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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Doctor Who: The Ice Warriors

Serial Title: The Ice Warriors
Series: 5
Episodes: 6
Doctor: Patrick Troughton
Companions: Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling)

Earth of *grumble* ‘the far future’ is in trouble- massive defoliation threw off the carbon dioxide levels, leading to a massive global cooling. Glaciers now cover much of the world, advancing with an almost tsunami-like pace. A desperate plan has been hatched to use an ionization system to melt the glaciers, and Brittanicus Base is one of the numerous global control stations dotted around the world, preparing to initiate the plan that will prevent the new Ice Age that is swiftly falling upon the Earth. Within the base, Jane Garrett and her staff labor under Leader Clent to get the device online before the encroaching ice literally drives them from the base- a few hours left to save the world. Sounds like a case for the Doctor... but, even as the TARDIS materializes outside the base, far away on the plateau, senior scientist Arden has discovered something like an armored man frozen within a block of ice. They haul it back towards the base under the watchful eye of Storr and Penley, a pair of anti-technology advocates living like primitive lives on the tundra. The latter, Penley, was once a scientist on the ioniser project, while the former, Storr, is injured in an avalanche.

As Jamie, Victoria, and the Doctor emerge from the side ways-landed TARDIS, they are mistaken for vagrants (which everyone aside from base personnel in the area are considered) and about to be evacuated- but the Doctor steps in and solves a problem with the ioniser, and Leader Clent is convinced of his usefulness. He then investigates the warrior frozen in the ice, discovering cybernetic components and determining that the being is alien.

Upon thawing, the Ice Warrior is immediately hostile, subduing Jamie and Clent, and abducting Victoria. Jamie and senior scientist Arden (the man who found the frozen warrior) are dispatched to search the tundra for the being, while the Doctor warns that it may have arrived in a ship, also frozen into the glacier- if powered by atomic systems, the ship could be detonated by the ioniser and destroy the base in a cataclysmic blast; until they know for sure, they cannot activate the device... but if they don’t activate it in coordination with other Earth ionisers, glaciers will overtake the base and the Earth may be lost to the ice. Jamie and Arden return from a fruitless search.

The Ice Warrior identifies himself to Victoria as Varga, a warrior of the planet Mars from long ago. Finding his crewmates frozen into the glacier, Varga begins to thaw the four. Meanwhile, Penley, sneaking into the base to steal medical supplies for the injured Storr, is found by the Doctor- but refuses to help with the ioniser, despite the Doctor’s pleas. Returning to Storr, he finds Miss Garrett, having followed him, and she also pleads for his help, but is turned away- but also imparted with a small bit of advice that improves the ioniser’s function.

Jamie and Arden strike out yet again, locating the excavation site where the Ice Warriors are digging out their crashed vessel. They report back to base via wrist-communicators, but are ambushed and shot. Arden is killed, but Jamie clings to life by a thread- he is retrieved by Penley after the warriors have left. He returns to his dwelling and Storr, seeing an enemy-of-my-enemy scenario in the Ice Warrior’s aggression towards the technology-using ioniser crew, goes to speak with them.

Victoria gets a wrist-comm from the fallen Arden’s corpse and contacts the base. The Ice Warriors, having overheard Clent’s badgering questions about the ship’s propulsion system, recognize a potential weakness and decide to exploit it. When they attempt to re-capture Victoria, she flees into the ice caverns, and the pursing warrior is killed in an avalanche, but Victoria is left trapped- while back at the base, the Doctor strikes out after her.

Storr retrieves Victoria and returns her to the Ice Warriors, but they are uninterested in his Luddite help and kill him. Penley, meanwhile, finds the Doctor and returns him to Jamie, who is on the mend. The Doctor then sets off for the Ice Warrior’s ship under Penley’s direction. The Doctor and Victoria are reunited (after a tense affair with the airlock), but fails to convince Varga that the ioniser is not a weapon (Note from Sarah: Not to be crude...but is it just me or is it difficult to read "Varga" without reading "Viagra"? No? Just me then.). The Doctor warns Clent via communicator that he may have to use the ioniser regardless of the potential for a catastrophic explosion, as failure to act will be just as fatal. He is then relieved of his communicator (moments later spotting an ion propulsion system instead of an atomic one, meaning that the ioniser will NOT cause the ship to explode), but the Ice Warriors, believing the Doctor was advising the use of the ioniser as an attack to destroy them regardless of the potential for his and Victoria’s deaths, prepare for a pre-emptive strike against the base.

Penley returns to the base with Jamie. There, Clent (a former friend) gives him a frosty reception with a cold glare and a frigid disposition (I could keep this up all day)... but announces that he’s decided to use the ioniser as per the Doctor’s advice, despite the computer advising against it. Moments alter, however, the base comes under attack by the Ice Warriors’ ship-mounted sonic canon. As Varga calls to demand surrender, the Doctor uses a compound that he’d brought with him from the base (a hunch based on an examination of Ice Warrior physiology) and disables the Ice Warrior manning the canon. They work to reprogram the canon so that it will be harmful to Ice Warriors, but not to humans.

The Ice Warriors storm the base in force, killing several humans and dismantling the ioniser reactor to get replacement parts to repair his ship, irregardless of the consequences to the humans. Penley, having hidden, increases the temperature, a hindrance to the cold-acclimated warriors. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Victoria succeed with the sonic canon and drive the Ice Warriors off, disabling the canon before leaving the ship which the Ice Warriors are now returning towards.

