TV REVIEW: Doctor Who Series 7 Episode 8: Cold War

Doctor Who Logo 2013This third episode of part two of season seven (let’s not split season’s again please) is one I was both looking forward to and wary of at the same time. Here’s the official summary: “On a Russian submarine, a frozen alien warrior is waking up, just as the TARDIS arrives.”

My wariness came mainly from the rebooting of another classic villain. I’ve had mixed feelings about the other re-boots – save the Silurians which I’m not a fan of. Except Madame Vastra! So how did this episode appeal? Click on to find out (beware: this review contains SPOILERS!)

Long time Who-fan and seasoned scribe Mark Gatiss returns to pen and episode of Doctor Who and has the task of bringing a classic enemy to life. I’ll be honest here and say that on the whole I’ve been a bit down on Gatiss’s Who episodes in the past. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve been perfectly entertaining romps, but I’ve often found myself wanting more from the writer. Probably unfairly so. This story though, I found to be really well balanced. The plot is a nice historical thriller. Which, being set in 1983, a year in which I was happily playing with my He-Man toys and watching Robin of Sherwood and The A-Team along with Doctor Who really makes me feel my age slightly! Historical indeed!

The new design for the Ice Warrior is stunningly realised – the change of two fingered claw to Sontaran style three-fingered affair makes sense and the armoured martian really looks threatening in the dim-light of the submarine. Personally, I didn’t like the Martian leaving it’s armour for most of the episode, although this did lend more of an “Alien” vibe to proceedings as the (presumably) naked Ice Warrior could then skitter about in far more constrained areas than it would otherwise be able to.

I think I’d have been happier without two things: Firstly, the Ice Warrior’s “naked arms”. Although they looked great and were used to effect, I had trouble believing that such a wiry creature had the strength to perform some of the feats that it did. Also, those fingers would never fit into the armour’s gauntlets. Secondly, there is a scene where the Doctor and Skaldak (the Ice Warrior in the episode) are talking and Skaldak is hidden in the steam-filled ceiling of the submarine. The face of the Warrior is shown and to me it seemed very flat.

Oddly enough, later the Warrior is back in its armour and removes it’s helmet. At this point the head of the creature is shown off properly and it’s a lovely CG creation that I think fits the race perfectly. Odd that the same model can have different impacts in different circumstances.

The supporting characters are introduced and given enough characterisation in their interactions during the pre-titles sequence that the audience knows them enough during the episode itself. Of course, the script is aided by an excellent cast who seem to be revelling in their roles. In the past, I’ve often bemoaned the fact that the Doctor is able to swan into a situation and take charge without really having to prove himself. Gatiss manages to put the Time Lord in this space without it seeming forced – the threat is revealed to be extra-terrestrial very early on and the Doctor does succeed in helping to stop the submarine from sinking to a depth at which it’s hull could not survive the pressure. Given these facts and the fact that Liam Cunningham’s Captain is clearly the level-headed, rational type of Russian Nuclear Submarine commander it seemed only natural that he would defer to the bizarre interloper.

As mentioned, the plot is an Alien style thriller and on this level, Mark Gatiss has hit the nail on the head. The story plods along nicely with the danger and tension ramped up at appropriate points. It’s possible that the inclusion of the Ice Warrior helped this opinion, but I really felt this was an episode that really hearkened back to the late 1960s. This is a proper Base Under Siege story reminiscent of the Second Doctor’s finest outings.

I do have a niggle with the resolution of the episode however, which seemed to jar heavily with one of the important elements to the plot.

Early in the episode, Skaldak sets of a beacon to summon rescue. After a while, he determines that his race is dead. At the end of the episode a Martian rescue ship turns up to tractor the submarine from the icy depths and then matter-transport Skaldak to safety. I was a bit off put by this for a couple of reasons: first, surely an acknowledgement would have been sent as this vessel was clearly in short-range of Earth. Second, it’s quite convenient that the Martian teleporter required the submarine to be surfaced before the rescue could commence. Thirdly, and this is really picky, the design of the ship seemed a bit incongruous to me.

Overall, this was an excellent thriller that filled fifty minutes of Saturday evening quite nicely. It’s standalone nature also means that the episode can be watched by the casual viewer and will also stand up to individual watching later. Personally, I think this will stand up as one of the best episodes of this series … but time will tell. It always does.

Rating:  4 / 5
Reviewer: WedgeDoc

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