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Mutually Assured Duran Duran: "Doctor Who" -- "Cold War”

By C. Robert Dimitri | TV Reviews | April 17, 2013 | Comments ()


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Following last week's "Rings Of Akhaten," "Cold War" is quite the contrast. We go from the grand interplanetary vistas of an alien star system that purports to hold the origins of all life in the universe to the claustrophobic walls of a submarine trapped at the bottom of the ocean. The focus shifts from the infinite possibilities of what might have been for a life cut tragically short to the much simpler finite duality of living or dying in the moment. Survival is the only goal in this story, and the antagonist is one of the older recurring Doctor Who enemies, an Ice Warrior, back in its first television appearance since the 1970s.

With its limited scope and familiar yet reliable plot beats, "Cold War" did not thrill me beyond the average episode of Doctor Who, but judging from online reception, some of you did not like last week's installment as much as I did, and some of you liked this one much more than I did. There is so much variance in the adventures of our favorite Time Lord that it is of course impossible to please all of us all the time.

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The Doctor and Clara pop in on a 1983 Soviet submarine, armed with a nuclear arsenal and not lacking in its share of the itchy trigger fingers of the day. Captain Zhukov (Liam Cunningham - "Davos" from Game Of Thrones) greets the passengers with suspicion, but Professor Grisenko (David Warner in an entertaining turn lighter than that of his best known stodgy villains) is more receptive to the unusual visitors. The other unintentional stowaway on the submarine is Ice Warrior Skaldak, recently excavated from a five thousand year Arctic Circle slumber. The Russians irk Skaldak by physically subduing him, and Ice Warrior honor cannot allow that sort of aggression to stand without retaliation.

For fans of classic Who, it is fun to see the Ice Warriors back in action. In a new development, Skaldak opts to shed his armor in order to dart about the shadows of the submarine and attack the passengers. Considering the exceedingly slow manner in which the old Ice Warriors lumbered around in that armor, this was a good choice for the faster-paced new Who. Reptilian claws reach out from the corners of the frame, and we are finally given a rewarding glimpse of an Ice Warrior face at the end of the story. They are cuter than you might have expected - certainly cuter than the frequently helmeted and similarly militant Sontarans.

Clara continues to find her "sea legs" as The Doctor's companion. She learns about the TARDIS's translation matrix, which - fortunately for the ears of us viewers - kicks in through our televisions before the TARDIS arrives, allowing the Russians to speak in British-accented English and also operating in spots on the sub where The Doctor and Clara are not present. The Doctor also briefs Clara on the potential of rewriting the future; just because she was alive thirty years later does not mean that civilization as we knew it could not still be destroyed in 1983.

Clara's early dynamic as a companion seems to be an unusual one relative to the ones we have seen before. The other two incarnations of Clara we met were defined by sass and confidence, and this version of Clara has exhibited those qualities as well, but perhaps that attitude was something of a facade. She is eager to please The Doctor, as she frets over whether her questioning of Skaldak was a good enough contribution for a member of the TARDIS crew. In an amusing moment, she willingly stays in one place at The Doctor's behest instead of wandering off, as is the usual companion M.O. She saves her insecurity for conversation with Professor Grisenko, though, instead of sharing it with The Doctor himself. Doubtless she does not want to jeopardize the opportunity for adventures through time and space, but perhaps she also wants to live up to The Doctor's memory of the person (or "persons" - a distinction she does not yet realize) that inspired him to take her aboard, even as she insisted to him that she is her own self and no one else.

The story reaches its climax with Skaldak threatening the Earth by putting his finger on the trigger to launch the submarine's missiles. The Doctor in turn threatens to blow up the submarine himself by way of sonic screwdriver before the missiles can be launched. The stand-off ends when an Ice Warrior ship, having received Skaldak's distress call, arrives to drag the damaged submarine from the ocean depths and transport Skaldak aboard. Skaldak's ultimate choice to be merciful perhaps hints at the more peacefully evolved race that the Ice Warriors would later become when Jon Pertwee's Doctor encountered them centuries later.

For those wondering about Grisenko's inquiry about what the future holds beyond 1983, Ultravox has broken up a couple times over the past few decades, but presently as of 2008 they are officially active. Also, I did not know that "Hungry Like The Wolf" band Duran Duran is officially still active in 2013. I am now curious what those lyrics would sound like in Russian without the TARDIS translation matrix.

