidden for months. Seems a curious thing to launch into as an introductory statement, but then we do know Simeon’s not great with the small talk. He stakes a claim on the ice in the pond, when it is ready, and leaves a business card to seal the deal.
On his way home, Simeon runs into Jenny and Vastra. Vastra has very wisely covered up her face to avoid unnecessary interest, but Jenny appears to think it’s fine to wander about in trousers, as if that won’t cause a Victorian scandal.
And it turns out Arthur Conan Doyle has been pinching tales of their exploits as eccentric detectives for his Sherlock Holmes stories, leaving out the fact that Holmes is a lizard, they’re both female, married, and one of them literally wears the trousers.
Vastra has deduced that the snow has a low-level telepathic field, and can respond to people’s thoughts. Dr Simeon confirms this is the case, and that he’s bringing about the end of the world. Some children never learn to play nicely.
Back at the cab, Strax the Sontaran and the Doctor (unwilling, surly) are investigating the snow while Clara tries to break out of the cab she is still locked inside. The Doctor threatens her with a memory worm, and Strax… well can we just say that everything that happens with Strax in this story a) is amazing and b) cannot be done justice in recap form.
By the end of the shenanigans, the Doctor and Clara are clearly making friends, and an attack by rabid snowmen seals the deal, even though he stalks off in a huff afterwards. Naturally she follows, and watches him climb a ladder into the sky. And naturally she climbs it too, up an invisible spiral staircase into a solid cloud with a TARDIS on it. This is clearly a lot to take in at once, so she runs off.
The next day, after an apocalyptic warning of a thaw and a snowfall from the Gandalf snowglobe, Clara goes back to her day job, as a posh governess called Miss Montague at Captain Latimer’s house. It’s Christmas Eve, and young Francesca has been having prophetic dreams about the return of the governess in the pond, she’s coming back tonight.
This sends Clara back to town to try and find the magical ladder. Jenny appears, in a dress, and takes her to see Vastra, drinking tomato juice (or possibly blood). There follows a one-word quiz, where Clara explains her story without really explaining it, but manages to secure the attention of the Doctor with the tactical deployment of the word ‘pond.’
Over at Dr Simeon’s office, there’s a visitor: Sherlock Holmes! And it’s not Madame Vastra this time! Actually it’s the Doctor playing dressup, complete with deerstalker, cloak and pipe, and a walking cane he uses to wake the Intelligence, the hivename of all those snowflakes, and the ghost in Gandalf’s snowglobe. It turns out it wants human DNA, to evolve into a being or beings that will not melt in warm weather.
Back at Captain Latimer’s (another delightful Strax moment), the Doctor goes to see Clara, against his better judgement, and the ice begins to crack. Clara tells the children about the Doctor, who is waiting in the play room until they get attacked by an ice governess, so he can save the day and explode her by hiding in a puppet theater and pretending to be Mr Punch. He must be a little out of practise at this saving lark.
Then Dr Simeon turns on the snow machine, re-freezes the governess and makes some more snowmen, then Vastra and Jenny and Strax arrive to help out. Jenny throws a containment device at the governess, and the Doctor and Clara lure her upstairs, after stopping off for a quick snog.
Clara grabs the invisible ladder with her brolly, and they climb up into the cloud, with perhaps a bit of a stop-off for some more flirting. Then the Doctor shows Clara the newly-decorated TARDIS, complete with twin (or possibly triplet) lazy susans above the console, makes a proposal and gives her his key. This is all happening rather fast!
Too fast, in fact, because the ice governess has snuck up behind her and drags her off. They fall from the sky, and Clara dies. Is this a new record for one of the Doctor’s companions?
Oh wait, she’s not dead by Sontaran standards. Strax goes to work, mending her shattered innards, but not actually bringing her back from the dead. The Doctor gives her his key again, straightens his bowtie, and offers Dr Simeon a piece of the ice governess in a lunchbox with a map of the London Underground on it (1967 edition). He agrees to meet at the snowglobe office, bringing the lunchbox. He then switches off the Gandalf voice filter the snowglobe is speaking through, revealing the schoolboy beneath. The snow is a mirror, a parasite, using Simeon’s natural stiffness and cussedness to develop plans for world domination.
Sadly for him, the lunchbox has the memory worm (remember the memory worm?) inside. And Dr Simeon’s mind is erased. However, the snow has developed, evolved its own power, and got its own voice (yep, Gandalf again), and a blank human form to occupy (Dr Simeon). He/it attacks the Doctor, overpowering him and freezing his face. Things look bleak.
Except it’s at this point that a Christmas miracle occurs. Clara dies.
Granted, that does not sound miraculous, but her death, and the single tear rolling down her face, changes everything. The concentration of snow around Captain Latimer’s house means the telepathic flakes tap into the despair at her passing and the tears shed, effectively turning them from ice to salt water, melting all the snow and releasing the Intelligence from its physical form (see the last interesting point, below).
The Doctor rushes back to the house, and Clara, whose last words “run, run you clever boy, and remember” echo those of Oswin Oswald. Actually, it turns out her full name – according to her gravestone – is Clara Oswin Oswald. And didn’t she mention soufflés earlier? She DID! But that means… she’s…
No. I don’t know yet either. But the Doctor seems awfully excited, and sets off to find her again, possibly in the future, where a girl who looks exactly like Oswin and Clara is walking through that very same graveyard. What will happen next? Wait and see!
Which just leaves one last point of interest. You may be wondering why the London Underground in 1967 was such an key detail of the Doctor’s plan. Well, it probably wasn’t as far as he was concerned, but that’s where (and when) the Yeti attacked the Second Doctor, using the underground as a, oh, what’s the phrase, as a”key strategic weakness,” under the influence of a familiar-sounding collective consciousness called the Great Intelligence: like the Intelligence, but greater.
And what was on Dr Simeon’s calling card, what’s the logo on his gate? GI: the Great Intelligence Institute. It’s almost as if that tube map on a lunchbox became a plan of attack.
Time travel is fiddly, isn’t it?