“Cold War” Review

This mini-season of Doctor Who seems to be getting progressively better and better with every episode, and this one felt like a return to the cinematic feel of stories like the western, or Dinosaurs on a Spaceship from last September. Unlike Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, Ice Warrior on a Submarine didn’t feel like so much of a gimmick. The cold war subaquatic setting really tapped in to that action-espionage genre.

This was a cracking script from Gatiss, cementing his recent return to form. It was so good, I almost wondered if he’d had it sitting in a drawer from when Doctor Who returned to television eight years ago (or even earlier) waiting for the right opportunities to get it made. And that connects with one of my two small criticisms: that Clara was written as a rather generic companion in this one, and I could easily imagine Rose and the Ninth Doctor or Martha and the Tenth Doctor being inserted into the lead roles with virtually no rewrites at all. I suppose in creating a companion whose primary quality is mysteriousness, Moffat has given his mid-season writers a pretty tough time.

The other reservation I had concerned  the middle section, with the horror sequences of the naked ice warrior hiding behind the pipework on the submarine. I could almost imagine that two alternative stories had been vying in Gatiss’ imagination to occupy this submarine setting: the creepy X-Files style monster of the week horror, and a return for the iconic Doctor Who noble soldier race. Rather than choosing one or the other, they’ve been melded together, which almost works, but not quite. I think that’s because it’s always been suggested the code of the ice warriors would require them to choose death before dishonour, but this (in)famous soldier’s attitude appeared to be almost everything else before dishonour, then death, in that order.

The choices made about what would be shown or not shown on screen were interesting. Initially I’d assume the armourless ice-warrior would stay out of frame (we’ve never seen an armourless ice-warrior before and it was fine with me that that state of affairs should continue). But gradually were were shown more and more. When we we shown nothing, the effect was superbly sinister. When we were shown his hands, I couldn’t help feeling that it looked like he might share some DNA with an Earth chicken. His head shown in shadow worked quite well  – when we only saw the reds of his eyes – but on the better lighting of the bridge his head had a cartoonish and unimpressive appearance. Meanwhile the dismembered bodies that were supposed to have so profound an effect on Clara were not visible to us at all. We didn’t even get the merest sign of blood-spatter – which made it hard to recognise what she was reacting too…

Overall, however, it was a terrific story. A classic monster is given treatment that will guarantee a new generation of fans will be scared witless. Once again, great performances from Smith and Coleman and a superb guest cast – not least David Warner – and Nick Briggs gives easily his best ice warrior yet (he regularly voices them on the Big Finish audios). With a satisfying ending, and a trailer for a cracking looking episode next week, I’m still very enjoying this mini-season a great deal.

Hear me say all this again in the Fusion Patrol review of Cold War at 51’29” and get 51’29” of Ben and Eugene talking about it too!

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Image: Forward Torpedo Room by cliff1066™ CC-BY 2.0 Generic

About Simon Wood

E-learning officer, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more…

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