Rewatching... 'Doctor Who: The Abominable Snowmen' - Episode One

My continuing mission: to watch classic television exactly fifty years after the original broadcast date.

Saturday 30 September 1967

Something nasty attacks a small expedition camping in a snowy mountainous region.

Another expedition! Last week it was archaeologists, I don't know what these chaps are looking for. Perhaps they're just climbers. It's not going well for them though and looks as though it might be a Tent Under Siege story...

In the TARDIS the Doctor is absolutely delighted that they've landed in the Himalayas.

Once again I'm not technically "watching" this episode, despite being in 1967 (no I am, honestly) because due to the complexity of time travel, I'm apparently not allowed to see them because it might create a paradox or something. So Time has made my tv go "on the blink" as we used to say. Coincidentally (or not) occasional images flash up which exactly match the well known (to Doctor Who fans — look it up) John Cura "telesnaps!"

By the way, can I just say this is an absolutely fantastic week for classic television: Wednesday — the start of Man in a Suitcase; Friday — Star Trek (in America) and the return of The Avengers; Saturday — Doctor Who; and Sunday - the start of The Prisoner. And things have been eventful on the radio this weekend too, with a big changeover in BBC radio — two new stations and two rebranded ones.

Anyway back to the Doctor. He must be completely in love with Tibet, he's so excited, bless him. The brief glimpses I'm getting of his beaming face confirm this. 

Suddenly he's looking for something. 

It's that trunk again, the one the Doctor rummaged through after he "renewed" himself last year. He's looking for something called a ghanta. This apparently is a Tibetan bell which also happens to be a holy relic.

Like the TARDIS, this trunk appears to be bigger on the inside. Previously he pulled out a mirror, a dagger, and a piece of Dalek metal. This time there's a weird alien ornament ("whatever it is, it's nice to see it again!"), a set of bagpipes, and an enormous fur coat. I'd like to think that all these items featured in one particular adventure. Could be fun trying to write that story. Jamie tells the Doctor he could repair the bagpipes easily. "Yes I was afraid of that," is the Doctor's response!

He puts the coat on and heads outside, leaving Jamie and Victoria to look for this bell.

Victoria flattering the Doctor ("you look beautiful") reminds me of Polly when she used to do that. This is a more fun and playful Doctor than we've seen since he had his old face. This TARDIS team is having fun again.

The Doctor seems to believe that finding the ghanta will guarantee them "the welcome of a lifetime."

Victoria has learned how to operate the view screen and Jamie finds yet another weapon in the trunk: a scimitar. 

The Doctor seems to love weapons judging by this collection. Or has he confiscated them?

Is my memory playing tricks or does the TARDIS interior look different this week? The scanner seems to be in a new place further away from the walls and inset in a circular cavity. And there are electronic panels and things on the walls that I don't recognise. Or maybe they've moved. The TARDIS is confusing.

The Doctor discovers a monastery in the valley below. And unknown to him he is being watched by a shaggy "something." At this point Jamie and Victoria find a black bag with a label indicating it came from a monastery.

What on Earth has the Doctor been up to? So he's obviously been here before, and I'm intrigued about the details of that story.

His mood suddenly changes when he discovers enormous footprints.

In the TARDIS, Jamie is boasting to Victoria about what a big hard man he is, immune to the cold climate because of his Highland heritage. 

I definitely think he fancies Victoria.

The Doctor returns and pretends not to be worried. 

But he seems a bit confused...Victoria tells him she's found the bell and after replying "splendid" he goes on to say "we must find this ghanta." Now I'm confused.

The monastery is called Detsen and the Doctor is determined to go there alone.

He almost forgets the bell... something is really bothering him. That footprint must have set his mind on a completely different track, as he seems focused more on that than whatever he planned to do with the bell.

Victoria is definitely proving to be one of those "plucky" companions. She complains about being bored waiting for the Doctor and tells Jamie she's going outside with or without him. 

