Elton Townend Jones reviews the new reconstructed DVD release of classic Doctor Who serial The Ice Warriors, out this week…
Let’s get a few things cleared up from the outset. All Doctor Who is brilliant. All Doctor Who deserves to be loved and enjoyed and adored. Any new Doctor Who needs to be embraced, and any old Doctor Who that we once thought lost deserves to be given a new lease of life that we might enjoy it all over again, praising it and covering it with petals of joy. Doctor Who is the best thing on telly, the best thing in the world, the most amazing thing ever; that a randomly formed universe could come up with Doctor Who and then come up with me so that I could enjoy it in my own lifetime still astonishes me.
So we’re agreed? Doctor Who is ace. I say all this because it gets boring when people respond to a critical view of a bit of Doctor Who with uncritical reasoning. This is going to happen with this DVD review. You’re dying to see The Ice Warriors, you see, and you’re dying to enjoy those two ‘lost’ episodes that have been turned into cartoons to make your enjoyment of them much easier. I am, too. Thing is, though, relative to the rest of Doctor Who, I don’t really like The Ice Warriors much.
I never saw it on first transmission – too young – but when I had the Target book, I found it dull, plodding and laborious (in spite of an amazing Chris Achilleos cover). I always guiltily felt that I should like it – it is after all the first ‘Martian’ story – but it just didn’t grip me. As the years passed by, I finally saw the Peladon stories and then The Seeds of Death – all quite enjoyable, but I realised I wasn’t that thrilled by the scaly green men from Mars. Eventually, they came to life for me in the New Adventures books, so I found myself re-appraising them and hoping one day to see their debut story.
When the VHS of The Ice Warriors finally arrived in 1998 (in a lovely box with a book, and a CD of the missing episodes), I was delighted. I loved that video and watched it several times in one sitting. It seemed like a great story, Peter Sallis was fab, the linking telesnap edit for the ‘lost in all but audio’ Two and Three was beautifully done (I still tingle when Victoria stops being a photograph and starts to move at the end of Three) but most of all the eponymous villains looked amazing. The Ice Warriors became my favourite Patrick Troughton story for many years.
Hm. Well, I watched The Ice Warriors again last year and felt very disappointed. The novelty of seeing the original Martians with their weird mouths and their tendency to cogitate whilst huddling their heads into their carapaces had worn off. Peter Sallis was still good, and there was still some lovely filmed stuff with Victoria (Deborah Watling) trapped by Martians in the ice tunnels, but the story really did plod.
Brian Hayles was responsible for the equally plot-thin The Celestial Toymaker and his second script for the series, while full of great characters and innovative ideas (a plant museum, a city in a dome, a science base in an Edwardian mansion) isn’t a patch on his later, much funnier, warm and genuinely thrilling The Seeds of Death. Though that might simply be that Seeds’ director Michael Ferguson is one of the series’ best and stands head and shoulders above even this tale’s director, Derek Martinus.
It did occur to me that because I was re-watching the whole series in transmission order that maybe the ‘base-under-siege’ formula was already wearing thin by the time we got to The Ice Warriors, but this story actually comes early in that era, and none of the other stories around it had bored me quite so much. And I felt the same watching this preview DVD – I felt impatient.
What it boils down to is that The Ice Warriors has too many episodes for the amount of story at its disposal. It’s just too long. Some stories, whether you watch them episodically or in one sitting – like The War Games or The Ambassadors of Death – have enough story and, perhaps more importantly, enough lightness of touch to carry you smiling to the end without undue pain. The Ice Warriors is, undoubtedly lovely in places – in acting and design if not in atmosphere – but it outstays its welcome.
The addition of animated episodes Two and Three to this release is a lovely and welcome thing that shouldn’t be scoffed at. But while the artwork is an improvement on The Reign of Terror, this is not The Invasion. In fairness, the budget on these DVD cartoons is tiny, but they are, quite simply and unavoidably, the Thunderbirds equivalent of animation – puppet-like bodies and puppet-like mouths and eyes that jig about awkwardly and pay very little courtesy to the original production. A telesnap reconstruction would have been the more effective way of delivering these episodes. And then there’s that issue of story length. Do the cartoons add anything to the DVD that the VHS didn’t have? Well, yes, they add about 35 minutes – to something that already seemed too long.
[pullquote align=right]What it boils down to is that The Ice Warriors is just too long. Some stories have enough to carry you smiling to the end. The Ice Warriors outstays its welcome.[/pullquote]But there’s lots to enjoy in The Ice Warriors if you’ve never seen it before, as I should know: stylish set and costume design, great acting, ice warriors with hair, Troughton being silly (and fluffing his lines), some eerie music, and even a polystyrene computer.
In terms of DVD Extras, there’s a lively commentary featuring Deborah Watling and Frazer Hines – who is always good value and thoroughly entertaining. The second episode features a fascinating mix of archive recordings from various ‘lost’ voices, and the third features a commentary from Patrick’s son, Michael Troughton. These are the real highlights of these discs.
For those like me who might want to speed up the viewing experience, the lovingly crafted VHS telesnap links are also included. The documentaries ‘Cold Fusion’ and ‘Beneath the Ice’ are enjoyable if a little thin. Best of all is a delightful selection of Blue Peter clips detailing various stages of their Design-A-Monster competition, and the second part of Frazer Hines’ ‘Doctor Who Stories’ interview – which twinkles and sparkles throughout.
The Ice Warriors is probably over-rated, and clearly not my favourite Doctor Who story, but I’ll keep on watching it, because all Doctor Who is brilliant. This double-disc set is a ‘must-have’ for any serious fan of the Troughton years.
Out on Monday, August 26, 2013, The Ice Warriors double disc DVD can be ordered from Amazon for just £13.97!