THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Downtime
The Web of Fear
BBC
The Abominable Snowmen

Episodes 6 'The welcome of a lifetime?'
Story No# 38
Production Code NN
Season 5
Dates Sept. 30, 1967 -
Nov. 4, 1967

With Patrick Troughton, Frasier Hines, Deborah Watling.
Written by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln.
Script-edited by Peter Bryant.
Directed by Gerald Blake. Produced by Innes Lloyd.

Synopsis: When the Doctor attempts to return a holy bell to the monks of Detsen in the Himalayas, he becomes accused of turning the Yeti in to savage killers. But the once timid Yetis aren't what they seem, and neither is the master of Detsen, Padmasambava.

Note: Episode 2 is available on The Troughton Years. Audio recordings and telesnap reconstructions of the remaining episodes are available at Missing Doctor Who Reconstructions & Audios.


Reviews

Somebody Should Have Been Shot (Or At Least Fired) for Destroying This Story! by Carl Malmstrom 26/4/97

The Abominable Snowmen could possibly have been one of the best Troughton stories ever made. We may never know, though. At least, those of us who were born after the episode purges may never know. The only surviving episode in this story is the second of six. That second episode, though, is one of the best Troughton stories in existence.

From that one story, though, it looks to have the makings of a classically good Doctor Who adventure. It has an unusual location (Tibet a.k.a. Scotland) with an engaging story line and one of the most popular monsters ever: the Yetis. The contrast between the kind, gentle Tibetan monks and the evil Great Intelligence is a step beyond the usual good v. evil typical Doctor Who story, and Travers, the explorer seems convincing as a good man trying to defend the Yetis he so passionately studies.

Unfortunately, though, we may never got to see the entire story. Like so many other stories that seem like they would have been so engaging, such as Marco Polo, The Power of the Daleks, and The Evil of the Daleks, most of it is lost. Hopefully the person that was responsible for purging this story no longer works for the BBC. However, the damage is done, and all we have left is this one tantalizing bit.


A Review by Mark Parmerter 6/10/97

Like many other stories featured during Season Five, The Abominable Snowmen is fondly remembered for it's monsters - in this case, the Yeti. Although not quite as menacing as the re-designed Yeti which rule the London Underground in The Web of Fear, the Yeti in The Abominable Snowmen are very impressive in their debut. Whether lurking about the Himalayas or rampaging through the halls of the Tibetan monastary, the Yeti are fearsome and ferocious. As compelling as the Yeti may be, they do not however provide the essential thrust which ultimately makes The Abominable Snowmen so very successful - this honor, ironically, goes to the human characters in the story.

The Second Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria are one of the finest "teams" to ever have emerged from the Tardis, and their characters are well-illustrated here by writers Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln. Also vividly drawn: Professor Travers (Jack Watling), the explorer who has dedicated his life to searching for proof of the Yeti's existence; Khrisong (Norman Jones), dedicated to his religion and the protection of the monastary; and Padmasambhava (Wolfe Morris), the benevolent High Lama who has been "possessed" by the invading evil of the Great Intelligence.

Typical of Season Five, production standards are extremely high, and great use is made of location filming carried out in Snowdonia, Wales. The lack of any incidental music adds to the sense of stark realism, enhanced by the constant echo of the wind as it howls around the monastary and through the surrounding mountains. Touches like this make The Abominable Snowmen a highlight of sixties Doctor Who, and although only episode two currently exists in the BBC archives, this story can be greatly enjoyed via the excellent Telesnap Video and the terrific novelisation by Terrance Dicks.


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 3/6/01

The Abominable Snowmen kicks off what has loosely been called by fans "The Yeti Trilogy" in that it is the first in a series of attempts by the Great Intelligence to invade Earth. Anyway that's the basic plot, the Doctor returns a bell to some monks, meets Professor Travers and discovers Yeti on the loose in Tibet. Actually this is a clever story mixing the religious themes and producing an effective monster story.

The monks whilst clichéd are interesting, Travers is a welcome addition also, but it is Wolfe Morris as Padmasambhava whose voice is quite chilling in places. The regulars work well, with Victoria showing some initiative for once. Added to this is the bonus of location work aplenty and some great cliffhangers. It's just a shame the Yeti veer on cuteness as opposed to terror.


Very dragging by Tim Roll-Pickering 12/12/01

Based on the Change of Identity reconstruction of Episodes 1,3,4,5 and 6.

This is a classic example of a story being dragged out far beyond its natural length. The Abominable Snowmen is little more than a run-around which never succeeds in becoming much more. There are few interesting characters or events in the story and at times it really drags.

The main bonus point of the story is the location filming. Although the lack of snow is clear these scenes nevertheless give the story a sense of scale lacking in many of the sixties stories. Unfortunately the Yeti do not look particularly frightening, and whilst it's a minor plot point that the real Yeti aren't like this, this does nevertheless make some of the shots of them lumbering over the mountains far less effective than they might otherwise be. The ease with which one is captured in Episode Two shows a sign of their weakness from which they never really recover.

