Clara: Ahem. Well, there really is only one choice, isn’t there. I don’t smell of anything, to my knowledge.
Production Code: 3.8.
Doctor Who Season: S33 (Ep8).
Story Number: 234.
An old sort of Doctor Who…
For Doctor Who to be set during the era of its Classic production (1963 – 1989) is extremely rare, though now Doctor Who is being made in the 21st Century these forays into the past are more understandable, as this era is no longer the very recent past and so much more interesting as a story setting.
It also makes sense for Doctor Who in 2013 to be broadcasting stories from the breadth of the past 50 years – 1983 being exactly 20 years ago, it was also the 30th Anniversary of Doctor Who. However, if a story of Cold War tension was to be set during the past 50 years, then 1983 would be a very resonant choice, the year that Ronald Reagan announced “Star Wars”, (his escalation of the Cold War, not the movie).
The “base under siege” has been part of the traditions of Doctor Who since the Sixties. In recent years, it’s been used to great effect in such stories as Dalek, The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, and The Waters of Mars. There’s almost always a Base Commander of some sort that the Doctor must convince to listen to him.
So it is with this latest “base under siege”, or rather the Base Commander is the Captain of a Russian submarine during the Cold War. This Doctor Who tradition has been filtered through the tradition of this 14-episode “movie poster series”, and so cinematic traditions have influenced the story too. If Dinosaurs on a Spaceship was an obvious riff on the-title-is-the-tagline of Snakes on a Plane, then the idea of “Ice Warrior on a submarine” is less obvious but only because it isn’t spelled out in the story-title. (It’s a triple-meaning story-title with the “Cold” meaning the icy sea and the blood of the Martian reptiles as well as the historical phrase).
Speaking of cinematic tradition, Ripley is usually waking up as each of the Alien series begins – Clara’s brief lapse of consciousness is a way to hurry the story along for the 45-minute format. If this had been a Troughton-era Ice Warrior six-parter, then each cliffhanger would perhaps have seen a little more of the monster: its first appearance, its meeting with the Doctor. Emerging from its ice-block makes for a great precredits sequence (the equivalent of “Episode 1”).
The realisation of the Ice Warrior is really rather brilliant, giving the impression that nothing at all has actually changed from its 20 Century television appearances, while really much has as the tufts have disappeared, and the once-fuzzy idea of “creature suited in armour” is sharper and crisper. 2005’s Dalek continues to be a touchstone for Doctor Who as this time Clara is the Clarice to the Lecter monster.
Rather than treat the Ice Warrior as a dusty relic to be wheeled out for nostalgia, what happens next is actually new and exciting, as well as allowing more cinemtatic conventions to be used to ramp up the tension. And tension certainly is ramped up – also, other Doctor Who stories that are often thought of as base under siege don’t have scenes of high-octane action.
One quiet character moment amongst all this is a scene that illuminates the no-nonsense aspect of Clara’s character. Clara is with the Professor (played by the magnificent David Warner) and he suggests singing a song.
This isn’t Pinocchio she says. In contrast to the previous two stories, there is an absence of the Doctor wondering about the mystery of the impossible girl, and this line could be read as an oblique nod perhaps to the “arc” of the series – is Clara a “real girl”, like Pinocchio was wishing to be real?
More action scenes though as again the story echoes the Alien series of films – specifically the ceiling-grab of Brian Glover during Alien 3 and that film’s slinky-fast whoosh of movement for the alien.
As the never-quite-fully-seen alien returns to its armour using sonic tech to call the suit (the Doctor describes that as the “Song of the Ice Warrior”) there are some nicely cinematic images of its bulk striding down the narrow corridors. It’s a beautifully realised “base under siege” with some invigorating twists to the traditional Ice Warrior, however it doesn’t quite reach the heights of brilliance and freshness of the previous two stories.
Earlier, the Doctor and Captain agreed they were both too much the soldier (the Russian could somehow sense the Doctor had been through his own War) to speak to the creature. Doctor Who has a tradition – exemplified by Doctor Who and the Silurians – of preferring jaw jaw to war war. In this story though it’s the Doctor that assumes what would be the role of the Brigadier in the serials of the Third Doctor’s era.
His companion Clara one more shows she is a Doctor Who companion by being the one that attempts to talk their way out the situation – thinking of the shared “humanity” between Ice Warriors and humans.
The “Russians love their children too” as Sting sang two years later.