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Abominable Snowmen. Thank you for the Complete Lack of Music.

January 15, 2016


We’re in the Himalayas.  Or not.  Actually we’re in North Wales, which is standing in for the Himalayas.  I wonder if the Doctor Who cast and crew ever bumped into the cast and crew of Carry on up the Khyber – who must have been filming in exactly the same spot round about the same time.

It’s an uneven outing in some respects.  For one thing – there are the Abominable Snowmen (or Robot Yeti) themselves.  It’s hard for them to exude any real sense of menace.  They resemble those 1970s Glam-Rock playing Mike Batt Wombles to the extent that I keep hearing the intro to “Remember You’re a Womble” whenever they waddle over the brow of a hill.  Then there are the monks.  In terms of sensitive ethnic casting, I fear this story might be somewhat regressive.  In fact, I doubt if there’s an authentically Tibetan cast member to be found here.

But there’s much to praise either in a tale that can only be enjoyed in a reconstructed version containing just one (out of six) complete episode.  Patrick Troughton himself is in good form, in a rather more serious register than usual.  And Deborah Watling is allowed to give Victoria a rather feistier and more resourceful personality than she had exhibited in Tomb of the Cybermen.  Her Dad, Jack Watling, meanwhile offers a plausible portrayal of the jealous monomaniacal researcher controlled by his obsession with claiming the Yeti as a Travers discovery.  Perhaps most striking of all is Wolfe Morris as Padmasambhava.  (Wolfe Morris was brother to the more famous Aubrey Morris, who had a prominent role in A Clockwork Orange.)  The voice we hear is so strained and aged, so quiet and inexorable as to send shivers up our collective spine.

The Padmasambhava (from what little we can see of him in the surviving stills) is a superbly desiccated death-in-life villain-no-villain – a more sympathetic version of the Peter Pratt version of the Master from Deadly Assassin.  The true source 0f evil – the “Great Intelligence” is kept very very vague throughout.  It’s a sense of evil deferred and kept beyond our ken that makes the story so creepy.  When confronted with something like the actual presence of this Intelligence, the Doctor screams.  Now the Second Doctor was less afraid to show fear than any other, but even by his standards, this offers an extremity of panic, and his fear scares us proportionately and accordingly.

Also notable is the complete lack of any incidental music whatsoever (if you exclude a few footling bits of recorder from the Doctor).  There’s an endless wind blowing, audible even in the snuggest innermost corners of the monastery.  The absence of any other sound makes the rhythmic squeaky noise made by the spheres even more effective.  These shiny balls rolling steadily back to their respective Yeti are far scarier than the Yeti themselves.  In a different setting, this complete lack of music would be tedious and annoying.  But for this outing, its absence only reinforces our sense of isolation, of being beyond help, of existing at the very margins of the known world (the Himalayas that is – not North Wales).

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