ScreenCritics Raphael takes a look back at a classic Nu-Doctor Who episode from Series 7. Take a step back in time and look at ‘Cold War’.
The BBC has recently announced that the Ice Warriors shall be returning in Series 10, in a story penned by Mark Gatiss who was tasked with bringing back the Martian monsters back in 2013. I thought it fitting to revisit and review Cold War, the aforementioned story that brought back the iconic villains.
After a 39 year absence from the Whoniverse, the popular adversary of The Doctor was brought back under the fingers of long time Who fan and contributor Mark Gatiss. Following a tradition of bringing back a popular figure from the Classic era each series, the frosty beasts are re-introduced on a comparable level to that of the Daleks back in 2005. Both stories featuring only one of the creatures with a base-under-siege format.
The solitary Ice Warrior Skaldak, is found frozen on a Russian submarine in the midst of the Cold War. The Doctor and Clara stumble coincidentally into the sub to find it sinking. The episode flings you into the danger zone as quickly as possible and it works, we immediately see the power-house that the Ice Warrior is. A clunking brutish creature that stays faithful to the original design but with a lick of New-Who paint. Promotional pictures before the episode aired didn’t fill me with much confidence, looking rather ‘plasticy’, but in action it’s great and I really admire the design of it.
The performance is chilling with a deep robust voice and a subtle hiss of the previous Ice Warriors that will appropriately send shivers down your spine, its lack of personality in this case is fitting. The monotone voice is ongoing, making you feel like the creature cannot be reasoned with, bringing the danger alive.
The believable production of the submarine setting adds a tense and claustrophobic spark to the proceedings – you feel trapped with them. Whilst the story isn’t exactly scary, the impending threat of the Ice Warrior and drowning create a psychologically sinister situation. As they dash down corridors, guns in hand, water streaming down their faces it personally had me on the edge as they get picked off one by one. The red strobe lighting also lifts the episode, a fantastic compliment to the relentless panic unfolding on our screen. The episode is remarkably reminiscent of Alien as the unsuited Ice Warrior scuttles around as we only see glimpses of its body – ramping up the sense of dread.
Clara is developed further with moments that contribute to her as a companion: How she approached the chained Ice Warrior and showing the responsibilities of being a Time Traveler. The story also does a good job of showing she’s out of her comfort zone. I loved the way she handled the gruesome dismemberment of the crew. An assured and human performance. It’s easy to forget that it’s not all adventuring, real people die and Jenna did a great job reflecting this.
Though the episode’s setting does contribute to the enjoyment of the episode, it has a problem. Whilst I resonate with the submarine, I don’t feel any humanity from the supporting cast. That’s what seems to be lacking. Apart from The General, the rest of the crew are dull and wooden. They’re not memorable in the slightest, failing to make you care about people dying. With these sort of stories you should really be emotionally invested in the supporting cast as we acknowledge their tense situation. The Impossible Planet/Satan Pit two-parter is a prime example of what I’m trying to say. It could be the fact it had two episodes to develop their characters. Something that was shamefully abandoned in Series 7.
The conclusion to Cold War feels weak and anti-climactic. Despite The Doctor and Clara rejoicing that they saved the day. They didn’t. After much running around “with nothing left to lose”, due to the fact there are no others out there, we then suddenly find out there are. These Ice Warriors then save Skaldak, teleporting him out of the sub. The fact that a warrior race suddenly had mercy also wasn’t believable.
The Doctor made a point that the Martian Code is “You hurt one of us. You hurt us all” making the end seem somewhat contradictory. Not satisfying and makes it all seem slightly pointless. A big reinforcing argument that Doctor Who should be more than 45 minutes when needs be. I think Gatiss was so busy showing off his re-design that he forgot he had to wrap this all up.
Overview: Solid if unspectacular stuff. Filled with tension and claustrophobia, the Ice Warriors and setting were well-realized and enjoyable to watch. Though it feels botched by dull unexplored characters and a shoddy final act. It detracts from Cold War as an episode, but it was still entertaining television.