The serial begins with warbling, Star Trek style vocals over snowy mountains before we’re thrown into the middle of a crisis (marked by dramatic, urgent music!) in a futuristic control centre, oddly situated in an oak-panelled room. People in of-the-moment psychedelic print uniforms rush about barking information at each other. It’s good scene setting – the dialogue hardly sparkles, but it immediately establishes the situation: 5,000 years of history threatened by moving mountains of ice.
The scene also establishes Leader Clent is a bit of a tyrant, beholden to his computer, and a bit of a joke to his crew, who mock his reliance on automated schedules. It’s a very “courageous” performance from Peter Barkworth, limping about, looking like he’s permanently about to corpse as he chows down on random bits of scenery. It’s as hammy as Joseph Furst’s Zaroff, but more incongruous because it’s in a story that seems to be more seriously intended. I’m surprised that Barkworth didn’t ask for a stammer and a hunchback. I think it’s fairly ridiculous, but probably necessary – otherwise Britannicus Base would fade into the background up against the twin threats of Angus Lennie and the Ice Warriors.
Clent’s authoritarianism seems to be a reasonable reflection of this future Earth, where people talk of ‘the common good’ and fret about ‘the whole world programme’ going under. Inside the base, the crew are regimented and deferential, and it’s clearly a far from free society if people like Penley prefer to risk scavenging in the frozen wastes to committing themselves to the regime. Though very different from The Celestial Toymaker, there seems to be a common thread of rebellion against over-planning, strict organisation and following the rules.
This is typified by the Doctor’s arrival, six minutes in. He bursts into the ioniser control room, flits around the equipment, and brilliantly improvises a solution to impeding destruction. In contrast to the regimented Britannicus crew, the TARDIS team are at their most charmingly ramshackle and impudent: the Ship lands on its side, allowing for some funny business with Jamie standing on the Doctor’s hand. Hayles has got the memo about Victoria being a Victorian – there’s an in-character but slightly problematic moment where she recoils at the idea of going to Africa. Less awkward is the gorgeous scene where Jamie flirtatiously teases her about the female staffs’ miniskirts, which she declares ‘disgusting’.
The episode does a good job of filling in this future world, complete with wristwatch video screens and ‘vibro chairs’, and holding off on focusing too much on the monsters, which remain dormant, giant shapes in the ice right up until the final moments when one defrosts to gurn at the camera like Les Dawson. Maybe they should have stayed in the freezer.
Next episode: The Ice Warriors – Two