Sunday, 9 October 2011

38: The Abominable Snowmen - Monks, And Yeti, And Pinter, Oh My!

Written by: Mervyn Haisman & Henry Lincoln.
Companions: The Doctor, Jamie McCrimmon, Victoria Waterfield.
Monsters/Villains: Yeti, The Great Intelligence.
Brief Synopsis: In 1930's Tibet, the Great Intelligence is trying to take corporeal form using an army of robotic Yeti.
Rating: 5/10.

When I think of Yeti, I immediately conjure an image of the big hairy be-clawed beasts in the underground, The Web of Fear being one of my favourite Troughton stories. I hardly ever think of their Tibetan roots, but here they are with their origin story The Abominable Snowmen. Do they deserve a reprise? Maybe this will help you decide.

I want to start by apologising for my absence of late. I have been doing a show for the last month and working at the same time which rather ate up all of my spare time, but I am back with a vengeance and ready to continue to put the world of Doctor Who to rights. I'd also like to welcome some new members. The Abominable Snowmen is yet another victim of the BBC archive wipe with only episode two still in existence.

This story opens as anthropologist Edward Travers wakes to realise his friend John is missing, he hears a scream, and a large shadow falls across their camp. Travers is played by none other than Deborah Watling's (who plays Victoria) real life dad, Jack Watling.

Jack Watling as Professor Edward Travers.
In the TARDIS, the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria are gathered around the scanner screen. They have arrived in the Himalayas of Tibet. The Doctor rummages through a chest and dons a huge fur coat he also finds a large bell called a Ghanta. The Doctor ensures his two friends that the bell will guarantee them a welcome of a lifetime. The Doctor sets off alone for the monastery called Det-Sen. On his way he finds a vast foot print, passes Travers' now empty camp site and finds the body of John. He picks up a rucksack and heads for the monastery. Inside he meets a small band of warrior monks including, Khrisong and Thonmi, and also Travers who mistakes the Doctor in his fur coat for the what attacked him. The monks take the Doctor away. The Doctor talks to Travers, who seems to have totally forgotten that his friend just died and explains he is there to find the Yeti, the Abominable Snowmen. 

Victoria gets bored and decides to explore, Jamie follows grabbing coats and a sword. They follow the footprints to a manmade cave. Inside they take cover as two scaly claws move a huge bolder across the cave, sealing off their exit. Jamie finds a pyramid of silver spheres, just then the bolder is lifted clear and the pair come face to face with a Yeti. Jamie moves to attack but the Yeti takes his sword and effortlessly snaps it in two. I can't help but think that this first episode is very slow, it's meandering pace feels plodding even for it's time. The Doctor sets off to return the Ghanta and doesn't, Jamie and Victoria go exploring and don't find anything until the very end of the episode.

A Yeti.

Of course one of the most interesting aspects of this story is a certain member of it's supporting cast: David Baron, who plays the Tibetan monk warrior, Ralpachan. Now, for those of you who don't know, David Baron was the stage name of the infamous playwright Harold Pinter. And here he is, very early on in his career, playing a bit part in Doctor Who. The man went on to create some simply brilliant and utterly timeless plays and where did he make his humble beginnings? In no place other than Doctor Who.
Harold Pinter a.k.a David Baron.
Right, for anyone who just read that and thought wow, I never knew that. It was a test! Of course Harold Pinter was never in Doctor Who. Are you kidding me? I mean, look at the dates: The Abominable Snowmen aired in 1967 when Pinter had already had massive success with The Birthday Party and The Caretaker to name but a few. The Homecoming was a hit on broadway and he was busy writing The Basement and Landscape, already firmly emblazoned with his celebrity playwright status. Do you really think he would have  taken a sneaky break from all that success to appear as a walk on part in a fledgling children's programme? Pinter did have a career as an actor and did use the pseudonym  David Baron. However the young actor who played Ralpachan was not the same man, he just has the same name. To anyone who read that last paragraph thinking, no he wasn't. Congratulations, you are a true geek!

