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24 September 2014

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The Abominable Snowmen

Production Code: NN

First Transmitted

1 - 30/09/1967 17:25

2 - 07/10/1967 17:25

3 - 14/10/1967 17:25

4 - 21/10/1967 17:25

5 - 28/10/1967 17:25

6 - 4/11/1967 17:25


The TARDIS arrives in Tibet in 1935 and the Doctor visits the remote Detsen monastery in order to return a sacred bell, the ghanta, given to him for safe keeping on a previous visit. There he meets an Englishman, Travers, on an expedition to track down the legendary Abominable Snowmen or Yeti.

It transpires that the Yeti roaming the area are actually disguised robots, which scare away or kill anyone who approaches. The High Lama Padmasambhava, whom the Doctor met hundreds of years earlier on his previous visit, has been taken over by a nebulous alien being, the Great Intelligence, which has artificially prolonged his life and is now using him to control the Yeti by way of models on a chessboard-like map.

The Intelligence's aim is to create a material form for itself and take over the Earth. The Doctor banishes it back to the astral plane, allowing Padmasambhava finally to die in peace.

Episode Endings

Jamie and Victoria are trapped inside a mountain cave as a Yeti attacks. Jamie attempts to hold it off with a sword, but the creature breaks this in two and lumbers after him. Victoria screams in terror.

The Doctor discovers a sphere-shaped cavity in the chest of a captured Yeti. Outside the monastery, a shiny metal sphere that was earlier dislodged from the Yeti and that began to move of its own accord now emits a high-pitched bleeping noise and gathers speed. Inside, at the feet of a statue of the Buddha, a similar sphere brought back by Jamie from the mountain cave follows suit.

The metal control sphere floats into the captured Yeti's chest cavity, which opens and closes automatically in order to accept it. Victoria, having just returned to the main hall where the Yeti has lain immobile beneath a spirit trap erected by the monks, lets out a horrified scream as the creature snaps its restraining chains and rears up to confront her...

Victoria, bidden by a strange disembodied voice, enters the monastery's inner sanctum. Inside, a curtain draws aside to reveal the wizened form of Padmasambhava. 'Come in,' the voice continues. 'You have no alternative.'

On the mountainside, a foam-like substance - the corporeal form of the Great Intelligence - starts to spew from the mouth of the cave.

As Travers hurries away, determined to catch the real Yeti they have spotted further up the mountain, the time travellers head back to the TARDIS. Jamie hopes that next time the Doctor can land them somewhere warmer...


Lost Horizon.

The Trollenberg Terror.

Nigel Kneale's The Creature (filmed as The Abominable Snowman and featuring Yeti, Yeti hunter and a Tibetan Buddhist monastery).

In the Footsteps of the Abominable Snowman by Josef Nesvadba.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Padmasambhava was the author of a Buddhist text about death being preferable to suffering.

The Doctor plays Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the recorder.

Dialogue Triumphs

The Doctor : "Victoria, I think this is one of those instances where discretion is the better part of valour: Jamie has an idea."

Jamie : "Have you thought up some clever plan, Doctor?"

The Doctor : "Yes, Jamie, I believe I have."

Jamie : "What are you going to do?"

The Doctor : "Bung a rock at it."

Dialogue Disasters

The Doctor : "It's quiet... Too quiet..."

Double Entendre

Jamie : "Hey, you're giving me the willies."


The Great Intelligence is a powerful alien force that strives for physical existence, first possessing the Doctor's old friend Padmasambhava, and then seeking to dominate the Earth via the substance extruded from the pyramid of spheres in the cave [which acts as a conductor for its mental powers].

The Yeti are simple but strong robots, created by Padmasambhava over two centuries, and controlled by the Intelligence. Real Yeti are slimmer and nervous of humans.


The Det Sen monastery, Tibet, date unspecified. [The Web of Fear dates this story to 1935.]



The Doctor has been to Det Sen before ('Every time I visit Det Sen the monastery seems to be in some kind of trouble'), including a visit in 1630 when he took the holy ghanta into safekeeping. (Padmasambhava recognises the second Doctor, but Jamie hasn't been there before, so (at least one of) the visits must have taken place between The Power of the Daleks and The Highlanders, indicating an extended series of adventures for Ben and Polly.)


The names of a number of the Tibetan characters were appropriated by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln from real historical figures. The real Padmasambhava, for instance, lived in the eighth century and founded the Tibetan branch of Buddhism.

When Terrance Dicks novelised the story in 1974 he made slight changes to the names of these characters - Padmasambhava became Padmasambvha, Songsten became Songtsen, Thonmi became Thomni and so on - apparently on the advice of Doctor Who's then producer Barry Letts who, as a follower of Buddhism, considered that what Haisman and Lincoln had done was unnecessary and risked causing offence.


Sapan, one of the monks, sounds Welsh.

In the first episode snow is seen on the TARDIS scanner: when the travellers emerge not a flake is visible [See Full Circle.]

