The title is a pun, you see, because it takes place during the cold war and the antagonist, Skaldak, is an Ice Warrior.
This episode had two major flaws. One was sort of necessary, the other most definitely was not. The necessary flaw was that there were big themes and interesting ideas in this episode, and almost none of them were explored. However, it’s only forty minutes of television. You can’t fit all that much into forty minutes and still have a plot. The unnecessary flaw was that Skaldak’s hands, when he’s out out of his armor, were clearly cheap rubber. They looked like something you’d buy for five dollars at a Halloween store. The colors blended together and the nails looked like they were pained on, which they were. I have no idea why the show couldn’t spend a few more bucks and make those hands just a little more realistic-looking.
“Cold War” has a pretty straight-forward plot. The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) pop out of the TARDIS and into a 1983 Russian nuclear submarine. They were clearly shooting for sin city, since the Doctor enters shouting “Viva Las Vegas.” Immediately after arriving, the TARDIS disappears because Deus Ex Machina, this time in the form of Hostile Action Displacement System.
After a bit of shouting and the obligatory “Who are you? Time travelers? I don’t believe it. Oh wait, maybe I do,” we find out that a scientist on board brought a block of ice on board that he thought was a mammoth but turns out to be a Martian Ice Warrior hero named Skaldak (Spencer Wilding, Nicholas Briggs as the voice).
The episode turns into Doctor Who‘s version of Alien. The Doctor, Clara, and the crew go about searching for the angry Martian that’s hell bent on killing everyone, except instead of trying to kill Skaldak, the Doctor wants to convince him to leave them in peace.
The Captain (Liam Cunningham) tries to help the Doctor, while the war-crazed first mate (Tobias Menzies) helps Skaldak realize the consequences of sending out one nuke from the sub – starting World War Three.
Skaldak believes that all the Martians are dead, since he was frozen in a block of ice for five-thousand years. He wants to take out his anger on the human race. Finger on the button, the Doctor makes his usual 11th hour save by convincing Skaldak to show humans mercy. Skaldak relents and then, lo and behold, he’s beamed up by Martians who are still around and kicking.
What irks me about this episode is that it’s set during the Cold War but the Cold War is hardly addressed at all, aside from allowing the consequence of failure to be total nuclear war. But it could easily have been a modern nuclear submarine, with one nuke being just as terrifying. Not everything has to be safety or total destruction of everything nice.
No Cold War themes were discussed, there was nothing about the nature of cold wars or nuclear weapons or the similarities and differences between two enemy countries. There was no perspective either from our time or from the Doctor’s.
Also, the conspiring first mate really wasn’t a necessary character. Skaldak could have learned about the Cold War from overhearing a conversation or just by being smart. We didn’t need a jerk to help him out.
I did enjoy Skaldak’s sentimentality about his daughter and the percieved destruction of his people. I thought that his character was well formed, and now I want to see more Ice Warriors of Mars and learn about their culture and civilization. Another season, perhaps?
Still, the episode also failed to make the connection between Skaldak’s threat of genocide and the Doctor’s past as an agent of genocide. Skaldak did not refer to the Doctor as a warrior who wiped out not one but two distinct species of sentient beings (the Time Lords and the Daleks). The Doctor did not refer to the psychological and emotional toll such an act takes on a person. The Doctor’s past is staring any good fan of Doctor Who right in the face like an itch begging to be scratched, and Cold War ignores it like it’s nothing.
The most interesting part of the episode was, once again, Clara’s character. I’m really starting to like Clara, not in the way I liked Amelia and Rory Pond, sentimentally, but in a more intellectual and curious way. Clara is very much a character with layers. The Ponds were static characters, Amy, loud, controlling, and secretly very loving, Rory, shy but truly courageous and devoted. Clara changes as she experiences things. This episode we see here actually fearing for her life and the lives of others. Travelling with the Doctor stopped being a fairy tale and turned into a horror story, something not uncommon in Doctor Who. Clara reacts to it, and not in a positive way. She is terrified by the death of crew members and the danger of it all. It’s not exciting; it’s terrifying. Ultimately, she sticks with the Doctor in the end, but we see her really examine things.
A few interesting things:
There’s some fun Game of Thrones crossover in this episode. The Captain, played by Liam Cunningham, is the noble and stupid Davos Seaworth in GoT. The first mate, played by Tobias Menzies, is introduced this week to GoT as the incompetent Edmure Tully.
We finally see the red setting of the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver. River Song’s screwdriver in “Silence in the Library” has a red setting. She says it was the Doctor’s screwdriver, so presumably at some point the Doctor gets a red setting. Well here it is!
All in all, I give “Cold War” three sonic screwdrivers out of five sonic screwdrivers.