Aired 30 September – 4 November 1967
Following the incredibly strong adventures ‘The Evil of the Daleks’ and ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen,’ both of which featured one of the franchise’s most iconic foes, the burden of ‘The Abominable Snowmen’ to continue the immense momentum while introducing a completely new foe is tremendous. Arriving at the Tibetan Det Sen monastery in the 1930s, the Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria soon find themselves immersed in trouble as the Doctor is accused of murder and Jamie and Victoria flee from lumbering yeti, all while a much greater evil works within the walls of the monastery itself.
The unsung star of this episode is the setting, the monastery and the Himalayan background coming to life superbly. Without drawing undue attention to themselves, the set design and solid direction completely sell the Welsh exterior and studio interiors as something much more exotic, and ‘The Abominable Snowmen’ is all the stronger for it. Of more notoriety, though, is the evil Great Intelligence. Initially presented as a seemingly benign creature yearning for isolation, the gradual revelation that he possesses individuals and keeps them alive to serve his will is quite effective and allows for a rare empathy to be felt for the villainous Padmasambhava, himself a victim.
Even more effective is the powerfully disturbing effect that the Great Intelligence has on the Doctor and his companions when they enter the inner sanctum. Though the Doctor is quick to dismiss levitating objects as parlour tricks, hearing him actually scream in terror as he forges the way ahead speaks volumes as to just how formidable and fearsome this foe is. The disembodied voice and the first-person point-of-view shots of Padmasambhava work wonderfully, providing a genuine menace that the fluffy and trundling titular yeti searching for control spheres simply lack.
Aside from the clever use of the inherent contrast of a dangerous and unwelcoming monastery, the lack of incidental music helps to sell the isolated and almost unearthly atmosphere. Likewise, the guest cast is quite strong as well, headlined by Jack Watling- father of Deborah- as the English explorer Travers, a man who initially seeks glory for himself and then labels the Doctor as a murderer and hands him over to the monks for punishment before slowly realizing just how overwhelmed he is in this situation. Norman Jones as the obsessively paranoid and suspicious head monk Khrisong is also suitably convincing, and his eventual fate is quite traumatic and distressing.
Continuing what was shown in ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen,’ the three leads all share a tremendous chemistry and are comfortable and trusting enough to jest with each other even in the potential presence of danger. Victoria is beginning to show her more adventurous side, and the Doctor continues to take on somewhat of a father figure role for the new orphan, lending yet another believable layer to this strong TARDIS trio. Patrick Troughton has essentially perfectly refined his take on the Doctor at this point as he effortlessly blends humane compassion and quiet intrigue and contemplation, and he is unabashedly the Doctor in every sense.
So although the titular foes end up being more adorable than menacing, the lurking presence of the Great Intelligence, the fantastic direction and settings, and the very strong performances make ‘The Abominable Snowmen’ another strong entry in this monster-laden era.