Thonmi on one occasion says that the holy ghanta has been missing for about 200 years when the figure should be about 300.

The TARDIS landing sound is slower than usual.

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - Patrick Troughton

Jamie - Frazer Hines

Victoria - Deborah Watling

Khrisong - Norman Jones

Padmasambhava - Wolfe Morris

Ralpachan - David Baron

Rinchen - David Grey

Sapan - Raymond Llewellyn

Songsten - Charles Morgan

Thonmi - David Spenser

Travers - Jack Watling

Yeti - Reg Whitehead

Yeti - Tony Harwood

Yeti - Richard Kerley

Yeti - John Hogan


Director - Gerald Blake

Assistant Floor Manager - Roselyn Parker

Costumes - Martin Baugh

Designer - Malcolm Middleton

Film Cameraman - Peter Bartlett

Film Cameraman - Ken Westbury

Film Editor - Philip Barnikel

Make-Up - Sylvia James

Producer - Innes Lloyd

Production Assistant - Marjorie Yorke

Special Sounds - Brian Hodgson

Story Editor - Peter Bryant

Studio Lighting - Howard King

Studio Sound - Norman Bennett

Studio Sound - Alan Edmonds

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Visual Effects - Ron Oates

Visual Effects - Ulrich Grosser

Writer - Mervyn Haisman

Writer - Henry Lincoln

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'They're shy, elusive creatures. Why do you think it's taken me so long to track them down?' A reasonable adventure with a hefty splash of 60s Buddhism, The Abominable Snowmen is, beneath its Yeti trappings, an attempt to create an unusual monster. It's a shame the Yeti are so cute.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

The Abominable Snowmen is a highly atmospheric and suspenseful tale. Its setting is unusual for the series and well-realised throughout, both in the mountainside location work - of which there is a pleasingly generous amount - and in the Detsen monastary studio scenes.

'A monastery should be a place of safety, a haven,' wrote Justin Richards in Shada 15, dated May/June 1983, 'yet here there is a sense of evil almost everywhere, emanating from the inner sanctum, the holy of holies. The only place that feels at all safe is the interior of the TARDIS, and that is guarded by a Yeti... Having discovered that Padmasambhava is not the benevolent sage he is held to be, we are faced with the horror of the greatest evil being actually inside the monastery, with our heroes (and heroine). This, more than the Yeti roaming the slopes outside, from whom we can escape by closing the monastery doors, is what provokes the aura of impending doom.'

The monastery is perhaps at its most eerie when the Doctor first arrives there to find it apparently deserted. Brian Hodgson of the Radiophonic Workshop deserves particular credit for his goosebump-inducing sound effects of the wind whistling icily around the walls of the building; indeed, this story's sound effects as a whole are particularly good - as, arguably, they have to be, given the complete absence of any incidental music. Another fine example is the memorable - and, as schoolchildren throughout the country quickly discovered, easily imitable! - bleeping noise emitted by the Yeti control spheres.

The scripts for the story, by newcomers Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln, are very well written. To have the Doctor revisiting the scene of a previous adventure, unseen by viewers and unrelated to the present one, is a good and novel idea (the only possible precedent being the mention in season three's The Celestial Toymaker of a previous visit by the Doctor to the Toymaker's domain). The central premise, of the Great Intelligence attempting to escape from the astral plane and achieve corporeal existence on Earth, is both intriguing and horrific, and makes for some very frightening scenes - particularly those involving the 'possessed' Padmasambhava.

'The storyline continues well throughout,' observed Kenny Smith in The Paisley Pattern Dr Who Annual in 1993, 'leaving several questions unanswered till virtually the climax... Padmasambhava comes over as a pathetic man, only held together by the will of the Great Intelligence. The changes in his voice, from the cool, calm [tones of the] abbot into the malevolent, hoarse whisper of the Intelligence [constitute] one of the most effective uses of vocals in the whole of the show's history.'

The Yeti are impressive, if somewhat cuddly, monsters with suitably mysterious origins, and their appeal is further enhanced by all the associated imagery - including their metal control spheres and the little model figures by means of which their movements are directed. 'For me,' wrote Nick Page in Cloister Bell 10/11, dated March 1985, 'the best monster of the sixties must be the Yeti....What made [them] so terrifying... was that you never knew exactly when one was going to grab you - the Great Intelligence... always turned off the robots' power whenever it was not required. This meant that as a character approached a seemingly dead Yeti, we the viewers never knew when it would burst into savage life...'

The story features some great supporting characters as well - most notably the English explorer Travers, wonderfully portrayed by Deborah Watling's father Jack.

'As a piece of television drama the finished story is hard to fault,' summed up Richards, 'boasting as it does an extremely high standard of story, script, design and production. There are few Doctor Who stories which achieve the [reputation] of [a] classic almost universally... but The Abominable Snowmen is one.'

It is a reputation that is well deserved.

< The Tomb of the CybermenSecond DoctorThe Ice Warriors >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.

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