C038 The Abominable Snowmen



Browse Classic Who reviews

 

Turns out the Great Intelligence is the Yeti of this story.



After over a hundred episodes, we finally encounter “The Yeti of the Story”! Or do we?

Troughton’s Second Doctor, accompanied by Jamie and Victoria, arrives in 1930s Tibet, where apparently he’s been before. Yep, allegedly he had quite the adventure there some 300 years earlier. We don’t learn anything more about that, though.

Yeti, or so they’d have us believe, are roaming the Himalayas, harassing the nearby Det-Sen monastery, and Doc & Co decide to intervene. Because why wouldn’t they?!

It turns out, however, that this is not just some natural occurrence. In fact, it’s the very first appearance of one of The Doctor’s most legendary foes – a foe who will reappear in both Classic Who and New Who…

Here's what we think

Ponken

@ponken

3.4

Here's what you think

5 Responses to “C038 The Abominable Snowmen”

  1. Stephen | @sgamer82

    This is the one that taught me how to pronounce “Padmasambhava”. The Abominable Snowmen is our first appearance of the Great Intelligence, a foe that has become quite familiar to modern-day Whovians.

    This is one of the stories I actually read the novelization to, a long time ago. Unfortunately, real-life obligations prevented me from finding time to re-read it. Even re-listening to the episode audio-book was a bit more disjointed than I’d have liked, so this will be briefer than my usual review. Time and memory permitting, I’ll probably add any interesting extras or differences to my review on the site later when I can re-read.

    For now, I can say that I did enjoy the episode, though it did have a few of the tropes we’ve come to associate with this era, like the hostile military man (Krisong) who does more harm than good in hindering the Doctor. He at least does better than most and realizes he can’t handle the yeti. We arguably have two such characters, given Travers’ initial hostility to the Troupe. Victoria had more agency than before, I think. So much so even her own allies had to lock her up to keep her from getting into trouble. At the same time, the Doctor doesn’t even try to argue when Victoria refuses to leave at the end. The Intelligence was an interesting foe, using mental control and hypnosis to move its pieces across the board and the final confrontation with it, at least in audiobook form, had a sense of desperation I don’t think we’ve ever really had in Doctor Who.

    Humor-wise, I would say my favorite point comes when the Doctor and Jamie are faced with inert yeti and Jamie asks what the Doctor has in mind, expecting some grand plan, only for the Doctor to take a page from the Tao of Vicki. He observed, noted, collated, concluded, then bunged a rock at it.

    The biggest downside, to my mind, is that it re-used the gimmick from the Macra Terror, where a major antagonist was a never-seen, unquestioningly-obeyed leader. Before it was the Macra through the colony controller, here it’s the Intelligence through Padmasambhava, and him through the Abbot or Victoria.

    Because I couldn’t listen to it as I would’ve liked, I may be rating lower than it deserves, but my final rating on “The Abominable Snowmen” is a 3.2

    Reply
  2. Chris

    So I’ve read “the Abominable Snowmen” by Terrance Dicks and this serial makes a lot more sense. First off I would like to note that this was the first of the Target Novelizations and I quite liked it – as a sidebar, I wonder if there will ever be a literary-who review from Who Back When, I was able to read this in about 4 hours (think about it Ponken). Terrance Dicks also gave some additional explanations about the past of the Great Intelligence, which wasn’t featured in the TV serial. He was from another universe and only stumbled upon Earth through hearing the most powerful mind of Padme-somthing-vader. (It’s how I heard it in the serial and I couldn’t hope to pronounce the spelling (Padmasambvha) so that’s my nickname.

    Here is was viewing the episodes looked like to me: DJV look for a bell that Doc got the last time he visited this monastery. They and gets attacked by Yeti. Episode two perfect quality, no need to summarize. Then three through six gave me this information: The yeti are robots there is this silver ball that makes an annoying noise as it moves on its own to the yeti. The Abbott and Padme-something-vader controls the yeti for some unknown reason and then some fog on the mountain scares everyone and the serial ends. I gave that a 1.0 on my initial review, but the book helped greatly.

    I would now like to revise my summary. In the serials all I got of Travers after the first two episodes was the same still image and him talking to himself. His story line is much more clear in the novelization. He knew full well that the doctor hadn’t attacked his friend when he made the accusation, but only did so for fear that the Doctor was trying to steal his glory at finding the yeti. Travers is the first to discover that the Abbot is involved with the yeti when he follows the Abbot and his yeti escort. Travers also tries to shoot Padme-something-vader to save everyone at the end, which doesn’t work. Several of the monks are much more interesting than in the serials. Thomni and Victoria develop a strong bond as Victoria pushes Thomni’s buttons about always doing what he’s told and Thomni continually trying to protect Victoria, who doesn’t really want his help. Khrisong has the most interesting character transformation. He goes from savagely against the Doctor to skeptical about the Doctor to going along with the Doctor.

