Checking out Doctor Who: The Return of the Great Intelligence

When I covered The Web of Fear in March I mentioned that The Great Intelligence returned during Series 7. The 2012 Christmas special  “The Snowmen” split series 7 in half. The first five episodes aired in August 2012 and featured the departure of the Eleventh Doctor’s first companions, Amy and Rory. In “The Angels Take Manhattan,” they’re transported back in time by the Weeping Angels which devastates  the Time Lord. When we see him next in “The Snowmen” he has stopped traveling. The Doctor parked his TARDIS on a cloud in Victorian London with only Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, and Strax aware of his presence.

The villain in “The Snowmen” is Dr. Walter Simeon, a cold hearted businessman who partnered with The Great Intelligence. Modern viewers had never seen or heard of The Great Intelligence, but fans of the Second Doctor era would recognize the villain, especially with Dr. Simeon establishing a Great Intelligence Institute. To make things Timey-Wimey this is the Doctor’s third run in with the Great Intelligence but only the first from the villain’s point of view.

At first the Eleventh Doctor struggles to remember his encounters with The Great Intelligence, since it was during his second incarnation, hundreds of years ago. When the memories come back to him, the Time Lord makes a reference to The Web of Fear when he finds a lunchbox with a map of the London Underground on it, perhaps inspiring The Great Intelligence to invade in The Web of Fear.

The Great Intelligence as The Snowmen

Dr. Simeon and the Great Intelligence concoct a plan to take over the world using malevolent telepathic snow. Thankfully the Doctor is roused out of his retirement by Madam Vastra and the Paternoster Gang to save the day. However The Great Intelligence is not completely vanquished as we see him as the avatar of Dr. Simeon in two episodes of the second half of series 7: “The Bells of St. John” and “The Name of the Doctor.” He only makes a brief appearance at the end of the first episode, but is the main villain in the series 7 finale.

In “The Name of the Doctor” the Great Intelligence kidnaps Madam Vastra and the Paternoster Gang to force the Doctor to travel to Trenzalore. The Time Lord had known he would die there, foreshadowing the end of the Eleventh Doctor. Clara and the Doctor arrive at Trenzalore where they discover a gigantic TARDIS, which is his tomb. Inside the console room is an open wound in Time. The Great Intelligence’s plan is to enter the Doctor’s timestream and kill each of his incarnations at the same time. It’s a pretty ingenious plan, but Clara is brave enough to sacrifice herself and go in after to repair the damage.

The Great Intelligence and his Whispermen in “The Name of the Doctor”

I didn’t see The Web of Fear until February of 2014, well after I had seen The Great Intelligence in series 7. Like the Silurian two parter in series 5, perhaps I would have appreciated “The Snowmen” more if I had known where The Great Intelligence came from. Christmas specials tend to be bigger in spectacle and weaker in plot. I was disappointed that victorian Clara wasn’t the companion, but only an echo as a result of “The Name of the Doctor.”

But I enjoyed “The Name of the Doctor” and to be honest I don’t think I would have enjoyed it more if I had seen the Classic Who episodes before. I really liked hearing The Great Intelligence’s point of view on what kind of man the Doctor is and calling out all the battles the Time Lord fought. I’ve known for a few years that I love when Doctor Who goes dark, and the scene in the console room felt pretty dark and hopeless. I also really liked the callbacks to the previous Doctors. The last minute of the episode with the reveal of John Hurt as the War Doctor was an exciting lead-in for the 50th Anniversary Special.


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