Saturday, 20 April 2013

Doctor Who - Cold War: Review

A good return for an old enemy?

Doctor Who has continued into this week with a return to the 'base under siege' format; one we haven't seen for a while. But, more importantly, it heralds the first on-screen depiction of the Ice Warriors since 1974's The Monster of Peladon. So, is Cold War suitably chilling?

Firstly, I'd like to apologise for the terrible pun. Secondly, Cold War is pretty good, one I'm happy to call the best from writer Mark Gatiss. Whilst it's doesn't even try to break the mould of it's format, it brings many new and interesting to the Ice Warriors. I have to say, that I love the idea of the huge piece of armour contains only a small, gecko-creature, and the fact it could change tactics almost instantly makes the Martian soldiers seem far more threatening than their wheezing, lumbering counterparts of the classic series (all right, I know, The Seeds of Death was brilliant, but it was the Ice Lord that made that story).

Director Douglas McKinnon does a great job at utilising the submarine setting, managing to make seem claustrophobic without being annoying. Some of the lighting got on my nerves, the harsh yellow of the warning lights and the flourescent blues not gelling very well to my eye, but otherwise each shot was well put together. The practicle effects team should be congratulated on the armour of the Ice Warrior, which manages to look both (almost entirely) faithful to the classic design, and yet brilliantly updated. 

The acting is, once again, all round superb. Matt Smith pulls another great performance (he seems to be getting better and better each series). The story doesn't really push the character into anywhere new, but Smith keeps the character as buoyant as ever. Jenna Louise-Coleman balances determined and vulnerable very well, once again, and the supporting cast is all very solid (with a special mention to the grandfatherly David Warner). However...

Most of the characters remain heinously underdeveloped, verging on 28 Weeks Later level. One character, who appears to be psychologically disturbed at the beginning, melts the Warrior's icy prison because 'life's too short to wait'. I assumed that he was going to somehow facilitate the Ice Warrior's rampage; instead, he only shows up once more, to be killed. Another character, a soldier wanting the Cold War to escalate, proposes an alliance with the Warrior. You guessed it, he's killed straight after. It all makes me feel that those characters are only there to facilitate plot points , and that's something I consider a writer's deadly sin.

Don't get me wrong, though, Cold War is a good watch (it is Doctor Who, after all). The plot, unlike last weeks, is coherent, and it is achieves it's goal of re-introducing the Ice Warriors to both seasoned and fresh-faced viewers. The icing on the cake, however, is Nicholas Briggs voice for the invader from Mars - it's less hissy and louder than the classic version, and captures the old soldier characterisation very well. A friend of mine pointed out it sounded like Predator (who has gone to the trouble of learning the local lingo, in this case), which can only be a point in its favour.

Some will hate Cold War for the amount of liberties it takes with the Ice Warriors. Personally, I loved them, and it makes them feel much more powerful and complex than before. Mark Gatiss has said that he would love to work with the Ice Warriors again, and even look at there homeworld of Mars. Well, Mr Gatiss, carry on like this and I have no objections.


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