The Ice Warriors

Written by:
Brian Hayles
Directed by: Derek Martinus
Starring: Patrick Troughton
Year: 1967
Video Availability: Try Amazon

As one of the last three stories I've left to review - all of them Troughton ones - I have to admit that it's been my least favourite period to cover. I'm not sure why this is. Maybe it's because, while individually watchable, there's too much thematic similarity between the stories to give me something to say about them. Certainly, while the weakest of his seasons, I enjoyed writing about season six the most. I guess the fact that so little of it actually exists - fewer than 20% of Troughton's seasons four and five - doesn't help matters, either. Yet perhaps the real problem is that, while often too quaint by today's standards, it's all also too good. Being polite and supportive of story after story is no fun at all, and I actually look forward to the next Krotons or Underwater Menace just to give me something to put my teeth into.

So, the episode itself. As with the best Doctor Who, there's an innovative blend of style and budget saving: having those futuristic control panels (which still, Ipod-style, look reasonably ahead of their time) in an old manor house is a touch of miser-inspired genius.

The vocal overtones do date the serial ever so slightly, and there's a little too much cutesy humour from the regulars for my liking. Every story from this season seems to open with Jamie and the Doctor doing some forced knockabout schtick as Watling pretends to laugh unconvincingly. Then there's Jamie musing over whether Victoria should wear a miniskirt. Just crack one off in the Tardis and shut up about it.

Some of the science is sloppy, and that old git out of Last of the Summer Wine gets some clunky lines, delivered badly. Yet amongst the silly sound effects, dubbed on wolf noises and questionable fashions, this one still stands up remarkably well. It's more instantly accessible than the other season five stories, and its virtual realtime pacing makes it unique in the pantheon of original Who. A good one.
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Okay, I confess. I got a friend to tape me the existing episodes, and as I didn't buy the video release with the audio CD provided, or get a reconstruction, I haven't reviewed these two episodes. The finding of four episodes in 1989 was a massive breakthrough, but episodes two and three still remain lost, neatly recapped on the video release with still images and audio snatches. My experience of the two relies on this 17'44m extract, with David Harley's narration slightly lacking, but the presentation very well done. I feel comfortable giving an overall remark on the story as we've got the establishing episode and the final three weeks, but as for the quality of these two… who really knows?
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Ice Leader Varga was famously played by Bernard Bresslaw, one of my favourite Carry On members. (For the record, my favourite's probably the Monk himself, Peter Butterworth). It might have been fun to have a little "I only arsked" in-gag, but I guess it would be too silly, wouldn't it? Also exceptional is Peter Barkworth as Leader Clent.

As a fairly Victoria-centric episode then naturally it's something of a comedown, while the olden day telephone dial on the computer goes beyond likeable quaint. Dudley's having a bonkers orgy with his music, while Angus Lennie plays a silly comedy character that only serves to further highlight just how fake Frazer's "Scottish" accent is. Nevertheless, it still retains its level of durability, even if it does come over as more Doctor Who lite than some other eras of the programme. Interestingly, this episode contains the phrase "weapon of destruction" some 36 years before George Bush reworked it slightly for his own ends…
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One legitimate complaint made about this story is that it's never made clear how far away all the various locations are from one another. Victoria seems to take ages to negotiate them all, while the Doctor flits from one to another scene after scene. Are they within yards of each other? Miles? It's difficult to judge. Another point of note is just how little Frazer gets to do in the story, totally sidelined and incapacitated throughout.

In the shaky studio "exteriors" they actually hired a real bear for this one rather than using stock footage. It's a shame, because when you see it you instantly assume it's stock footage anyway. Also curious is Varga's "sss-sss-sss" laugh-like noise, and their non lip-synching lips. It's supposed to make them look alien, but instead looks like Blessed and co. couldn't mime adequately to the prerecorded lines. If you want one of my semi-serious homo theories about Who, then there does seem to be some deep-seated feeling between Clent and Penley that goes beyond professional rivalry. Maybe that's where he got the limp? Finally, is it just me or does Walters (Malcolm Taylor) look like Ian Levine before he lost the weight?
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Slow monsters, the Ice Warriors, when you think about it. While they worked well as support in The Curse of Peladon (and appallingly in Monster) as stars of their own story they're perhaps too lumbering to really engage. It's taken the buggers five episodes just to get out of their base, so pedestrian is this nearly forty years old serial at times.

One major flaw with Hayles's writing is that instead of allowing the viewer to make up their own minds about the themes and issues the story raises, it wraps them up in unnaturalistic platitudes, usually for Peter Sallis to deliver. As for the famous goof where the Tardis is upright at the end… um... maybe they pushed it up first?
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A solid, well made story, even if its "reliance on computers is bad" ideology is yet a further example of Who's frequent reactionary political stance. Not the most ambitious Doctor Who story, but one that's strong on all general levels of acting, writing, direction and production.
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