Monday, April 15, 2013

Doctor Who Season 7, Episode 8: Cold War

This week the Doctor and Clara travel to the 1980s and encounter one of the Time Lord's oldest enemies, the Ice Warriors (the fact that the Eighties are now considered an historical period is seriously depressing me right now).

The Second Doctor first met the Ice Warriors way back in the 1967 episode titled, well, The Ice Warriors. They last appeared in the 1974 episode The Monster Of Peladon. The Ice Warriors (which is what we call them, probably not what they call themselves) are a militaristic race of reptilian humanoids from the planet Mars. In their first appearance they reveal that Mars is a dying world and are attempting to flee the red planet and conquer Earth.

This episode was quite an improvement over last week, and once again felt like proper old school Doctor Who. They did a great job of reintroducing a classic adversary like the Ice Warriors and making them a threat to be reckoned with once again. I'm hopeful we haven't seen the last of them.

The Ice Warriors got a bit of an upgrade in this episode. Gone are the pincher-like Lego hands, the odd pear-shaped body and the superflous bits of fur sticking out here and there. This new version updates their battle armor and makes them look dangerous and formidable while still keeping them recognizable.

I have to say that so far I'm liking this new batch of episodes with Clara. The first half of the season got a little too bogged down in soap opera-ishness for my taste, so I'm happy to see some straightforward adventures, like in the old days.

Spoilers Ahead!

The Plot:

While traveling to 1983 Las Vegas in the TARDIS, the Doctor and Clara inadvertently materialize inside a Soviet nuclear submarine on war exercises. A scientist aboard the sub has discovered some thing frozen in the Arctic ice and brings it aboard for further study. Unfortunately for the sub crew it's an Ice Warrior, one of the Doctor's oldest foes. A Soviet sailor attacks the Warrior in fear, causing it to condemn the entire planet to certain doom. 


• The title is of course a nod to not only the American/Soviet tensions of the 1980s but to the Ice Warriors themselves.

• Professor Grisenko (played by David Warner!) finds a creature in a block of ice while the sub is exploring the Arctic circle. He brings it onboard, encased inside a large block of ice, intending to take it back to Russia for further study. He tells the crew that he believes the creature is a frozen Wooly Mammoth.

The block of ice is not a whole lot bigger than a large kitchen refrigerator. It's unlikely you'd be able to fit even a baby mammoth in something that size! I have a feeling Grisenko knows it's not a mammoth and is lying to the crew, fearing they wouldn't want to bring something humanoid aboard.

• Grisenko is quite the fan of 1980's pop music, listening to Ultravox and Duran Duran throughout the episode. Kudos to the writer for knowing that Hungry Like The Wolf debuted in 1982, the year before this episode takes place. So many times when a series attempts to recreate a time period they'll use songs that hadn't yet been written.

The TARDIS suddenly appears inside a submarine hundreds of meters beneath the ocean surface, and the Doctor and Clara burst out of it. The Soviet crew are initially suspicious of the Doctor, but after about ten minutes they're taking orders from him! 

This happens in virtually every episode of the series, both old and new. Sometimes I wonder if the TARDIS is projecting some sort of "trust" field to get people to accept the Doctor. We've seen that it often knowingly takes the Doctor to places and times undergoing a crisis, and we know that it psychically translates both Earthly and alien languages for its occupants, so why not? Why couldn't it force people to rapidly accept him?

At the beginning of the episode the sub has been severely damaged, is taking on water and sinking uncontrollably at a sharp angle. Notice in the photo above that even though the interior is tilted at around 30 to 40 degrees, the large column of water pouring in at the right is perfectly perpendicular to the floor. Whoops!

Plot Contrivance Alert! Shortly after materializing on the sinking sub with an Ice Warrior aboard, the TARDIS high-tails it outta there without the Doctor and Clara. The Doctor explains this is due to the activation the TARDIS' H.A.D.S. device (short for Hostile Action Displacement System). He claims he'd just reactivated the H.A.D.S. earlier that day. 

This is plot trickery at its worst. If the TARDIS had remained onboard the Doctor could have whisked the entire crew to safety in a heartbeat (heartsbeat?). That would have ended the episode after only five minutes though, so the writer had to come up with a way to take the TARDIS out of the picture and trap everyone, including the Doctor and Clara, onboard. 

I get that it was necessary for the plot, but it was still a blatant contrivance. This is a time machine, for corn's sake. It's a living mechanism that can travel anywhere in time and space, and there's no way to remotely control it? No way to summon it to your current location? Unlikely. The Doctor needs to get busy on building a TARDIS remote.

I've never seen any of the previous Ice Warrior episodes, so I don't know if this remote-controlled battle suit idea is a new one or not. I was under the impression they were just wearing plain old armor, not thought-controlled cybernetic suits capable of independent movement.

When they first showed Grand Marshall Skaldak's unmasked face I was a little disappointed. Not at the way he looked, which I thought was fine. No, I was disappointed because the big reveal felt like it came too soon, and killed off the mystique of what the Ice Warriors are really like under all that armor.

But then I did a little bit of research and found out that they'd already shown an unmasked Ice Warrior, wayyyyyy back in 1972. So never mind, I guess.

UPDATE: According to reader Ofir Solares, that is not an unmasked Ice Warrior in the photo above, but an Arcturn. I've only seen one old school Ice Warrior episode, so I'll have to take his word for it. So this is the first time we've seen an unmasked Ice Warrior after all.

Skaldak arms the sub's nuclear warheads, intending to destroy Earth. When Clara sees the Doctor desperately trying to prevent this, she says that obviously the world didn't end in 1983 or she'd never have been born. The Doctor tells her that time is flexible and can be changed.

That is unless the Doctor pulls the old "fixed point in time" bushwah out of his arse, in which case it can't be changed (see Amy and Rory's final episode).

• At the end of the episode an Ice Warrior ship arrives to give Skardak a ride home. They got there pretty quickly, even for an advanced warship. He only started signaling them a hour or two earlier. Did they just happen to be in the neighborhood? Were they still hanging around Mars? Did they just need to wrap up the episode quickly, or is this some kind of clue that we'll be seeing the Ice Warriors again soon (yes, please!).

 Once the crisis is over the Doctor receives a text from the TARDIS, saying it's rematerized at the South Pole(!). The Doctor sheepishly asks Captain Zhukov for a lift. Yes, it's a cute scene, and I get that they wanted to end the episode with one of those "humorous" Star Trek type zingers, but... they're at the North Pole! How the hell long will that take? Weeks? Months? The Doctor really, really needs to get working on that TARDIS remote.


  1. This episode *completely* erased all of my misgivings about last week's programme. You're right in that it was very old school -- you could have set this story in the Tom Baker era, for example, and it wouldn't have felt out of place. Next week's episode looks just as awesome, so fingers crossed!

  2. Skaldak is the first ever Ice Warrior to be shown unmasked,the guy from the photo beside the Ice Warrior is an arcturan. And yes the remote-controlled battlesuit is new.

    I agree the HADS is plot trickery but at least it first appeared with the Second Doctor (just like the Ice Warriors themselves) so it goes with this episode feeling old school.

    I've seen the original Ice Warrior episodes and I like a lot this new version too.

    Great idea that the TARDIS gets people to accept the Doctor, they should do that official.


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