Jamie, on the other hand is all talk, but seems to be a proper scaredy cat most of the time! He reluctantly follows Victoria outside and soon admits to being cold! It's really quite funny how Victoria is constantly trying to encourage her friend to explore with her, even after they find huge footprints around the TARDIS, and Jamie just wants to go back inside to safety! This is quite unusual role reversal for the sixties. Polly was the same; women are definitely getting pluckier!

Meanwhile the Doctor discovers the deserted camp from the beginning of the episode, a mangled rifle and a dead man. He picks up an abandoned rucksack and heads towards the monastery gates. The place is deserted and the gate creaks open.

Suddenly there's a noise behind him and he spins round to see a group of monks and another man. The man is called Travers and is a survivor from the attack at the camp.

This is very much one of those classic "someone's been killed and the Doctor turns up so he must have done it" scenarios. Perhaps this is even a template for that. Carrying Travers' rucksack isn't going to help his case. And the fur coat confirms to Travers that the big hairy thing that attacked them was indeed the Doctor. The leader of these monks is called Khrisong, and he doesn't seem very friendly. 

Apparently there have been other unexplained deaths. The monastery has been attacked too. They lock the Doctor up.

The way all these people jump to conclusions, I'm surprised the monks didn't previously lock Travers up before the Doctor arrived. A dejected Doctor mutters "the welcome of a lifetime..." but to be fair, he hasn't given the monks the bell yet! I thought the bell was the ticket to the great welcome.

There's no stopping Victoria! Now she's dragged Jamie (who's armed with the sword from the TARDIS) halfway up the mountain following the big footprints, and they discover a cave. Last week Jamie mentioned the King of the Beasties; I wonder if this is where it lives. And he's still complaining: "it could be dangerous," "we could be walking into a trap," etc etc. This boy is a very reluctant adventurer! Not that I blame him mind you...

He's right to be scared though. The big beastie is outside the cave and seals them in with a boulder.

Meanwhile Travers has gone to visit the Doctor in his cell. He seems to think the Doctor is a reporter trying to discredit his stories of yeti.

As with the last story, these expedition teams really don't seem to trust strangers. One might accuse these stories of being a tad repetitive if they weren't so exciting and well made! I like the Doctor's interpretation of "newspaper men" as "paper men?" Does he really not understand what a newspaper reporter is?

Khrisong, a monk called Thomni, and the others are chatting. 

Khrisong doesn't seem a very pleasant chap for a monk. He says that he's not overly concerned about the death of Travers' companion because he's more worried about his own people dying. Nice.

The monks also mention the yeti, having believed it was these creatures that attacked their people. Khrisong wants the Doctor executed but the others argue.

Khrisong is clearly the baddie here.

I like all the sound effects in the monastery, gives it the appropriate atmosphere, helping to sell this as a genuine location.

Khrisong is one of those characters who refers to himself all the time ("I, Khrisong") — clearly a nutter then.

In the cave Jamie and Victoria find a pyramid of silver balls. 

They hear a sound and run from the... well let's assume it's a yeti shall we?

The yeti has returned, gets into the cave and chases them to the episode cliffhanger, breaking Jamie's sword in two.

I enjoyed that episode. It's great to see all this location footage of the mountains. We've come a long way since the studio mountains of Marco Polo. Not as snowy as I'd expected mind you, but I'm sure they didn't really travel to the Himalayas to film it. The TARDIS team really seem to be gelling, so I'm loving all the camaraderie and banter. Episode ones are often my favourites as I love a good mystery, so we'll see if this maintains my interest.

Nick Brown
Nick Brown

I've embarked upon an open ended mission, pretending to travel back in time and watch classic television on (or close to) the fiftieth anniversary of original broadcast date; getting a sense of the context, the magic of that first viewing.

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Rewatching... 'Doctor Who: The Abominable Snowmen' - Episode One