Doctor Who 7.08 “Cold War” REVIEW

Doctor Who 7.08 “Cold War” REVIEW

Episode 7.08
Writer: Mark Gatiss
Director: Douglas Mackinnon

THE ONE WHERE The Doctor and Clara arrive on a Russian submarine in 1983 at the height of the Cold War and then discover an Ice Warrior has been thawed out in the hold…

VERDICT Well, that was better than “The Rings Of Akhaten” wasn’t it? Mark Gatiss’s fifth Doctor Who story is probably his best, a tight and tense tale featuring the welcome return of one of the show’s greatest vintage monsters.

The first thing to say about “Cold War” is that it exhibits Gatiss’s knowledge of and love for the show – he’s written a Who episode he’d like to watch and would have enjoyed as a kid. This reviewer feels that some of his previous stories, especially “The Idiot’s Lantern” and “Victory Of The Daleks”, have been too harshly judged by fans, but this one will likely find favour with them. A bit of a shame then that we saw it on a bright spring evening – how much more effective it could have been on a dark and, yep, cold, winter’s night…

But nothing can detract from the episode’s achievements: once again putting many a movie to shame, there’s much to admire in the way it’s shot. The set design of the submarine – replete with blinking lights, dripping water and billowing steam – is excellent, and note the fantastic use of sound too, like the clanking of the drowning sub and the hisses and clackety-clacks of the Big Green Man from Mars.

And didn’t the Ice Warrior look tremendous? With just a few sensible tweaks from the original, it’s the proof that they are indeed design classics. Grand Marshall Skaldac instantly becomes one of the best monsters since the series returned in 2005. Then there’s the full reveal of his face at the climax – now we know why they wear those helmets! Should they have done that, though? And with CGI? Mmm, maybe, maybe not.

Although Skaldac and his pals showed mercy at the end and jetted off, there’s surely no reason why these magnificent meanies can’t return en masse. This should be their “Dalek” before their “Bad Wolf/”The Parting Of The Ways”. In fact, here’s an idea, Mr Moffat: bring them back for the next Christmas special! Rather than a one-off whimsical fantasy how about a rollicking adventure featuring a flipping great Ice Warrior invasion of somewhere. And you’ve got, you know, the ice/snow angle which would be great at Christmas. (And what with the over-use of the Cybermen and the Daleks and the turning of Silurians and Sontarans into comedy characters, the Warriors could neatly fit into a vacated slot.)

Why not a higher SFX score still for this episode?, some of you cry. Because while “Cold War” did everything it did very well, it was essentially a base-under-siege story. It didn’t audaciously play with narrative form, as you could claim the likes of “Let’s Kill Hitler” and “The Wedding Of River Song” did. Of course it wasn’t meant to, but from what we knew beforehand it didn’t really go anywhere we couldn’t have predicted. With one exception: Skaldac exiting his protective suit (or “shellsuit”, as Clara winsomely calls it). That was a surprise! And it brought with it some lovely, creepy moments, including the scaly Martian on the loose in dark recesses, and when he “summons” his suit to him. Wonder why he didn’t break free of the chains when he was still in his armour, though? Maybe he was still too weak. In any case, it let Gatiss vary the tempo of the episode, which would have become very monotonous if it’d just been the armoured Ice Warrior stomping round the sub. If these scenes didn’t remind you of Ridley Scott’s Alien you haven’t seen that film.

So, a job well done then. Mark Gatiss has steadied the ship – or is that the sub? – after last week’s debacle. Kids should have been behind the sofa and their parents on the edge of it. Gatiss’s forthcoming “Crimson Horror” has a bit to live up to.

BEST BIT “Is that gas?” The Ice Warrior appearing behind the Doctor without him realising is simultaneously comic and chilling, and his face on beholding his ancient enemy is a joy. It’s one of the moments we hope makes it into any 50th anniversary clips compilation!

