Cold War

15-episode set
Region A/1
15-episode set
Region B/2
Standard DVD
8-episode volume

See below for purchasing options
(Doctor Who Story No. 239, starring Matt Smith)
  • written by Mark Gatiss
  • directed by Douglas MacKinnon
  • produced by Marcus Wilson
  • music by Murray Gold
  • 1 episode @ 43 minutes
Story: A scientist (David Warner) on a Russian nuclear submarine has discovered a mysterious warrior frozen in the arctic ice in 1983, one that is now coming back to life. Will this creature be even more deadly outside of its armour than within? Does it subscribe to the nobler philosophies of Martian society, or will this be an all-out battle to prevent a nuclear holocaust on Earth?

DVD Extras for this story on the 15-episode box sets include:

  • Audio commentary by writer Mark Gatiss, visual effects supervisor Murray Barber, and visual effects producer Jenna Powell.
  • Behind the Scenes featurette (4 min.) with Gatiss, Matt Smith (The Doctor), Jenna-Louise Coleman (Clara Oswald),
    director Douglas MacKinnon, and executive producers Steven Moffat and Caroline Skinner.

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the program.
To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide to the season instead.


This story successfully differentiates itself from what has come before it this season by focusing on different traditional elements of Doctor Who and sci-fi in general. Though it does at times have difficulty projecting a sense that it is going somewhere interesting, it does deliver a good story in the end that seems to work better with repeat viewing, and it is one of the better, more memorable adventures of the year.


The overall story structure is much more traditional than we've been getting this year, which has its pros and cons. Amongst the pros is the fact that the Doctor and Clara's arrival in the TARDIS follows a classic pattern and a fully featured materialization, and the viewer can decide for themselves whether or not Clara has moved into the machine on a regular basis yet, or if this is just the latest "date".

Amongst the cons is the fact that this looks like it's going to be a formula bottle show with a solitary alien menace gradually picking off the crew one by one until a solution is put into place at the last minute. Thankfully, this particular story delivers a lot of enjoyable character moments, surprise twists, and more sensible unpredictable dynamics, but it's hard to anticipate most of the good stuff before it happens. The narrative doesn't really draw the viewer along like so many other stories this season.

I think the setting will have to take a certain amount of the blame. An early 80's nuclear submarine sounds cool at first, and it is cool that it has the cultural intrigue of being a Russian sub instead of an American one. But when the setting is as confined as this, one can feel the limitations of where the story might be allowed to go. I think the alien's abilities to sneak around unseen by the crew also suffered when it was realized that each compartment would be sealed off with only very small obvious hatches between them and no man-sized ductwork for it to crawl through. This is a problem that the director doesn't seem to have been able to get around effectively. Without this story being able to expand its territory, and telegraph the possibility to the audience early on, our excitement level is somewhat cramped.


Ice Marshall Skaldak

Of course one of the big plusses that this story has going for it is that another major race of Doctor Who aliens makes its comeback for the New Millennium version of the show. In fact, we haven't seen the Ice Warriors since the Jon Pertwee years, and knowledgeable fans have been anticipating their reappearance since it first seemed time for them during the 2009 specials, so this return is long overdue.

The costume is quite faithful to the most definitive one from the late 60's and early 70's, slightly updated to more clearly define which aspects are clothing and which are organic. But in long shot or silhouette, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference. Nicely balanced. All is peachy until Skaldak introduces himself and we learn that his rank is that of a Grand Marshall... and then we veteran fans begin to wonder if he shouldn't be wearing the more slender Ice Lord uniform that Alan Bennion was always seen in (plus extra bling on the helmet) instead of the standard foot-soldier outfit seen here. Whoops.

The plot takes its strongest cues from this foe's original story "The Ice Warriors" (story no. 39) in requiring that the Martian be discovered frozen in a block of ice on Earth and thawed, and then that the ensuing culture clash be dealt with. Murray Gold's score also seems to have taken many ideas for its soundscape from Dudley Simpson's excellent original work in that first Ice Warrior tale, particularly the deeper tones and bizarre percussion, which Gold then updates and fuses with his usual modern orchestral treatments. There's a very nice, traditional Doctor Who feel to this one.
Music by Murray Gold
A full suite of music from the story
is available on the 2-disc audio CD album:
Doctor Who: Original Music from
Season 33 (aka "Series 7", 2012-13)

More info & buying options

Overall I think the story is smart to reveal our Ice Warrior early on, and then move fairly quickly towards new dynamics. Our Ice Warrior comes out of his suit, which has never been done before on the show. Gradually more and more is revealed, saving the full-on decently lit reveal of his face for the climax of the show. All good in theory, but I confess that a naked Ice Warrior skulking around a submarine isn't really as exciting as you might think. His fingers seem a bit too long and thin considering the clunky claw gloves we've seen up to this point, and it's bizarre to see so many Humans nicely holding still while the fingers reach down from the rafters to play endlessly with their faces.

Thankfully, Skaldak's face is a triumph of CGI design and animation, and it will be easy enough to take that image back with us each time we view their previous adventures. That alone may make "Cold War" worth the price of admission.

The writing of this story also does a lot to flesh out the Martian culture, whether it comes from Skaldak's personal backstory or from the Doctor's abbreviated history lessons. We probably get more good stuff in these 43 minutes than we've had in all four previous Ice Warrior stories all put together.

And a very critical move happened at the beginning of this story. Now that the Peladon stories have proven the existence of a noble side to these creatures, the Doctor makes the effort to figure out the disposition of today's example, instead of jumping to conclusions and an antagonistic posture. This is a move that escaped "Mission to Magnus" in its rough-script-turned-novel form, a story that would have seen the Ice Warriors return in the mid-eighties if its particular season hadn't been cancelled. Of course, a few Russian crewmembers do jump to conclusions, and the usual misunderstanding triggers the rest of the plot.


