Doctor Who – The Cold War

The Cold War

dr_who_7_09_lowStory 7.08
Written by Mark Gatiss
Transmitted 13 April 2013

Intending to show Clara Las Vegas (apparently), the Doctor instead lands the TARDIS aboard a Russian submarine just as it is about to sink to the bottom of the ocean. Aboard is a strange find, a creature preserved in ice which Professor Grisenko is intent on investigating. However, the nuclear submarine is also in the midst of standard war-time drills. Adding to the tension, the creature in the ice breaks loose from a 5,000 year nap and is revealed to be an Ice Warrior from the planet Mars. Stuck aboard the craft as the crew struggles to retain control of their vessel, the Doctor must diffuse a hostile situation on several fronts.

Set in 1983, when the United States and Soviet Union were on the edge of mutual nuclear annihilation, The Cold War is . A lifelong Whovian, Mark Gatiss includes a healthy dose nostalgia into his scripts from his childhood as well as Doctor Who’s history. As such, The Cold War hearkens back to the Patrick Troughton era with a claustrophobic base-under-siege setting as well as a classic monster. The Ice Warriors are obscure today, but back in 1968, they were hot stuff. Massive, deadly and imposing, the Ice Warriors make a welcome return in this story which provides a much-needed lift in the season after the previous two duds. The added color of David Warner who hilariously is obsessed with 80’s era Britpop, makes this the most enjoyable story in a long time.

I am a big fan of his, but even I must admit that Gatiss has a spotty record of success with new Who. The Unquiet Dead was great fun, while Idiot’s Lantern, Victory of the Daleks and Night Terrors were letdowns for numerous reasons, mostly due to missed opportunities and ham-fisted tugs at the heart strings. The faceless victims of the Wire were superb, but the face off between father and son too forced, likewise the Daleks were defeated by an android remembering falling in love… and Night Terrors should have been a knock out horror-fest but in the end was an awkward tale about adoption. I’m not sure how or why the other scripts fell through, but I’m glad that in this case he found his footing at last. But I have yet to watch his second Series 7 episode, the Crimson Horror, so hold that thought.

The Cold War has superb lighting, impressive direction and the unique use of models for the first time in ages (making the submarine sequences much more impressive). When I have written about the Ice Warriors in the past I have pointed out that their return would be interesting given that they have been presented in various ways; as straight forward monsters, as cunning soldiers and as noble warriors. This story ingeniously combines all of these approaches, giving Whovians the most fleshed out version of the creatures to date.

Matt Smith is a real gem, isn’t he? Despite the material he is given, he seems to fire on all cylinders each week. Displaying gravity, humor and empathy in 45 minutes can easily make the Doctor appear manic (just look at David Tennant), but Smith pulls this off with ease. It may be that he is a genuine eccentric who is just as easily warm and entertaining as he is strange and other-worldly. It is nice to see new Doctors pitted against old menaces as it places the production crew in the position to pay homage to the past while building toward something new. Smith seems to be channeling the late great Patrick Troughton in appearing to be both wise beyond time and very human in his eccentricities and sympathy.

The Cold War is a nail-biter, a story that is steeped in drama and atmosphere, with just the right amount of surprises and comedic flair to make things interesting. I will admit that I was disappointed to see the Ice Warrior climb out of its armor, but applaud the director for only hinting at what it could look like rather than giving a full on CGi mess (though the floppy head reveal at the end killed the mood).

Clara continues to run on impish charm and cuteness but she is also very brave and determined to stare danger in the face with a similar attitude to the Doctor’s. As thsi review is very late in the season, it has been said that Clara is the ‘perfect’ companion, one that compliments the Doctor in many ways. This is a good approach, but hinges on the revelation of just who she is. She seems to take almost anything the Doctor shows her in stride without much fuss. So… why?

The Cold War gave Doctor Who an opportunity to do something it has not done in quite some time, tell a compelling story with an interesting monster, a great supporting cast and some damned sharp writing. The moment when David Warner starts to connect with Clara and pleads with her for information about the future is superb, made all the better when he asks if Ultravox stayed together.

With the insistence of modern Doctor Who to tell interconnected stories with breadcrumbs leading from week to week last year, it was as wise decision to move in another direction. Sadly, most of this season has relied on the mystery of Clara rather than telling an interesting adventure. This week broke that pattern and for the first time in ages I was reminded that this really is Doctor Who, a program that I enjoy watching.

Cold War had an Appreciation Index, or AI score, of 84.

The Appreciation Index or AI is a measure of how much the audience enjoyed the programme. The score, out of a hundred, is compiled by a specially selected panel of around 5,000 people who go online and rate and comment on programmes.

The score is identical to last week’s Doctor Who and scored higher than most of Saturday’s output. The highest scoring programmes of the day were Casulty with 88, Walking Through History with 85 and Dad’s Army with 89.. (via Doctor Who News)

Overnight ratings from Doctor WhoTV:

Cold War – 5.7 million (overnight) 7.37 million (final figure)
The Rings of Akhaten – 5.5 million (overnight) 7.45 million (final figure)
The Bells of Saint John – 6.18 million (overnight) 8.44 million (final figure)
The Snowmen – 7.6 million (overnight) 9.87 million (final figure)
The Angels Take Manhattan – 5.9 million (overnight) 7.82 million (final figure)
The Power of Three – 5.5 million (overnight) 7.67 million (final figure)
A Town Called Mercy – 6.6 million (overnight) 8.42 million (final figure)
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship – 5.5 million (overnight) 7.57 million (final figure)
Asylum of the Daleks – 6.4 million (overnight) 8.3 million (final figure)

Next time: Hide

One thought on “Doctor Who – The Cold War

  1. I only really had one problem with Cold War… which I can say now that you’ve watched it…

    At the end… the “revelation” that the Tardis has an auto-flee-from-danger feature… that’s fine, the Tardis flies off to keep itself safe… but it is a pretty useless feature unless it also comes back! And the Doctor gets where it is from the sonic screwdriver… seems like he ought to be able to signal the all-clear and ask for it to return too. It’s a dang inconvenient “safety” feature if it then requires him to hitch a ride from the north pole to the south pole once the danger is gone.


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