Doctor Who: Cold War [Review]
In this day and age, these episodes of Doctor Who are the closet we can come to what we could calls “classic” Doctor Who. For this reason, older fans will love this one more than younger or newer fans. Although I could very well be wrong about this, I am by no means a new fan and I would hardly presume to offer an opinion for those young rascals. I have no problem holding this episode up as a modern example of what this crazy show is all about. It absolutely exemplifies the Doctors formula.
We have the TARDIS, lest we forget it is an active character, rarely takes The Doctor where he wants to go, but always takes him where he needs to go. The companion that offers an outsiders perspective, and always manages to find themselves in peril of some sort. Add an ancient or obscure villain, often misunderstood, but still intent on destroying humanity. Now shake that all up, and pour it into an isolated location in the past (or future) and serve.
Now one, and definitely the primary, reasons we have such a terrific “classic” episode here is Mark Gatiss, who wrote this episode. Mark is no stranger to The Doctor, having written several past episodes, as well as a novel or two. Not to forget he has also appeared in at least two episodes, making him I believe the only writer to have also have an on screen presence. His Doctor Who writing credits include “The Unquiet Dead” (2005), “The Idiot’s Lantern” (2006), “Victory of the Daleks” (2010), “Night Terrors” (2011), with “The Crimson Horror” later this season. His name attached to an episode is a definite selling point for me.
In this adventure, the TARDIS delivers The Doctor and Clara to a sinking Soviet submarine in 1983, and they jump out singing “Viva Las Vegas”. On board this submarine is a scientist (of some sort) that has found what is believed to be a mammoth in a block of ice. So they are taking it home to thaw it out, but an ambitious and curious unnamed crewman simply can’t wait and takes a blowtorch to the ice. An arm bursts out of the ice and grabs the sailor by the throat. That is no mammoth arm (I could be wrong; I’m not entirely familiar with frozen mammoth). The Doctor convinces Captain Zhukov (Liam Cunningham – Ser Davos from Game of Thrones) to maneuver the submarine off to the side, landing it safely and preventing it from imploding for now. During this, the TARDIS dematerializes. The Doctor tells the captain and his crew that he and Clara are time travelers (might as well, they won’t believe anything you say so why not try the truth).
They then encounter the Ice Warrior, Grand Marshall Skaldak. The Doctor convinces them that they must be peaceful, but a frightened soldier shocks Skaldak from behind with a cattle prod knocking him out cold. It’s always the some silly solider doing something stupid, honestly. Now according to Martian law, the entire human race has to die, because if you harm one, you harm all, and Skaldak has just called for help. So now, they have to chain Skaldak up and try to talk him out of killing all of humanity. Clara volunteers to talk to him, because technically she is the only one that is not solder and therefore the only one to whom Skaldak will listen. After learning that he has been encased in the ice for 5000 years Skaldak laments the loss of his daughter and his people. Skaldak escapes from his armor, and stops broadcasting the signal to the other Ice Warriors, believing himself to be the only one of his kind left. The Doctor surmises that, thinking himself alone in the universe, Skaldak has nothing left to lose.
Hiding in the dark corners of the submarine, Skaldak manages to grab and kill at least two members of the sub’s crew before the Doctor and Clara catch up to him. After learning of the ongoing Cold War and the mutually assured destruction, Skaldak informs them that he plans to use the submarine’s nuclear missiles to provoke a global thermonuclear war and destroy humanity as revenge for the humans attacking him earlier. Reaching the bridge, he is able to connect himself to the missile launching system. The Doctor, taking a cue from Skaldak, prepares to detonate the entire submarine, to prevent the launch of the missiles (mutually assured destruction, to save humanity). The Doctor’s attempts to persuade Skaldak to show mercy had almost succeeded when the sub is rocked by the impact of a tractor beam from above. The Ice Warriors, answering Skaldak’s distress, have arrived to rescue him. Using their tractor beam, they haul the grounded submarine to the surface. Skaldak is beamed aboard the Ice Warriors spaceship, though the missile launch system is still active.
After some tense moments, Skaldak de-actives the missiles remotely, much to the relief of the Doctor, who would rather not blow himself and his new friends up. This, by the way, serves as a reminder to those that may have forgotten. The Doctor does not save the day, as often as he does. Today, the day was saved by an act of mercy, an act of peace. No final battles, no explosions, everyone just walked away. It’s a good reminder that this is not an American show. It is refreshing to see conflict resolution through negotiation; speaking softly while carrying a big sonic screwdriver.
Oh, and don’t worry about the TARDIS, The Doctor just tinkered with the H.A.D.S. (short for “Hostile Action Displacement System”), it simply relocated itself, to the south pole.
I really enjoyed this one. It was old and new and on a submarine. The typical last minute save seems more incidental than most. The performances were all spot on, and we got a visit from a very old villain. Doctor Who comfort food for your eyes and ears, if eyes and ears could eat, which they can’t, and if Doctor Who was food, which it’s not.