2nd Opinion: Cold War
John Hussey and Adam James Cuthbert each give their own verdict on Mark Gatiss’ latest episode.
Series 7: Part 2 is really kicking off now and building up towards the 50th Anniversary by re- establishing the legendary Ice Warriors.
Although ‘The Rings of Akhaten’ was Clara’s first taste of the TARDIS, I do honestly believe that ‘Cold War’ is where she really started to get a true understanding of what life is like with the Doctor. Her first journey was more fun and mystical, while her second journey was grittier and horror filled. Trapped beneath the depths of the frozen oceans in a submarine along with a rampaging creature really does give her an understanding of danger. We see her experience fear which makes her character more unique because she was expressing true emotions. Of course she’ll be frightened. Clara has witnessed the aftermath of violent killings of Russian soldiers at the hands of the murderous Martian. This really did begin to make her doubt herself and maybe even question the ordeal she had placed herself in. ‘Cold War’ was certainly a nice character building session for Clara which by the end sees her realising what the Doctor’s life entails, i.e. saving the world, time and the universe. Also we see Clara learning the companion traits, i.e. the TARDIS translation of alien and foreign languages and of course the concept of history being rewritten.
The Doctor displayed some interesting moments in this week’s instalment. Firstly we have him lording over the Russian crew with his godlike authority from the word go. As soon as the Doctor arrived onboard the submarine and faced the dangers placed before him, he immediately used his knowledge to think a way out of trouble. This happened again once he realised an Ice Warrior was onboard and the identity it processed. The Doctor puts on a cap which decreed him the saviour of the situation and only he can handle the dangers placed before him and those around him. Through this mode, the Doctor also increases his alien nature and dark nature. This has been a common trait with the Eleventh Doctor I’ve found and that’s why I find his incarnation so interesting. The Doctor is interesting when he’s dark and manipulative. We also see hints of fear expressed by the Doctor upon realising who he was dealing with. This in turn quickly turned to darker motives as to how they could deal with the Grand Marshal.
The most interesting moment from the Doctor this week was his attempted resolve. Last week in ‘The Rings of Akhaten’ we had him sacrificing his memories to appease the Old God while this week in ‘Cold War’ we witnessed him threatening to destroy the submarine and everyone onboard in an attempt to prevent Skaldak from firing the Russians missiles. This goes to show what I’ve been saying – the Doctor isn’t a saint and isn’t always the hero he is perceived to be. Another iconic moment was when the Doctor stated he was the only one who could speak with Skaldak due to everyone else onboard being a warrior. Not only did this once again display his godlike figure of authority, it also led to Captain Zhukov wondering whether the Martian would smell anything on the Doctor. This to me re-established the fact that the Doctor is too a warrior and has fought many battles, killing countless enemies in the process. In many ways the Doctor is sometimes no better than those he does battle with. This is hinted at through his slight pause after the Captains statement.
The main highlight of this week’s episode was the long awaited reintroduction of the legendary Ice Warriors. Mark Gatiss really excelled himself with his inner fanboy by not only bringing them back in style, but by also adding new twists to their mythology. I loved how he gave Grand Marshal Skaldak a bit of a back story along with establishing the names of different clans within the Martian empire. This gave more indication and knowledge of how their society works, something that had been left open and unspoken of within their past stories. Not only does Skaldak’ back story gave information of his race; it also gave information about himself and indicated just how much trouble the Doctor was in. Skaldak was a mighty warrior and was praised by his enemy to the point they carved his name into their faces. It left little hope for the Doctor to defeat such a mighty foe.