    I had seen the recon of this serial several times and never understood why the yeti and Travers were so beloved to bring them back later that season, but now I get it. Thank you Terrance Dicks. One last little bit of trivia: Travers is played by Jack Watling, the real life father of Deborah Watling (Victoria).

    My score for the book is 4.0 which averaged with my 1.0 for the recon will average my experience with The Abominable Snowmen at a 2.5 and there it shall stay.

    Reply
  3. Trenton Bless | @TrentonBless

    Here’s my mini/maxi review of “The Abominable Snowmen”.

    Hello once again, Podcast Land! I’m back for a second time in a row to take a look at “The Abominable Snowmen”. As always, let’s begin with a quick fact file. I promise, this will be much shorter this time.

    Only episode two of this six-part story exists in the BBC Archives as a 16mm black & white film telerecording.
    Episode two was shown alongside The Web of Fear episode one as part of BSB’s Doctor Who Weekend in September 1990, under the banner of The Yeti Rarities. This was before most of “Web” was returned.
    The North Wales mountain pass at Nant Ffrancon doubled as Tibet for the filming of this serial. Filming was done there from 4 to 9 September 1967. According to Jack Watling one of the actors playing the Yeti fell hundreds of feet during filming and was feared dead, but was merely inebriated and fortunately cushioned by the foam rubber inside the costume.
    And with the short fact file out of the way, let’s get on with the review!
    If The Abominable Snowmen were a stick of rock, it would have Doctor Who running through it. Few stories scream out the show’s name, and capture its appeal, quite so precisely. Here’s that list of ingredients: unusual setting; huge and threatening monster; creepy malefactor; clear storytelling; and that killer concurrence of personal peril with widespread jeopardy. Other adventures fit the mould, but not with such atmosphere and ingenuity.

    The sad thing is that only Episode 2 of the story exists. The recons I watched were good. They were in pretty good quality. It also helped that there were some animated portions. But it doesn’t really do this serial justice, does it? If there’s a serial that I want more episodes of (Besides the obvious ones, like the Daleks’ Master Plan, Power and Evil of the Daleks) it would definitely be this one.

    Writers Haisman and Lincoln people their landscape with compelling characters. As well as the misguided but essentially decent Travers, the monks – wrestling a clutch of hard-to-pronounce but authentic-sounding names – are nicely delineated. The best of them is Padmasambhava. It’s an astonishing vocal performance by Wolfe Morris as the alien-possessed Lama, switching from modulated compassion to spat-out malice. And there’s something searingly gruesome about his crumpled countenance.

    Another way in which this unusually lean six-parter stands out is in its lack of music. Try to imagine such an approach working in today’s era of wall-to-wall scoring. Silence v “total music”… there’s no right or wrong answer. After all, it’s the variety of approach that has kept the show running for so long. But here it enables the sound of wind whistling through the cloisters to create the mood, and for the actors to do more with their voices: as well as Morris’s “dual-lead” vocals throughout, Patrick Troughton’s subtlety in “talking down” an entranced Victoria in episode five is also marvellous.

    It’s also interesting to note that Deborah Watling’s father, Jack, joined up for this serial as Professor Travers. There’s an interesting story about that, actually.”Dad and I were like mates,” Deborah said. “Pat, Frazer and he got on like a house on fire. One day I lost them all and later found them at the back of the catering van having a few brandies to keep warm. I asked for one but they said I was too young. I was only 19.” Now that’s a good little story, isn’t it?

    Overall, this story is definitely classic material. It’s such a shame that this serial is almost completely gone. With only the second episode intact, we only get a flavor of the Yeti here. Only a taste of the Great Intelligence here. But, only three months after this serial’s conclusion, the Doctor will have another encounter with these menaces, and luckily next time we can get all but a small piece of the Yeti candybar. It’s still missing bits, but we still have a majority of the candybar. I’m gonna give this story a 3.8/5. It’s a classic, but I can’t give it too much more because of the missing episodes and I’m not gonna be as generous as I did with Tomb of the Cybermen.

    Next time, the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria go from a cooler to the freezer. You’ll find out what I mean. So far the serials have been set in cold places, the ice tombs of Telos, the Himalayas and next time another icy place. Ice seems to be the theme so far.

    Talk soon!

