Forget subtext, this story is all about supertext: trusting too much in technology. ‘Science, the victor over nature,’ declares Clent triumphantly. Meanwhile, Penley gripes about ‘robotised humans’ abandoning themselves to the organisational principles of machines. This all sounds like it belongs in a Cyberman story – which would have been all the more obvious had the Ice Warrior costume design matched Hayles’ concept of them as cyborg Vikings. There’s a hint of it in One, when the Doctor spots an electronic connection in Varga’s helmet, but by and large the giant turtle costumes conceal how close they are in principle to the Cybermen.
In contrast to Clent’s abdication of human curiosity to artificial intelligence, the scientists in ice-age Britain are an enquiring lot. Penley ‘must know’ about the Ice Warriors, and Arden’s unauthorised excavation of Varga caused all this trouble in the first place. At the top of the episode, Arden has a sudden pang of accountability for the deaths his curiosity has caused so far – odd, given how blase he was a couple of weeks ago when Davis plunged to his death in an avalanche. This is enough to break through Clent’s icy exterior, and Barkworth rises to the occasion to snap out of the one-note caricature of the first two episodes to reveal Clent’s humanity:
CLENT: Don’t be to too hard on yourself. Scientists must question, you know. I mean, if I’d been in your shoes I think I’d have done the same. I’d have brought it back.
The theme gets a bit muddled, but Hayles’ basic point seems to be that science in the pursuit of discovery is a Good Thing, but if directed towards controlling others is Bad. Which is an improvement over Doctor Who‘s more usual tendency to have superstition and science in opposition, I suppose.
This episode focused very much on the guest characters, particularly Penley, whose bitter sniping about Clent and ‘just a friend’ relationship with Storr lends itself to a reading that he and Clent are estranged lovers, and, on the rebound, Penley has thrown off Clent’s controlling hand to take up with a scavenger. There’s definitely a hint of the scornful ex in Barkworth’s performance.
The awoken Ice Warriors prove to be quite chatty, with a lot of dialogue conducted in a painful hiss. There’s a reason why the monsters don’t usually talk much. But Varga does have the last word on Victoria (who has spent the story so far with none of the cheek or fiery temperament she had on Telos or in Tibet): ‘She has courage but she is also very stupid.’ And with Jamie quickly knocked out, and Troughton uncharacteristically fluffing his lines, and over-talking Wendy Gifford, this isn’t a great week for the “fam”
Next episode: The Ice Warriors – Four