Monday, 7 December 2015

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Ice Warriors

Varga and Zondal are ssssslippery customers.
Doctor Who - Season Five, Story Three - The Ice Warriors
Written between the 14th and 15th October 2015.

This article would have been a lot more appropriate, I can now say with hindsight, in the Autumn of 2013, when the Ice Warriors returned to our screens in Series 7's Cold War.  Hindsight adds a lot to these Sixties reviews - especially when watching them in such quick succession. The Ice Warriors gained a place in Who folklore for the first, missing appearance of the titular monsters, who would recur in the show until Season 11. As with the Cybermen stories from last month, the missing episodes in this serial have been animated, although unfortunately this is a lot more Youtube Poop and less Infinite Quest.
     The plot follows yet another Base-Under-Siege format, with our base being Brittanicus Base, the stern leader being a bloke called Clent (insert your own rude innuendoes here), the voice of reason is Miss Garratt and the traitor is Peter Sallis' Penley. (Although he comes back.) Set in a far future where Global Dimming (oh, how I miss you) has caused the Earth to enter an early ice age, the Brittanicus Base exists to do some technical mumbo jumbo with lasers in order to prevent glaciers from rolling over the British landmass. On one of their surveys, they uncover a Martian Spacecraft, and the inhabitants, known only as the Ice Warriors, attempt to uncover their ship and fulfil their mission to conquer Earth.
     The story is written by Bryan Hayles, and like Malcolm Hulke's later stories The Silurians and The Sea Devils, the titular Ice Warriors are, despite being alien and aggressive, people worth talking to instead of simply trying to annihilate. There are times where they don't even feel like the villains of the piece - the emotionless Leader Clent is often in a position of antagonism, and the main threat against our characters is the icebergs fast approaching to consume Europe. It's in this where we find the story's main ideological dichotomy - science versus nature, logic versus emotion. Although many characters in the episode are against "science", their anger comes from the fact that in the background of the serial, there is the implication that by this point, the human race is controlled a centralised computer. It's a brilliant concept that doesn't end up skewing one way or another, with the overall message at the end being that a balance must be achieved between computer logic and human intuition. It's a little similar to the themes behind some of this era's Cybermen stories, except here it actually gets mentioned, discussed and thoroughly explored. For once, the six episode runtime feels entirely deserved.
This is ridiculous, if lovingly created.
     The second and third episodes of this serial have still not been returned to the BBC. The two episodes, which are the first to really show the Ice Warriors moving about and doing things, have themselves entered Who Folklore as "important" missing episodes, even going so far as to get a mention in Mark Gattis' comedy sketch The Kidnappers. The episodes were of course animated for the most recent DVD release, with less than brilliant results. The four other animated serials, animated by Cosgrove Hall and Planet 55 , did their best to recreate the shots from the original episode, retaining the subtlties of the original direction and the characters' real expressions. The animation for The Ice Warriors, on the other hands, done by a company called Qurios Entertainment, flattens the action to a 2D plane and has heavily stylised (and somewhat static) designs for each character. It makes certain parts of the episodes incredibly silly, and loses a lot of the atmosphere that the original director so carefully built up.
     Speaking of, the episode's direction and atmosphere is brilliant, tying into the overall theme quite nicely. The icy wastes are very well-made and they feel genuinely desolate, punctuated by a shrill, unearthly wail. And I'm talking about the deliberate one on the soundtrack, not just the increasingly unbearable screams of Victoria Waterfield, who screams at the slightest provocation. She's an unfortunate reflection of a few of the attitudes of this era, like those I discussed during Cybermen Month. Like those serials, there were a few jaw-drop moments - like Jamie leching over the station staff' short skirts, or Victoria's infinitely quotable reaction of "Oh no, not Africa!"
Aaand roll credits. (I need to stop watching CinemaSins.)
     The Ice Warriors is a tight, witty script with very well-developed ideas. The brief of creating an enemy to replace the Daleks didn't really reach fruition here, and they would be back in the show by 1972 until the present day, while to date the Ice Warriors have only ever made four more appearances. It's a shame that the first appearance of the Ice Warriors actually walking about now exists, in its most complete form, as a dodgy animation by the same people who did the sketches on Tracy Beaker, but it does allow the serial to feel a hell of a lot more complete. The Ice Warriors often does a few things here or there which make you gasp at how they got away with it, but they managed to create a very large-scale story on a very small budget, and create a Doctor Who classic which deserves the name.

Thanks

NEXT WEEK: The Doctor and his companions get trapped in the Land of Fiction, in The Mind Robber.

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