It’s 1983, the Cold War is in full swing and the crew of a Soviet Submarine have found something 5,000 years old in the ice. Some numpty decides to defrost it and suddenly there’s an Ice Warrior rampaging through the sub. The Doctor and Clara arrive and attempt to defuse the situation.
There’s nothing wrong with this episode. In fact, there’s lots right with this episode. BUT (and you knew that was coming) it is decidedly nothing special.
We’ll start with the Ice Warrior, the latest big old villain to be resurrected (or defrosted to be more accurate). I’d compare the Ice Warriors with the Sontarans – looking back to Classic Who, their reputation is more impressive than the 4 stories they actually appeared in. “The Ice Warriors” is, frankly, a dull, slow-paced plod. “The Seeds Of Death” is more fun, a fair bit more running around and lots of menacing foam. “The Curse Of Peladon” is entertaining enough, but has to be one of the most overrated Pertwee stories and few people have anything good to say about “The Monster Of Peladon”.
However, the Martians themselves do come out of all of these stories with dignity. They’re a tough bunch of ruthless, military aliens but they’re not just out to conquer the galaxy/universe etc. (apart from “The Seeds Of Death”, where they are just invading Earth, but no-one ever accused Classic Who of too much consistency). Skaldack, or to be precise, Grand Marshall Skaldack, is a solid Ice Warrior who is brutal and dangerous but with, at least to his code of conduct, good reason.
The design is a great update, all the chunky toughness of the original but with more sculpted edges. Lego hands are gone and new weapons and cybernetic enhancements are sleekly integrated into the armour. The big jump, conceptually, for us old fans is finally getting to see an Ice Warrior out of his armour. It’s deftly handled and we don’t actually get to see the whole body, just a notion of a fast and agile body with very long fingers. We do get to see his head out of helmet and it’s suitably reptilian. In fact, I’d argue there’s surely some evolutionary relation to the Silurians.
The rest of the supporting cast are strong – Liam Cunningham, fresh from A Game Of Thrones, does a great turn as the pragmatic but not ideology-driven Russian Sub Captain. Tobias Menzies is the more weasly and more ideologically Communist Lieutenant Stepashin. David Warner finally makes his onscreen debut in Doctor Who as Professor Grisenko but he’s not used anywhere near enough. I’m not a fan of re-using elements over and over again, but I’d gladly see Grisenko team up with the Doctor in more substantial circumstances in the future. Clara has a good outing, showing her bravery and getting stuck in and Matt Smith is his usual solid self.
The setting is claustrophobic, there’s water rushing in and the Ice Warrior is even more impressive in such enclosed spaces. All good fun.
And here’s the BUT – first, the TARDIS has to be taken out of the way (or they could all just escape) and it’s a pathetic reason for its vanishing that basically translates to “The Doctor was just fiddling about and broke it”. Then Skaldack threatens to kick off World War 3, because an attack on one Ice Warrior is an attack on all Ice Warriors so he’s fighting back against all humanity AND he’s called the rest of his species to come down with furious vengeance. BUT, well, the Doctor fails to appeal to Skaldack’s better nature and just as Skaldack is about to launch the nukes, an Ice Warrior ship turns up and tractor-beams the sub up from the depths and everything turns out fine. And there we are.
There’s some excellent, tight corridor work. We’ve got a good, tough, ruthless and powerful alien enemy. And we’ve got some menacing, some murder and almost a nuclear war BUT…it all turns out OK after all. I’ll apologise for this but, since we’re on a submarine, on the top it all looks pretty good, while there’s nothing more going on beneath the surface. A pedestrian 6/10.
Written and edited by Richard Barnes