Doctor Who (Classic): S05E03 “The Ice Warriors”

Season 5
Directed by Derek Martinus
Written by Brian Hayles

I’ve talked a lot over the past couple weeks about the move towards recurring villains and this time out we are introduced to another new recurring villain, the titular Ice Warriors. Unlike the Great Intelligence/Yeti who would have one more appearance this season before a decades long slumber, the Ice Warriors would get one more major appearance (not counting The War Games) next season and three more with the Third Doctor before their decades long slumber. They’ve only appeared in one episode of NuWho (they have another scheduled for episode nine of the upcoming series also written by Mark Gatiss) but “Cold War”, was the highlight of the weak Series 7 and a heck of a reintroduction.

The serial opens on a futuristic base on Earth suffering a crisis as encroaching glaciers threaten the world during a new ice age which occurred after a severe drop in carbon dioxide level. New food was discovered and as a result most plant life was cleared, and then the problems started. I’d say that I’d like to believe humanity wouldn’t be so stupid since even an idiot could see that was a bad idea but well… I’m familiar with humanity. While on a mission to prepare the firing of a device meant to halt the progress of the glaciers, a creature is discovered in the ice resembling a man in armor and brought back to the base.

Jamie has not gotten his wish for somewhere warm as the TARDIS lands on its side during a winter storm. There’s a surprisingly enjoyable bit of physical comedy concerning everyone piling out of the TARDIS. It’s surprising because when the show goes a bit broad with its humor is usually the show at its worst and yet this serial handles it well early on to the extent that the Doctor and his companions almost seem more suited to a comedic mission at this point (not that the show could have likely kept it up. Heck, the moment that the Doctor just barges in and stabilizes their problem in about a minute is treated as a joke this time around since it is so inevitable and considering the Doctor’s eccentricities.

The problem still looms large over the serial as the ticking clock of the approaching glaciers, which we are constantly reminded of by their regular shaking and collapsing, makes for an effective through line and keeps the momentum going even as the show inevitably stalls a bit in the middle (as all Doctor Who serial must especially at six episode). We are quickly introduced (albeit in very expository speech) to the out of his depth leader and his scientists, two scavengers of which one is the former lead scientist (and the one man they need), and a group of excavators.

The scientist plot is focused on trying to implement their plan. The computer is essentially treated as the ruler with its decisions treated as the final answer and consulted for any little thing (the show really does not have a high opinion of computers and the Doctor is far too defensive about being checked by a computer despite him just barging in). The scientists can’t conceive that it could be wrong about the course of action and I’m pretty sure that the lead female scientist is sexually attracted to it.

The scavengers on the other hand don’t seem to do much of anything for most of the run. The serial feints at them being almost a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern type arrangement, making quips on the situation and largely observing from afar, but the show quickly runs out of things for them to talk about and say in the middle. Thankfully we have the Ice Warriors to soak up some of their screentime.

The Ice Warrior of course wakes up at the end of the first episode in the now standard cliffhanger, shocked back to life by the machines of the humans. It reveals it is from Mars and had crashed into Earth before being buried by the snow. He wants to free his people and either return home or conquer this world though it is pretty apparent they’d prefer the former though we never get to see just what happens. They demand the destruction of the machine since they would really rather not die when it goes off.

The two sides (the scientists and the Ice Warriors) are set in opposition not because they want to destroy each other or out of competition, but mainly because of poor communications. They just want their people to survive though the plans of the opposition threaten their own. The Ice Warriors have no compunctions about killing anyone in their way, but they just want to stop the scientists from setting off their machine before they can escape and flooding their ship while the scientists are understandably concerned about their men being kidnapped or killed and the potential of an explosion of the ship when they set off their (possibly) world saving device. You just know if the two sides actually talked (and more importantly believed each other), they could sort everything out pretty quickly.

My biggest problem with the serial is that the scientists know there is a logic issue the computer faces (the three laws of robotics aren’t stated but it seems a variant is at least in play) and yet their solution is still to just accept what it says. It may be a consistent character trait, but as a viewer it feels more like the show is just stalling for time and it gets incredibly repetitive. Victoria basically spends the entire serial kidnapped and generally acting shrill in a combination of poor writing and acting while Jamie spends much of the time physically incapacitated (though awake) after he is nearly killed and temporarily paralyzed.

It should also be noted that the Ice Warriors were right, the machine did destroy their ship. The show barely even cares at that point and just celebrates the fact that there was only a small explosion. While I can’t say I feel too sympathetic to them and for once side with the humans (they just helped save the entire human race and the Ice Warriors had been killing them indiscriminately), I like the shading that keeps them from being too villainous and wish the ending had at least acknowledged this fact instead of treating them like they were complete monsters. Still, it’s a enjoyable serial and though it gets repetitive and tiresome at points, it never stops being interesting thanks to a compelling plot and interesting (if not always likable) characters.

Grade: B

Stray Observations
– Like Terry Nation with the Daleks and Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis with the Cybermen, Brian Hayles would come to be closely associated with the Ice Warriors and write all of their stories in the Classic era.
– A writer to a race has the advantage that it creates a sort of auteur relation with them and a better understanding of the race and its history but I have to imagine it was constricting for the writers. Then again, considering Hayles’ previous scripts (the very weak “The Celestial Toymaker” and “The Smugglers” for the First Doctor) maybe this wasn’t such a bad thing.
– Episodes one, four, five, and six remain, while episodes two and three were animated.
– I don’t talk about monster design much here (in part because watching enough of these serials has made me rather accepting of even the crap ones) but I do like the design of the Ice Warriors for the most part, though some parts of them looks a bit sillier than others. Their hiss filled speech while distinctive gets old quick though.
– Jamie flirts with Victoria at one point and it is really very cute watching how uncomfortable it makes her (and not in a bad way for anyone who may misconstrue this statement).
– There are far better reasons to criticize the leader than that he is “heartless” because frankly that is what the world needs. That he’s shit under pressure, prone to yelling, awful at managing people are far more apparent problems, and the fact that he has insufficient knowledge of the what he is working with (and is crippled back when that was seen a good sign of evil in fiction) are all much better reasons.
– For all the talk about pacing, the worst part of these six-episode serial is it really is a pain to get through and write about them. Sure, I could get around these problems by starting these earlier in the week but what can I say, I procrastinate.
– This Week in Cliffhangers: Nothing to see here, move along.

Next Up: Star Trek: TOS looks to rebound on Friday with “Shore Leave” and the still hilariously named “The Squire of Gothos” while Doctor Who has the complete “The Enemy of the World” to look forward to on Monday.