Reviews Cold War 3

Published on April 15th, 2013 | by Philip Bates

Cold War

Contains spoilers. So watch Cold War first – deal?

Viva Las Vegas!

A submarine plummets to the depths, water cascading in from all angles. The nuclear warheads are armed. Something that’s been asleep for 5,000 years is waking up. And suddenly a bright blue box materialises out of thin air. Not Vegas then…

Cold War 6

The Ice Warriors are finally back. It’s taken them nearly 40 years, but it’s so good to see their reptilian hides once more.

That’s the main reason why Cold War will be remembered so fondly for so many years to come, but it’s definitely not the sole reason. I’m quite happy to proclaim Cold War Mark Gatiss’ best Doctor Who script – it even rivals his magnificent Sherlock episode, The Hounds of Baskerville. It’s the quintessential ‘base-under-siege’ story, up there with the best Troughton-era serials.

Ignoring the marvellous Grand Marshall Skaldak for the minute (he won’t be happy about that), Gatiss’ fifth TV script gets the setting just right – in both time and space. The submarine feels isolated and claustrophobic, teetering on the edge of destruction consistently, as does the entire world in 1983. Arguably, the world has never felt to perilously close to the end; it all just hinges on the press of a button.

Cold War 4

We’re introduced to this scary world straight away and the rug is pulled out from under us throughout the tale. It really feels like anything could happen – and we trust that the Doctor will do anything to stop Skaldak from releasing those warheads.

The Firebird is a perfect microcosm for the cold war, in fact, highlighted by the stalemate between the Doctor and Skaldak at the story’s conclusion, and Gatiss expatiates the tense atmosphere for all its worth.

Cold War 8

Cold War is as tense, scary and grisly as Doctor Who gets. The whole situation seems hopeless and the ideas on show are so macabre, they have to be hidden from view: we never actually see a victim of Skaldak entirely because it belongs more in horror stories than teatime viewing.

But that’s what Gatiss has always done right. He loves horror and knows that implied scares are far more effective than a grand exhibition. It’s significant, too, that we never really see the Grand Marshall fully. We see horrific glimpses, sure, but much is left to the imagination.

Cold War 1

Cold War also takes the brave step of taking the Warrior out of its armour. It’s interesting to note that showrunner, Steven Moffat, felt that the Martian race were just too stereotypically-maladroit to pose a real threat in 2013 Who, so for much of the tale, the lumbering ‘shell suit’ is sidelined. That’s not to say it isn’t a substantial threat. I love its tank-like, impregnable persistence.

Personally, I would’ve preferred not seeing Skaldak’s face entirely – squinting through the shadows was immensely powerful regardless – but I can understand the need to break new ground and give the audience what we’ve been promised. Was anyone else reminded of Androvax the Veil from The Sarah Jane Adventures…?

Cold War 7

Tobias Menzies’ last scene as Lieutenant Stephashin was incredible creepy and brilliantly set up the idea of the Ice Warriors’ hands wrapping around you. You could almost feel it – from behind the settee admittedly.

The whole cast give excellently fleshed-out performances too, reflecting their tense surroundings well, but it would be a crime to gloss over two guest actors in particular. Liam Cunningham’s Captain Zhukov was very well-rounded; very much a man torn between what his country (and second-in-charge) dictates and what he knows he should do. You can see why Matt Smith ranks him as one of his favourite actors.

Cold War 5

David Warner, too, has magnificent range. I hadn’t much exposure to him before, but comparing his role in Mad Dogs to Professor Grisenko shows why he’s one of the most sought-after stars. He provides the warmth of the tale and subverts all expectations. Who’d have thought a Soviet scientist would be so keen on Ultravox? It’s a testament to Doctor Who’s appeal that a single episode garners such an outstanding and esteemed cast.

Needless to say, Matt Smith is blindingly good. I really hope he stays forever.


Jenna-Louise Coleman is hitting the ball out of the park as Clara. She’s an increasingly interesting character: she wants to be the Doctor’s equal – and so she has to prove herself, looking for reassurance from the Time Lord and then Grisenko. When she talked the Doctor into letting her talk to the big, bad monster, I was reminded of Vampires of Venice (2010) where Amy has to do similar. It’s a boundary that the companion has to help the Doctor cross – and one you know won’t end well.

(But does Clara really find it so hard to believe a song will sooth their troubles given what she’s seen in Akhaten? Maybe this shows just how scared she is…)

It also occurred to me that the plot of the TARDIS not liking Clara would be picked up again and that’s why it dematerialised at the show’s beginning. But I still loved Gatiss’ knowing wink at fandom when it turned out to be down to the HADS. I wonder if any casual viewers felt cheated by this though…

Cold War 9

The pace of Cold War is unrelenting and brilliant, really taking advantage of its 40-odd minute runtime by layering on menace even in the small, personal moments. The opening ten minutes is break-neck and even when Clara is knocked out, it’s gritty and cinematic, while skipping over all that messy ‘who the devil are you’ business.

Director, Douglas Mackinnon, must be applauded for the breath-taking visuals, playing on all the classic base-under-siege traits as well as the typical horror scenarios. Cold War contrasts to his other Doctor Who efforts, The Sontaran Stratagem/ The Poison Sky and The Power of Three, but is even more memorable with a recognisable and distinguished colour-palette.