OTHER BEST BITS Clara’s amusing “Am I speaking Russian?” out-loud ponderings; Skaldac’s long scaly fingers creepily caressing the head of the submariner, as the sailor nervously suggests an alliance; the tension at the climax when the Doctor tries to persuade Skaldac not to press the button (and tension that continues even after Skaldac has left the ship). But would the Doctor really have blown them all up to save the world? We’ll never know (but we suspect he might).

SING A SONG Ultravox and Duran Duran fan Professor Grisenko chirps: “I always sing to keep my spirits up.” Thankfully Clara’s retort is “I’m not singing a song.” If only Merry had said that last week we might have had a little less Akhaten pain! (Note: this reviewer would have awarded “The Rings Of Akhaten” far fewer than the three stars my colleague Richard gave it – don’t forget that each SFX Doctor Who review is the opinion of individual reviewers.)

MORE MARS Clara’s conversation with the Doctor about this being 1983 and the world not having ended is very similar to the one his fourth incarnation had with Sarah Jane Smith in 1975′s “Pyramids Of Mars”, no doubt deliberately. Clara’s line is “Yeah, but the world didn’t end in 1983, did it, or I wouldn’t be here.” and Sarah’s is “But [Sutekh] didn’t, did he. I mean, we know the world didn’t end in 1911.” As the scarfed one reminded Sarah back then, “The actions of the present fashion the future.”

THE VOICE Good old Nicholas Briggs does another fine job of voicing a monster, replete with crowd-pleasing sssss sounds on sentences like “And yet, I am in chainssssss” and “Now my daughter will be dussssssst”. Let the playgrounds of the UK resonate with ssssssss on Monday.

STAR TURN David Warner is good as eccentric scientist Professor Grisenko, with some mordantly funny lines. Yes, Grisenko barely seems like a Russian, but it’s a mature decision not to have the submariners speaking with funny Russian accents, as surely would have been the case a few years back. It’s also interesting that there’s no attempt to paint the Russians as “baddies” – in the main they’re just sailors doing a job.

IT’S WOSSISNAME! This isn’t the first time Liam Cunningham, playing Captain Zhukov, has gone to sea in his TV career. On Game Of Thrones he plays smuggler Ser Davos Seaworth and he played Jim Larkin in 2012 series Titanic: Blood And Steel. He also narrated TV movie Saving The Titanic!

IT’S WOSSISNAME 2! Tobias Menzies, who plays Lieutenant Stepashin, has some genre material on his CV, including Charlie Booker’s Black Mirror, lawyer angels show Eternal Law, and Bond flick Casino Royale, in which he plays MI6 man Villiers.

THIS OL’ TARDIS So the Doctor’s set the co-ordinates for Las Vegas and they arrive on a Russian submarine?! That’s not too clever, Mrs TARDIS, and a little more inaccurate than she normally manages these days (and will do so with extraordinary accuracy in next week’s “Hide”, which also has a bit that will remind some of you of “Pyramids Of Mars”). But the plot device some might not swallow so easily is the way the timeship is magicked off the sub. Oh we forgive Gatiss, because as we all know, the first thing you have to do in a story like this is get rid of the TARDIS, but the way it’s done here seems a tad dodgy. (And when the TARDIS isn’t there the translator still works…?)

FACT ATTACK In case you were interested, here are the marks awarded to the four previous Ice Warrior stories by SFX, as recorded in our definitive 2011 Doctor Who bookazine list: “The Ice Warriors” (1967) Four Stars, “The Seeds Of Death” (1969) Three Stars, “The Curse Of Peladon” (1972) Three And A Half Stars and “The Monster Of Peladon” (1974) Two And A Half Stars.

Grisenko: “Tell me what happens.”
Clara: “I can’t.”
Grisenko: “Well I need to know!”
Clara: “I’m not allowed!”
Grisenko: “No, please!”
Clara: “I can’t!”
Grisenko: “Ultravox – do they split up?”

Russell Lewin

Doctor Who is currently airing on BBC One every Saturday

Read our other Doctor Who series 7 reviews