DOCTOR WHO 7.08
Cold War

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So then, after a low key opening episode and a highly divisive one, the third installment of Series 7B sees the return of two old friends to the show. Firstly this episode was penned by Who regular Mark Gatiss, but more significantly for old time fans, Cold War sees the return of one of the legendary Doctor Who monsters, the Ice Warriors!

Now in the pantheon of famous monsters, the Ice Warriors rate very highly, often jostling with the Sontarans for third place after the Daleks and the Cybermen. And that's very appropriate as those two biggest of bads had a direct influence upon the creation of the Ice Warriors. Briefly then, in the late '60s, it was decided to give the Daleks a rest from the show, largely because the homicidal pepperpots' creator Terry Nation had other plans for them. So then after the Second Doctor adventure The Evil of the Daleks, they were to disappear for many years, and hence the Cybermen became a recurring villain for Patrick Troughton. However the production team were keen to have another recurring race of evil aliens and therefore script writer Brian Hayles came up with the Ice Warriors to ease the burden of villainy on Mondas' finest.

Hitting the the screen in late 1967, their eponymous debut adventure The Ice Warriors was a huge hit, and so returned to menace the Earth (and the Second Doctor) in 1969 in The Seeds of Death. However, and here's where it get's interesting, in their next proper outing (they had made cameo appearances in The War Games and The Mind of Evil) in the Third Doctor story The Curse of Peladon, wily Mr Hayles had a trick up his sleeve. For in this tale, set in the far future, the twist was that by this point in their history the Ice Warriors had were not longer hostile war-mongers and weren't the villains of the piece!

However in their fourth and final story in the classic series, The Monster of Peladon, they were back up to their old war-mongering tricks, albeit in the shape of a rogue faction wanting to return their civilization back to the old martial ways. They were scheduled to reappear twice more in the classic series in stories that never got made due to internal troubles - in a Sixth Doctor adventure Mission to Magnus (which later appeared as a Target Missing Episodes novel) and tangle with the Seventh Doctor in Ice Time (but later surfaced as an audio play Thin Ice).

But despite last being seen in the Jon Pertwee days, the Ice Warriors have remained firm fan favourites. And I believe this is largely because Hayles chose to sketch in a history for them in which their society and attitudes changed over the centuries, making them a more fascinating race than the usual just thoroughly evil species such as the Daleks. Indeed they have returned many times in novels, comics and audio plays - indeed many more times than they appeared on TV - with other writers exploring them in different eras, where sometimes they are foes and sometimes friendly.

So then, when it was announced the Ice Warriors were to return, there were a lot more questions other than the usual intrigue on how the new series would interpret the design and look of a classic era creature. Which era Ice Warriors would we see? Would they be invaders or diplomats? Would there be references to the long history established in their numerous off screen appearances?

Of course, after the last two episodes which for the sake of brevity we shall file under 'mixed reaction', would Cold War deliver the Who goods some felt lacking in the show of late and unite fan opinion? Well, no, of course not! But largely that's completely irrespective of the quality of the episode, and more to do with the fact that Doctor Who is a highly successful show. For as such the show's stature and high profile ensures that any given episode now will find half the commentators, whether professional, amateur or causal viewer, proclaiming it a 'the best so far', while the other half shrieks 'worst thing ever'.

Now in the case of Cold War, we have the added dividing factor of a Mark Gatiss script. Now personally, I've enjoyed all the episodes he's penned for the returned show, and while I'll happily admit that Victory of the Daleks and The Idiot's Lantern aren't the strongest stories in the show's history or the best he's written, I am somewhat confused by the howling ire from some quarters they seem to generate. So naturally Cold War has generated much eye rolling among the ululating fraternity alluded to above, and if you're among their ranks you'll probably hate this as well.

Another thing I've noticed in the online reaction to this story apart from the usual flow of Gatred, is a lot of dissection, and indeed dismissal, by reference i.e. 'it's just Alien on a submarine' or 'The Hunt For Red October meets Alien'. Now it is true that these days, you can probably sum up any new stories with the 'it's x + y with a dash of z' formula. But, and this is a big but here folks, it really does help if you know what in the name of Rassilon you're talking about!

Yes, both Cold War and The Hunt For Red October feature a submarine and a maniac threatening the world, but so does 20000 Leagues Under The Sea - and I think that nicely illustrates nicely how ridiculous it is to base charges of rip-off on two shared elements. And no, it does not make a difference that the first two also have Russians in common either - the point here is that the shape and dynamics of the stories are very different, and two or even three shared elements do not make them the same!

If comparisons to Sean Connery's exercise in being making Russians sound Scottish are lazy, the parallels thrown around to Alien are just shockingly ill-informed. To begin with, if you know anything about Alien or SF movie history in general for that matter, you should know that Ridley Scott's tale of an unwelcome interstellar hitch-hiker is hardly an original work. Beautifully and brilliantly executed yes, but original, hell no! As discussed in this episode of Hypnobobs, Alien draws heavily from Dark Star and Planet of the Vampires and as a whole is pretty much a remake of It! The Terror From Beyond Space.