Ice Warrior ship

Some may have felt a little let-down by the ending, in which Skaldak is saved by his own people and so lets the Firebird crew go, but it leaves the audience with the impression that this is not over yet. Because the Ice Warriors are back – and don’t you forget it. Which was the whole point really, wasn’t it?

Not Vegas then… but this was much better!


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About the Author


When he’s not watching television, reading books ‘n’ Marvel comics, listening to The Killers, and obsessing over script ideas, Philip Bates pretends to be a freelance writer. He enjoys collecting everything.

9 Responses to Cold War

  1. avatar Anthony says:

    Great episode – really enjoyed it.
    Does anyone else thing the Ice Warriors may be related to the Silurians? the head shape seemed similar, and having 2 reptile races on neighbouring planets seems a bit of a coincidence…..

  2. avatar David F says:

    Definitely the Gatiss script that has worked the best. Benefited from great direction and design in a way The Idiot’s Lantern, say, didn’t (and I wonder how much of that episode’s awfulness is down to its clod-handed visual style). His dialogue is still weirdly mundane, with conversational cliches given undue emphasis, but in some ways it was a relief after last week’s unrestrained storm of cod philosophy.

    The Ice Warrior was magnificent, and I’ll certainly watch this episode many times in the future. A bit concerned by Clara, though. Coleman’s tone of slightly aloof sarcasm is already starting to wear thin. The episode demands something more intense, and her unimpressed detachment undermines the crucial claustrophobic effect.

  3. avatar gavinio says:

    Best episode since Asylum of the Daleks, certainly a big improvement on the snoozefest of the previous week. Hope the Ice Warriors come back en masse in a future episode because this is possibly the best use of a classic Who monster since the series return, aside from a couple of Dalek stories.

  4. avatar Howard Railton says:

    They’ve replaced the Ice Warriors with a head and arms that don’t look remotely like they belong inside the Ice Warrior suit. In fact, making it a ‘suit’ instead of part of them negates what previous production teams and their creating writer have done before. I felt this episode showed how great the Ice Warriors were only to then dismantle them and turn them into nothing very convincing.

    The cast were all good/strong though and the tall actor in the ‘suit’ especially deserves credit. It’s that dire head and funny, totally unconvincing fingers/arms that are the killer for me. Making the Ice Warriors a suit rather than a living part of the Martian denigrates the concept.

    What do you get when you’ve revealed what’s beneath the mask? A poorer CGI mask of a totally different head.

    Now the Ice Warriors feel no different than Daleks or Cybermen, there were enough trick ponies out there already without making the Ice Warriors into another.

    • avatar Paul says:

      Everyone has their opinion, which is fine, but let me just point out a factual error. The Ice Warriors, from the very beginning, were creatures in suits. The suits as originally envisaged were much more like standard SF fare (a bit cybermany, one might even say). The genius of the designer was to make them more organic. (You can find confirmation of this in the current issue of Doctor Who Magazine, if you care to, which covers the first Ice Warrior story).

  5. avatar Coopergreg says:

    Loved the episode a lot, a million times better than the very disappointing Rings last week.

    I think it has always been hinted to that the shell and helmet were ‘armour’, but agree that it would have been better keeping the ‘naked’ Skaldak in the shadows. The full view of his head at the end was a bit disappointing and generic – maybe a prosthetic on the actors face would have been a better option?

    Overall though it was great!

  6. avatar John says:

    This was poorly written.

    The flaws in the plot were legion. I mean really, a space ship turns up to whisk away the problem in the nick of time??? Why, if Skaldak has an impregnable suit that can break out of chains, doesn’t he just get on with it? The influences are too movie based and not enough Brian Hayles. It rips off Predator the most with those silly chicken hands that dont look remotely like something that would be inside the old and far superior Ice Warrior design. The whole purpose of the episode seemed to be to jettison the Ice Warriors as we’ve always known them since Moffat did an interview saying the Ice Warriors were ‘rubbish’ and clearly loathes them. But what replaces them is actually far more rubbish than anything done in the 60s/70s. Now the Ice Warriors we’ve all known and many have found to be one of the all time great Dr Who monsters has been reduced to nothing more than an unlikely robot.

    This treatment kills the Ice Warriors and is a sad day for Dr Who fans.

    • These are interesting ideas you have, but you really need to expand on your argument that “this was poorly written” rather than embark on what is little more than a rant.

      “what replaces them is actually far more rubbish than anything done in the 60s/70s” – says you. But why do you say this?

      Come on, if you’re going to be negative, actually have a reason for doing so rather than just being a stick in the mud.

    • avatar Philip Bates says:

      To be fair to you, it did also occur to me that Skaldak’s suit could break the chains near the end, so why not at the beginning. I presume it was because he was desperate and figured guerilla warfare was a better option. Plus, he believes all his kin are dead, so where’s the honour in just staying in the suit? Might as well get revenge.

      Or! Better idea! He knew the cattle prod affected the suit so decided to ditch it until he’d culled much of the crew. He’d be a harder target as skinny, freaky alien than tank-like onslaught.

      I don’t think Moffat loathes the Ice Warriors. Or else, he wouldn’t have let Gatiss bring them back.

      Also, as previously noted in the comments, the Ice Warriors were envisioned as cyborgs but the design team took a different route. I think it’s been hinted that they’re part cyborg anyway, as their guns were part of them/their suits.

      Each to their own. :)

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