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Doctor Who: 708 “Cold War” Review


Reviewed by Adam James Cuthbert

“You speak excellent Russian, my dear, but sometimes I don’t understand a word you’re talking about.” – Professor Grisenko

Mark Gatiss’ track-record for Doctor Who is hit-and-miss. His stories typically revolve around the ‘body-horror’ subgenre, situating characters in grim, macabre predicaments against a seemingly impassable foe. When Gatiss migrates outside his comfort zone (i.e. Victory of the Daleks, and its garish multi-coloured ensemble), the quality of his narrative suffers. The result is a maudlin, tedious affair, featuring amateurish tirades and uninteresting characters. Cold War, sadly, fits this description.

Now, I’ve never experienced the Ice Warriors in action before, so coming into Cold War I was excited yet cautious. The premise paralleled Robert Shearman’s critically-lauded Dalek: a lone solider, motivated by its blood-thirst for revenge. However, where Dalek was a victorious reintroduction of the Daleks (without straying significantly from their fundamental physiology), Cold War makes a fatal lapse of judgment. Part of what makes the Martian design appealing is the underlying mystery concerning the creature encased within the armour, yet recognising what defines the Ice Warrior, the solider in action (as opposed to the ‘civilian’ Martian) is the armour and its symbolic power. To my mind, the Ice Warrior is meant to be a hulking, monstrous brute, designed for strength and resilience, rather than stealth. When Grand Marshal Skaldak leaves his armour to skulk in the shadows of the Firebird, the story transforming into Ridley Scott’s Alien on a submarine, the risk involved in this decision misfires. I’ve no qualms, as such, about elaborating on the mythology of the species (their code of honour is interlinked with their armour) if it didn’t turn into a wholly different alien. The slender limbs, the partly glimpsed body, the deep voice… It’s clichéd, and Skaldak himself was a clichéd villain. There’s no real personality or depth outside of belligerence, and Gatiss’ sentimental storytelling is wearisome. There’s also no explanation for how Skaldak arrived on Earth, nor the circumstances under which he was preserved in ice. (What happened to his spacecraft? Did it sink into the depths of the Arctic Ocean? Did any Ice Warriors investigate his disappearance? I would’ve appreciated a historical context from Skaldak himself.)

I will say, though, within the context of the narrative, the audience’s retrospective awareness that Skaldak has always been outside his armour when Clara enters the torpedo room (a scene that visually recalls Dalek) does intensify the creepiness of the atmosphere. The sequence itself was well-composed, and I’ll commend the direction and lighting.  Indeed, the lighting becomes one of Cold War’s more striking features – at the cost of making the atmosphere gloomier than intended.

Speaking of characters, Clara was the highlight. Although her dialogue with David Warner’s Professor Grisenko dispels any remote tension, given their immediate predicament, nonetheless I could almost enjoy Clara’s relationship with Warner’s grandfatherly figure – even if the dialogue was cringe-worthy (“Ultravox. Do they spilt up?”). It’s occurred to me that this series’ heavy focus on Clara (thus far) may be a deliberate ploy to invest the audience emotionally within the character, so, come the finale, the revelation of her ‘true’ purpose – assuming this is the case – will be an accentuated shock to both Clara and the audience. We will be made to sympathise with her because she’s a victim.

The reintroduction of the H.A.D.S. (The Krotons) was pointless fan-service (the denouement was unfunny, with the Doctor, again, seen to act like a malcontent child; sheepishly confessing to Clara, then mocking the adults’ laughter). It didn’t help matters by the story’s decisively cop-out resolution – as it prevents either the Doctor or Skaldak from making a choice; ideally with Skaldak relenting. The TARDIS didn’t need to dematerialise. There’s an Ice Warrior loose on a Soviet submarine, primed with nuclear missiles. The characters would have stayed to investigate, then safely returned the survivors home, including Skaldak, following his change in heart.

