Sunday, April 14, 2013

My Review of Doctor Who's 7x09: "Cold War"

Written by Mark Gatiss
Directed by Douglas Mackinnon

The Doctor: “Grand Marshall, it doesn’t have to be this way. Listen to me ...”
Skaldak: “My distress call has not been answered. It will never be answered. My people are dead. They are dust. There is nothing left for me except my revenge.”

It’s only been thirty nine years since the last time we met the Ice Warriors onscreen and with Daleks, Cybermen, the Great Intelligence and even a Zygon making a return in November, it certainly makes a lot of sense to bringing back a certain Martian race and give them a 21st century makeover and needlessly to say, this new look is a bloody success.

Mainly because unlike other redesigns over the years, the look for the Ice Warrior hasn’t been drastically altered, except for hands instead of pincers and to writer Mark Gatiss’s credit, Skaldak came across as a rather consistently written member of his own race, even if this episode itself is a virtual remake of a popular Ninth Doctor adventure. I’ll let you guess as to which one I’m referring to, shall I?

The Doctor and Clara just winding up on a Russian submarine deep undersea certainly played on Gatiss’s love for a popular base under siege plot and with a motley crew of mostly cute cannon fodder sailors and an Ice Warrior who happened to be thawed out pretty early on by one of the dumb but cute sailors, it’s not too much of a surprise that things went pear shaped pretty fast in this one.

Skaldak was certainly a compelling antagonist throughout this episode, first attacked by the sailors and then picking them off as he learned more about the Cold War and the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction, which for some reason managed to appeal to his war like mentality quite a bit.

It took some doing for both the Doctor and Clara to actually stop Skaldak from actually causing some irreparable damage to a sensitive point in time and while the resolution felt a bit familiar, it definitely was a good way of solving the problem. I liked that Skaldak had enough compassion to spare the submarine crew, even if he had murdered half of them during the episode and hopefully, it won’t be too long until we see another Ice Warrior again. The return here was certainly superbly handled.

Like with a certain Ninth Doctor story, we saw a multi faceted side to Skaldak throughout the forty minute episode. Sure, he was murderous and tactical, war wise but at the same time, he also had a certain sense of honour, was able to challenge the Doctor intellectually, showed grief for losing his own daughter and even managed to spare Grisenko when Clara begged him too. As much as I’d like to see the Ice Warriors again, I also think I would like to see this specific Ice Warrior as well. As a guest character, Skaldak certainly deserves to go down as one of the best from this particular series.

Of course Skaldak wasn’t the only highlight of the episode. The other joyful guest character happened to be music loving Professor Grisenko, wonderfully played by David Warner. In fact, I’d even go as far as to say that he’s been one of my favourite human guest we’ve had since perhaps Rita from “The God Complex” or Brian Williams and Kate Stewart. Grisenko was an utter joy to watch, especially with his concern for Clara’s well being and open mindedness about the Doctor potentially kissing him. The Doctor’s reaction during that little moment was pretty amusing to watch as well.

As for the rest of the guests – they’re pretty good but not as interesting. Liam Cunningham does a decent job as stoic Captain Zhukov but he’s rather upstaged compared to Grisenko and Skaldak while Tobias Menzies war mongering, Lieutenant Stephashin is mostly annoying and ultimately cannon fodder as well during Skaldak’s attack on the submarine.

As for the Doctor and Clara, it’s an interesting episode for them with the former having to trust the latter a little more than he’s done and the latter herself getting more used to the fact that travelling with the Time Lord can be dangerous work. The episode however is somewhat light on shedding any further insight into Clara’s ongoing back story, though she did seem a little reluctant to open up when Grisenko was trying to calm her down. I wonder what that was about.

Also in “Cold War”

The 11th Doctor has previously encountered the Ice Warriors along with Amy and Rory in the book, The Silent Stars Go By.

Grisenko: “Have I interrupted something?”
Zhukov: “We were about to blow up the world, professor.”
Grisenko: “Again?”

The Doctor was meant to be taking Clara to Las Vegas in this episode while the HADS (Hostile Action Displacement System) sent the TARDIS to the South Pole by the episode’s conclusion.

The Doctor (to Clara): “It’s the 80’s, everything’s bigger.”

Zhukov (re Skaldak): “So what do we do now?”
The Doctor: “Lock. Him. Up.”

While the submarine did look too big to be claustrophobic at times, the sight of Skaldak out of his armour bumping off people certainly made up for it.

Clara (to the Doctor/Zhukov, re Skaldak): “Well, there really is only one choice, is there? I don’t smell of anything, to my knowledge.”

The Doctor: “Let me help you.”
Skaldak: “I require no help. There will be no help.”

Is it me or was this episode very male oriented – the Doctor, Grisenko, Zhukov, Stephashin, Piotr, Onegin, Belevich and even Skaldak? Clara literally was the only woman on board.

Stephashin: “What do you want with me?”
Skaldak: “Much.”

The Doctor: “Professor, I could kiss you.”
Grisenko: “If you insist.”
The Doctor: “Later.”

Standout music: Thanks to Grisenko and Clara, that would be Ultravox’s “Vienna” and Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like The Wolf”, the latter I’m assuming is not a connection to a certain Rose Tyler.

Skaldak: “You threaten me, Doctor?”
The Doctor: “No, no, not you. All of us. I will blow this sub up before you can even reach that button, Grand Marshall.”

Clara: “Saved the world then?”
The Doctor: “Yeah!”
Clara: “That’s what we do.”

Chronology: August 1983, North Pole for this episode. Skaldak was also dormant for 5000 years too.

While the influences of this episode are many and can be seen a mile off, Mark Gatiss does deserve kudos for making “Cold War” into such a gripping episode and quite possibly his best contribution since “The Unquiet Dead”. Overall, a sssuperb episode.

Rating: 9 out of 10

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