jason stives hunts for red october …
After two weeks of mixed results “Cold War” brought Doctor Who back to sense of precision and maybe it’s the overall feel of the show in its 50th anniversary year but this story felt like a classic Who story to boot. Take the tried and true ‘base under siege’ premise and mix it with a returning villain with a twist and you have solid pedigree for this week’s episode that very rarely slows and moves along from beat to beat.
En route to Las Vegas, the Doctor and Clara find themselves on a sinking Soviet submarine smack dab in the middle of the arctic in 1983. Untrusting yet possibly their only hope, the crew of the ship must rely on the Doctor to save them from an awoken menace deep within the ship. The menace is a colossal beast known as an Ice warrior, a native of the planet Mars unearthed from a 5,000 year slumber in a block of ice. Taking on water fast and stocked to the brim with nuclear missiles, the Doctor and Clara must find a way to reason with the lone emerald beast or risk literally going down with the ship in the process.
Since this story quite quickly jumps into the action the first thing to point out is the overall pacing .When your plot involves a sinking sub with a nuclear cargo there is no chance to slow down and the episode moves along at a brisk pace that never stumbles over its own feet. The second note worthy element is the design of the setting and the submarine sets built for this story are absolutely flawless. Atmospheric and brooding the damp, narrow halls of the soviet sub leave you gasping for air and when the Doctor and his unexpected comrades are in tight quarters with the Martian Ice Warrior, escape feels like a losing battle.
“Cold War” was always going to be a story to look out for once it was announced that it would see the reintroduction of the Ice Warriors, who haven’t been seen in almost 40 years, but pulling it off would be the tricky part. In their four appearances in the late ’60s and early ’70s, the Ice Warriors always created a sense of menace but was never overly scary. Constantly lumbering with an inaudible hissing they went from being a threat to being written as ambassadors of peace in their latter two appearances. It’s a real credit to Mark Gatiss as not just a writer but a fan that he concocted an idea that finally gave the warriors of Mars some substance simply by giving them a back story.
Skaldak, the Grand Marshall Ice Warrior of the story, is a billowing beast of a creature with no remorse and a true harbinger of war. In a way Gatiss wrote Skaldak the way the Sontarans should have been written when they returned 5 years ago; a bringer of death and destruction serving for duty and honor without a trait to laugh at. Confining him to a situation where he can’t communicate with his own makes him very dangerous and add the claustrophobic setting and you have “Dalek” meets The Hunt for Red October. It’s a brilliant way to pull together all these fun elements and it makes for a thrilling and incredibly entertaining jaunt.
Not all of it is perfect and if there was one big gripe it was in the poor CGI effects of the armorless Skaldak. His hidden in the shadows attacks work mainly because the most that is visible is his blood red eyes and mouth that omit Nick Brigg’s roar-like voice. However, when his face is seen in full it’s poorly realized and looks like effects the show would have done back in 2005. The story also isn’t heavy on character development which is fine because this was clearly never designed to be that. Clara further develops her ability to act on the same level as The Doctor diving into potentially dangerous situations without a care but what’s great is she soon realizes after seeing the devastation of Skaldak’s presence that traveling with the Doctor isn’t all fun and games. In a way the Doctor is as much a danger to Clara as she is to him; the unknowing of what is to come next and who can be trusted which really works when you consider the turbulent time this story is suppose to take place.
It would have been nice if the mentality of a bunch of Russians during the Cold War was explored and considering the stature of the guest stars this week that could have been done beautifully. Both Liam Cunningham and David Warner are superb actors in their field and have had linear connections to Doctor Who in the past (Cunningham was almost cast as the 8th Doctor and Warner played him in an alternate universe audio play). While both solid abet generic characters you kind of wish there was a little more room for them to grow but that doesn’t deter from what overall was a cracking good episode. “Cold War” felt familiar and warm but never once lacked in its overall delivery and while a fresh idea is always warranted in this half century old show the occasional bit of reminiscing can have tremendous pay offs and this week we definitely received that.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10 (Excellent)
All Photos Credit: BBC America