Verdict: 4/10

If Cold War can be summarised in one word: “disappointing”. The story contains a plethora of flaws. The Soviet crew consisted of Redshirts, Stephasin was a paranoid, clichéd fool, disdainful of his superior’s attitude. Only Liam Cunningham’s Captain Zhukov was remotely interesting: a man willing to place his patriotism aside to prioritise his crew’s survival, assisting a stranger against their common adversary. I liked the nuance, however, of the Kremlin withholding, what we can presume is, knowledge of extra-terrestrial activity – synonymous to the British government/UNIT in the Whoniverse. (Aliens aren’t deferential to the south of England, then.) Logically, the Doctor wouldn’t be fazed at the sight of mutilated corpses, but it’s upsetting he didn’t act more compassionately. Fortunately, Clara’s reaction (“Seeing those bodies… It’s all very… real”) adds a layer of substance to an otherwise glibly grim scene. The climax was reminiscent of Battlefield’s pacifist preach against the villain utilising nuclear missiles for revenge – which isn’t a positive indicator of the story’s merit.

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  • Thomas Firth

    You’re review maybe full of sophisticated words, but you’re analysis is not to my taste, I found the episode a challenge, and the fans of the show have spoken similarly. You are clearly not a fan.

    • TheScribe

      Your, not You’re. :)

      • Thomas Firth

        Thank you

        • TheScribe

          You’re welcome. :)

          • Thomas Firth

            I am from Wales, and so grammar is not a strong-point as my Welsh is considerably stronger.

          • TheScribe

            Ah. I’m not conversant with Welsh; I surmise that is your first language? :)

          • Thomas Firth

            Oh yes!

  • Broccoli

    Honestly, my biggest problem was that the beginning just sort of happened. There wasn’t any explanation as to why the Ice Warrior had been found (digging for oil isn’t an explanation) and then the Doctor just arrived for no reason. Why? I don’t know; this episode was only forty minutes. Even five minutes could have served to make the beginning more clear and the resolution slightly less haha. However, cliche as it was, I did like when the Ice Warriors arrived. Although using that as the resolution was rather cheating. Also, now that the “Sonic Screwdriver Self-Destruct” has been put on the table, it is doubtful it won’t be used. If there’s a gun on the table in the first act, it’ll go off in the second. The middle was cliche and a bit too like “Dalek” (especially the video feed), but overall, it was a decent enough episode. Not great, not awful, just middle ground.

    • Harry Jewell

      Yes, I wish there was some sort of way we could of found out how they found the ice warrior. The ice warrior is in the ice but how did it get in the ice? I wish there was more explanation at the start and then the plot could of moved forward from there. I wonder what ‘Hide’ will be like, hopefully a little better than ‘the Rings of Akhaten’ which is written by the same guy, (Neil Cross).

      • alex_494

        I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the Ice Warrior is in the ice because its ship crashed.

        • Harry Jewell

          Good theory. Or maybe the ice warrior was on a mission doing something and then fell deep into the sea and eventually froze up?

    • alex_494

      The Doctor was aiming for Las Vegas. He arrived on the submarine by accident. This has happened before, in Series 5, when he was trying to go to Rio and ended up in Wales. Presumably, the TARDIS is taking him where he needs to be and not where he wants to go, as mentioned in the Doctor’s Wife.

  • TardisBoy

    For the third time, I’m in complete agreement with your review Adam. I like you had never experienced an episode featuring the Ice Warriors. So like you I was beyond excited to finally see them in action. But the episode just didn’t do them justice; for all the points you make in your excellently written review.

    I think one of my biggest niggles with the episode, was the ending! It was rushed – again! Which I’m finding is a common occurrence with all episodes in Series 7 so far. There were too many ideas within the episode for Gatiss to be able to utilise them all sufficiently in the time length of the episode (Which is surprising as the episode was only 41 minutes) After the huge build up throughout the episode, the end was an anticlimax to say the least!

    And don’t get me started on the true form of the Ice Warriors, which for me ruined them completely.

