Ultravox and Ice Warriors: Cold War in Perspective
Guest contributor Tomas Edwards takes another look at Mark Gatiss’ first Series 7 episode.
This episode (penned by Mark Gatiss, a writer who has split the fan base with many of his episodes) had the ever-difficult task of reintroducing a classic monster, and a fan favourite at that. It should be noted before I start my evaluation of this episode and its pros and cons that this was the first time I saw an Ice Warrior in an episode (although I had read The Silent Stars Go By) so this may have stopped me judging it one past experiences with the Martian race. Add on a cracking guest cast, another excellent score from Mr. Gold, a very dark Doctor and a few lines of Hungry like the Wolf and you wonder why I’m keen on this episode.
“I’ve never seen one outside it’s casing before”
What I say above is almost certainly an advantage when it comes to judging this particular element of the episode, although I have to wonder why. Why is it, in a show all about change (as highlighted by the recent news of Matt Smith’s departure) the smallest tweak to a monster (which isn’t even a tweak, more a revelation) causes so much strife? Well, the obvious answer is not the fact they took it out of the casing, it’s how they made it look.
I can see how this was a flawed appearance, specifically the mediocre CGI used on its head, something which would have been far better achieved using animatronics, but the basic design of the head is fine with me, and I don’t mind the fact the creature is bony (Although I have to wonder how it’s fingers could fit in those gloves). In fact, I like the idea that a creature with such a strong outward appearance is actually far less bulky underneath. Also, a big bulky Ice Warrior would not have suited the already cramped setting; in fact I was surprised when it was in the armor it didn’t get stuck in a doorway. The smaller, stealthier monster added a rather creepy atmosphere to proceedings, and meant we could have some rather lovely gruesome deaths (An element we don’t get enough of I feel). I also really liked Skaldak’s voice, it had a nice gravelly texture, which gave the impression of a hardened warrior, and although the hissing is traditional, I am glad it was consigned to background noise.
“For the motherland”
Personally, I was quite fond of the cast of Soviet crewmembers seen in this episode. The main one who stands out is Captain Zhukov (unsurprisingly), due to a combination of Liam Cunningham’s excellent acting, and refreshing characterization. Most captains in base-under-siege stories have a tendency to be incompetent, and it seems that the criteria for putting people in charge in the Whoniverse is very similar to the one used in Parliament. But even the Whoniverse has its Churchill’s, and in this episode Zhukov is just that. He is a firm leader, but he can still have positive relations with his crewmates, as shown by him laughing at Grisenko’s “Big green man from Mars” comment. He is initially skeptical of the Doctor, but if two random strangers (with English accents) wondered onto your Russian submarine in the height of the Cold War then you would probably be a bit cautious. But once things move out of his comfort zone he quickly allows his trust to fall to the man who seems to know what’s going on, and inspires most of his men (except the heavily dislikeable (in a good way story-wise) Stepashin) to do the same. He seems to always make the best decisions, but still has a bit of a temper, shown in a few earlier scenes, which shows he is not perfect (as no men are). Overall, he is a very well rounded character.
“Ultravox, I bloody love ‘em”
Now, whilst I listed Zhukov as my favourite crewmember, I still think Grisenko is the best character in the story, so wanted to give him a separate section. David Warner gives a truly heartfelt performance as this elderly and jolly professor who has an obsession with Western culture, giving lighter tones to what is quite a dark episode (In both tone and setting). I can’t help but grin when he walks onto the bridge singing, or when Clara tells him she heard him call her a monkey, and when Skaldak was about to kill him I was on the edge of my seat, caring almost as much about this man as I would about a member of my family. This series has been a mixed bag for me secondary character wise, but this episode most certainly hit the nail on the head in that department.
“And he wouldn’t smell it on you, Doctor?”
Matt Smith gives a great performance in this episode (Although admittedly dwarfed by those in most other episodes this series), and I really like how he is characterized in this episode. The quote I chose to be the title of this section is my favourite from the episode (and one of my favourites from Series 7) because it reminds us that the Doctor is a soldier, and has a lot of blood on his hands. Also, I like how he is trying to prevent all-out war, not helped by the foolishness of some of the Soviet crew, and whilst attempting to stop Skaldak, is also trying to help him. I always enjoy it when the Doctor is trying to help both sides in a skirmish (Other episodes in which he does this are The Silurians and Cold Blood), as he is never really sure of what to do. But, as the episode progresses this element decreases with the increased hostility of Skaldak, forcing the Doctor to risk the lives of everyone on board. One negative thing for this episode (although to be fair it does apply to most of Series 7 Part 2) is the fact the Doctor seems to have given up on hiding from the Silence, with apparently no consequences to boot. Both the Russians and the Martians would now have records of his intervention; records the Silence would not have difficulty procuring (especially if two school children managed it).
“There will be a new red planet: red with the blood of humanity!”
Desperation can drive people to do terrible things, and Skaldak is perhaps one of the most extreme examples. The fact he has drastically outlived his daughter and his race are apparently beyond his reach he sees only one thing he can achieve: getting his revenge on those who have imprisoned him. And his great losses made him insane, psychotic, willing to tear down the whole world out of pure spite, and he very nearly did. I have to say though, that a fault with this episode is the cop-out solution. Neither the Doctor nor Skaldak have to make a decision, instead Skaldak returns to his people and the submarine is rescued and repaired. It would have been better, I think, for Skaldak to have chosen not to destroy the world, and helping repair the submarine and returning to his people in the TARDIS. This would have had essentially the same ending without the arrival of the spaceship (even if it was a wonderful design).
So overall, this is not a perfect episode, but still a very good one. It has a solid plot and some excellent moments, as well as three guest characters (Skaldak, Grisenko and Zhukov) who I would love to see again, and in the case of Skaldak, expect we probably will. I know this episode is disliked by a fair few fans, but I ask of them all to give it a second chance, as it truly deserves it.