If you want to guarantee a successful drama thriller, set it on a submarine.
Films like “Hunt for Red October”, “Crimson Tide” and “Das Boot” build tension from the claustrophobic, semi-dark red-lit sets, all male crews and the constant threat of water breaching the hull.
Set the drama on a nuclear submarine in a Cold War situation where the captain can launch missiles that could destroy the world and directors can make the tension unbearable.
So in this latest “movie of the week” adventure The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) arrive on a Russian nuclear sub in 1983. Emotions are fraught. And down in the hold encased in a block of ice is a creature, an old enemy of the Doctor, that we have not seen in the programme since “The Monster of Peladon” 39 years ago in 1974. An Ice Warrior from the planet Mars.
Since Doctor Who returned to our TV screens in 2005 the producers have updated many of the old classic series monsters. They modernised the Daleks and gave them the ability to fly thus relegating stair cases from being a means of salvation to simply a method of travelling from one floor to another.
The Cyberman upgrade was less successful in my opinion. All that marching around with synchronised heavy metal boot stepping was perhaps too absurd to be frightening.
With the Ice Warrior we have a modern costume which remains almost completely faithful to the original 1960s design. But instead of the slow lumbering tanks of the black and white era, here we see a fast, sleek, suit of armour for a creature hidden within. Initially all we can see is its reptilian mouth beneath the orange visor of its helmet.
But later the Martian escapes from the suit and the crew begin a desperate game of hide and seek in the dingy corridors of the submarine. These scenes are well filmed and directed and the constantly dripping water from overhead adds to the realism.
The Ice Warrior creature strikes quickly from the shadows, from above and below. The drama benefits from the fact that there is only one of the aliens confronting the humans in the confined space of their nuclear sub. It’s a classic base under siege scenario.
Clara once again gets chance to shine when she enters the room where they have chained Ice Warrior up and tries to reason with the monster. The creature’s reference to its own daughter lend the character a depth we tend not to see with more traditional monsters like the Daleks. Clara also teams up with Professor Grisenko played by the excellent David Warner, an older Russian with a liking for 80s bands Ultravox and Duran Duran. This brings a little welcome humour to the tense plot.
Eventually the Ice Warrior re-enters its armour suit and we see for the first time the ugly face of the creature behind the mask. I thought it reminded me of the Predator creatures from the movies.
The ending was a little disappointing given the tense build up. The Doctor once again talks the enemy down and appeals to its compassion. I can forgive this because the Ice Warriors of the classic series were an honourable race and in one story they were even allies of the Doctor. But such endings seem to be common at the moment. A bit dull and a bit predictable.
One of the best episodes of series 7, Cold War very successfully reintroduces another Doctor Who icon. It also reinforces the view that any drama set on a submarine just seems to work.
I did keep expecting Liam Cunningham, who played the Russian submarine captain, to either break out into his best Sean Connery impersonation or to start talking about the colour of Lipizzaner Stallions.
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