    Anyway, excellent review yet again Adam, I am in complete agreement with all the points you have raised. Let’s hope Hide will be a vast improvement next week, which judging by the trailer, i’m sure it will be :)

  • Harry Jewell

    I disagree with you,
    But you layed your review out very well, picking at some points I hadn’t really thought much of before reading this article.


    Good article Adam. I’ve read all of your articles this series – all of a very high standard I must add – but I’ve not commented on them. So it’s time to get the ol’ typewriter out from the cupboard and give my reasons to why I disagree with you.

    Gatiss’ episodes haven’t been impressive. The four before this episode were sadly ‘lacking’ something. When I watch his episodes, that what I feel. It’s like he’s forgotten to add the pastry to the pie(worst analogy ever). A vital ingredient gone missing.

    But in Cold War, I think he got it right. I quite liked the idea of Skaldak leaving his armour. It added something new to them. Something I didn’t expect. Like you said, the scene in which Clara – through the Doctor – is talking to Skaldak in the darkened room, is good. It’s scary. There are other moments too: Skaldak with his hands around the face of a Russian, Skaldak strangling another, then killing others brutally with blood everywhere. Then we he is in his armour, he’s not being weakened when the cornered Russians are firing their guns at him. I`m presuming they die. I loved the way the Ice Warrior was portrayed in this episode.

    As for your point on the cop-out ending, I disagree. I liked the face off between the Doctor and Skaldak. It was akin to the Cold War itself. Both sides threatening to kill, but never actually doing it. As for the way Skaldak left, it was a little weak. But the story was good throughout, which more or less made up for it.

    I`m surprised by your verdict. After reading that article, I thought you’d have it higher. Each to their own though. Always an enjoyable read.

  • You’d Better Hide, PK-S.

    Adam James Cuthbert, you are by far my most-favored penman on Cult Fix. Your reviews are eloquent defensives, and you pick out major plotholes that I’ve missed. With the case of Cold War, I must agree with many points. The including of H.A.D.S. was utterly unnecessary and the end scene in which the Doctor asks, “would you give us a lift?” is childish and just plain silly. Mark Gatiss appears to still be writing for ‘old Doctor Who’. The new series is wonderfully modern and different and Cold War is a cold return to form. I am very much inclined to agree.

    I love your reviews Adam.. why on Earth are you so good at them? Its inhuman!


      Why was the including of H.A.D.S unnecessary?

      In my view, it helped to move the story along. In ‘base under siege’ episodes, the TARDIS really does need to be a bystander. It’s also a good nod to ‘Classic Who’.

      • You’d Better Hide, PK-S.

        The Doctor and Clara would hardly have toddled off in the TARDIS at the sight of the Ice Warrior if the ship remained. The Russell T Davies used the trick of sealing the TARDIS off from the lead two (42, The Impossible Planet, Fear Her – in part, The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords, The Poison Sky) and it was always nice to see our heroes stranded, especially in the case for 42 and The Impossible Planet but its use in Cold War was unnecessary. The Doctor and Clara would not have left and the TARDIS hardly posed as a deus ex machina. If it was included it would have meant the submarine didn’t have to surface and everyone, as Adam says, could have been dropped off home.

        • THE QUESTOR

          No. But the Doctor wouldn’t have ordered to chain the Ice Warrior up, and put everybody on the Sub in grave danger. Sensibly, he would’ve taken the Ice Warrior in his TARDIS.

          • You’d Better Hide, PK-S.

            I don’t think so. As Lieutenant Stephashin electrocuted the Ice Warrior, I hardly think the Doctor would have been able to either forcefully take the Ice Warrior into the TARDIS, or not, as the Ice Warrior would not have just strolled into the ship even if the Doctor put up an argument.

            I understand why Gatiss subtracted the TARDIS in this episode. He got to include H.A.D.S. (we all fanboyed when that was mentioned) and he got rid of the two typically devices of deus ex machina. The sonic screwdriver was confiscated, though it turned up just when needed, and the TARDIS dematerialized. I don’t think the TARDIS posed enough of a deus ex machina to be taken out. The circumstances did not dictate this.

