Monday 16 February 2015

Doctor Who - The Ice Warriors

Ice To See You

Doctor Who - The Ice Warriors
UK Airdate 11th November - 16th December 1967
BBC Region 2

Okay, so this is a first time watch for me of the first Doctor Who serial to feature the title creatures of this story... The Ice Warriors. I was looking forward to seeing this one because Patrick Troughton is my favourite of the many incarnations of The Doctor throughout the show’s lengthy history and I don’t remember having ever seen this one before. The titular menace, however, are not exactly one of my favourite species of Doctor Who monsters, although they’ve always, since I was a kid, seemed to have been the third most popular monsters of the entire programme, coming in just behind the Cybermen and then the Daleks (although I suspect the Weeping Angels and the Silurians may be a little more popular than the Ice Warriors these days, since they’ve only appeared in the new incarnation of the show once, to date, in 2013).

For me, they’ve always been a bit of a clunky villain and, before they were brought out of cold storage for Matt Smith’s final season as The Doctor, they were really only used in stories opposite Troughton and Jon Pertwee, so they’re not the monsters they used to be in the 1960s and 70s... so to speak. Unfortunately, in this story, they’re exactly the monsters they used to be and... yeah, I’m still not that impressed by them as such... even if their leader is played by Bernard Bresslaw (well I only arrrrrsked).

Another thing which I wasn’t all that impressed with was the story on this one. There’s a nice idea that, in the far future, after the ice caps have risen and are about to claim the entire planet due to various problems, the Earth is split into two factions...Scientists, running the show and standing in for the last remnants of civilisation... and Scavengers, who have abandoned the treacherous ways of science, to an extent, because it was the scientists who got the Earth into this situation in the first place. However, in terms of the problems to be solved and how those final solutions are realised, it seemed to be a much more standard plot than a serial six episodes in length would have called for. It’s not that far off from an old 1950s Republic serial in terms of going back and forth between the same three or so sets trying to find new things to do, to tell you the truth. Add in a subplot taken directly from The Thing From Another World to introduce The Ice Warriors into the plot line and there you have it. So I was a bit disappointed in that aspect of the show, I have to admit.

However, that being said, the acting in this one is very strong. You have the usual regulars being Troughton’s Doctor, Frazer Hines’ reliable Jamie McCrimmon and Victoria Waterfield played by Deborah Watling. They are all very good, of course, but its some of the other actors in this, and what they bring to their characterisations, which makes this particular story worth watching. First of all you have a character called Penley, an ex-Scientist turned Scavenger, played by Peter Sallis as a relatively young man (that‘s Clegg from Last Of The Summer Wine and the voice of Wallace from Wallace And Gromit, to name a few things he’s known for), playing against type as the cleverest and most grounded of all the characters in the serial other than The Doctor himself. He takes control of a situation just when he needs to and is quite helpful at propelling the story, what little there is of it, along.

We also have Peter Barkworth as Clent, the leader of a group of Scientists trying to push back with technology against the ice. Now he’s very interesting because he kind of starts off as the human villain person of the piece, the guy every other rational human has to overcome to be able to do the right thing when it comes to saving the planet, but he is fleshed out so well that you actually begin to empathise with him. Because of the way Barkworth plays him, you totally understand where he’s coming from and it’s a fact that he’s written in such a way that he isn’t totally unreasonable and comes off more like a bad manager who learns a lesson and helps out when thrown a bone... as opposed to an out and out villain. This works really well and you feel, by the end of the sixth episode, that he has kind of redeemed himself a little. This is a well written character, well realised by the actor who portrays him and you’d be hard pushed to find better, these days, than the level of depth he brings to what is, lets face it, a token “sci-fi character of the month” role for the show. Really fantastic stuff.

It’s trying to be a bit of a romp of a serial, this one, but it’s dreadfully slowed down and made more sluggish in some respect by the Ice Warriors themselves... I was getting kind of tired of their ‘hissing’ speech patterns not long after they started. Since Vicky and Jamie are rarely in the same sequence in this one - Victoria spends most of the serial as a hostage and Jamie spends most of the time paralysed, unable to walk, after falling foul of an Ice Warrior weapon - there’s not much in the way of seeing how the two assistants get on with each other in terms of on screen chemistry. I still kind of prefer Zoe over Victoria, to be honest, but that might change when I see more of Vicky as a companion (I’ve not seen Enemy Of The World or reviewed The Web of Fear yet). I find it kinda strange that Vicky just gets sent to the TARDIS for most of the last episode (apparently she was unable to film that week) and also find it strange that their are some unusual continuity errors in this... given that they had a whole six episodes worth to address the issues. For instance, the TARDIS lands on its side but, when it takes off at the end, it has suddenly righted itself again. Similarly, Jamie has a lucky escape from death, as I mentioned before, courtesy of an Ice Warrior’s sonic gun but, after all the fuss, he’s walking around with no problems at all during the final episode with no apparent explanation as to his miracle recovery. So I wondered what had happened to the scripting there.

All in all, although The Ice Warriors is maybe not as fun as most of the Troughton stories I’ve seen, it’s certainly one of the best acted and it’s never quite too sluggish that you lose interest in it. Episodes Two and Three of the Six episode run are, unfortunately, missing presumed wiped, but the sound recordings do still exist... so the episodes have been animated to the original soundtrack. The animation is a bit over stylised/simplified and lacking in much movement (apart from the constant blinking of the characters, for some reason) but it’s watchable enough and certainly one of the better solutions they could have gone with to bring us the entire story... so it’s not too terrible. I’m sure most fans of Troughton will love this story but, it’s not a jumping on point for the Second Doctor if you’ve not seen any of his other, better serials, I would have to say.

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