The Lost Stories- ‘Thin Ice’
Ace is eager to see Earth in the swinging 60’s but is disappointed to find that the TARDIS has landed in the middle of gloomy Moscow during the Cold War rather than London in its hey day. The Doctor is acting more secretive than usual and appears to be talking to himself. Both the Doctor and Ace are expected and soon become part of a heist of galactic proportions. The KGB is on their tails, an armored motorcycle gang is tracking their every move and a platoon of Ice Warriors is stranded on Earth and desperate to recover a very special lost treasure. Reluctantly, the Doctor removes himself from the action to allow Ace to pass her final test. If she fails, it’s bad news for the time line and for Earth, but the Doctor has faith in her abilities. Is his faith misplaced?
Even though Doctor Who had been cancelled after Survival in 1989, stories for series 27 had been commissioned by Andrew Cartmell and plans were afoot to send off Ace, introduce a new companion and also feature the return an old monster, the Ice Warriors. Strangely, Mission to Magnus by Philip Martin would have also involved the Martians and it too was scrapped back in 1985. Perhaps the Ice Warriors are just bad luck?
Markus Creevy arrives in Moscow, 1967 with a valise full of rock albums and a sly grin. His girlfriend Raina Kerenskaya has been waiting for him and is also playing a vital part in his caper. Not much is known about Creevy’s job or who he is working for, but it is obviously very dangerous. This puts some strain on Raina who must hold back the news that she is pregnant with Markus’ child. The Doctor and Ace stumble about past security checkpoints acting like they know what is going on only to find that Markus is working with a stranded Ice Lord named Hhessh who has hired Creevy to break into a vault containing lost relics of the War Lord Sezhyr, a sword, breast plate and helmet along with several egg-shaped power cells.
The Ice Warriors are more than just blokes in turtle-shaped armor, they are bonded to their armor via cybernetic implants. This means that Sezhyr’s personality and memories are stored within his helm. The KGB have attempted numerous experiments with the technology to no avail, as all subjects experience an explosive change in metabolism.
The heist is a bit of a shambles, but they manage. During a high speed chase through the streets of Moscow and across a frozen river to the safety of the TARDIS, they are ‘rescued’ by an Ice Warrior tractor beam and hauled off into space. Raina is mesmerized by Sezhyr’s helmet and places it over her head only to have her personality lost entirely. Additionally, the change in her metabolism prompts an early child birth. The Doctor is eager to help Raina through her birth and the Ice Warriors in their return to Mars, but is coerced into retreating into his TARDIS, abandoning Ace to the consequences.
Throughout this adventure, the Doctor has psychic conversations with a Time Lord about Ace’s induction into the Academy on Gallifrey. Apparently, all of the tests and developmental treatment of the last two years were to get her ready for her formal education on an alien world. Unfortunately, this demands that the Doctor leave Ace to deal with the situation just as it gets out of control. Now merged with the War Lord’s psyche, Raina becomes Sezhyr and becomes overwhelmed with bloodlust. The Martian Empire is a shambles and she is determined to bring about a revival, starting with the domination of the planet Earth.
Thin Ice (also known as Ice Time) is an enjoyable audio adventure that fits perfectly with the 1989 series. The music, dialogue and characterizations are spot on. Both McCoy and Aldred have slid back into their roles with consummate ease, which cannot be said for many of McCoy’s audios that he shares with Aldred. Ace is a tricky character as she is among a select few companions who actually had an arc. She was being tested by the Doctor for a reason, and the pay off is within Thin Ice, but in the other audios this is side-stepped and Ace just kind of flounders as a character.
In this story, Ace has a much stronger purpose and her interaction with the Doctor reads like an organic extension of what we had already seen in Curse of Fenric, Ghost Light and Survival. Weirdly, the story sidesteps the planned ending of Ace leaving for Gallifrey and instead concludes with an uneasy alliance and more adventures ahead. It’s not as out of the ordinary as I had expected it to be, but given the strong lead in, it feels strange.
The guest cast is incredible, with newcomer Beth Chalmers excelling as Raina/Sezhyr, a part that is daunting to say the least. Ricky Groves is also lots of fun as the London con man Creevy and I look forward to seeing him return in Crime of the Century as an old man. Apparently he was only available for a short period of time and had to record all of his sequences in quick order. But he comes back. Yes, the baby Raine and her father return in the next adventure, set in London of 1998.
The unique idea of introducing the companion as a baby then jumping forward in time to get her on board the TARDIS strikes me as one that Steven Moffat could never pass up (though in that case it would somehow turn out to be River Song or a relative of Amy’s or Rory’s).
There are some sore points to Thin Ice, such as the way the story starts off strong then staggers through parts three and four. The period setting is brilliant and the Ice Warriors are treated very well (though I cannot figure out why they keep eating fish fingers).
There is a tendency to treat the Ice Warriors as stock monsters (Seeds of Death) or as sophisticated aliens that teeter on the edge of becoming Klingons in the ST:TNG vein (Curse of Peladon/Monster of Peladon). This story straddles both options and they come across as real characters who can be deadly monsters. Cool. I hear that the Ice Warriors are due for a return in Matt Smith’s new series and I hope that Nicholas Briggs can be the voice of sanity to Moffat on how to treat them.
The story line of Ace’s test is a bit of a strain and I still cannot figure out the Martian motorcycle gang or how they got from Moscow to London… or what they were doing in either.
This story gets a lot of flack from fans and I very reluctantly purchased the entire series hoping that I was the exception to the rule and could find some redeeming qualities. It’s a mixed experience as I can see why someone would be let down (there was a lot of anticipation of this series) and the result is less than perfect. Even so, it feels like a late 1980’s Doctor Who adventure and that is a good thing.