          • alex_494

            TARDIS = Lifeboat. The threat of the submarine sinking and the air running out would have been entirely moot had the TARDIS still been present.

    • Cult_Of_Robespierre

      Why the unnecessary insult to Classic Who?

      • You’d Better Hide, PK-S.

        I believe you and others are getting the wrong end of the stick. When I mean ‘old Doctor Who’ – I mean the Pond era. Since Christmas the series has felt “wonderfully modern and different” and Cold War felt like a return to the Pond era episodes – to me it didn’t fit in with the other two episodes. I adore Classic Who, I find it ultimately more superior to New Who – I would never insult it; it gets too much of that already.

        • Cult_Of_Robespierre

          I’m sorry. I seem to have misjudged you. :) I disagree, but I should’ve known you would never insult the Classic series.

    • The Toaster of Ras…Red Dwarf

      Since when was Classic Who more immature than New Who? If anything, New Who is more immature. Have you watched any Classic episodes?

      • TardisBoy

        Obviously, since he’s written many articles about Classic Who in the past.

        • The Toaster of Ras…Red Dwarf

          Which ones? I honestly can’t remember any.

  • ladyoctarina

    This is the second time I disagree with one of your reviews (the first was Akhaten), though I acknowledge it’s well-written, as usual. Yes, the episode is full of clichés, bu they’re not a problem as long as they’re well-used, which they are, here. Also, how can you possibly see any emphasis being put on Clara? There’s barely any character-development at all in “Cold War”, she was entirely unnecessary to this episode.

    • The Toaster of Ras…Red Dwarf

      Not entirely unnecessary, no; two vital ‘companion initiation’ moments were featured.

  • TheHordeofTravesties™

    I didn’t enjoy this episode, I came away feeling disappointed. I think I always been slightly biased towards the RTD Era so In a way I don’t enjoy new episodes that much. Also, I used to watch Doctor Who with my family from Series 1 but after Series 5 they stopped so in a way it dampens your enjoyment. I still like some episodes but I always have that view, if that makes sense.

    Mark Gattis’s best episode is still ‘The Unquiet Death’. It genuinely terrified me as a child. I agree with most of your points on Cold War. Great Review.

    • Harry Jewell

      Try and have an open mind when watching Moffat era episodes and other episodes as well.

  • Mercy Reborn

    It was a brilliant article but I really liked Cold War because it was scary, and I loved the Ice Warrior, the new design looks a lot cooler than the classic ones did. I thought the professor was funny and it was a clever idea to set it in a submarine

  • Joeh Jobo Simons

    HaHa! Someone agrees with me!

  • The Toaster of Ras…Red Dwarf

    Surely how the Dalek was depicted in Dalek could be seen as just as cliched as how Skaldak was depicted here? At least, to people who have seen a lot of television/films.

  • TheScribe

    Mr. Cuthbert, your reviews are typified by eloquence and erudition. Your nonpareil diction makes your work a pleasure to construe. You draw parallels between Doctor Who and other notable entities, showing you are a learned writer.

    Kudos. :D

    • Pdurston

      I love your comments Scribe. :D

      • TheScribe

        Really?! :D Thank you! :D

    •!/Jawsey The Weeping Jawsey

      I am always slightly worried that when the two of you get together you’ll create a pocket universe in where all words are spoken with a minimum of 3 syllables

      • TheScribe

        Hahahahahahahaha… mega syllables… XD

  • Fezzes_and_Broomsticks

    I think the Hide review is the only one I agree with you out of the four so far! I hated Akhaten but loved Cold War. Akhaten was flawed on every single level, this one only has two or three. I know which I’d rather have, Ice Warrior wreaking havoc or a little girl singing a song for half an hour (which wakes up a creature in a box who you see for a total of 3 and a half minutes). Akhaten was just awful.

  • twoheartsonemind

    Surprisingly, I agree with you on the rating of this episode. How average. It’s good to see that Gatiss put so much more into The Crimson Horror.


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