Getting to see snow when it’s not Christmas is one thing; getting to see snow on TV when it’s not a Christmas special is quite another emphatically more ace thing.
Here are three instances when a bit of the white stuff creeps into a series for no other reason except by virtue of being there, but somehow ends up managing to make everything feel a whole lot more magical. And if not magical, it just makes everything feel a whole lot more.
1) Revelation of the Daleks, 1985 (episode 1)
Dr Who steps out of the TARDIS to discover a landscape that throws his tasteless garb into even more sharp, painful relief than the combined efforts of half a dozen mid-80s BBC studio lighting rigs.
The snow is the only good thing about Revelation of the Daleks. It makes the planet look properly alien, creates a tangible atmosphere – a first for the Colin Baker era – and forces Peri to cover up. Because, not to be prudish or anything, there’s only so much John Nathan-Turner titillation you can stand, and having Nicola Bryant contrive to totter about in tiny contrived costumes had, by this point, long ceased to feel charmingly contrived.
What, though, is Colin Baker purporting to wear in these scenes? Apparently nobody on the production team knew it was going to snow on location, and they all woke up on the first day of filming to find the place blanketed in white stuff. Which means Colin’s turquoise smock was, presumably, the nearest thing to hand when the call went out for Giant Cape With Exotic Trimmings As Close As Possible To The Curtains That Used To Hang Behind Parky In The 1970s Except Blue To Make It Even More Tasteless When Combined With The Doctor’s Totally Tasteless Dressing Gown.
Episode one also includes a memorable encounter with a mysterious bubble-faced freak who is discovered, along with – by this point in Dr Who’s history – the show’s remaining dwindling credibility, in a heap in the dirt on the ground.
However because this character has traces of substance and depth, rather than mere superficial shock value and the vague appearance of meaning, he is left to die and the storyline hurries on towards an ending which involves Colin Baker being symbolically and appropriately crushed by a titanic statue of his own face.
The snow is never seen again.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, 1979 (episode 1)
Professor Marcus and the Valeyard are on their way to meet Shelley who is going to tell them “a story – and it’s all about spies”. They suspect they might be being followed, and so decide to pull over into a lay-by to check all is well.
For no reason at all – and hence all the better for it – it is snowing, and the pair of them fall to nattering about moles, lamplighters and “our American cousins” in an icy near-darkness.
It’s one of the rawest scenes in the entire serial. You rarely ever get a sense of total, bone-chilling, all-pervasive cold in a television programme. But you do here. It bleeds from the screen. Our heroes are bedecked in layer upon layer of clothing, and barely move for fear, presumably, of having to joust with the British weather.
Sir Alec looks especially pinched. He is swaddled in what appears to be an early prototype of Colin Baker’s cape, albeit in a more subtle shade of black. The Smiley persona (smouldering immobility, twinkle-eyed curiosity, a profound sadness) is already fully formed.
At one point Michael Jayston has to get out of the car to pretend to check under the bonnet, just in case anybody is spying on the spies. The action moves outside, and you get to see a blizzard in progress.
The snow, like everything in Britain in the late-70s, looks dirty and unbecoming.
The Simpsons: Bart Gets An ‘F’ (1990)
In this case the snow isn’t quite so peripheral to the plot as the previous two examples, but it’s not falling because it’s Christmas, or to prove any point.
It arrives out of nowhere in the third part of the episode, supposedly because Bart prayed for it, to test the tyke’s devotion to his schoolwork while allowing everyone else in Springfield to have the time of their lives.
This sequence is one of the best in the show’s history, thanks to the way it manages to capture that feeling of unconfined exhiliration that a spot of unexpected snowfall prompts in all of us. Everyone rushes out into the streets, old and young, and starts pissing about. Even Mr Burns.
The fact it’s from the second series, when some of the animation was still a bit dodgy and the characters’ voices not spot on, makes it even more hat-doffingly superb.
You’d never get something as fantastic as this turning up in The Simpsons nowadays.
For one thing the computer graphics, as opposed to cell animation, would make it look flat and joyless. The writers and producers would dismiss it as too trivial (where are the jokes, or the bits where Homer gets repeatedly injured, or the ubiquitous guest stars?) or too boring (it’s just people doing things of no consequence). Above all, the snow would have to have a reason, probably to send the family abroad (“The Simpsons are going to the Low Countries!”), rather than just being simply, beautifully, snow.