Final piece of trivia for you: 6'7" Spencer Wilding was the actor in the Skaldak costume. He also appeared in Doctor Who as the minotaur in "The God Complex" and the Wooden King in "The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe."

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Classic Doctor Who Bonus:

On my viewing schedule for this week was "The Seeds Of Death," the second encounter for Patrick Troughton's Doctor with the Ice Warriors. (The BBC failed to keep the first serial intact.) There is some dated cheesiness in this production and more than the usual amount of suspension of disbelief required, but like much of old Who it falls into the "endearingly cheesy" category instead of the "eye-rollingly cheesy" variety.

Set in the late 21st century, "The Seeds Of Death" gives us an Earth that has become reliant on "T-Mat" technology. It's like the telepods from The Fly have been successfully implemented as an industry to transport matter all around the Earth and between the Earth and the Moon. Reliance on this advancement, which is limited to that Earth-Moon range, has left rocket travel to fall into stagnation as a mere museum exhibit. Humans are complacent to stay put for the time being.

The Ice Warriors hijack the Moon T-Mat station and attempt to take over the Earth by way of an oxygen-depleting fungus that they will transmit to the various T-Mat stations on Earth.

Highlights include a Patrick Troughton running montage in episode three and the cool sound effect used for the Ice Warrior sonic weaponry. This is one of those rare instances in which The Doctor takes up arms, as to outduel them The Doctor invents his own solar-heat gun that he himself uses to kill some of the Ice Warriors. Also notable is the fact that The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe take a rocket ride from the Earth to the Moon, because the TARDIS is too unreliable for such a short trip. The modern Doctor has his occasional missteps in targeting time and place, but in those days the adventuring was much more random in nature, as evidenced by the fact that The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe duck out at the end without saying goodbye, leaving the Earthlings to debate the merits of T-Mat.

This isn't the best of classic Who, but our surviving Troughton installments are limited, and as a slice of 60s science-fiction vision and Doctor Who lore, this one is worth checking out, if you have the patience for a six-parter and a hankering for nostalgia.

C. Robert Dimitri had a cynical outlook in the 1980s at the height of the Cold War. His mother had a bumper sticker with the motto "One nuclear bomb can ruin your whole day." He once told a friend on the playground that it didn't matter if Reagan or Mondale won; we were all doomed to nuclear armageddon. It wasn't long after that he saw Doctor Who for the first time. Optimism - or at least occasional optimism - followed.



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  • St

    I don’t know how it happened. But it’s 3-rd episode with new companion and I’m so bored from Doctor Who I could just stop watching. I juts don’t care about storied and want to FastForward boring part almost every minute. And I was waiting for every new Doctor episode for the past two years.

    I liked Rory, I wasn’t big fan of Amy (she was annoying), but at least all those stories were interesting to watch. With Clara? No. She is pretty girl with golden heart and she is boring as hell. They tried to make her more interesting by creating some “who is she” stories but they could not succeed. She still looks one dimensional. She has pretty face. It’s nice to look at. But she is not interesting.

  • Drake

    For 2 weeks in a row now, I've been left with something less that meh feelings about an episode. Damn, I hope that I didn't accidentally outgrow it.

  • bleujayone

    Yep, It's me again.....

    1. I have a feeling that Cold War was originally supposed to be the first adventure for Clara out and around in the TARDIS after the "Bells of St. John". She not only is suddenly still marveling at the TARDIS's ability to translate for her, but she's still unsure about the Doctor. It would seem to me the Doctor would take her for a short jump from London to Vegas (as she said she wanted to see the world) as her first trip. This actually would not be the first time they put NuWho stories in an order different from originally intended. Which leads to...

    2. If Clara's last adventure featured her on an alien planet surrounded by all sorts of new races and she can understand most of them (save perhaps the "barking" alien), then she really shouldn't be surprised about how she can now understand Russian and vice-verse and she really should be as shocked as she is about encountering yet another alien race. Both should have been old hat by this point.