David Baron as Ralpachan.
Jamie causes a cave-in, burying the Yeti. He puts one of the silver orbs into his bag, but the Yeti starts to climb out from under the rubble. Meanwhile Thonmi comes to fetch the Doctor from his cell. We only now learn that the Doctor has been to the Det-Sen Monastery before in 1630 when the holy Ghanta was given to the safe keeping of a trusted stranger. Khrisong distrusts the Doctor and believes he is controlling the Yeti. He decides to use him as bait and ties him to the gate, in an effort to draw out the Yeti and see what they do.

David Spenser as Thonmi.
Thonmi finds the Ghanta hidden in the Doctor's cell and brings it the Abbot, Songsen. Both Thonmi and the Abbot bow as they hear a bodiless voice. The Abbot explains that it is the voice of their master, Padmasambhava, who claims that the Doctor was once their friend but would not support the power with which they are working. Songsen orders Thonmi to free the Doctor and gets hypnotised to forget entering the room or having spoken to their master.

Jamie and Victoria meet Travers and agree to show him the cave if he takes them to the monastery. Thonmi rescues the Doctor just before the Yeti attack. He orders Jamie and the monks to capture one of the attacking creatures so he can examine it. Jamie and the monks try to capture one in a net, but it seems to just die. At the gates one of the small spheres tries to rolls off, but it is stuck in the mud.

The Doctor examines the Yeti and discovers that it is in fact a robot, and that it has an alcove where one of the silver balls could have been; the loss of which seems to have deactivated it. In front of a statue of Buddah, one of the silver orbs rolls off by itself, making a bleeping sound.

The wonderful Norman Jones as Khrisong.
Travers asks Khrisong to let him go after the Yeti. Regardless of Khrisong's forbiddance he goes anyway. Inside Padmasambhava's inner sanctum is a map of the monastery and the surrounding areas. The master moves three small Yeti pieces on the map and the actual robot Yeti move into position. Khrisong tries to grab the sphere by the gates but two Yeti struggle it back. The Doctor quips, "They came to get their ball back."

Padmasambhava gives the Abbot a small pyramid, and orders him to go to the cave, where the Great Intelligence will focus on this planet, grow and at last take on a physical form; its wonderings in space will come to an end. The Doctor wants to track the Yeti's signal and Khrisong finally decides to trust the Doctor. Travers follows the two Yeti who recaptured the sphere. Victoria enters the Sanctum and hears the voice of Padmasambhava, who tells her to leave. The Sphere that still remains in the monastery returns to the captured idle Yeti. Brought back to life, it rises toward Victoria.

The Yeti tries to attack, but Thonmi defends Victoria. The Monks try to attack it, but to no avail, as they are forced to open the gates and allow it out. The two Yeti Travers was following enter the cave. Travers witnesses the Abbot, Songsen, freely enter the cave with a three Yeti escort. Inside the cave, the spheres have been arranged in a circle and Songsen sets the translucent pyramid in the centre. Travers enters the cave in time to see the pyramid crack open and begin to leak a glutinous mass that covers the floor of the cave.

The Doctor fetches a tracking device from the TARDIS, as he and Jamie find themselves surrounded  by Yeti. The sphere he pocketed earlier pulls Jamie toward the Yeti but he manages to stuff a rock in to its chest unit and the sphere halts. However the sphere draws five Yeti to them, and they only escape by giving it up.

Back at the Monastery Songsen claims that Victoria and Thonmi are responsible for bringing the Yeti back to life, and Khrisong locks them up. Victoria quickly escapes by pretending to be poisoned. Songsen tells the monks that they must all leave the monastery, but Khrisong refuses to leave, believing that the Doctor can help them fight the Yeti. Songsen opens the gates to the monastery and allows the Yeti to enter.

Victoria enters the inner sanctum and witnesses the ancient, wizened face of Padmasambhava, who seems to have some sort of debilitating speech impediment as he welcomes her with, "Come in... you have.... no alter.... na... tive...."

Somewhat oddly, though thankfully, in the reprise of the last episode someone had a change of heart and got Wolfe Morris who played Padmasambhava to do the line without the annoying, random pauses, "Come in my child you have no alternative." 

