After (somehow) ending up on a Soviet submarine in 1983, the Doctor finds one of his old enemies, an Ice Warrior, running amok after being frozen for 5,000 years. As the Doctor attempts to reason with the newly release warrior, the Russian crew decides that deadly force is their only option. But when the Ice Warrior sheds his armor for a fight to the death, the Doctor must overcome everyone’s temptation of a mutually assured destruction.
Gaitness, who penned “The Hounds of Baskerville” and “The Great Game” for Sherlock, took on the difficult task of resurrecting one of Doctor Who’s classic monsters, the Ice Warriors, for modern audiences. With a bit of a nod to Ridley Scott’s Alien and Tom Clancy’s “The Hunt for Red October," “Cold War” is a brilliant, intimate tale that, for all intents and purposes, represents how truly engrossing and enjoyable a one-off, completely enclosed adventure with the Doctor (and Clara) can be, without the need for any of the timey-wimey bits.
Much like the Sontarans, the Ice Warrirors – or in this case, Ice Warrior, General Skaldak (voiced by the Dalek’s Nicholas Briggs – are a skillful, honorable race with an unimaginable military strength. Their voice and actions, slowed by Earth’s atmosphere, are as nuanced as they are calculated, forcing the Doctor to use his wits and logic when standing off against this archaic Martian.
Fortunately, with the Ice Warriors - unlike the Sontarans - there’s no group-think that can easily be out-smarted or a soft spot in the back of their head to disarm them with a simple blow. Instead, the Doctor, along with a rag-tag group of resistant seamen, must be frank and direct with their actions and their intent in order to survive. This episode is much less a battle – as in there’s no winners or losers - than it is an ongoing, intellectual and extremely compelling conversation across species, with the Doctor serving at the pleasure of humanity.
Among the crew who make up this Soviet fleet are Captain Zhukov and Professor Grisenko, played by the familiar Liam Cunningham and David Warner, respectively. As the enforcer, Zhukov serves as the resolute military official who, like the Ice Warrior, must live a life where mutually assured destruction is an option. Professor Grisenko, on the other hand, serves as the quirky intellectual who helps support the Doctor’s endeavors among so many potential combatants. In the end, Warner’s wonderful performance as Girsenko may leave one to question why, at some point, he wasn't allowed to have a “go” at the role of the Doctor way back when.
Though there are many instances in this week’s episode where specific story elements are seemingly glossed over or given messy explanations (“tinkering with the HADS”), this small and relatively harmless sacrifice allowed Gatiss to focus more on the tale at hand, rather than having to worry about what comes before or after this Arctic adventure. After all, it is Stephen Moffat’s show, so it’s up to him to make it work. And making “it” work is something fans are still waiting to see from Moffat, at least with Clara’s story.
After numerous adventures with some iteration of “The Girl Who Twice Died," audiences are still holding on to whatever information and story arc they were able to glean from episodes as far as seven months back (there’s not much). And yes, while it’s true that the preview to next week’s episode, “Hide," does appear to have a good amount of Clara story to it, this long, drawn-out tale of the new companion doesn't do much to alleviate the typical frustrations or challenges (however illogical) that fans experience while transitioning from one companion to the next. Still…
“Cold War” is thoroughly imaginative, compelling episode that thrusts the Doctor and all his know-how into an intimate environment with a formidable opponent, with enough jumps, laughs and, most importantly, intrigue, to allow longtime fans to sit back and watch a 50-year-old television franchise at its best.
Doctor Who returns next Saturday with “Hide” @9pm on BBC America. You can check out a preview of next week's episode below: