The Troughton era truly was the classic monster era, and produced several that were worthy of being brought back multiple times, as per the Daleks and the Cybermen. In some cases this was oddly never really capitalised on. The Yeti were brilliant and, bar a little cameo in The Five Doctors, we are still waiting to see them again. The Ice Warriors came back for a couple of Pertwee stories but were relegated to joining a group of delegates rather than being truly the stars of their own stories, and after 1974 that was it for the classic series. The aborted original Season 23 would have included an Ice Warrior story, but it is still odd that they never made it back onto our screens… until now.
The approach for their return is very Troughton-era. Peladon is ignored (for now) and we are back to the Ice Warriors as monster-of-the-week, in a back-to-basics base under siege story. When I say “Ice Warriors” I should really say “Ice Warrior”, because there is only one, but this is a very clever format for the return of a monster. As per Dalek, this really showcases how powerful an Ice Warrior is, and illustrates how just one is enough to create havoc. In some ways this is a reworking of Dalek, with a lone, phenomenally powerful alien in chains, escaping to threaten its captors and anyone else caught in the crossfire. There is even a pivotal dialogue scene between the monster and the companion.
The base-under-siege approach works very well and we need Doctor Who to be like this more often because it is almost invariably brilliant. One of the most recent examples is Midnight, which shows how amazing the format can be in the modern era. An atmosphere of claustrophobia always adds to the fear factor, and this could have been improved even more here by making the submarine sets more realistic – they are far too spacious, particularly in their vertical dimensions.
So how about the Ice Warrior himself? It was one of those iconic monster designs from the classic era that didn’t need updating much, and the little modernising tweaks here are excellent: very true to the original but to a new series standard. I’m not so enamoured with the unmasking. It is one of those things that feels like a “we did this because we can” moment. It is impressively done, and a clever bit of CGI, but you are never going to compete with people’s imaginations of what is inside. As per the Dalek mutant inside the casing, it would perhaps have been better left as a mystery rather than utilised for a cheap wow moment. Because for every viewer who will be saying “ooo, look at that!”, there will be a viewer who is saying “aren’t those eyes too far apart for the eye holes in the mask?” or “that’s not how I thought it would look”. Sometimes the monsters are best left in the shadows. RP
The view from across the pond:
Among things like special effects, new Who has titles far better than classic Who. I hated titles like The Revenge of the Cybermen (especially since revenge is an emotion that cyborgs shouldn’t feel) or The Terror of the Zygons. What was the point in spoiling the villain especially with recurring enemies? Oh, no kidding, episode one of The Daleks ends with a Dalek? No way! Didn’t see that coming! Cold War is a perfect title. Its significance is as much in reference to the Ice Warriors as it is to the tension between the US and Russia during the 1980s, when the episode takes place.
The story itself is the typical tried and tested format from the distant past: base under siege. Submerged beneath the waves, armed with nuclear warheads and a rampaging creature on the loose.
Like the original Ice Warrior episode, we open with the block of ice and the thing inside. As it bursts out of the ice, it makes its first kill. One might say, it’s a gripping opening! It gets progressively better from there. The episode features a terrific supporting cast. Liam Cunningham is great as the captain. It’s hard to see him as anything other than Ser Davos (Game of Thrones) but having him piloting a submarine is great. He’s a likable captain who is actually willing to listen. Ironically, I’d say that could describe the onion knight as well! Then there’s David Warner. What can I say? He is always superb. During the tension of the cold war, the “us vs. them” mentality, he brings wisdom and peace when he sees Clara is afraid. Suddenly, we’re more alike than we expected. How true… Smith and Coleman are on form too, although Clara’s time as likable companion is nearing its end.
And Skaldak, the Ice Warrior himself… I am glad we saw some of the creature outside its armor. We don’t get the full body, only his hands and head. The hands are very reminiscent of The War of the Worlds making a possible connection to those other invaders from Mars. (Thought I was going to make another “my favorite Martian” joke? Neatly dodged in favor of another classic!) The face works; maybe not perfectly, but this is a race that has greater dimension than other monsters, courtesy of The Curse of Peladon. Building on them was the right call. Roger’s point about the eyes may be valid, but there’s clearly more going on there than meets the eye anyway (yeah, intentional)! Notice their hands have fingers, unlike their cybernetic armor, which has clamps. So maybe their eyes work a little differently than ours. Let’s not assume that what works for us will also work for them!
I should point out that Roger’s comment is one I typically do agree with, regarding keeping the enemy hidden. An avid fan of H. P. Lovecraft, I know the value of leaving the menace unseen. There’s more fear in what you can’t see. But the Ice Warriors are more than just cardboard cut-out enemies (which is the only reason I include the image here!) These are noble reptiles; powerful and intelligent.
Which leads us to the ending of the episode. Go back to the Ice Warriors of The Curse of Peladon: we see them as reasoning, logical, and proud. We now learn that they have families. Skaldak talks of his daughter with sorrow that he may never see her again; this is not a typical villain. What makes Cold War so great is a combination of cast, threat, and a believable enemy. This is a creature that is ready to wage war only if war is actually warranted, not for revenge, malice or fear. And he understands that the harm that will be caused by war is too high a price to wage blindly. It gives our cold-blooded friend pause for thought and rises his race to a rarely achieved height in Doctor Who lore.
Now if only we could all learn from these noble warriors!
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