Travers awakes in the monastery but can't remember what has happened. The Yeti brake in, smash the cloisters and push the giant Buddah statue onto one of the monks, killing him. Padmasambhava uses a hypnotised Victoria. She emerges with the holy ghanta and  speaks to the monks with Padmasambhava's voice saying that the strangers are innocent and only want to help, but there is no help and that they must leave.

With her own voice Victoria finds the Doctor and constantly nags him saying "there is danger Doctor, you must take me away, take me away, take me away." I love that the Great Intelligence or Padmasambhava's plan is to annoy the Doctor into leaving and it almost works. Seriously she repeats the line so many times and with exactly the same annoying intonation.

Troughton helping a Yeti with it's lines.
The Doctor decides it is time to go to see Padmasambhava, the same friend he met 300 years ago, presumably just to escape the irritating whining of Victoria. In the inner sanctum, the Doctor meets Padmasambhava and learns that he has been kept alive after he met the Great Intelligence on the astral plane and took his form. Padmasambhava appears to die but as the Doctor leaves his eyes open.

By this point the Doctor must be really fed up with the nagging Victoria and tries to break her conditioning by telling her that she is safe in the TARDIS. He hypnotises Victoria into a deep sleep and makes her forget everything that happened after she was in the cell with Thonmi. In the cave the writhing corporeal form of the Great Intelligence is pouring onto the mountainside.

Charles Morgan as Songsen, the Abbot.
In the monastery, Travers remembers seeing Songsen take the pyramid into the cave and realises that he is the link. Khrisong has worked it out too. Padmasambhava orders Khrisong to enter the sanctum, when he gives up his weapon to enter, Songsen uses it to mortally wound him. Khrisong dies understanding that his brother was possessed. Padmasambhava orders Songsen to Kill the Doctor and then leave with the monks and never to return.

Songsen is brought into the courtyard, where the Doctor tells the monks that their Abbot killed Khrisong. At this news they decide to heed the Doctor's advice and leave, all except Thonmi, who decides to stay and help.

Meanwhile Travers and Ralpachan (not Harold Pinter) decide to go to try and destroy the pyramid in the cave, but cannot enter. The Doctor questions Songsen and learns that Padmasambhava built the Yeti and the control, which is in a hidden room behind the throne in the sanctum. 

The Doctor, Jamie and Thonmi enter the sanctum where they find Padmasambhava flanked by two alters, one with a sphere and the other with a pyramid. They try to move but the mental power of the Great Intelligence stops them in their tracks. Together they manage to smash the controls. Victoria enters and knocks over the Yeti pieces on the board. The Yeti burst into the sanctum, but Jamie manages to destroys the sphere, and all the Yeti's chest units explode.

Travers and Ralpachan arrive, and Travers shoots Padmasambhava, but he catches the bullet in his hand. Jamie break the pyramid and Padmasambhava screams and shrivels. They feel a distant explosion, as the cave explodes taking the mountain peak with it. All throughout Padmasambhava has been fighting the Great Intelligence's control and finally 
finds freedom and peace at last. He thanks the Doctor, who in turn bids goodbye to his old friend.

Thonmi and Ralpachan sound the gong to signal the monks return and the Doctor, Jamie, Victoria and Travers leave the monastery. They are passing the remains of a robot Yeti when suddenly a shaggy bear like creature passes them and Travers chases after the real Yeti. Jamie requests somewhere warmer for their next destination and the Doctor plays his recorder as they return to the TARDIS.

I did enjoy The Abominable Snowmen, but I must say in spite of itself. It's a tad too long, and although I like it's total lack of trying to disguise it's slow pace, it does falter here and there. I feel it would certainly be improved if the visuals where still intact. I definitely think that the Yeti are due a return in the new series, but it would certainly have to be carefully thought out, or it could end up a total tibetan turkey.

So, will Jamie get his request for a warmer locale? Join me next time for the introduction to one of my all time favourite monsters in The Ice Warriors.