Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Doctor Who: The Abominable Snowmen

This would be the second invasion underway in 20th Century Tibet. The first came when the Communist-dominated PRC occupied and annexed the sovereign nation in 1951. The second is the alien intelligence exerting a sinister influence over a remote Himalayan monastery. One of its tools happen to be hairy snow beasts. Fortunately, the Tardis finds its way there in “The Abominable Snowmen,” a formerly lost six-episode Doctor Who story-arc, recreated with animation and the original audio track, which releases today on BluRay.

Initially, the Second (Patrick Troughton) Doctor is thrilled to back in Tibet. He was there several hundred years prior, when he accepted one of the Detsen Monastery’s holy relics for safe keeping, during times of turmoil. The Doctor now hopes to return it, not knowing these too are times of trial for Detsen, but not because of the PLA invasion, which goes unmentioned during “Abominable Snowmen,” even though it was originally produced in 1967.

Unfortunately, the Doctor receives a rather rude welcome, thanks to English explorer Edward Travers, who stokes the suspicions of Khrisong, the Tibetan warrior protecting Detsen, against the Time Lord. Travers, who would return in a later mostly-lost
Doctor Who adventure, mistakenly assumes the Doctor is a reporter or a rival hoping to exploit or sabotage his search for the Yeti.

Amazingly, Padmasambhava, the high lama of the monastery remembers the Doctor from his previous visit. However, the ancient monk is not himself. Something latched onto Padmasambhava during his astral wanderings and now holds the very senior monk in thrall. Its chief pawns happen to be the hirsute robotic creatures Travers reasonably took for Yetis. Whatever they are, they trap the Doctor’s bickering companions, Jamie and Victoria, in a cave at the end of the first episode.

The BBC’s penny-wise-pound-foolish tape-wiping practices in the 1960s and 1970s almost makes a nerd’s head explode. How much revenue have they missed out on by reusing recycling the tapes of old
Doctor Who episodes or their production of Asimov’s Caves of Steel, starring Peter Cushing? In some cases, where the audio tracks still exist, they have resurrected missing Doctor Who episodes through original animation, as they have done for “Abominable Snowmen.” The original video survives for the second episode, which is included in the BluRay set, along with black-and-white and color animated recreations of all six installments. Arguably, the best way to experience the authentic viewing experience is by selection the black-and-white animation for episodes one and three through six and the surviving second live-action episode.

Regardless, it is nice to have a “new” vintage
Doctor Who episode back in circulation, especially since it holds special behind-the-scenes significance, co-starring Jack Watling, who played Travers in multiple adventures, with his daughter, Victoria Watling, who portrayed the Doctor’s companion, Victoria Wakefield. The spartan Tibetan setting looks good both in the surviving episode and the black-and-white episodes. Admittedly, the big furry Yeti robots look weirdly cute instead of scary, but they are definitely in keeping with the low-budget aesthetic of vintage Doctor Who fans know and love.

This is a good showcase for Troughton’s brusque but somewhat absent-minded Doctor. Jack Watling had a steely, bad-tempered Andrew Keir vibe going on as Travers (which works), but the Doctor’s young companions are annoyingly juvenile reminders that the legendary series was originally conceived as children’s programming.

Even though writers Mervyn Haisman and Harvey Lincoln remained silent on the CCP invasion, the Tibetan setting is evocatively exotic and presented in a respectful manner. Frankly, it is a minor miracle the BBC recreated this adventure, since British actors portray Tibetan characters, but fans deserve an opportunity to see it and judge it for themselves. Recommended for the Doctor and the Yeti (they are charming),
Doctor Who: The Abominable Snowmen releases today (12/6) on BluRay and DVD.