‘The world didn’t end in 1983.’ This feels like the kind of story Eric Saward was striving for: a claustrophobic setting; military personnel without first names; an Alien scuttering through the shadows, and an updated version of a 1960s monster. It’s Warriors of the Deep meets Resurrection of the Daleks. But there’s also a smattering of Andrew Cartmelisms to leaven the mix: the Doctor challenges the Ice Warrior to look him in the eye, and Clara’s final appeal to Skaldak’s compassion and the horror of nuclear war is a rewrite of the seventh Doctor’s showdown with Morgaine.
On top of that, Mark Gatiss borrows Robert Shearman’s Dalek template when reintroducing the Ice Warriors for a new era – right down to the monster imprisoned in chains, face to face with a companion who treats it like a human being. The redesign is the best reimagined classic monster since the Metaltron for much the same reasons – the basic shape and features are all present and correct, just streamlined and polished. The old clamp hands are slightly updated to massive gauntlets, the pot belly of the 1960s fibreglass shells has been slimmed down, but this is immediately an Ice Warrior.
Gatiss’ main innovation is to show us the creature inside the armour. It’s a nice idea, but the execution is vaguely underwhelming – a sort of Raptorish face with red glowing eyes that looks pretty much like the helmet, which might have been funny if the Sontarans hadn’t already done it. Wider than that, Skaldak highlights the general second-tier-ness of the Ice Warriors: the Daleks are monsters in an armoured shell; the Sontarans are a race of honour-bound warriors; the Silurians are more interesting reptile people (given their in-hibernation backstory and neighbouring location, I remain surprised that no-one’s ever suggested the Martians are a space colony of Homo Reptilia).
As meat and potatoes Doctor Who, it’s pleasing. Smith seems to be enjoying himself with a fairly stellar supporting cast; Coleman’s big-eyed petiteness is as perfect a contrast with the Ice Warriors as Deborah Watling was in 1967. It’s nothing remarkable, but 50 years in, not everything has to be.
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