After ranting last week about the disappointing “Rings of Akhaten,” I was hoping that there would be something better to come. Though “Cold War” wasn’t perfect, it was definitely a vast improvement. This was Doctor Who meets The Hunt for Red October, without the involvement of right wing weirdo Tom Clancy. And though it doesn’t quite meet the standard set by “Dalek” or even “The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood,” it was a suprisingly satisfying return of a villain I wasn’t entirely sure would work well in 2013.
This episode, penned by Mark Gattis, was fairly ambitious, which is one of its only shortcomings. The submarine story and the Ice Warrior story seemed to be two independent concepts, as if fused together at the last minute by a writer of the former to include the latter. That may not be the case with Gattis; it just seemed that way. Overall, it still comes together and makes for an engaging, coherent story. I just think that the wonderful, claustrophobic sub set seemed to be wasted as the return of a classic villain took the limelight. The sets, the dark camera work, and the dripping water all lent themselves beautifully to the writer and director’s intent: that the viewers actually feel they are trapped a few thousand feet beneath the North Pole in a sinking submarine (if only the makers of “Warriors of the Deep” had had the same capabilities nearly 30 years ago).
Even without the Ice Warriors, things do come together in this story in ways they didn’t last week. Smith returns to his otherwordly, better-than-human Doctor, and didn’t spend any of the episode making long speeches or crying. Coleman really seems to be coming into her own as Clara in this episode, showing both humor and courage in the face of real danger–two vital characteristics of a good companion. She draws a clear distinction between herself and her slightly whiny predecessor, and–as long as we don’t go down the “I’m in love with the Doctor” route again–I think I’m really going to love her.
I had been concerned about the Ice Warriors coming back at first as well. Many of us who are huge fans of the classic series are often torn about the return of old monsters. We are glad to have those early villains acknowledged and given 21st Century special affects, costumes, and make-up, but we also don’t want their essence revamped to the point of making them unrecognizable. The 60s/70s versions of the Ice Warriors were the very definition of the cheap, rubber costume, and it seemed a poor choice for revival. Overall, however, their appearance in this story exceeds mere adequacy and verges into the territory of a truly great re-imagining. I’m curious why Nicholas Briggs had to voice Skaldak (seriously, Mr. Briggs, let someone else get some voice work!), but he delivered his part well. So I won’t complain.
My only complaints, aside from believing that the submarine story and the Ice Warrior story could have been separate adventures, are minor. For one–I love David Warner. He is a fantastic actor (check him out in Star Trek: TNG as the Cardassian who has Picard tortured), and he was 100% wasted here. I would have loved to see him in a major role and not as a supporting, comic foil. I also shuddered a bit when the “TARDIS mysteriously disappears” device was employed, as it can seem contrived in stories that would otherwise be less threatening. Gatiss provided a bit of a save on that one by explaining it adequately, though. So I’ll let it go.
Overall, this helped to remove the taste of last week’s episode from my mouth. The story was tight and energetic, the lead actors were in fine form, and the return of a slightly cheesy villain was actually well done. The overall look of the episode succesfully carries out its goal, and the viewer is left with a true taste of the classic series monster story brought into the 21st Century.
Please keep things this way, Mr. Moffat!