Doctor Who: Looking Back At COLD WAR - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: Looking Back At COLD WAR

Tony’s declaring war.
When New Who launched, it had a mandate to take the legacy of the original show forward with new villains and monsters, and to bring back some of the Classic series’ most famous creations, but usually with a new energy, new abilities, and surprising new elements, to let them live alongside the new creations.

Series 1 gave us a new Nestene Consciousness, new Autons, and all-new Daleks that crushed all their Classic-era weaknesses with their sink plungers of death, rebuilt the Emperor Dalek on a phenomenal new scale, and – and we’re sure there’s no satire here – turned the Daleks into religious zealots.

Series 2 brought us brand new Cybermen, with a whole new origin story and the fan-battle of everyone’s dreams – Daleks Vs Cybermen.

Series 3? Cameo of the Macra and the epic return of the Master in not one but TWO incarnations.

Series 4 brought the Sontarans back, and brought them back en masse for some proper fighting. The post-Series 4 specials re-introduced Gallifrey and the Time Lords.

Series 5 reimagined the look of the Silurians, in the most radical redesign so far.

Series 6, while it was crammed with a goon squad of some of the Doctor’s most famous enemies, actually didn’t bring back any ‘new’ old villains from the Classic era.

By the time it got to Series 7, New Who had replaced many of the Classic era big guns with their new 21st century versions. Steven Moffatt, in the showrunner’s chair, already had plans to bring back the Great Intelligence from the Troughton era in The Snowmen and The Bells Of Saint John – though, probably sensibly, without the Yeti that were its more iconic servants.

But Mark Gatiss, Moffatt’s Sherlock collaborator and a regular writer for New Who, had a real desire to bring back one more Classic era foe – The Ice Warriors. Moffatt wasn’t keen, seeing the Ice Warriors as the epitome of dodgy villains from the Classic era – slow moving, and speaking in a way no-one could understand (That’s the Mechanoids, surely?). If they were to come back, the challenge seemed to be, what could be done with them that was new and exciting?

Cold War, written by Gatiss, was the answer.
The set-up is essentially The Hunt For Red October with an angry Ice Warrior dropped right in the middle of it. A Russian nuclear submarine in the height of the Cold War, when Russia and America had itchy trigger fingers, and in Britain at least, there were regular broadcasts of what to do in the event of a nuclear bomb landing. (Turn to vapour, turn immediately to vapour, do not pass Go, do not collect £200…)

The Ice Warriors had had a chequered history in Doctor Who. Starring in two impressive base-under-siege style adventures in the Patrick Troughton era, they had seemingly become responsible citizens of the cosmos by the Jon Pertwee era, and were an important fixture of the two Peladon stories (albeit in one case as a rebellious faction). Which kind of Ice Warrior would return to the show in the 21st century?

Arguably, both.

Written mostly as a love letter to the base-under-siege stories, especially of the Troughton era, Cold War is big on claustrophobic atmosphere, which is easy to generate on a sinking nuclear submarine.

Wait – a SINKING submarine?

Yep. That’s what happens when you think you’ve found a mammoth encased in ice, intend to defrost it gently back in Moscow, and leave it in the charge of a junior crewmate with an oxy-acetylene torch and no more patience than God gave a mayfly.

What you then have is a cranky, revived Ice Warrior on the rampage, which is quite enough to cause your nuclear submarine to lose rotor power and start its journey to the bottom of the ocean – or to a pressurized implosion first.

Into this already bad situation come the Doctor and his still new friend, Clara. Aiming for Vegas, they got a sinking Soviet nuclear submarine at the height of the Cold War – now with added angry Ice Warrior.

Sometimes, it really is just one of those days…
It’s extra-specially one of those days when the Tardis unceremoniously disappears because the Doctor has switched the HADS (Hostile Action Displacement System) on. Talking fast, the Doctor manages to persuade Captain Zhukov (Liam Cunningham) to manoeuvre the sub so it rests on a rocky platform, rather than continuing to crash to the bottom of the sea.

That’s only the start of his problems though, because the second in command on the sub, Lieutenant Stepashin (Tobias Menzies) is twitchy with paranoia and the need to kill something – just what you need on a nuclear submarine, really. He’s convinced the two newcomers are spies, and just for once, the Doctor decides honesty is the best policy. Since honesty means admitting to their being time travellers, it’s maybe a questionable time and place to use the policy, but before long, they’re all encountering the cranky Ice Warrior for the first time, and Stepashin’s hot blood drives him to attack it with a cattle prod – as you do.

