Doctor Who: Cold War preview - the Ice Warriors' return offers something for both newcomers and fans
Autons, Nestenes, Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, the Master, Davros, Silurians and very soon Zygons... 21st-century Who has made a pretty good fist of bringing last-century baddies back to life. (I’m still holding out for the Meddling Monk – perhaps reincarnated as Ricky Gervais – and Alpha Centauri, a sort of tentacled, timorous willy in a yellow cloak.)
Yet the chances of seeing the Ice Warriors again – Doctor Who’s very own invaders from Mars, absent for four decades – seemed slim. That is, until Mark Gatiss came to their defence.
He’d longed to revive them and says he had to cajole Steven Moffat, who was concerned they epitomised the lumbering, green monsters people can’t take seriously. Well, in a way they do, although that doesn’t gainsay their enduring appeal.
I was too young to see their debut serial The Ice Warriors (1967) but was freaked by The Seeds of Death (1969), loved them when they became the third Doctor’s allies in The Curse of Peladon (1972), and was thrilled when they showed up in a cliffhanger midway through The Monster of Peladon (1974), an otherwise dismal serial and their last appearance.
Now, in Cold War, Mark Gatiss has done an excellent job of rehabilitating the Ice Warrior. For a start, their name: it’s simultaneously a great and silly name. The human scientist who found the first one frozen inside a glacier coined the term “ice warrior” (in 1967) and it stuck. By The Monster of Peladon, the Martians were even using the name about themselves; yes, they were warriors, but they hadn’t visibly been near any ice in centuries.
Mark gives them back their ice. Cold War begins with one frozen inside a block hewn from an Arctic glacier, where he’s lain dormant for five millennia. He thaws out on a Soviet nuclear submarine and turns out to be Grand Marshal Skaldak, an aggressive but proud warrior, properly creepy, with an imposing voice by Nicholas Briggs.
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Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten review
“Something awesome” is what Clara requests for her first trip into space, but is that what she and we, the viewers, receive?
The Time Lord certainly delivers spectacle: the Rings and Pyramid of Akhaten, “seven worlds orbiting the same star, all sharing the belief that life in the universe originated here” – excellent visuals from The Mill (the Soho effects house reportedly closing down soon).
He shows her a marketplace teeming with weird and wonderful alien life – 30-odd new monsters fashioned by Neill Gorton and his team at Millennium FX, as well as a few dopey-looking extras in terrible wigs. So, The Rings of Akhaten offers a sense of place and a lot of local colour – but there isn't much of a story.
If you want to see the Doctor introducing his companion to an array of aliens in an adventure suffused with intrigue, tension and wit, bung on the DVD of The End of the World (2005) or even The Curse of Peladon (1972). If you want to be spooked by an evil Ancient-Egyptian-style god who’s kept inert inside a pyramid, may I refer you to the infinitely superior Pyramids of Mars (1975)? These all had gripping, coherent stories.
The Rings of Akhaten amounts to little more than series of events and has a more preposterous premise than usual. The physics alone are a challenge. How do the inhabitants of Akhaten survive in such proximity to their sun? What about the heat and radiation? And what constitutes the atmosphere among this cluster of asteroids? There seems to be breathable air wherever the Doctor and Clara go.