Back at the base, the glaciers are approaching critical levels. The computer still warns of a 50/50 chance of catastrophic explosion with the ion-based drives, and computer-addicted Clent is paralyzed with indecision. Penley takes control, however, and activates the device- there is an explosion, but only of the Ice Warrior vessel, and at far less than nuclear force. The Ice Warriors are gone and the glacier begins to recede, and the folly of working with computers is highlighted as the moral of the day. Errrrr...

The Ice Warriors was... a bit of a let-down. The New Series has revived classic Who baddies in each of their running years- Daleks, Cybermen, The Master, Sontarrans, and most disastrously- er, I mean, recently, Silurians. And through it all- even before Sontarrans and Silurians got the nod, Who fans have been positing two classic monsters as the next great baddie. (Well, three, if you count the probably-facetious suggestion of the Yeti, which I’d totally be behind!) The Zygons (haven’t seen them yet) and the Ice Warriors. The Ice Warriors, the assumedly frigid race from Mars (SPOILERS ALREADY GIVEN BY THE PLOT SYNOPSIS ABOVE: No, they’re just Martian warriors who happen to be found trapped in a block of ice...) were even given a geeky fanboy nod in the Gap Year special “Waters of Mars”, in which the Doctor spoke of the Ice Warrior civilization like a legend of yore, implying that the ‘Ice’ warriors had frozen and trapped the ‘water’ monster, The Flood. Get it? Because water and ice are both related and they’re both on Mars??? So, for all of the hype, this serial was our first exposure to the fabled, fan-beloved, nay... legendary (and anything that’s legend to the uber-built-up ‘Lonely God Oncoming Storm Angel Most Powerful Being In The Universe Roxors 111’ Tenth Doctor has GOT to be big!) Ice Warriors.

Well, maybe they get better in a future appearance.

These Ice Warriors- which are named for being found in ice this serial, but suddenly are calling themselves that in future appearances, which is just bad continuity- did not impress here, and continue not to throughout their run (though subsequent serial featuring them are usually excellent regardless). Interestingly, they were originally conceived of as cybernetic vikings-like warriors, with bits of technology interspersed with their armor- a concept which, intentionally or unintentionally, seems to have been fulfilled in the New Series episode “The Wedding of River Song,” by the Doctor’s ‘Live Chess’ opponent.

This is a strange serial. In some ways, a traditional Monsters-besieging-an-isolated-outpost tale. In others, a strange story about... not trusting computers? I didn’t get the attitude here, but given Star Trek’s technophobia at the same time, it seems to be a 60s thing- Computer = Bad. Cannot think like a man. Do not rely on it. It will lead us to our doom. Strange. I could tell that the leader was being set up as a villain/fool... but I agreed with all of his points. He was kinda right, and his nay-Sayers acting irrationally... and yet the story was trying to make the point that he was wrong. Very strange indeed.

The science isn’t so hot, either- the glacial melting thing and it’s rate of encroachment? A little hard to swallow. An interesting concept, though- a frozen Earth being thawed (in new Who, it would have been terraforming for invasion), refugees assigned social casts, a group of reviled outcasts as per the miniseries V... okay, I may have made those last two up... I waited a bit long to review this after seeing it, and the details ARE forgettable. Some nice comedy bits with the TARDIS materializing sideways (with the crew having to climb out the top in a scene later echoed in the Eleventh Hour with Matt Smith- one wonders if his love of Troughton didn’t figure into this as an intentional reference...) and nearly being detected... some random... stuff... melting happening too quickly... a bizarre and pretty arbitrary test... some stock footage of wolves (though the hunt was very nice), an absurd cave-in calamity situation... there’s just... so much to be forgotten, and not a lot of note.

What IS of note, however, was the incredibly cool reconstruction- an official one from the BBC- involving newly shot footage of one of the communications wrist-monitors lying abandoned on the snowy ground, with the camera dollying in during a snowfall, and an announcement of communications interruption from the base technicians. It promises to restore communications in 15 minutes, and so it does... compressing two episodes, with narration, into a 15 minute span (almost seamlessly... only one event referenced later on clued me in that portions of the story had been excised), with a mobile video frame around it, looking nearly identical to the Tenth planet reconstruction, which may also have been official in retrospect. Regardless, this reconstruction is wicked cool, very professional, and awesome-looking, while keeping the pace moving rapidly. Score!!!

Jamie is weak to the point of nonexistence, while Victoria is a standard captured-damsel, though her fiery indignation and last-minute conspiring with the Doctor in the final chapter- a very amusing bit- make hers the best showing in the episode, above the ineffective male members of the TARDIS crew.

The finale is muddled and confusing, with the plan to disable the intruders more effective on the defenders, seemingly, and the last-minute save being played rather anticlimactically. Nonetheless, this serial isn’t ALL bad. Just... mostly. Unlike the Daleks (well, to everyone EXCEPT for me, who found the serial ‘The Daleks’ to be dull) and the Cybermen, the legendary status of the Ice Warriors clearly derived from a second appearance, because it sure as heck didn’t come from this one.

Great moments:
The thawing Ice around the warrior was pretty cool, and the Doctor’s last-minute solution to his test was pretty fun. The bit with the wolves was a definite highlight, though- pretty exciting, if memory serves correctly 6 months after-the-fact... :-)

1.5 out of 5 Electrified Cybermats for the glacially slow, confusing, and weak-villained Ice Warriors. However, a sterling 5 out of 5 (even if, being an official reconstruction, it’s a bit unfair to rate on the same scale as fan reconstructions working off of much fewer resources... but this is a rating of viewer enjoyability, after all...) for the slick and polished, fantastic looking and very cool in-universe reconstruction... a shame it couldn’t belong to a better story.


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