Submergence

One scene that really did rub me the wrong way early on was that of the Doctor and Clara's arrival in the midst of an emergency. I find it nearly impossible to follow the dialogue with so much noise and frenzy going on - it really just does more to grate on the nerves than create any sense of excitement. Secondly, having the entire cast soaked from all that water right from the beginning, and knowing that the story probably won't give them a chance to dry off properly at any point, really works to send me away from their situation instead of drawing me in. I think a flood like this should be saved for the end of the story, if used at all. That way, perhaps we might get some sense of escalating tension when we see water dripping in larger and larger quantities as the show progresses, which actually might have been the case if the script had been followed more diligently. On the commentary, Gatiss kindly gives all credit for the opening flood to director Douglas MacKinnon. As it stands, after that big torrent in the sub's most sensitive control center at the beginning (which quickly amounts to no big deal), there's no real sense of danger from further leaks later on.

Most of the sub's crew all wind up feeling like one great homogenous collection of men. Only two characters really stand out - the very distinctive looking captain of the ship, and the unmistakable figure of David Warner playing Professor Grisenko. I've been a fan of Warner's since "Tron" and "Time Bandits", which just barely predate my becoming a fan of Doctor Who. Warner seems to have fun here playing with the quirks and character twists that Gatiss wrote for him, but he seems to be a bit underutilized in the story, as was the case in Star Trek feature films five and six. Though Gatiss's characters are almost always fun to watch, there remains a sense that he's adding and refining their traits willy-nilly, without a vision of where they are going or why they've been selected to participate in his stories. Perhaps we simply don't quite get enough of Grisenko's desire to investigate his find scientifically, or enough of him responding to the fact that his shipmates are paying with their lives. That said, what we do get with his music obsession is a worthwhile touch, showcasing a different side of Warner's talents, which I gather was partly the point. Nice.

Of course, I get that there's also a very war-mongering first officer here, but it's very easy to lose track of this character. As you can pretty much predict going into this adventure, there will be the usual 1980's message that the two halves of the world should not nuke each other, and yes this threat does fuel the climax of the show. To me, it does feel like obvious, tired fare. But perhaps there still are people out there who stand to benefit from having this message repeated to them yet again?


With regards to dealing with the Ice Warrior and the hunt for it in the sub, which is often reminiscent of the 1979 Ridley Scott film "Alien", I really do like that this story bent away from a plot that sees Skaldak hunting down every last crewmember. Far more time is spent exploring character, coming to an understanding bridging two cultures, and properly defusing tensions. Nicely, the Peladon view of Ice Warriors rules the day. Another plus for the story.

And an added bonus is that we finally get to see one of the Ice Warriors' spacecraft, which is an enjoyable touch. Somehow, their previous four stories had all managed to miss out on an obvious effect.

There's a parallel here with "Victory of the Daleks" (story no. 210) in that I think all of us fans really wanted a more substantial and complex story featuring this particular race, and wound up settling for a simpler re-introduction teaser here, wishing the cameras and the narrative could follow the departing aliens to new worlds where better adventures await. But this story is better than Gatiss's Dalek adventure in the sense that it does feel much more complete, no real loose ends left dangling. And in production terms, I think this one was all about getting the suit and the alien's design right, so that these elements are already "in the bag" when they come to design the rest of the world that the Martians live and work in.

Lastly, I do scratch my head at the use of the HADS system here. Back in "The Krotons" (story no. 47), at least it seemed that it was a helpful function for both the TARDIS and her passengers. Here, not so much. But this all works believably for story purposes until we learn that the vehicle has gone all the way to the South Pole. This is played for laughs, but it's not all that big a laugh. Plus, I seriously doubt that the captain of a damaged submarine would agree to travel that far on the spot, and a closer, more believable destination for the TARDIS should have been selected.


All in all, this is one of the better stories of the season, and one that does seem to work better on repeat viewing than on the first go. On the whole, I'm going to give it a thumbs-up and enjoy the fact that Mark Gatiss had the chance to work on some good story ideas for a change.



This story has become available on DVD and Blu-ray.


Season 33 Box Set
15 episodes
U.S.


NEW for
Sept. 24, 2013.
Canada


NEW for
Sept. 24, 2013.
Blu-ray U.S.


NEW for
Sept. 24, 2013.
Blu-ray Canada


NEW for
Sept. 24, 2013.

This 5-disc DVD box set includes
13 regular episodes, 2 Christmas specials,
4 audio commentaries, documentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and additional scenes.

The Blu-ray version has identical content in high definition spanning 4 discs.


This Region A/1 version (U.S. & Canada) is new for September 24, 2013.



Season 33 Box Set
15 episodes
U.K.


NEW for
Oct. 28, 2013.
Blu-ray U.K.


NEW for
Oct. 28, 2013.
The Region 2 box set has identical content to its North American counterpart, except that it also has one additional extra feature called:
  • As Good as Gold

This Region B/2 version (for the U.K.) is new for October 28, 2013.


The music CD is new for September 9, 2013.



Check out this companion 2-disc Audio CD as well:

Doctor Who: Original Music from Season 33
(aka "Series 7", 2012-2013) by Murray Gold

More info & buying options (2-disc album)


This story is also available in an 8-episode volume with minimal extra features.
The U.K. version also includes the episode "The Snowmen"; North American versions do not.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:

Standard DVD:
NTSC Region 1 - U.S.
NTSC Region 1 - Canada
PAL Region 2 - U.K.
Blu-ray:
Region A/1 - U.S.
Region A/1 - Canada
Region B/2 - U.K.
Bonus features vary from region to region.
You may get "The Companions" documentary (45 min.)
You will get some of the prequel scenes, but not all.


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