Of all the characters in the story, only Travers stands out much at all, due to the acting skills of Jack Watling. Otherwise the monks are predominantly featureless and there is little development for either Khrisong or Thonmi. Songsten is controlled for much of the story, as is Padmasambhava and so neither make much impact at all. The regulars do shine through, with Victoria showing her usual mix of fear and determination whilst the Doctor is once more at the heart of the situation. The idea of the Doctor having previously visited the Detsen monastery is a good one, though little is revealed about what happened there.

The Intelligence is poorly handled and it's difficult to believe that it has spent over two hundred years making such small scale preparations. That it should be defeated so easily by smashing a simple control unit results in a lacklustre climax to a heavily overlong tale. This is definitely one of the weaker Patrick Troughton stories. 3/10

This Change of Identity reconstruction differs from previous ones since the pictures now take up the full screen. The full script is still there, although now in captions over the picture itself. The clips from Episode 4 have been included, as have reconstructions of the trailers for both this story and The Ice Warriors that mix the soundtrack with clips from the surviving material. Also on the tape is Gerald Blake's home movie footage which forms the background to the COI credits and even a reconstruction of a trailer for later on in the evening on the night of Episode 6's transmission. This is a good reconstruction although the slight change in the COI style may disappoint some. 8/10


A Review by Finn Clark 4/9/06

I've always liked The Abominable Snowmen, ever since I was a nipper and delighted to find that Season Five had an almost unbroken run of novelisations. Childhood nostalgia can explain a lot. That's why Victoria remains one of my favourite companions, for instance, even though Deborah Watling was hardly the show's best actor. Nevertheless I like to think that my fondness for The Abominable Snowmen has some objective basis too. Admittedly it's basically another Base Under Siege story from an era when they hadn't yet realised that six-parters aren't just four-parters with padding, but at least a Tibetan monastery in the 1930s is more interesting than the usual SF setting.

The TARDIS crew get some great lines. "I think this is one of those instances where discretion is the better part of valour; Jamie has an idea." Or alternatively in part one, when they're looking for the Ghanta and Jamie finds some bagpipes:

"Hey, Doctor, would you look at these. You never told me you had these."
"No, Jamie."
"Hey, I could fix those easily."
"Yes, I was afraid of that."
Then there's the Doctor's clever plan: "Bung a rock at it." That whole sequence is wonderful, for me perhaps the definitive Troughton scene. However the incidental characters are fun too. Travers is a scene-stealing monomaniac, while the Tibetan monks get bonus points just for being Tibetan monks. Khrisong is theoretically just another hothead, of the kind who's guaranteed to be wrong about everything and whose plot function is to distrust the Doctor beyond all reason. Nevertheless I quite liked him simply because he's a Tibetan monk. The world needs more of them.

It's a shock to watch the surviving episode, though. They don't look even remotely Tibetan, though one can forgive this more easily than in The Crusades or Talons of Weng-Chiang because race isn't one of the story's themes. David Spenser as Thomni looks moderately convincing, but you'll never see a more Caucasian Abbot in a month of Sundays. The actor's called Charles Morgan, whom I presume is one of the U-Tsang Morgans? Or alternatively are these are the lesser-known Himalayas just north of Cardiff, given the likes of Norman Jones and Raymond Llewellyn?

Regarding the Yeti, everything you've heard about them is true. They're adorable. They're cuddly. It's their fur and their chubby middles, like walking guinea pigs. However that doesn't stop them from being interesting monsters, with that unpredictable robotic behaviour. As we saw in the Age of Steel Cyberman two-parter, oddly a monster is sometimes most frightening when dormant. You don't know when it might spring to life again. It's the same here, with no one knowing if the Yeti are going to stand there doing nothing, chase after balls or go on a murderous rampage.

As for those balls... have you ever seen Phantasm? That was cool.

Strangely I've always had a fixed image of the six Big Monsters: the Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Ice Warriors, Yeti and Silurians/Sea Devils. That's even the correct order. This list almost certainly came from Doctor Who Weekly, if only since these days it's looking increasingly creaky and old-school. The Yeti in particular appeared twice in six months in 1967-8 and thereafter never again, unless you count The Five Doctors. They only have two surviving episodes and are arguably less important than the Autons, the Mara or even Sil. Admittedly they were set for a third visit in Season Six, but then Haisman and Lincoln had a falling-out with the production team over The Dominators. However in the Yeti's favour are several factors...

  1. They're iconic, even if you've never heard of Doctor Who.
  2. They're cool and interesting.
  3. They were so scary in The Web of Fear that people still remember them today, with Paul McGann citing them as a childhood memory that came back to him when he was offered the part of the Doctor.
Then there's the Great Intelligence, which is chilling in a completely different way. All that possession and disembodied evil. Brrrr. Even in the surviving episode, Padmasambhava's voice is creepy. I've never been a fan of the books' decision to shoehorn it into some kind of Lovecraftian Great Old Ones Club from a preceding universe, though.

