Monday, April 15, 2013

Review: Cold War

Alright, nothing bad really to say about this episode; I actually couldn't think of any major problems I had with it.  I did enjoy it, so count this review as a positive one.

The year is 1983.  A Soviet nuclear submarine is performing a launch drill somewhere near the North Pole when it is interrupted by Professor Grisenko (played funnily and brilliantly by David Warner).  The first mate opines to the captain that the Americans' aggressiveness is an indication that the Cold War is about to become a hot one, and that they must continue with further drills.  The older, less hot-headed captain informs him that the crew has practiced enough for one day and orders a stand down.

A little later, we see a sailor thawing out a block of ice in which some kind of specimen, thought to perhaps be a mammoth, is trapped.  Suddenly an armored hand bursts through the ice and grabs the sailor by the neck.  The submarine soon begins to sink, and it is then that the TARDIS appears on board with the Doctor and Clara exiting thinking they've landed in Las Vegas.  And from there "Cold War" really kicks into gear as we get to see an Ice Warrior for the first time in almost forty years!

Doctor Who contributing writer Mark Gatiss did a very good job with this episode, and director Douglas MacKinnon handled the story quite capably.  Gatiss had apparently been wanting to do one featuring the Ice Warriors, and after much begging finally convinced head writer Stephen Moffat to let him give it a go.

The rest of the episode revolves around trying — not always successfully — to negotiate a non-violent resolution to the crisis at hand, mirroring the handling of the Cold War itself.  The Ice Warrior, a famous Grand Marshall named Skaldek, is compelled by Martian law to go to war against any who attack an Ice Warrior, and having been attacked upon waking after 5,000 years in a block of ice, he's understandably cranky.  The episode really did a good job of playing on this as a reminder of the Cold War during the 1980s.  Although it was actually winding down at this point, with Russia going bankrupt as a result of overspending on its military and growing disillusionment with Soviet-style communism, paranoia and rhetoric on both sides were still running high.

David Warner as Professor Grisenko illustrates this disillusionment with an almost carefree attitude and a love for American pop music, which he listens to through his headphones.  By contrast, First Mate Stephashin is all too eager to see nuclear war break out, figuring that the Americans will launch their missiles soon so the Soviets might as well beat them to the punch.  Captain Zhukov, played by Cunningham, represents the middle ground between these two extremes.

Also well handled was giving us, the viewers, for the first time, a glimpse of what the Ice Warriors look like underneath all that armor they wear.  Although the CGI makes him look a bit silly, the practical effects are much better, and thankfully the CGI isn't used too much.  Check this out and tell me what you think:

"I floss my teeth with the tendons of vanquished foes."
Actually looks kinda badass, doesn't he?  The creative team wisely decided not to deviate too much from the classic design, opting simply to give him a gigantic size and body-builder physique (as opposed to the barrel-shaped costumes worn in the classic series).  Actor Spencer Wilding, standing at 6'7", was the perfect choice to portray the Ice Warrior Skaldek, having previously acted the part of the Minotaur in "The God Complex" and the Tree King in "The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe".

All in all, I give this episode a B+.  For another take on "Cold War", Den of Geek's review.

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