Sunday, 7 June 2009

Doctor Who: The Ice Warriors

Part One

"Everything here is computerised."

"Oh, never mind."

Back to video, strangely enough for the first time since Troughton took over, about halfway through his tenure. And we get the kind of flashy visual representations of the story title as last seen in The Tenth Planet. The music and the ice is very effective.

Everyone's wearing very... interesting futuristic clothes, but we very quickly come to understand the central dilemma here- people are in thrall to the computer and its scheduling. Unfortunately this central theme has dated more than little- the computer as a vast centralised machine at the centre of the room making decisions- but as we'll see the theme is very well developed.

It's ages until we see the TARDISeers, and the Ship has landed on its side for some reason. I like Jamie's comment about the cold, looking back to the previous story. They're at an odd angle to climb out of the TARDIS, though. I'd like to see this scene from inside the TARDIS, mind- presumably ropes and grappling hooks were involved?

There are a lots of good character scenes between the guest characters, something which was notably missing from The Abominable Snowmen. Clent and Arden's antagonism here is nicely done and helps to develop the story's theme.

It's good to see a very young-looking Peter Sallis and good old Angus Lennie, who seems to be playing a somewhat hairier version of Ives from The Great Escape here.

The science behind this new ice age is odd, and probably seemed plausible at the time, but can't help seeming absurd today. Artificial food leads to plant growth being kept to a minimum, so no carbon dioxide gets into the atmosphere and there's a runaway greenhouse effect? Riiight...

(ETA: I've just started to read the rest of this thread, and realised that I'm just about the only person not to spot the obvious total wrongness of the way photosynthesis is described here. Duh!)

More good stuff fills out the episode, establishing the shape of the story to come. We get some stock footage of an avalanche- we'll be seeing a lot more of that. The Doctor quickly establishes his usefulness to Clent, and easily fends off questions by claiming to have been "in retreat" in Tibet. And, of course, it's made plain that the Doctor isn't at all keen on this reliance on computers.

Part Two

"We are part of the world plan."

Back to the recon, and at first I wasn't sure I had the right episode, as there seems to be no reprise and Victoria is captured very quickly. It's odd to think that Varga is played by Bernard Bresslaw- it certainly doesn't show, and frankly I'm mystified as to why they cast someone so high profile in such a role!

Not much is happening, but in a good way- there's good character stuff going on all the time. Arden says of Clent that he "should have been born a robot"! And the Doctor gets a couple of nicely done individual chats with both Clent and Penley, establishing the differences between them, essentiality individualism versus conformity.

Part Three

"Save the world? That has a nice Clentian ring to it!"

Peter Barkworth is superb as Clent, giving the character physical and vocal quirks which really make him come alive. The clumsy way Clent tries to convince Arden to not blame himself for unleashing Varga is a superb piece of acting. Meanwhile, Penley gets a great line: "Clent doesn't need me. He just needs a mirror. Preferably rose-tinted."

I love the scene where, having refused to use a computer for his calculations (!), the Doctor tells Clent he has a very important request- a pencil!

Victoria gets very hysterical indeed at the end of the episode- she's having quite a traumatic time so far.

Part Four

"Well, you don't expect me to face Clent alone? That mouthpiece of the computer? He's got a printed circuit where his heart should be!"

All footage from now on. Hooray! Unfortunately, it becomes increasingly apparent from this point on that the scenes "outside" with "walls of ice" are in fact taking place in rather small sets!

Nice touch that Jamie's pleased to hear fellow Scot Storr call himself a "loyalist"! Otherwise, character moments are not so frequent this episode, mainly because things are actually happening and the pieces are beginning to move into place. It's become increasingly apparent that the Ice Warriors are hostile mainly because they mistakenly believe the ionizer to be a weapon. Then again, they do kill Storr, so they're not exactly nice!

Part Five

"Our trust is in the Great Computer."

While the Doctor kills some time with the Ice Warriors, Jamie and Penley spend some time on film watching some stock footage of wolves, in the only episode to show any blatant padding. Still, there's still plenty of good stuff. It's notable that, while the Doctor is able to defiantly tell the Ice Warriors early on that "I always live in hope", Penley accuses Clent of behaving very differently: "You mean hope happens to be inconvenient. You've got to stick to your precious schedule, is that it?"

This theme of whether to accept the computer's direction is really coming to the fore now, not that it's ever exactly been subtext. But although the theme is well done it's unfortunately dated, not only in terms of computer technology but in terms of its implications of a planned society.

Oh, and why does one of the Ice Warriors seem to have a bigger helmet than all the others?

I like the scenes of Victoria pretending to cry- Deborah Watling is essentially acting someone who's acting badly, and doing it very well!

Part Six

"Computer says no!"

Everything comes to a very neat conclusion here in a more than usually satisfying finale, as Clent and Miss Garrett's almost religious faith in the computer is finally tested to destruction. It's nicely done how Walters' rant against the computer at the start of the episode is counterbalanced by a later rant from Clent. And the reconciliation between Clent and Penley is nicely understated but well done.

Hang on, why is the TARDIS suddenly vertical at the end?

Overall, most enjoyable. For the second time in a row we get a six parter which more or less justifies its length. It's interesting how the flaws and virtues of The Abominable Snowmen- great concepts and atmosphere versus often bland guest characters- are reversed here, where a fairly standard base-under-siege story is made to work through good characterisation of both the regulars and the guest cast. 4/5.

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