    Reply
  4. Peter Zunitch

    I love this episode. I think the setting is great, the idea is (for lack of a better term) exotic, and the acting is enjoyable. I don’t have as big of an aversion to the slow, meditative dialog. I love the subtle way that Padme portrays his divided personality with the angry whisper vs the meditative drone.
    I watched a version of the recon that used CG to recreate the yeti, and although it wasn’t done that well, I think it really enhanced the production and brought that sense of looming dread that was missing when I first watched this story with stills alone. I’m loving the cleaned-up recons over my old burned-out vhs copies where I couldn’t see anything.
    This week’s proposed improvements come in the form of Victoria’s storyline. There’s too much of her sitting in a cell and trying to get to the sanctum, and not enough of her doing anything else. Once she gets there, nothing is revealed, so her “quest” is kind of fruitless. Strange that her memory of being there is wiped, and yet after that, she doesn’t want to go there anymore. It should have been she that discovers the control room instead of learning about it through dialog.
    Though I seem to have understood the plot (and resolution) a little bit better than the podcast review, I do think things could have been a little clearer. It’s the cave and the device in it that makes the mountain explode for example. The fact that the GI only had partial control over Padme, who could at times exert a bit of his own free will, and the excessively slow way the GI builds up its power, drawing its essence down at the cave, and feeding the robots and exerting its will through the control room.
    From the inner conflict of a failed solder (and indeed all who are on endless pursuit of a sound mind and body), to the fanatic not-ready-for-the-truth researcher, I enjoy this story every time I watch it. 4.0

    Reply
  5. Paul Fauber @wordsmithpaul

    Professor Travers’ companion was killed by something strong and hairy that attacked their campsite before the Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria arrived in the Tibetan Himalayas. Realizing where they were, the Doctor and his companions looked for the Holy Ghanta of Detsen Monastery, a bell. Before Jamie and Victoria located it, he found a sword. The Doctor found a fur coat, left the TARDIS to find the monastery, and discovered an enormous footprint. Aboard the TARDIS, Jamie and Victoria found the bell and the Doctor decided to take it to the monastery himself. On the way, he found the dead body at Travers’ campsite and picked up a backpack. Bored, his companions left the TARDIS and found big footprints they decided to follow. At the monastery, Travers saw the Doctor’s fur coat and the backpack from his camp, which prompted him to accuse the Doctor of murdering the man at the camp. Warrior monk Krisong, concerned about monks who had died recently and mysteriously, ordered the Doctor imprisoned. Travers gloated at the cell door, claiming the Doctor wouldn’t steal his glory when he found the Yeti. The confused Dcotor vainly argued he lacked the strength to have committed the murder. Jamie and Victoria became trapped by an enormous boulder rolled across a cave entrance where they found a pyramid of silver spheres. A Yeti arrived presently and snapped Jamie’s sword in half.

    Jamie collapsed the cave ceiling to bury the immensely strong Yeti before retrieving a sphere from the pyramid. To reassure Victoria, and perhaps himself, he claimed the Yeti was, “quite dead .” Nevertheless, it rose from beneath the boulders and debris as they fled. Victoria decided to go to the monastery instead of the TARDIS to warn the Doctor. He played his recorder in his cell until a young monk, Thomni, arrived. The Doctor reminded him of his previous visit, two hundred years previously, when the monks lost the ghanta he was about to return as Krisong arrived. As the Doctor was taken away, he directed Thomni to where he’d hidden the bell. Krisong had him tied to the monastery gate to attract Yeti. If they didn’t attack, the monks would know Travers was wrong, but if they were right, Krisong hoped their intervention would help. The Doctor couldn’t convince anyone, particularly Travers, who left to seek Yeti, Krisong’s plan was doomed. Thomni took the bell to the Abbot’s sanctum, where a harsh voice identified the Doctor as a man of knowledge and intelligence who might not sympathize with powers guiding the monastery and could upset their plans. The Master, Padmasambhava, told Thomni the Doctor was an old friend who must be treated well, but should be encouraged to to leave promptly. Finally, Thomni was told to forget what he had seen and that only Abbot had spoken. On the mountain, Travers encountered Jamie and Victoria, who convinced him they were not competing with him in any way. Jamie agreed to show Travers where the Yeti cave was after he guided them to the monastery. Seeing them coming, the Doctor warned them to stay back. They didn’t and Travers told the monks he’d been mistaken about the Doctor killing his partner. Krisong wanted to carry on with his plan until Thomni arrived to reveal the Doctor had returned the bell. The monks freed the Doctor and a discussion ensued until three Yeti began lumbering toward the monastery. The Doctor asked whether Krisong and his monks could capture one and Jamie devised a plan to do so which succeeded. As the Doctor examined the sphere Jamie had found, he had absently mused about creatures that were not flesh and blood. Examining the captured Yeti, he discovered they were made of metal and had a cavity from which a sphere had fallen outside the gates. The sphere Jamie and the Doctor had brought inside began rolling on its own.