    3. Would it have killed them to give the Soviet sub crew just a slight Russian accent? Also, it would have been kind of nice if before the TARDIS showed up, if we only heard Russian with subtitles from the crew save for the moment where David Warner is singing Ultravox (also with a slight accent) then have them go to Russian accented English after the TARDIS arrives.

    4. Once again Moffat is going to the Patrick Troughton era well for another feature, and I'm not talking about the Ice Warrior. I'm talking about the one-off H.A.D.S. feature on the TARDIS. Basically, the TARDIS senses danger and runs away- whether its crew is aboard or not. Really stupid feature when you consider that the TARDIS is all but indestructible and its crew is rather delicate. Having the Doctor and his companions play Keep Away with their only ride and protection was a stupid feature the first time around and in fact even some of the most hardened Who fans would just as soon forget it. I cannot imagine why the Doctor would want to even try to bring back a feature where his only means of escape would bugger out without him at the very whiff of danger. EVERY trip has danger! It's not much fun if the Mystery Machine has the bravery level of Scooby and Shaggy.

    5. In terms of practical effects, the Ice Warrior upgrade was kind of great. It made it seem far more reptilian in a suit of armor and less like a clumsy, rotund monster from before. Now it looked intimidating. I even liked the idea of it jumping out of it's armor and having hands closer to "War of the Worlds" than giant Lego Man the armor would otherwise suggest. On the other hand, I hated the CGI. The head animation was completely unnecessary. It could have been achieved better in practical make-up as we didn't see enough of him outside the armor to have to be married to a CGI animation.

    6. Anyone else think Predator whenever the crew was looking for the naked Ice Warrior? Even down to the vocal clicking. I still didn't appreciate the sub crew wandering around the sub like timid kids in a slasher movie. It's a military vessel, act like you're soldiers and you're defending your ship.

    7. They wasted a good opportunity at a good in-joke. The shadow in the ice was clearly humanoid so I don't know where they decided it might be a mammoth. They would have been better off say "We thought it might be a Yeti.", at which point the Doctor could have quipped, "Wrong again!" C'mon, that's even a Second Doctor reference for crying out loud!

    8. Just why exactly was a peon crewman trying to blowtorch the ice just to see whatever it was frozen in the ice. Such an act would get anyone put in irons in any navy, and I just can't picture someone in the Soviet Navy daring such insubordination. It would have been just as well if it accidentally melted on its own.

    9. Just how many people were killed on the sub if they only had about 12 crewman left near the end? Subs of that size must have had a crew size of 150. Did most of them drown when the sub was going down? Did Skaldak kill them all? Were they just sealed off and stuck in separate sections?

    10. If the sub is that badly banged up and depleted of its crew, I hope the Doctor was only kidding when he was asking for a lift to the South Pole. It will be curious if the next episode just opens up with the Doctor and Clara already back in the TARDIS as though traveling to the other end of the planet and trudging across a frozen continent is no big thing.

    11. Interesting that this story takes place at about the same time as the 20th anniversary of Doctor Who. I don't know if that was deliberate or not, but there's a Fifth Doctor story, "Warriors of the Deep" featuring at the time a revival of the Silurians and Sea Devils as they lay siege to an undersea nuclear missile base in 2183 where they decided to launch the missiles and start a war against the humans wishes. It's a similar theme with a slightly more tragic ending in that everyone on both sides died but the nuclear holocaust was averted.

  • Morgan_LaFai

    You make a most compelling argument, and I am inclined to agree with you on most of your points. The only difference is that I felt a much more Alien than Predator vibe both from the alien and from the episode.

  • Jo 'Mama' Besser

    The blowtorch, I KNOW!!! Geez. I can see a martian terrorizing a submarine crew if it was released through some found vodka, but this?

  • BWeaves

    Yes, especially about the TARDIS translation issues, and HADS.

  • JenVegas

    This was an OK episode for me but I sort of felt like they cribbed most of it from that Angel episode where we saw flashbacks of him and Spike stuck on that WWII sub.

  • meadowdancer

    I really didn't care for this one at all. I do have to say I love Clara more than the previous companions except for Donna. Donna always rocked.

  • BWeaves

    It's nice to see a classic Who alien that isn't a Dalek or Cyberman, but I'm getting tired of the "I'm the last of my kind" story lines. I'm glad it didn't end like that. And it was nice to see that Skaldak only killed in response to be tortured.

