Doctor Who – Cold War


Series 7, Episode 9


I’m not overly familiar with the classic series. I did see some of the repeats in the ’90s when I was a kid, and it was from them that I first loved Doctor Who, especially the ones featuring Tom Baker’s Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith and the Daleks. But the Ice Warriors weren’t something I’ve come across before, or if I have I don’t remember them. This episode reintroduces them, and speaking as a new viewer of them, it introduced them well, certainly better than the episodes that first bought back the Cybermen (Rise Of The Cybermen/The Age of Steel), the Sontarans (The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky) or the Silurians (The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood). It’s possibly the best reintroduction episode since Dalek in series one. Perhaps the moral of this is that one part episodes are the way to go if you to bring back a classic series monster for a new audience. Anyway, this episode explained The Ice Warriors well. They are a Martian reptile which adapted to become cyborgs when the temperature of Mars dropped and are a warrior race which take their codes and conduct seriously. However those codes and conduct are often at conflict with ours.

The title of the episode is a reference to the historical period it is set in. It is set in 1983, during the Cold War. The USA in the West and the USSR in the East along with their respective allies were in a sort of stalemate position with both sides incredibly hostile to one another, and both armed with nuclear missiles, but both being aware that launching a nuke would mean at least equal if not greater retaliation and at the time there was fear it could mean the end of the world. The title also references the location, the dark, icy ocean of the North Pole where a Soviet submarine is researching and rehearsing what they will do if the time comes for them to launch a nuke. In an already fairly dangerous situation things get worse as they have found frozen remains which they believe to be those of mammoth. But it isn’t, it’s an Ice Warrior… and he’s very much alive after he has been defrosted.

The Ice Warrior in question is Grand Marshall Skaldak, who is considered a great hero to the other Ice Warriors. The submarine begins to sink and they end up 700 metres down. It’s lucky for this submarine that the Doctor and Clara show up when they were meant to go to Las Vegas. It’s perhaps also lucky that they are stuck on the submarine after the TARDIS disappears. This is later revealed to be because of the Doctor tinkering with it to use a security system allowing it to relocate if it’s under threat. It relocates to the South Pole.

Skaldak learns that he has been frozen for 5000 years, and he laments that his people, specifically his daughter, will now be not just long dead but nothing remaining of them but dust. Having nothing to lose and being a creature that lives in a constant state of war this means danger for everyone else aboard the submarine. The episode is a little like Alien, with crew members in a crashed vessel with an alien creature that wants to kill them, crossed with Hunt For Red October, a film about a Soviet submarine and its crew. One crew member, Lieutenant Stepashin, reminded me more of Scream though, in that he clearly doesn’t know the rules of how to survive a scary  movie TV episode.  He asks “Who’s there?” when he hears a strange noise. Stepashin had been shown to be one most obsessed with “ending the Cold War” by basically turning it into a full scale war, and when Skaldak gets him he tries to form an alliance with Skaldak. It’s not a surprise that this ends very, very badly for Stepashin. As well as killing Stepashin, Skaldak also kills at least one other unfortunate crew member, and dissects them so he can learn about humans as an enemy to fight. Upon learning that the submarine is filled with nuclear missiles Skaldak is ready to launch them. The episode ends a little anticlimactically then an Ice Warrior spaceship arrives in the nick of the time and Skaldak decides to go back with them. It’s a little bit of a deus ex machina, although to be pedantic it doesn’t quite count as one as Skaldak sent out a distress call earlier in the episode. It’s possible that this episode was just to set up a recurring enemy rather than be a one-off character.

Having said that, this episode was very good as a self-contained story. The idea of a Martian on a Soviet submarine was a decent one. As characters Grand Marshall Skaldak was quite interesting, and the crew were fine even if they were fairly typical.

Highlights of the episode for me.

* The Doctor on the historical period they have found themselves in.

“Hair, shoulder pads, missiles. It’s the ’80s, everything’s bigger!”

* We get to see Skaldak’s face without his armour, and I really liked the character design of it. It is what you would imagine an alien reptile may look like.

* The elderly Professor Grisenko who is a fan of British pop music. In the beginning of the episode he is listening to ‘Vienna’ by Ultravox, and later sings ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’ by Duran Duran. After learning Clara is from the future he asks her about it. She is of course worried about telling him how things turn out politically speaking, but all he wants to know is if Ultravox split up.

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