March 29: The Abominable Snowmen Episodes One & Two

Episode one is audio + telesnaps again...well, it was nice watching actual episodes while it lasted.

When you think back on this first episode of The Abominable Snowmen, you realize that not a lot happens; the Doctor goes down to Detsen monastery to return the Holy Ghanta which he took for safekeeping three hundred years earlier and is arrested under suspicion of murder, and Jamie and Victoria wander around the Himalayan mountainside and find a cave and a huge hairy beast -- presumably one of the eponymous abominable snowmen.  (Jamie having earlier been concerned that they were actually still on Telos: "Hey, is it the Earth, Doctor?  I don't fancy another tangle down the Cybermen's tomb." -- this is going to start a running theme for the next couple stories.)  And that's really about it.  Yet when you're listening to it, you don't really notice.  There's a deliberate pace to this, which means that there's no real sense of longueurs pervading the episode, because the entire thing's like that.  There are a lot of talking scenes, as the monks debate what to do about the Doctor, and Travers, the explorer looking for the Yeti, insists that the Doctor must have been the one who attacked his campsite and killed his companion.  But they're interesting talking scenes -- and Troughton is wonderful when he's defending himself over attacks he knows nothing about: "Me?  I haven't attacked anyone!" the Doctor protests, but he's led away nevertheless.  And meanwhile, Jamie and Victoria are trapped in a cave by a Yeti...

Jamie takes a sphere from the pyramid inside the cave. (The
Abominable Snowmen
Episode Two) ©BBC
It wasn't until the release of the 1981 Winter Special of Doctor Who Monthly (as Doctor Who Magazine was then known as) that fandom learned of the sheer number of episodes of Doctor Who missing from the archives, with a staggering 136 episodes seemingly gone forever.  Episode two of The Abominable Snowmen was the first episode recovered after the publication of that magazine, returned to the BBC in 1982.  It's more of the same as episode one, with a deliberate paceyness that works to its advantage.  Jamie buries the Yeti in a rockfall and discovers a strange pyramid of glowing metal spheres.  But the Yeti is only stunned, not killed, and so it chases Jamie and Victoria down the mountain, where they run into Travers.  They convince Travers of the Doctor's innocence, but in the meantime Khrisong, leader of the warrior monks at Detsen, has tied up the Doctor outside the gates to use as bait for the Yeti.  But the Doctor has told one of the monks about the Ghanta, and he tells the Abbot Songsten, and then both of them listen to the voice of the old master, Padmasambhava (that's [pæd.mə.'sɑm.bə.və], in case you were wondering), who talks alternately in a slow calm voice and a faster, more sinister whisper -- although it's not quite clear what determines when each voice speaks.  Presumably the whisper is meant to indicate an "evil" voice, but it's rather tough to work out the differences between the two sets of dialogue.

And so the Doctor is set free, thanks to the intervention of Abbot Songsten, which means they can get to work capturing a Yeti.  "Hey, Doctor, if you really want to capture one of these beasties, I think I have an idea which might just work," Jamie says.  "Victoria," the Doctor replies, backing away, "I think this is one of those instances where discretion is the better part of valour: Jamie has an idea."  But Jamie's idea works and they capture a Yeti in a net, and when the Doctor studies it, he learns it's actually a robot -- but with a round sphere of some sort missing.  And by the statue of the Buddha, a silver sphere rolls of its own accord...

So like episode one, episode two also has that deliberate sense of pace that nevertheless doesn't feel like it's dragging; instead it's exactly as quick as it needs to be.  And there are definitely some mysteries going on in this second episode, including the nature of Padmasambhava and why robots are wandering around 20th-century Tibet, which are intriguing and leave the viewer wanting more.