The Abominable Snowmen isn't regarded as one of the classics, from which I'm inclined to assume that it probably wasn't. I like the scripts and the novelisation, but it must be admitted that as a 1960s BBC TV production it offers a lot of hostages to fortune. The Yeti are obviously too cute, while there's also the whole Tibet thing. Well, at least they went up a mountain. The resulting production is better than it might be, but as always with these formulaic Troughton runarounds the key factor is the director. Douglas Camfield or Derek Martinus could give you The Web of Fear or Evil of the Daleks. However if you give the job to muppets you've never heard of... well, there's a reason why you've never heard of them. The Abominable Snowmen's director was Gerald Blake, whose only other Doctor Who credit was The Invasion of Time. Hmmm.

This story has lots going for it... imaginative monsters, a distinctive setting and some nice character work. The novelisation is lovely. The televised version is less so, but I'd be interested in seeing the results if they ever got around to doing an animated reconstruction to go with the existing soundtrack. It's not first-division Troughton, but it's infinitely better than many other stories from that era. Hey, I like it.


A Review by Brian May 4/9/07

There's a nice little story at the heart of The Abominable Snowmen, but not six episodes' worth. The length does it no favours at all, and I have taken into account the prejudices today's reviewers may exercise, however unwittingly, in judging such stories outside their original context of being watched at the rate of one episode per week. While most Doctor Who stories of this length are padded, many of them attempt to give each individual episode some semblance of pace.

The Abominable Snowmen has none of this. Very little happens, and there's not enough in each instalment to keep a viewer engaged. The overall mood of the story can be described as meditative, an appropriate term given the setting, and also in the writers' ideas. There's lots of Buddhist teaching imparted to the audience in a nicely subtle manner; the proverbs and lessons are shared rather than preached, and the Great Intelligence is quite an interesting foe. But returning to the core argument of this review, while such contemplative and philosophical ideas may be enlightening, they're not particularly enthralling. Not for a story that goes on... and on... and on.

The first episode drags - which is never a good sign in Doctor Who; it should not take this long for a story to be set-up. Elsewhere it's full of padding that verges on the desperate: Victoria attempting to reach the Inner Sanctum; Victoria hypnotised, saying the same thing over and over; a possessed Songsten traversing across the mountains with Travers following him; the Doctor and Jamie making their way to the TARDIS. I once fell asleep when watching episode six's reconstruction, well before the simplistic struggle-and-victory climax. There are a few other "action set pieces" (i.e. padding in disguise), most notably the capture of the Yeti in episode two and the creatures' attack on the Detsen monastery in episode five. Neither are particularly exciting, at least based on the evidence of the former, which occurs in the story's only existing episode.

It's fortunate perhaps that this is the only episode we can watch. In my opinion it's the best of the six. The pace is at its least slow and we can gauge that the adventure, when judged as a production, is quite good. The design is excellent, especially the Buddha statue, while Padmasambhava's chamber has an appropriate ghostliness to it, while the story (both here and a as a whole) benefits from the lack of any incidental music. The location footage in the Welsh hills is also very good; you can certainly feel the cold, and I'm sure in Tibet it doesn't snow all year round! The direction is very much like that of a play, with almost every shot locked off as if the actors were on stage, the camera only moving when it is absolutely necessary, and slowly at that. But this isn't a play and thus things look very staid, the aforementioned capture of the Yeti particularly suffering. Stage-like direction has worked elsewhere in Doctor Who, but not here.

There are some strong performances - notably Norman Jones (Khrisong), Jack Watling (Travers) and Wolfe Morris, who does some excellent work to make Padmasambhava's voice both unearthly and creepy - and a big nod must go to the make-up artist for the work on his face! Patrick Troughton has never put in a bad turn as the Doctor, but this is not among his best. But he's there, dependable as ever, as is Frazer Hines as Jamie, and the two of them get the story's funniest moments: the bagpipes exchange in episode one and "Jamie has an idea!" from episode two. Although I've always had a soft spot for Deborah Watling, this is a weak outing as Victoria, although in all fairness the character isn't written very well. She's quite irritating, really. (When she says "I suppose everyone thinks I'm a nuisance" countless viewers are no doubt nodding in agreement!) And two performances can be called downright eccentric. At times Charles Morgan (Songsten) seems to think he's Noel Coward, his first scene, for example, and despite some strong moments he's a little too camp for a Buddhist abbot, while the Eastern accent put on by Raymond Llewellyn (Sapan) is rather offensive - and even despite this the actor still can't hide the fact that he's Welsh!

I don't hate The Abominable Snowmen, but I'm not thrilled or entertained by it either. It's too long, and it's a major weakness. There are some interesting ideas, but a story can't be held up by interesting ideas alone. It's also difficult to be scared by monsters that are far too cute; as they waddle down the mountainside you just want to cuddle them rather than run away. In a rare instance, the sequel's much better. 4.5/10