It is probably fair to say that in the hierarchy of Doctor Who monsters from the classic era the Ice Warriors are generally considered the third most successful, after the Daleks and Cybermen. To date these are the only three classic monsters to have returned in more than one story since 2005 as the main villain (I think!). They would not be my favourites, as I find animated plastic (Autons), clone warriors (Sontarans) and robotic abominable snowmen (Yeti) all more interesting concepts than reptiles from Mars, but then again I can’t claim to hold typical or majority views as I much prefer the Cybermen to the Daleks. But there is no doubt that the Ice Warriors have been hugely successful, so what is the reason for that?
It probably has a lot more to do with the design than the concept. They really are a design classic, and one of those that could be used again decades later without having to do anything radical with them, as per Daleks, Autons, Sontarans and Zygons. The voices are also memorable. These are far from being our only whispery monster, but an enemy that speaks softly does seem more menacing than one that shouts and stomps around. Because true power and strength does not need to make itself heard over the crowd. Everybody is already listening.
All that being said, there are teething troubles with the design. Varga has a completely different appearance in ONE (yes the episode titles are a bit weird here!) to the rest of the story – he has a different helmet and his whole chin is visible. In THREE, Roger Jones’s eyes are visible through Zondal’s mask. But I do love the occasions when an Ice Warrior withdraws his head into his suit, either to indicate boredom or disappointment! The use of tall actors adds to the impact of the monsters, as they tower over the humans, particularly little Deborah Watling who has a lot of scenes with them. Bernard Bresslaw is an inspired choice for Varga, one of an excellent cast of talented actors. Peter Barkworth is particularly impressive as Clent (note how cleverly he delivers the line ‘you are the most irritating and infuriating person I’ve ever been privileged to work with’), and it is nice to see Peter Sallis in an early role as Penley, the most sympathetic character in the story.
The chemistry between the three regulars is central to the success of the fifth season, and they play very well against each other here. Patrick Troughton in particular manages to bring in plenty of visual humour, such as the moment when he attempts to attack Zondal with ammonium sulphide, but cannot get the stopper off the test tube. There are some amusing moments in the scripts, like the Doctor’s use of a chemical dispensing machine to get a drink of water (incidentally, pure H2O is revolting to drink). He also has some great lines, such as his response to Miss Garrett’s ‘we are completely computerised’: ‘well never mind.’ But the funniest dialogue of all is the cheeky exchange between Jamie and Victoria in ONE. Here it is:
‘Did you see how those lassies were dressed?’
‘Yes I did, and trust you to think of something like that.’
‘Couldn’t help thinking about it.’
‘Well it’s disgusting, wearing that kind of thing.’
‘Oh, aye, so it is, so it is… you, er, you don’t see yourself dressed like that then?’
‘Oh, I’m sorry. It was just an idea.’
‘We will now change the subject.’
This is such a lovely character moment, and in fact there are several scenes throughout the story that hint at a budding attraction between the two of them. Poor Victoria is having a tough time of it with the Doctor lately, brainwashed by Padmasambhava and now kidnapped by Varga. Travelling with the Doctor seems to be a constant terror for her, which is building as a nice little theme towards her eventual departure.
So we have a story that is well written, has a great cast, the regulars at the top of their game, and some brilliantly designed monsters. The set design is also excellent. The snowy landscape is made up of polystyrene, but it works extremely well. Black and White is far more forgiving on this type of thing (compare The Seeds of Doom). The integration of stock footage also works better in black and white (and is done very well here anyway).
This is base-under-seige like most of Season Five, but there is a lot more to it than that. The Ice Warriors has a message: it warns against relying too greatly on computers, a theme that is even more relevant today than on its first broadcast. We are also shown the consequences of a world without plants – certainly a story ahead of its time.
‘The computer says no.’ Many years after the transmission of this story, a comedy show would begin that used this as one of its famous catchphrases. The creators of the show were two Doctor Who fans, both of whom would go on to star in the series: David Walliams and Matt Lucas. Not saying that there is a connection, but maybe, just maybe… RP
The view from across the pond:
In the history of Doctor Who, the Ice Warriors were always a favorite of mine. The second Target novelization I purchased was The Monster of Peladon, so I knew a little about them when I finally saw them on screen. (I read the books long before I saw the early episodes.) Somewhere along the way, I also read the Doctor Who Monster Book which had a beautifully illustrated section about them discussing their race and history. It made me appreciate them even more.
This episode is a combination of The Thing from Another World, a typical base-under-siege story and a heavy dose of environmental foresight. An Ice Warrior is found in the ice and thawed and by the end of episode one, we see him waking up. Then all hell breaks loose on the base. The Ice Warriors have a classic design, so much so that when they were brought back in the new series they were barely altered at all. Their whispering voices are a mix of silly and unnerving. The setting of the story is very stark and adds to the feeling of isolation. The operatic music is wonderful and eerie. It’s a tragic shame that 2 of the 6 episodes are lost; it would be wonderful to watch this one in its entirety on a cold October night. That feeling I used to have watching the old Universal horror movies with my dad when I was a kid is reproduced perfectly with this story!
The episode has the benefit of The Doctor being paired with Jamie and Victoria; a fantastic trio. Zoe was my preferred companion for the Doctor and Jamie, but Victoria was still a strong 3rd member. Together, the chemistry between them is marvelous. Jamie and Victoria play off one another wonderfully. There’s a moment where they poke their heads around a corner, each one higher than the other; as if three heads sticking out from the side of a corner would attract less attention than three bodies! It’s a classic image done in many series, but it just represents the fun that went on with this show. And The Doctor is depicted as utterly brilliant when he figures out that there could be a massive explosion in just over 2 minutes. Between the Tardis crew, the enemies, a good setting and a bit of wisdom about the future of the planet, this episode delivers.
There are some things to observe too. The Tardis lands on its side at the beginning of the episode. This happens in the future with Peter Davison’s Doctor as well. This leads to the crew having to climb out. It’s a wonderful scene. There’s an often-used image of Troughton’s Doctor looking all alarmed as if he’s about to be attacked. That image comes from this episode. Comically, it’s simply because Jamie is standing on his hand during the climb out of the TARDIS! The TARDIS is later standing up without explanation. Perhaps someone saw it and lifted it. Good citizenship!
There’s also an Apple watch used. Go on, have a look… It appears to be the mode of communication for that time period. Again, foresight! Who knew? (I guess so!)
And I’m especially fond of the Prisoner-esque living room/control room. When one looks at modern times, we have that now with XBOX, cable and Alexa already taking over our living rooms. I can’t help but think the Doctor’s reticence towards computers in this episode may be another level of foresight, being disappointed at how much computers would overtake our lives in the future.
The Ice Warriors is a great episode that introduces a great enemy. And I had the chance to meet them too…
I asked him to smile but he gave me the cold shoulder and maintained the icy glare.
Sorry, the puns are awful. That even sent a shiver down my spine.
It’ll be a cold day in hell before my kids laugh at my puns.
Ok, I’ll stop now…
Read next in the Junkyard… The Enemy of the World