Now, they’re really in trouble. Because before getting the prod, the Ice Warrior identified itself as Grand Marshall Skaldak, one of the greatest heroes in Ice Warrior history. And the Russians have taken first blood, meaning Skaldak, who’s been asleep in the ice for 5,000 years, is now justified by the Ice Warrior code not only to take them all down, Rambo-style, but also to call his fellow Ice Warriors to come and ravage the planet as spoils for the unprovoked act of war.

Seriously, one of those days.
If you’re wondering how a Soviet nuclear submarine comes to have a deep-frozen Ice Warrior on board, that’s down to Professor Grisenko, an Eighties eccentric scientist with an Ultravox fixation, played by eternal script-elevator David Warner. See also the cattle prod – used to keep polar bears at bay in icy regions when the Professor is gathering his ice samples.

Sounds unlikely, yes, but it keeps to the rule of Troughton-era base-under-siege stories. There’s usually a rational one, a hothead and a voice of science, because ultimately, that’s what you need to make a drama-triangle. It’s…like a love triangle, only…more dramatic. And if you’re going to have a voice of science in the mid-80s, why not make them an Ultravox fan, say we.

Having no option but to chain up the Ice Warrior till negotiations can be made for a peaceful settlement, Gatiss’ ‘new things to do with Ice Warriors’ kicks in. While it’s never especially stated in the Classic era that the Ice Warriors’ armour is anything but…essentially, either armour or their own outer carapace, Gatiss turns the Ice Warrior armour and the Ice Warrior that wears it into a kind of symbiotic bio-mechanical entity, essentially like a Dalek or a Cyberman, but significantly less dogmatic. And with the ‘shell suit’ as Clara calls it being newly elevated in function, if only barely tweaked in design from the old days, the new thing the Ice Warriors do is leave their armour behind for a full-on Alien-style rapid scuttle through ducting, picking off the Russians one at a time.
If there’s a weakness in Cold War, it’s the sequences of the Ice Warrior out of its armour, which feel a bit ‘samey’ as some Hollywood sci-fi movies. But the joy of Cold War is that it both has its Ice Warrior cake and eats it.

Skaldak feels entirely justified in setting off the submarine’s nuclear weapons, triggering a nuclear war that will destroy the humans who dared dishonour him. And the Doctor is left desperate, threatening him, determined that if need be, he will blow up the missiles in their housings before Skaldak can fire them. The interfering justice of the Time Lord is his to command, overruling the Ice Warrior code.

But in a handful of lines earlier in the episode, Skaldak has waxed maudlin about battles he fought alongside his daughter, and songs they sang of the old times…

Which – in what is quite the theme of the Matt Smith era – gives companion Clara an alternative tack to take. She reminds Skaldak of the times with his daughter, the songs they sang, the honour he won. Is the universe to remember Grand Marshall Skaldak for all the great and valorous battles he fought, or for the destruction of a planet of barely sentient newcomers to the universe?

Fortunately, before he can think twice about it, a ship full of other Ice Warriors arrive, pulling the sub to the surface and teleporting their hero on board. With the submarine’s missiles still primed, it would take only one command from Skaldak on board the ship to launch the missiles.

When the missiles stand down, everyone can take another breath – the better nature of the Ice Warrior has prevailed after all, more moved by Clara’s words than the Doctor’s threats.

While there are things that could be tweaked about Cold War – it’s a busy, relentlessly active script, and the naked Ice Warrior looks somehow like a great opportunity blown – there’s no denying that as a return to the series for one of the most intriguing alien races, it’s beautifully pitched, bringing the threat of the original Ice Warriors and the nobility of later ones both into play. It has great, believable model work of the sinking sub, and the Ice Warrior spaceship is still one of the best and most beautiful ships to have made it into New Who so far.

Cold War is a merciless rewatch – the claustrophobia, the paranoia, the being-trapped-under-water-with-a-murderous-alien – but it’s also a joyous one, watching Matt Smith work within the framing of a story heavy with potential Classic series history, and knocking it out of the park, convincing that his memories go all the way back to those previous bases under previous siege, and further.

It’s also a great test for relative newcomer Clara at the pointier end of inter-species diplomacy, and it has David Warner in it, so it’s almost instantly a hell of a lot cooler than most other stories in its series.

Watched from a modern perspective, it’s also deliciously surreal to see two iterations of the Duke of Edinburgh from The Crown playing opposite each other in several scenes (Matt Smith played the younger Duke, Tobias Menzies his older version). But that little moment of casting bingo aside, Cold War is a strong re-introduction of the Ice Warriors to 21st Century Who, and a cracking piece of Eleventh Doctor drama that definitely repays rewatching.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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