They’re back, after an almost 40 year hiatus. Yes, the Ice Warriors made triumphant return to Doctor Who on Saturday nigh with typically 1960s style menace and threat. Cold War set high standard right from the off, and by the closing titles there was no room for complain. Writers listen up, this may just be the perfect, quintessential Doctor Who story.
No beating around the bush, let’s jump straight to the Ice Warriors themselves, one of the main reasons this episode is such a success. When I first saw the images of the new Ice Warrior design I was instantly amazed that there were so little differences to their classic series counterparts. Even in the episode, except for the obvious, the Ice Warrior was terribly similar, like a Martian villain had just stepped out of Curse of Peladon or The Seeds of Death.
According to Moffat, Ice Warriors epitomised the slow lumbering classic who monster. Yet in Cold War the Warrior was anything but, cleverly director Douglas Mackinnon slowed down footage of the warrior walking, giving it extra gravitas and taking away from any clunky-ness which may have been visible at normal speed.
Key to Moffat agreeing to Gatiss’ Ice Warrior pitch was the plan to evolve the Warriors and take them beyond their restrictive suit. This seems like almost a logistical decision rather than creative, giving a more menacing creature to occupy the story. In any way, it doesn’t feel like the advancement in Ice Warrior law does anything to diminish previous stories. The script even makes note that this is new, the Doctor noting that he’d never seen one out of its suit before. The suit-less Warrior is brilliantly kept in the shadows and obscured bringing a sense of the unknown, a compounds the idea that its almost sacrilegious for an Ice Warrior to leave its armor.
Another element that really makes this story is the performances from the key cast and supporting characters. Gatiss has played into stereotypes to instantly create characters which are understandable and recognizable and then adds the nuances on top of that.
Most of note was David Warner as the way-out professor. His highlight is the scenes when he is trying to distract Clara from the frightening events on the submarine. The way he tries to bring a personal connection to Clara is touching a brilliantly played. Most telling is when Clara is threatened by the Warrior and suddenly the professor is in control and firing at it, blatantly showing that his previous conversation is a ploy to look after Clara.
Liam Cunningham also brings a sternness and authority to his portrayal of the submarine’s captain. He shows just the right amount if humility coupled with power to inhabit the role of the Russian military leader. Cunningham’s scenes with Smith’s Doctor are particularly enjoyable with both actors playing the scenes off each other.
An odd-ball success was Tobias Menzies’ character of the Lieutenant who tries to bargain with the Warrior. Menzies played the scenes superbly, blending in natural, primal fear and cunning self centered thinking. Without much screen time, Menzies really develops the character in an intriguing direction until his death.
Gatiss has really show his colours in the scripting of this episode, proving those people who thought he wasn’t up to the role of Doctor Who writer wrong. Previously Gatiss’ best efforts were The Unquiet Dead back in 2005 and Night Tertors from 2011, but Cold War easily tops those stories and is leagues above Victory of the Daleks. At the moment, and after this story, there seems no better choice logistically and realistically for Moffat’s successor as future show runner – not that I am calling for an end to the Moffat era, nearly showing how much Gatiss has learnt because he’s alway had the potential, just never delivered on it before now.
It’s pleasing in the 50th anniversary year to return to the classic base under siege story line, with the submarine proving a perfect location to confine the TARDIS crew in with now way of escape. It was nice to see the reoccurrence of the HADS for the first time since The Krotons in the 60s, and another nice nod to the classic era. Smith’s performance felt particularly Troughton-like in this episode, not to mention the effortless way in which he goes about his portrayal. Clara also gets some character development in this story, it’s the first time she faces death on her travels, the first time she sees what can happen if they get it wrong. Unlike The Rings of Akhaten, where we see the spectacle of traveling in the TARDIS, in Cold War Clara sees the possible consequences.
The whole plot feels very much like Dalek, showing the might of a single Ice Warrior, accept this episode sets up subsequent Ice Warrior episodes with the final scenes of the story.
The final element that needs to be discussed is the direction of the story. Last year one word was used constantly by the BBC to promote the run of five stories – cinematic. And in the same way that Asylum of the Daleks was cinematic, Cold War was given a huge cinema sized chunk of direction from the very opening show there is an instant scale and ambition which is strange given the cramped and claustrophobic feel to the story. It compounds though the vastness of the ocean, all that water above and below. There are obvious homages to alien in the direction, with plenty of smoke machines and gallons of water pouring through the set creating the eerie setting where there could be an Ice Warrior lurking everywhere. Mackinnon should be praised emensly for his clever use of light, especially in lighting the Ice Warrior in silhouette (reminiscent of Seeds of Death), and the costume choice.
All things considered, it’s hard to fault this story. There was potential for failure there, there was potential for the Ice Warrior’s under-helmet reveal to fall flat and disappoint.
But it didn’t.
Gatiss and the whole team have done themselves proud in Cold War creating an episode that effectively reintroduces the menace of the Ice Warriors to a whole new generation and also in producing one of the best stories since the shows return in 2005.
I just have one problem… More hissing please.
QUANTUM LOCKED RATING: 9/10
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