    The Doctor realized the sphere that controlled the captured Yeti had fallen out, and Victoria pointed out the one Jamie found would also work. They left it in the courtyard, but couldn’t find it. Krisong refused both allowing the Doctor to search for the fallen sphere outside the gates and Travers to seek Yeti on the mountain. Victoria became curious about Padmasambhava and the monks’ sanctum when she saw the Abbot go into a trance. The Doctor discovered Travers had tricked the monks into letting him leave and told Krisong, who agreed to look for the sphere outside the gate himself. In his sanctum, the Abbot moved tiny Yeti corresponding with the robot Yeti on a board, summoning three to the monastery. When Krisong found the sphere, the Yeti’s closeness made it beep faster and more loudly. He tried to get the sphere for the Doctor, but was surrounded and attacked. The Yeti took the sphere away. With this mission accomplished, the Abbot was sent to the Yeti cave with a pyramid that would focus the Great Intelligence on Earth. After the Doctor and Jamie helped Krisong to safety, he allowed them to go to the TARDIS to get equipment with which to track Yeti. After they left, the Abbot gave Krisong a pep talk and went out, entrancing the guard to forget he’d gone. Victoria wanted to see the sanctum and Padmasambhava, but Thomni refused to allow her to go there. Outside, the Doctor and Jamie saw the three Yeti waiting for the Abbot, but avoided them. Travers, though, followed them to the cave. Victoria evaded the monks and went to the sanctum, where Padmasambhava kindly persuaded her to leave. She returned to the room where the captured Yeti had been chained. The sphere inside the monastery had been rolling toward it stealthily and arrived, allowing it to break free.

    The Monks weapons were useless against the Yeti and Victoria suggested they open the gates and let it out. Her plan worked. The Doctor and Jamie found a Yeti guarding the TARDIS and determined it was not active. They removed its control sphere and the Doctor retrieved something from the TARDIS before the Yeti’s sphere tried to return to its place. Jamie moved between the sphere and its objective before putting a rock into the sphere’s place to avoid being crushed. Travers watched the Abbot bring the pyramid to the cave and put it in the center of a circle of spheres. After the Abbot left, Travers saw an ooze begin spewing from the pyramid. Krisong was upset with Victoria when she admitted enabling the captured Yeti’s escape and Thomni defended her. They were both locked in a cell and she escaped, feigning illness. The Doctor and Jamie avoided Yeti waiting for them and returned to the monastery, where the Abbot had returned without his absence becoming known. He told the monks Padmasambhava had told them to leave. Krisong refused, believing the Doctor could help them against the Yeti. The Abbott urged the monks to look for Victoria and opened the gates to enable Yeti to chase the monks away. Travers arrived and told the Doctor and Jamie what he had seen. Meanwhile, Padmasambhava invited Victora into the sanctum.

    When Victoria entered, Padmasambhava, put her in a trance after she saw him move four small Yeti into the monastery on the board. Four robot Yeti entered the courtyard and destroyed the cloisters. The Abbot urged the monks to leave and take the strangers along. Victoria was still missing and the monks were asked to find her. A monk who felt she was responsible for the Yeti attack was crushed as the robots tipped the Buddha in the courtyard over onto him. The Doctor cared for Travers, who had a massive headache and explained he felt he had been touched by an evil shadow before a blazing light engulfed his mind, but he remembered nothing. Victoria arrived with the holy ghanta and the Abbot announced they would take it and the strangers to safety after prayers. As the monks went to pray, the Doctor went to see Padmasambhava. He learned the ancient master had been kept alive after encountering the Great Intelligence on an astral journey and agreed to help with an experiment. Travers began to remember and the hypnotized Victoria urged the Doctor to save her from impending danger until the Doctor entranced her and defeated her post hypnotic suggestion. On the mountain, the Doctor and Travers used the device he’d brought from the TARDIS to triangulate the source of the Yeti control and encountered two Yeti who moved off. Back at the monastery, everyone was ready to leave when the Doctor and Travers returned, saying the Yeti were controlled from there. The Doctor realized Padmasambhava, who had told the monks he would remain was in great danger. The ooze that was the Great Intelligence corporeal form filled the Yeti cave and began pouring out and down the mountain.

