Saturday, 22 August 2009

The Ice Warriors

Previous viewings - one

If there was any lingering doubt what direction producer Innes Lloyd was taking the series, The Ice Warriors should quash it. By 1967, the goods were being delivered based on a tried and tested formula, and this is no more evident than in Season 5. There's a certain numbing effect from experiencing so many similar stories in sequence, mainly because they're not all going to be good enough to stand out. The scripts for this story in particular seem to have been written by taking the scripts for The Moonbase and changing the character's names.

Brian Hayles pens this first outing for the Ice Warriors. Having seen/heard three of his stories now, I'm starting to get a feel for his writing style; he creates fantastical worlds and then writes in such a way as to reign in the outlandishness of the settings or plots, sort of normalising them. In The Celestial Toymaker, this was disastrous - it just made it dull - but it worked quite well in The Smugglers. He has an easier job of establishing a believable, relatable world in The Ice Warriors, as despite the futuristic setting most of the characters could be picked from the present day and be no different. The isolated group of humans this time around are in control of an ioniser, which keeps the glaciers at bay as a new Ice Age looms, an Ice Age caused by a change in levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. This touches on the modern issue of climate change, which makes the mission of the base personnel hit closer to home than their counterparts in earlier base-under-siege stories.

The Ice Warriors themselves are very memorable. Whether I like them or not I'm not sure - they're certainly not in the league of the Daleks or the Cybermen, but as they come from Mars it gives them a certain distinction that they would lack if they came from the planet Gloob. They are creatures that could only have come from the Troughton era, being portrayed as irredeemably evil creatures, with no regard for human life, and they come complete with distorted voices and lumbering movements, with a body/suit that is way too restrictive. It's becoming something of a Doctor Who tradition for the stock soldiers to be either robot-like or controlled from one central intelligence, and I like that the Ice Warriors are an exception. Their essence is so unashamably B-movie that I can't bring myself to hold any of their design features against them. I'll never be scared of them but as Doctor Who monsters go there's a lot worse.

The story begins with a short montage setting the scene. Yep, it's cold. The TARDIS lands on its side just outside Brittanicus Base. An unusually funny sequence follows as the TARDISeers climb over each other to get out. The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria are being written and played as three best friends, and it's a dynamic thats lots of fun. From then on its right into the action as they wander into the base. The personnel this time around are the obligatory uncooperative base commander Clent, the useless second-in-command Miss Garrett (good to see a woman in authority though), and impulsive scientist Arden. I thought Clent was very well played by Peter Barkworth, being the base commander he is required to be a thorn in the Doctor's side but he's not just playing an archetypal role, he's characterised as a man who sees the world differently from the Doctor and will stand by what he believes in. None of this changes the fact that everybody is only a slight variation on characters we've seen before though.

A spanner in the works is Penley, former scientist at the base who has been expelled and continues to lurk around nearby with his Scottish sidekick Storr. I wasn't keen on either of them, with Storr being especially irritating largely because I hate when the token Scot is the token idiot.

The first episode is a good. As usual, the Doctor wanders into the control room and spots a problem no one else has. It's Patrick Troughton at his eccentric best - the Doctor earns respect by being cleverer than he looks, but like Hartnell at his best, Troughton plays it to leave viewers wondering how much of the Doctor's absentmindedness is deliberate. At their best, the first two Doctors are actually quite similar.

The plot gets going with the discovery of a frozen Ice Warrior, who is taken into the base. He wakes up and takes Victoria hostage as he returns to where he was found to revive his comrades and salvage their ship, which has been trapped beneath the ice for thousands of years. The combination of the hissing Ice Warriors and the screaming Victoria gets hard to endure after a while - Victoria is nice to look at but by god is she irritating, with this story being possibly her worst. The writers gave her a unique background among companions, so why is it never mentioned? I get the impression it's being used merely as a reason for her to be even more scared of everything than a modern girl like Polly would be. She's good with Jamie, and with the Doctor (though they hardly ever get a scene to themselves), but despite a promising beginning she's turned out to be one of the weakest companions.

A large part of the plot concerns the ioniser, a device which is being used to melt the ice. There is a scene I liked in Episode 1 where Clent quizzes the Doctor on solutions to the problem of advancing glaciers. Even when it's dodgy, I like it when science has a role in the plot, as long as it's only used to service the plot.

Obviously, Episodes 2 and 3 are missing. As with the other nearly complete stories, I had a reconstruction of the missing episodes, in this case it was a full reconstruction and not condensed as most people's seem to be. Unfortunately, as seems to be happening a lot lately, the pace slows down as we get to the middle episodes. Victoria remains a prisoner of the Ice Warriors until the last episode so she's out of action, the Doctor doesn't really do much in the base except work out some calculations, while Jamie gets a larger share of the story as he and Arden goes to find the Ice Warrior spaceship and rescue Victoria.

If there's one word to describe these episodes it's ordinary. The Ice Warriors has some striking visuals and music but disappointingly it's not as atmospheric as I was hoping. It's the fact that the Doctor hangs around doing nothing for so long, and that the Ice Warriors are segregated and don't actually attack the base until the last episode, leaving the glaciers themselves to pose most of the threat, that lets it all down. I think Brian Hayles might have fallen into the trap of making a dull story out of an interesting setup again.

Arden is killed and Jamie is injured. Victoria is particularly awful in a scene where she contacts the Doctor to tell him about the Ice Warriors, but can't answer a single question that will give the base personnel a tactical advantage. It's when the Doctor finally decides to go to the Ice Warrior ship himself that the story is livened up a bit. The Ice Warriors view the ioniser as a weapon as they are used to a colder climate and are going to attack the base. Patrick Troughton is wonderful whenever the Doctor has to confront a villain, humour remains integral to his performance but his conviction in playing the Doctor would make you believe in the threat of monster made of pink candy floss. I know Troughton gets loads of praise on this board anyway but there really never was a single bad performance by him.

The conclusion quickens the pace and finally sees more proactive Ice Warriors. While the Ice Warriors enter the base, the Doctor reprograms their weapon to use it against them. They leave in their ship but it explodes upon take-off.

I hate to say this, but The Ice Warriors was another six episodes that could have been four. As I write I'm wondering if I'm being a little hard on the story, but after listening to The Web of Fear, this story has been shown up as something of a dud in comparison. It has a lot going for it - the Ice Warriors themselves are among the best of the crappier Doctor Who baddies (lets face it, they're never going to be the baddies in a classic without a major revamp), and I loved the setting, which is used to its maximum potential. Brian Hayles seems at home writing a monster story, even if not much about it really excels, lifting it above the competition it faces from the other stories in the season which are similar. Worth a watch, and I think it's going to be one that I'll look more favourably on when I watch it on its own, but for now this is definitely one of the lesser Troughtons.

Horror quotient - Do Ice Warriors scare kids? The hissing voices aren't scary. For a base-under-siege, there isn't much sieging going on, the base personnel are left in peace for waaaay too long.
Comedy quotient - The usual carry-on by the Doctor and occasionally Jamie. I wonder why Troughton's Doctor was so frequently put opposite humourless characters?
Drama quotient - Not too bad there. Interest waned a few times over the six episodes but only because of padding. Good direction by Derek Martinus keeps things from getting too boring, at least if we're not in the base.

Like the Ice Warriors themselves, The Ice Warriors has all the elements of something great, but doesn't use them. It's certainly no stinker but my expectations were higher.


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