C038 The Abominable Snowmen

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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




Here's what you think

4 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

  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.

  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!

  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


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