Gatiss also introduced the idea of there being something inside the armoured shell. This had never crossed my mind before – I simply assumed it was part of their natural body. I thought wrong. By adding this addition, it allowed the Ice Warriors to move away from being a one- dimensional monster and take on different perspectives of sinister nature. When out of its shell, it made the Ice Warriors scarier; a creature that could lurk in the shadows and attack from any direction. It gave off a feeling of the film ‘Alien’, especially with the claustrophobic setting Gatiss employed within the story. Like with ‘Dalek’, we were placed with a lone warrior of a once great and deadly empire who wished only to return to their people to fight once more but upon being faced with the reality of being the last of its kind the creature went on a suicide mission because it had nothing left. Indeed ‘Cold War’ gave the Ice Warriors a well rounded re-establishing and made way for their future. Fingers crossed Gatiss is allowed to gain his wishes and write more stories for the Martians.
The backdrop of the Cold War along with the characters onboard the submarine really did help to give the story tension and flow. As I thought, the soldiers were paranoid due to the destructive nature the hatred between the Communists and Capitalists had with each other. Captain Zhukov proved an interesting character as he tried his best to keep the situation under control and defend his men and world. Unlike some captains from past adventures, Zhukov was very agreeable with the Doctor and followed his instructions which made him a more likable character. The other interesting character this week lied with Professor Grisenko who provided humour and interesting opinions during the battle. Through his kind and gentle nature he managed to help Clara through her emotional state of confusion and gave her the courage to fight and understand the Doctor’s life.
At times ‘Cold War’ did remind me of adventures such as ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians’, ‘The Sea Devils’ and ‘The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood’ in which the Doctor takes on a negotiable attitude between the two species onscreen; trying his best to bring a resolution which doesn’t end in bloodshed. I must admit it was nice seeing the Doctor without his Sonic Screwdriver (at least for a short while anyway). It has really become apparent to me that his handheld device is a magic wand that gets him out of just about every bit of danger out there. I think maybe it’s about time the producers ditched the device again and allowed the Doctor to solve problems with his head once more. Or failing that, bring back K9 (enough said). Also I can’t go without mentioning the funny end scene of the Doctor revealing the TARDIS rematerialising in the South Pole and needed Zhukov’s assistance in getting to it. I will admit it was a clever way on Gatiss’ part of taking the TARDIS out of the action and thereby cutting out the solution of piling everyone onboard for a quick getaway.
Overall ‘Cold War’ was a cracking adventure employing the good old base-under-siege scenario and also brought the Ice Warriors back where they belong. Gatiss, give yourself a pat on the back. Well done.
I have to confess: it’s proven hard to write this week’s review, mostly because Cold War was, well, boring. I found it hard to maintain investment in the episode’s content: I found little stimulation within the story. With the exception of Jenna-Louise Coleman (Clara was rather chirpy this week), Cold War is not a story I’d recommend. Mark Gatiss is a niche writer: Gothic/body-horror is his forte (see The Unquiet Dead and Night Terrors). He straggles outside his niche.
One of the major problems with the episode is that what should be an event, a moment of festivity – showcasing to an unacquainted audience (including this fan, who came to Cold War, recollecting how it felt to witness Dalek – which Cold War parallels in its premise – for the first time) precisely why the Ice Warriors are a memorable concept-design – is ultimately a tedious, forgettable affair. Sure, it might cater to those fans nostalgic for the Ice Warriors, but in my opinion, that isn’t sufficient justification for their reprisal.
To my understanding, part of what makes the Martian design appealing is the underlying mystery concerning the creature encased within the armour, yet recognising what defines the Ice Warrior, the solider in action (as opposed to the ‘civilian’ Martian) is the armour and its symbolic power. To my mind, the Ice Warrior is meant to be a hulking, monstrous brute, designed for strength and resilience, rather than stealth. When Grand Marshal Skaldak leaves his armour to skulk in the shadows of the Firebird, the story transforming into Ridley Scott’s Alien on a submarine, the risk involved in this decision misfires – it detracts from the original concept-design, rather than enriching it: it effectively becomes a wholly different alien. It doesn’t aid matters that Skaldak has no real personality or charm to his character. Cold War generally suffers from a dearth of charm and charisma; in its writing, characterisation, and plotting.