Eyes On The Box//Doctor Who Series 7 Episode 9 - Cold War

Warning: Contains spoilers!

Cast: Matt Smith, Jenna-Louise Coleman, Liam Cunningham, David Warner, Tobias Menzies, Nicholas Briggs

Written by Mark Gatiss, Directed by Douglas Mackinnon

The story: The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) land on a damaged Russian nuclear submarine in 1983 to discover an Ice Warrior has been defrosted on board.

Cold War writer Mark Gatiss is a long time fan of Doctor Who and, in particular, the old foe of the Doctor, the Ice Warriors who were last seen in The Monster of Peladon way back in 1974 when Jon Pertwee was The Doctor.

Gatiss’s script is a beauty with plenty to please old fans and new. The re-booted Ice Warrior is certainly well designed and executed, with brilliantly hissing dialogue delivered by Nicholas Briggs (he’s also the voice of the Daleks and the Cybermen). It almost...almost...does for the Ice Warriors what the 2005 episode Dalek did for the iconic enemy of the Doctor by delivering a single alien that feels genuinely menacing.

With more than a nod to Ridley Scott’s Alien, this tightly wound episode plays the peril of a crew being picked off while the clock ticks towards the end of the world as we know it extremely well.  If I were to pick any holes in this well written and wonderfully filmed episode, it would be that the ending feels slightly underwhelming after the tense action that precedes it. The Doctor here delivers a seen-it-before, dramatic “Think of the future/what about your legacy” speech and a flash of the sonic screwdriver moment that don’t feel quite as authentic as they could be.

After last week’s episode, which featured no big guest stars, Cold War gives us star turns by the bucket load. Tobias Menzies’s criminally underused Lieutenant Stepashin feels as though he could be even more dangerous than the alien foe, and Liam Cunningham’s Captain Zhukov delivers all the gravitas we expect from a Russian sub commander.

But it’s David Warner’s naff 80’s music loving Professor Grisenko who brings real heart here. In a couple of short, sweet scenes with Clara, Warner delivers a poignant and moving picture of an older man who’s not ready to give up on the future, despite the dire circumstances he’s in. It’s a testament to Gatiss’s script that these quiet and beautifully played scenes can show a relationship built in a very short space of time.

I’ve said it before, but Doctor Who gives us in this episode a set design and filmic quality on a BBC budget that would shame some big Hollywood players.  All in all, Cold War is the high point of series 7, part 2 so far and I’m hoping this heralds a continuing high standard for the rest of the series and for the 50th Anniversary special in November.

The ending gives us hope that we will see a whole army of Ice Warriors in some future episode the way Dalek paved the way for an army of rampaging pepperpots.

Best moment: The Doctor’s expression when he faces the Ice Warrior for the first time.

Explanation please: In last week’s episode, the TARDIS translation matrix didn’t appear to be working as usual, yet here, everyone speaks Russian despite the absence of the TARDIS.

Nods to fans: The return of the iconic Ice Warriors, “Which of us shall blink first?”

Reviewed by Andrea McGuire.

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