Cold War Spoiler-Free Review

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An unsuspecting group trapped in a claustrophobic environment with one of the Doctor’s oldest foes. Yes, it’s the classic “base under siege” format and one Doctor Who has used liberally throughout its (almost) 50-year history. Comparisons to Robert Shearman’s superb 2005 episode Dalek are also inevitable. Cold War writer Mark Gatiss has clearly followed Shearman’s lead in reintroducing the Ice Warriors for a new generation. The episode doesn’t quite reach the same heights, but it’s Gatiss’ best story in a long while.

The episode wastes little time getting into the action with the TARDIS accidently materialising on a sinking Soviet submarine in 1983, “a very dangerous time,” as the Doctor puts it, with “East and West standing on the brink of nuclear oblivion.” Of course, things are only going to get worse with the crew having picked up some frozen cargo. Little do they know that it is in fact an Ice Warrior, and one that has just woken up from a very long sleep.

So let’s get straight to it. Everyone wants to know if the new Ice Warriors have been successfully updated and fortunately, unlike Gatiss’ divisive change to the Daleks in 2010, the results are positive for the most part. Like with Dalek all the attention here is on one creature: an Ice Warrior named Skaldak.

While the costume is very faithful, if a lot more imposing, it’s the creature’s biology that Gatiss has expanded the most and some old school fans may raise their eyebrows at the changes. The hushed voices of the past have been replaced by the deeper tones of Nicholas Briggs. The reptilian hisses are still there, but in a much more subtle, background way now. One other area that may cause contention is the reveal of the creature’s true form. Without going in to detail, certain CGI effects could have been better, or perhaps practical effects used instead.

All these changes mean this tale is very different to the Ice Warrior adventures of old. Ridley Scott’s seminal film Alien is another influence here with the Ice Warrior lurking through the submarine interiors stalking the crew like a silent predator. In fact one shot is almost lifted wholesale from Scott’s classic. Director Douglas Mackinnon certainly makes good use of the impressive set to deliver some suitably claustrophobic moments. It’s not horror all the way though, with some laughs to be had along the way.

Those hoping for more details on the Clara mystery will be disappointed this week. However, there are some more nice character moments. Clara’s more vulnerable side is explored as she is placed in some dangerous situations. Her best scene is one she shares with the trapped Ice Warrior, which again calls back to another scene in Dalek. It’s a nice tension-filled scene that doesn’t quite go where you expect it though. Matt Smith is on fine form as usual, although there isn’t anything that quite reaches his standout speech in The Rings of Akhaten.

The guest cast this week is lead by two veteran actors: Liam Cunningham and David Warner. Cunningham plays Zhukov, while Warner is Grisenko. Cunningham puts in a reliable, if not exactly memorable performance as the Captain. It’s Warner who is served best of the two though and brings some personality and warmth to proceedings as the music-loving Professor.

The episode isn’t perfect. Again, we have a resolution that feels a little rushed (another case for longer episodes) and everything ends a little too neat and tidy (perhaps to be expanded on in the future if Gatiss has his way). The episode also doesn’t really do anything to break the mould of the well worn “base under siege” tropes. However, overall it’s a mostly solid 45-minutes of Who and it bodes well for future appearances of the Martians.