Doctor Who XXXIII(7)B.3: Cold War
No long-form review for another site from me this week, but instead a few words of praise for Mark Gatiss’s best script for the programme since The Unquiet Dead, Douglas Mackinnon’s best episode as director full stop, and a claustrophobic set which nevertheless allowed cast and camera to move around. The lighting was a character in itself, cold and blue, green and red and Martian by turns. There was of course a huge amount of programme-literacy and fan literacy, from the reference to the HADS (we all knew what had caused the TARDIS to disappear straightaway, I’m sure) to the expansion of Martian lore building on the little stated on screen in their four previous appearances. Mark Gatiss surely knew, too, of the expectations of fans back in 1983 that the impending Warriors of the Deep would feature the Ice Warriors, and now that the Cold War can’t be projected into the distant future of the twenty-first century, here it is as a historical backdrop which efficiently gives form to the deftly-stroked but broad-brushed characters and gives fans of a certain vintage the reunion which they had longed for. (The Cold War was a provisional title for Attack of the Cybermen, too…) Taking the armoured turtle shape of the Ice Warrior and deconstructing it to reveal (though not entirely) the fast, spindly Martian inside made minor acknowledgement to the Quatermass and the Pit Martians, but a greater debt to Alien. There was a clear debt to The Ice Warriors too; at war with the elements and the West, the submarine was besieged by ice and by its opposing power bloc and by the present temptation to bring destruction on the world.
The forty-five minute slot remains a minor problem; a few more minutes of reflection, development and tension would not have come amiss, though they were not missed as much as they were last week. Materialising the Doctor and Clara more in media res than is usual was an effective storytelling device; the Doctor explains and vindicates himself not by words or the rehearsal of actions but by his deeds even more urgently than before. As for the future, do Earth and humanity remain forfeit to the (former) inhabitants of Mars? Like its kin-story Dalek eight years ago, the demonstration of the capabilities of a single Ice Warrior argues the case for reacquaintance with the species as a whole in Doctor Who.
Now, if only someone will recreate Chris Achilleos’s cover for Doctor Who and the Ice Warriors with Skaldak and Clara replacing Varga and Victoria…