    The Doctor continued questioning Travers and learned the Abbot took the pyramid to the cave. They learned Krisong was with the Abbot. Both were with Padmasambhava and the Great Intelligence ordered the warrior monk killed because he knew too much. The Abbot stabbed him. The Doctor and the others arrived too late to save Krisong and the Doctor convinced the monks both the Abbot and Padmasambhava were being controlled. He urged the Monks and Victoria to go and proposed to question the Abbot before trying to set things right at the monastery. Travers felt the problem was at the cave and took a monk there to shoot the pyramid. The Intelligence was oozing all over the mountain, preventing them from reaching the cave. Entranced, the Abbot told the Doctor the control center for the Yeti was behind the throne in the sanctum. After the monks left, the Doctor, Jamie, Thomni and Victoria went to face the Intelligence. Travers and the monk returned, but found Yeti guarding the monastery gates. The Doctor was admitted to the sanctum and the Great Intelligence released Padmasambhava. He said goodbye to the Doctor and died after centuries of extended life. The others followed Doctor in and rendered the Yeti useless, which allowed Travers to join them. Bullets were useless and Victoria had to focus on the Lotus Prayer to avoid being put back in a trance. The Doctor kept the intelligence busy as the control unit, the pyramid, and the sphere in the room were smashed and the tiny Yeti that controlled the robots were knocked over. The top of the mountain exploded as the Great Intelligence corporeal form was destroyed. The Doctor said goodbye to the monks and Travers accompanied him and his companions on the way to the TARDIS until Travers saw a real Yeti, which fled when it saw them with the professor in hot pursuit.

    Filming an “The Abominable Snowmen” was likely a treat for actress Deborah Watling, who had pitched the role of Professor Travers to her father, Jack Watling. His daughter’s character had good moments in the story. Victoria not only figured out how the spheres fit into the robot Yeti, she showed interest and indeed fascination with the monks. Their trances intrigued her and her curiosity about Padmasambhava’s sanctum, where she cleverly hid after cunningly faking illness to escape the monks’ captivity was insatiable. Her fascination with hypnotism led her to victimized, but the Doctor released her from her post hypnotic suggestion. This scene featured one of the jokes Patrick Troughton and his fellow actors famously incorporated into scripts. The Doctor tried to entrance Victoria, telling her, “Look at my eyes. You’re feeling tired, very sleepy. Drift away. Let yourself drift away into sleep. Deeper. Deeper. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.” Then, he concluded, “not you, Jamie.” Victoria also suffered the sexism common in the 1960s. She is about Jamie’s age, and he is often referred to as, “the boy”. So, anyone talking about her should, one would think, say, “the girl”. Yet, when the monks were after her believing she controlled the Yeti, they referred to her descriptively as a “devil woman”. Jamie played his protector role well, accompanying Victoria early in the story when they were separated from the Doctor. In the Yeti’s cave, for example, he shoved aside a support that made a natural cave look inexplicably more like a mine shaft. Regardless, this odd quirk enabled him to collapse the ceiling atop the Yeti to save Victoria and himself. Jamie accompanied the Doctor during his investigations outside the monastery and, of course, he was at the Doctor’s side for the final confrontation. He also set the trap that led to the Yeti’s capture early in the story, leading to another of the story’s funny moments. The Doctor invited Victoria to keep back as the Scots boy prepared his Yeti trap because, “Jamie had an idea.” The Doctor, our title character and hero, not only delivered the story’s jokes, he surprised his companions with knowledge of hypnotism. He was cautious, searching for the monastery alone and going there on his own at first. He was also typically clever, challenging Travers accusation by asking whether he possessed the strength to have murdered the other member of the Professor’s expedition. Also, he made the critical supposition the Yeti Jamie captured may not be, “flesh and blood,” as an offhand comment. The story builds to an exciting conclusion, the confrontation in the monastery sanctum. There, the destruction the Doctor and his allies cause to defeat the corporeal Great Intelligence spilling from the cave to cover the mountaintop likely looked more spectacular than the mountain’s destruction as the Intelligence was banished from the Earth. We won’t know unless the episodes are recovered someday. Apparently, Padmasambhava’s face was to melt in the final confrontation, but BBC special effects filmed scene was reportedly deemed too horrific to use. Only the second episode of this story is held in the BBC archives, but the entire soundtrack is available and the BBC Audio library put the story out on CD with linking narration around the dialogue by Frazier Hines? Terrance Dicks novelized the story for Target Books and it was released as an audiobook read by David Troughton.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>