Of course, that was a lesson the Victorian era Clara found out far too soon. And even though Oswin never technically traveled with the Doctor, she certainly knew the dangers of alien creatures. Now 21st Century Clara does too, but quickly proved capable of overcoming her fears. Going face to face with an Ice Warrior — only to discover it abandoned its armor and is running loose — is scary business, but the thrill of saving the world validates the risk.
Writer Mark Gatiss smartly used the Cold War setting to reintroduce a classic “Who” villain yet to be seen in the show’s 21st Century format: Martian military race the Ice Warriors. In that way, the episode recalled the series’ reintroduction of the Daleks in 2005’s “Dalek” when Rose Tyler first met one of the Doctor’s greatest enemies, who turned out to be somewhat less of a ruthless killing machine than history would suggest.
So too did this Ice Warrior, Grand Marshal Skaldak, who at times was as lethal as the title creature of “Alien” but ultimately proved to have a softer side and was perfectly content to be whisked away by a “Close Encounters”-esque rescue ship without destroying humanity. What are the odds that, just like the Daleks, the next time we see the Ice Warriors they won’t be so easy to reason with?
At any rate, “Cold War” nicely played up the era’s threat of Mutually Assured Destruction and flipped the script by pitting the Russian crew against an alien menace, which gave everyone a slightly different perspective on diplomacy. And the episode’s submarine setting was well-constructed and unique, embellishing the overall claustrophobic vibe. (But it must have been miserable for the poor cast to walk around wet for most of the shoot, right?) Kudos, also, to the new Ice Warrior design: Skaldak was an imposing figure both in and out of his armor.
The guest cast was top shelf — Liam Cunningham (“Game of Thrones”) as the ship’s captain, Tobias Menzies (“Rome”) as his lieutenant and veteran David Warner (who survived a sinking ship shoot before on “Titanic”) as the eccentric New Wave music loving professor — though it would’ve been nice if their characters had a bit more meat to them.
Nevertheless, “Cold War” was a big step up from some of Gatiss’ previous episodes — including lowlights like Series 2’s killer TV story “The Idiot’s Lantern” and Series 5’s WWII-set “Victory of the Daleks” — and further evidence that the Clara era of “Who” will live up to the recent past.
– Good thing the Doctor isn’t a travel agent. Clara thought they were heading to Vegas and they wind up on a sinking submarine. That would be grounds for a refund.
– The professor’s favorite band — Ultravox — was still four years away from splitting up. But they reunited again in 2008 and still tour today.
– Last week the TARDIS wasn’t translating for Clara, this week it was cooperating again (much to her surprise: “They’re speaking Russian!?”). The Doctor mentions resetting the HADS (Hostile Action Displacement System) functionality, so has he just been messing with the controls or is something larger at play? And why did he mention he was still “breaking it in”?
– “The world didn’t end in 1983, or I wouldn’t be here?” Clara says, reasonably enough. “History’s in flux, it can be unwritten,” the Doctor explains. Is the Doctor ignoring something significant about the Impossible Girl because of knowledge he takes for granted?
– “It’s a young man’s game, all this dashing about.”