    I wish the writers would get together and agree on the rules, or at least stick to the ones already created.

    Either the Doctor can fly the TARDIS or he can't. He can't pinpoint land the TARDIS on a crashing plane in one episode, and then miss Las Vegas by thousands of miles and a few hundred feet of sea level in the next one. Make up your mind.

    Either the TARDIS translates for you or it doesn't. In the last episode, the TARDIS wouldn't translate for Clara and she was right next to it. In this episode, the TARDIS is thousands of miles away at the South Pole and yet it was translating Russian and Ice Warrior for everyone. Make up your mind.

    I love Doctor Who, but so far, this season is leaving me a bit cold. (Oh, I did love the Cold War vs. Ice Warrior theme. That was cute idea.)

  • DataAngel

    The Doctor CAN fly the TARDIS with perfect accuracy. It's just that she doesn't always take him where he wants to go; she takes him to where he needs to go.

  • BWeaves

    Hum, except, as bluejayone said, " one-off H.A.D.S. feature on the TARDIS. Basically, the TARDIS senses danger and runs away- whether its crew is aboard or not." So, why would the TARDIS go somewhere it doesn't want to be only to leave the Doctor behind? That just doesn't make sense to me. Either the Doctor steered wrong and the TARDIS ran away, or the TARDIS took them there, in which case the TARDIS should have had the balls to hang around and get the Doctor back out of there.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    The Doctor had recently changed the HADS settings, though. It's probable that the TARDIS isn't completely independent and, while it may well be capable of taking the Doctor where he needs to be, is not actually able to override those HADS controls.

    Alternatively, needing to have the Doctor somewhere doesn't mean the TARDIS needs to be hanging out, vulnerable to Russian and Ice Warrior attempts to take it. She trusts him enough to sort things out and then come find her.

  • DataAngel

    Also, with the TARDIS there, there would have been no episode. "Oh, randomly woken Ice Warrior and a sinking sub? Everyone aboard! I'll get us all out of here safely." Total running time, 5 minutes.

    Although if they HAD done that and then ended up in another place, with another adventure, with a bunch of confused Russians... that coulda been awesome.

  • bleujayone

    Could have just as easily had the TARDIS land in a different part of the sub and then rendered it inaccessible when that section got flooded and sealed off to prevent the sub from imploding. See? The Doctor would still be cut off from his beloved timeship and the story would have to procede the same way. Plus, after the sub was brought back to the surface you could have the flooded/sealed section drained off camera without resorting to long-dead plot twists or hitchiking to the South Pole.

  • DataAngel

    They already did that one too, though. 10th Doctor.

  • BWeaves

    That's true. I forgot that. But they often show the Doctor not knowing how to fly the TARDIS. I remember episodes with Romana the first chastising Tom Baker for not reading the TARDIS manual, and also with River Song telling the Doctor he always leaves the parking brake on.

  • DataAngel

    He likes that sound!

  • TraceAndM

    I was always under the impression that while he can fly the TARDIS reasonably well, it also has a mind of its own which influenced the landing. Although it is jarring when these abilities are only a few episodes apart.

  • supergwarr

    ok I am just going to throw this
    out there. what if Clara is a new incarnation of the master. What if why she
    appears in so many timelines and different locations is because she is a time
    lord and doesn’t know it. Thoughts?

  • BWeaves

    If she keeps dying, she would regenerate with a different face but keep her memories. Clara is the exact opposite of that. Same face, no memories.

  • Tinkerville

    I find the fact that she's virtually the exact opposite very curious. I wonder if it's intentional that she's different from a Timelord in that way or if it's pure coincidence and the answer to her mystery is something else entirely.

  • toblerone

    Loved this episode, not as much as Asylum or the Christmas special but it is a close third. It was funny seeing Tobias Menzies as Lieutenant Stepashin on Saturday then Edmure Tully on Sunday.

    Thanks for the review.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    I really enjoyed the Christmas episode and that got miserable reviews. This and the last episode got fairly good reviews and I didn't really care for either one. Although I liked Clara a good deal more in this episode than the last since she didn't come across as unbearably and aggressively "look how cute I am!"

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