Furthermore, Alien also owes more than a little to a Fourth Doctor story The Ark In Space. And it should be noted that over the years the monster-on-the-loose in a closed environment trope has been done very often in Doctor Who, so much so fans have dubbed the 'base-under-siege' subgenre. Indeed the eponymous Ice Warriors adventure in 1967 is a classic example of the base under siege story.

Of course in classic SF, the classic base-under-siege story is The Thing From Another World, and as it also features an alien being thawed out of ice and was an influence on Alien too, you could argue that that Cold War is ripping off this 1951 movie. However again, monsters being defrosted from blocks of ice isn't original to The Thing From Another World - HP Lovecraft did it well before even the John W. Campbell novella The Thing is based on in At The Mountains of Madness and The Horror in the Museum, and even then the trope didn't originate with him.

More importantly however, to reference either Alien or The Thing From Another World in relation to Cold War is somewhat wonky as both these SF classics, while fitting comfortably in the base-under-siege subgenre, are actually a different species of story to the Doctor Who take on the trope. Howard Hawks and Ridley Scott's movies are bughunts - a mindless beast stalks the humans and picks them off one by one, whereas in Doctor Who, in both the classic and new series, the alien threat tends to be an intelligent invader with a plan for domination that extends far beyond just snacking on the locals Ten Little Indians style.

And this is why, provide you not got a Gatiss axe to grind or wrong-head popular references in your eyes, most folks will find much to enjoy in Cold War. For it is an adventure in the classic mode, a piece of solid storytelling with the Doctor caught up in a fraught situation and an intelligent foe to verbally joust with. There's action, a historical setting, and the right blend of horror and humour. As I've remarked before often the essence of a great Who story is a sturdy moral dilemma at the heart of the adventure and Cold War is a great example of this. Gatiss uses the different sides of the Ice Warriors' nature to excellent effect in our defrosted menace Skaldak, allowing the monster become a character rather than another threat-of-the-week.

It's often thought there there is a gulf between the old and new series with the higher emphasis on emotion and character being at odds with traditional adventure serial storytelling. But if you look at the past stories that are considered classics of the old series, such as The Sea Devils or Genesis of the Daleks to name but two, you find that it's the ethical arguments between the characters that give them their emotional wallop rather than the thrills and spills of the adventure. And Cold War shows that the new show, with its greater character focus, can unite the two rather well in the right shape story. This is an old school adventure with a new series gloss - and in fact, many I suspect would say exactly the kind of story the show should be more of.

But that's not say this story might not ruffle the feathers of the old guard. For perhaps where this episode is most controversial for old school fans is the depiction of the Ice Warriors. Now design-wise they stick closely to the previous versions, and the backstory is consistent enough with what has previously been established. But the business of them being able to pop out of their suits might seem to some like an uncomfortable bit of stealth reimagining.

However this seemingly new aspect of the Ice Warriors is actually canon - Brian Hayles conceived them as a reptilian race with cybernetic systems and while this has not been explicitly referenced in the classic series quartet of stories, it has surfaced in their appearances in spin-off media. Indeed we have seen a de-armoured Ice Warrior already before in comic strips such as Ascendence and as you can see here -

So all this apparently new details of Ice Warrior biology is actually reasonably canonical. If I were a nit picker (possible irony alert considering the ranty section above about getting your references right), I might wonder how those long fingers fit with the human style gloves the armour has, but as we are not given any indication how large the natural Martian inside the suit is, it might be a Aliens power load kind of setup with the armour being more vehicle than clothes.

But all of that is largely a cosmetic concern, as in terms of the episode it made for a good twist and, perhaps more importantly they didn't show us the full creature. Indeed when you have a monster on the loose, they're are always scary when you only see them partially. More longer term, on reflection I think it's quite fun not to know what the Ice Warrior inside looks like.

It's probably too early to say whether Cold War is a bona fide classic or not, but certainly it was a delight to watch. For a start, we had an excellent guest turn from David Warner who, let's face it, is always excellent in anything he appears in. Equally good was Liam Cunningham, now perhaps best known as Davos in Game of Thrones, as Captain Zhuhov, and the pair provide two strong characters to underpin the main cast. Matt Smith was excellent as always, but it was nice to see a quieter, more serious side to his Time Lord. Also quieter and better for it was Jessica-Louise Coleman; Moffat has referred to these opening three stories as a sort of getting to know Clara trilogy and I think we have seen her character rounded out rather nicely.

All in all then, a very solid episode that I think should sit well with most fans, both old and new. Looking forward to see what next week's haunted house antics will bring us!

 

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JIM MOON, 14th April 2013


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