Sunday, 14 April 2013

Review - "Cold War"


I was very much looking forward to "Cold War" - even though I've found Mark Gatiss' previous episodes to be a bit hit and miss.  With the possible exception of "The Unquiet Dead", Gatiss' episodes seem to have good moments within a very inconsistent 45 minutes.  "Cold War" however, if I can be forgiven for using an American expression, "knocked it out of the ballpark".  It was simple, elegant, dignified and, dare I say it, "classic".

"Cold War" was very much akin to those old "base under siege" stories we all loved such as "Ark in Space" or "Tomb of the Cybermen" - it borrowed elements from "The Thing", "Alien" and even that old horror classic, "Horror Express".  This is precisely why the Hinchcliffe era of "Doctor Who" was so successful - the borrowing of themes and ideas from horror, mythology etc and putting a very creepy "Doctor Who" slant on them.  "Cold War" shows that this isn't such an out of date idea as some may think.


The pre-credits sequence establishes very quickly that we're on board a Russian submarine during the Cold War - and that something nasty in the ice has just broken free.  No need for any long winded explanations or scene setting - it was like "this is where you are now brace yourself".  This is very much a strength of the episode - you're immersed in the action right away and there's not much let up.  Of course, what we were all looking forward to was seeing an Ice Warrior in action for the first time since 1974 - and it was beautiful.  From breaking out of the ice and strangling that poor unfortunate in the pre-credits sequence to the rather neat little resolution, Grand Marshall Skaldak stomped his way through the episode in true Ice Warrior fashion.  Well...to an extent anyway.  The "upgrade" of the Ice Warriors - with the "creature" inside the armour shell - worked brilliantly.  It could have been bad and, when rumours abounded prior to the screening of the episode that something would "emerge" from the shell, it was assumed it simply wouldn't work.  Never assume - because the Warrior inside the shell was fast, creepy and downright nasty.  It didn't undermine previous stories - in fact, it's rather enhanced them.  I look forward to going back and rewatching the "Peladon" stories with the knowledge of what's actually inside that shell.



As with those previous stories, the Ice Warrior wasn't actually an out and out villain - and those are the more interesting types of "monsters".  Grand Marshall Skaldak was an honourable and dignified Ice Warrior - he had a code and standards.  Having been asleep for 5000 years, believing he's the last of his kind, woken up and attacked...you could hardly blame him for going on a bit of a rampage.  On the other hand, you have Captain Zhukov, the Russian submarine commander, willing to do anything to protect the world - "we are expendable, comrades...our world is not" - with his own code of honour.  And honour was at the heart of this story.  Here you have two honourable leaders trying to find a resolution so both sides can walk away with dignity.

The Doctor and Clara were caught in the middle - trying to ease the path between both sides.  The Doctor's wariness and respect for the Ice Warriors was right at the forefront - he's willing to negotiate but wants Skaldak locked up first.  Crucially, this is why the Doctor needs someone like Clara.  The Doctor sees Skaldak as the leader of his race, a "representative" of the Ice Warriors - Clara, on the other hand, sees him as a person...a father - and appeals to that aspect of him.  It is Clara's words that convince Skaldak at the end - not the Doctor's threat to blow up the submarine.  The "don't be alone, Doctor" message has been hammered home to us recently - and it's believed the Doctor needs someone with him so he won't sink into darkness and depression - but I think it's also because the Doctor sees the bigger picture and sometimes he needs someone there to appreciate the small things, the individual and not the race.  Clara is fitting that bill perfectly.


This was also the episode where Clara started to realise what travelling with the Doctor means - "it's all got very ... real" - but it didn't stop her.  She's certainly more willing to follow the Doctor's instructions than Amy was - and the Doctor's reaction when he told her to stay put and she actually did was priceless.  She's not a cypher though - she's less wary of the Doctor than she was in "The Rings of Akhaten" and still lacks a bit of confidence (which, in itself is rather refreshing) - witness her willingness to go in and talk to Skaldak and the extremely nervous way she did it.

For an action story, the characters were extremely well drawn.  Grand Marshall Skaldak and Captain Zhukov aside, there was also Professor Grisenko...the Ultravox and Duran Duran loving scientist who reminded you very much of the Doctor himself.  Irascible yet compassionate he had some lovely scenes.  From the amusing - the only thing he wanted to know about the future was whether Ultravox split up - to the awesome - pulling a gun on Skaldak when he grabs Clara - he is a truly wonderful character.  Kudos to Liam Cunningham who played Zhukov with honour and dignity and David Warner for his "Doctor-ish" Grisenko.


Matt Smith - well once again we got a superb performance and the Doctor's look of horror when hearing Skaldak's name was beautifully done.  Jenna-Louise Coleman was also superb - the nervousness when talking to Skaldak, the realisation that travelling with the Doctor wasn't all fun and games and appealing to Skaldak at the end were the highlights.  Matt and Jenna have great chemistry - they really do work together extremely well.

So, well done, Mr Gatiss.  Best episode of "Doctor Who" you've written to date - and directed beautifully in what were obviously difficult conditions by Douglas Mackinnon.  Thank you for bringing the Ice Warriors back in such epic fashion.

Notes:

The Doctor carries a Barbie doll around with him?

The "red setting" on the Sonic - River's sonic had a red setting and dampers that allowed it to work without interference from Doctor Moon.

"Hungry like the Wolf" by Duran Duran - the lyrics do suggest a stalking motive ... and is there a link between the song and the Doctor investigating Clara's past?

HADS - the Hostile Action Displacement System - very much a product of the Troughton era and, as it's Anniversary year, we're getting some Classic Who nods.  And why not?

Episode Rating - 10/10 - because it was simple, effective, beautiful, honourable and classic.