Saturday, October 12, 2013

50th Anniversary Countdown: Doctor Who 7.09: "Cold War"

“I’m always serious. With days off.”
-The Doctor

“Cold War” was written by “Doctor Who” veteran Mark Gatiss, who also happens to be a good friend of head writer Steven Moffat. Most of the very small readership of MTVP should know that we aren’t big fans of Gatiss around here. I at least generally find his episodes to be among the weakest. Don’t get me wrong, the episodes he has written of “Sherlock” are all very good, and he has very good ideas about what “Doctor Who” should be about, but the actual episodes of “Doctor Who” that he writes just plain aren’t good. This is the writer who brought us the iDaleks back in series five’s “Victory of the Daleks.” Anyway, not surprisingly given the title, this episode takes place during the Cold War. 1983, to be exact. I guess they wanted the nice round number of the episode taking place 30 years ago (a fact which I know quite well considering I myself will be 30 next week). The episode also brought back a classic villain, the Ice Warriors, who, to be honest, are really kind of boring.

The episode takes place entirely on a Soviet nuclear submarine. The submarine crew is joined by Professor Grisenko, who has brought a fairly large ice sample on board for transport. This ice sample is melted, which is going to cause the crew a whole lot of trouble. The captain of this submarine is Captain Zhukov, by the way, and he’s played by Liam Cunningham, better known as Davos on “Game of Thrones” (in my world, at least). Anyway, in the type of mishap that is pretty typical for “Doctor Who,” the Doctor and Clara think they’re going to Vegas, but they actually end up on the submarine instead. That had to be quite a buzzkill. I know if I thought I was going on a fun trip to Vegas and ended up on a Cold War-era Soviet submarine, I’d be back in the TARDIS and heading for home faster than you could say “nyet.”

Anyway, the Doctor and Clara have some work to do to prove to the Russians that they mean no harm. The Ice Warrior has caused the whole sub to crash, too, which definitely doesn’t help. In this process, Clara discovers the TARDIS translation matrix, which is pretty amusing. Clara is pretty surprised to find out that to the submarine crew, it sounds like she is speaking Russian. I wonder if she had actually tried to speak Russian, if it would have sounded Welsh like Donna sounded when she tried to speak Latin in “The Fires of Pompeii?” Everyone is just starting to trust each other when the creature that was freed from the ice appears behind the Doctor. The Doctor has just enough time to learn the creature is the Ice Warrior Grand Master Skaldak before one of the submarine crew stupidly tasers the thing. The Doctor is obviously concerned about this, and he orders Skaldak retrained immediately. The problem is that Skaldak will take the tasering as an attack that he absolutely must retaliate against.

The Doctor, being the Doctor, wants to try and resolve this situation by talking first. Clara gets drafted into being the person doing the talking, because when he comes too, Skaldak is going to have been offended by everybody else. Clara does a good job parroting what the Doctor tells her at first, but soon enough Skaldak figures out that the Doctor is really the one doing the talking. Skaldak has a couple secrets himself, though. First, he’s been sending out a distress signal on the off chance Ice Warriors still exist (Skaldak’s been frozen for thousands of years). Second, he’s not where Clara thought he was. She was just talking to his armor. Skaldak himself is out of his armor and skittering around the ceiling. As soon as Clara has enough and opens the door to leave the room, Skaldak skitters his way right out in the the rest of the submarine, where he proceeds to continue skittering and occasionally picking off members of the submarine’s crew.

Skaldak has lost hope that there are still Ice Warriors around, so all he wants is revenge. And he’s on a nuclear submarine. The Doctor, Captain, and all the crew then become concerned that Skaldak is going to want to use one of those handy nuclear weapons to just completely destroy humanity all in one go. It doesn’t help that one of Skaldak’s victims happens to completely describe the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction. Skaldak is fully cognizant that he has what he needs to get his revenge. The team then decides to split up, as you do when there’s a scary creature lurking about. This is where my attention starts to drift every time I watch this episode, but Clara and the Professor are paired together, and the Professor hums Hungry Like the Wolf. That’s an important plot point for later in the episode. Oh, and there’s a bit where Skaldak tries to grab Clara, the Professor shoots Skaldak, so then Skaldak grabs the Professor instead. Oops.

Skaldak does release the Professor, but then things go from bad to worse. Skaldak has summoned his armor, gets back into the armor, and uses the armor to start interfacing with the sub’s nuclear weapons. The Doctor tries to talk Skaldak down, but of course that’s hopeless at this point, so the Doctor starts using his own Cold War tactics. He says that if Skaldak tries to launch that missile, he (the Doctor) is going to just blow up the entire sub. Just as things are looking pretty dire, the sub is pulled to the surface of the water by a beam emanating by a big flying saucer of Ice Warriors. Skaldek’s not alone after all! Skaldek is transported up to the ship, but the missiles are still armed. Clara starts singing “Hungry Like the Wolf” while everybody waits to see if the Ice Warriors have decided not to destroy Earth after all. Soon enough, the missiles disarm, and the danger is over.

Since they’re at the surface, Clara and the Doctor stand on top of the sub to have a look around at the Arctic ice. Clara finally thinks to ask where the TARDIS is, because it vanished right after the big crash at the beginning of the episode. The Doctor says he’s been fiddling with the Hostile Action Displacement System, which led to the TARDIS disappearing at the sign of trouble. The Doctor does a quick scan with the sonic screwdriver, and he quickly locates the TARDIS. It’s at the Pole, but the wrong one. The South Pole. The Doctor jovially asks the Captain for a lift, and the Captain obliges. The episode ends, so we don’t really see how the whole Doctor and Clara take a trip around the world with some surly Russians thing turns out. More’s the pity.

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