This is the first Doctor Who episode to feature the Ice Warriors since 1974’s The Monster of Peladon, some thirty-nine years ago. They almost came back in 1985, but the original season twenty-three was cancelled and away with it went Mission to Magnus and the Doctor’s rematch with the Ice Warriors. During the long years in which Doctor Who was off our screen, from 1990 to 2004, the authors of the novels and audio dramas created a very rich mythology around the Martian culture of the Ice Warriors, and they featured in arguably some of the best pieces of Doctor Who fiction ever written.
So, to hear that they were set to return in this anniversary year came as no surprise. That they’d return to the 21stCentury Doctor Who was pretty much a given. Despite only appearing in four stories during the series’ original run, they’ve always been regarded as one of the top five monsters (alongside the Daleks, the Cybermen , the Sontarans and the Silurians). What wasn’t certain, however, is how well they’d be brought back. After recent design disasters –first the Dalek paradigm in Victory of the Daleks and then the radically altered appearance of the Silurians in The Hungry Earth – it’s understandable that many had reservations about the Ice Warriors return. Such concerns were pushed aside when the design was revealed, so that was one good point in favour of the upcoming Cold War. The question remained; would they be depicted with the respect they deserved?
It’s a valid question, after all Mark Gatiss was the writer behind Victory of the Daleks (although, in fairness, his other stories since 2005 have been generally regarded as, at least, good). Well, the answer, for this reviewer, is a resounding YES!
Gatiss played it well. A very straightforward story – very little subplot, just the crew of the submarine vs the Ice Warrior, with the Doctor and Clara’s help, of course. He knew that it’s all about selling the Ice Warriors, making them powerful and menacing, a worthy addition to the updated Whomythos. The script is one aspect that makes it work – Gatiss draws on a lot of the mythology established in the novels, and builds on it – but the slight re-design of the costume brings it to a whole new level. Finally we get to see what’s inside the armour (for yes, it is indeed armour – which we all kind of knew anyway), and learn that the armour was built as a survival suit to combat the freezing temperatures of Mars. We don’t get to see all of the Martian –just its arms and elements of its body in shadow. Better too little than too much.
What about the rest of the cast? Well, Matt Smith continues the assured performance he’s had since The Snowmen, commanding the respect of all those he meets. And Jenna Louise-Coleman is proving to be quite a find as Clara. She has some wonderful moments – questioning the Ice Warrior, the moment with David Warner after Clara has seen the dismembered bodies. Ah yes, David Warner. As awesome as ever. He doesn’t have a huge role, but he imbues it with charm and wit. Liam Cunningham is great, too, with some brilliant chemistry between him and Smith.
In short, it’s another really fun episode. Nothing complicated, just an easy story, a vehicle for the reintroduction of a classic monster. And it does exactly what it needs to do. With panache!