Claustrophobic and frantic: the two best words to describe Cold War.  Two of my favorite Doctor Who episodes, Horror at Fang Rock and Midnight, have a wonderfully claustrophobic atmosphere that successfully creates a dramatic sense of angst.  While the Doctor never runs away from someone who needs help sometimes running is the only option, so when running isn’t an option, as in Cold War, the tension is palpable.
doctor-who-cold-war-promo-pics-27-170x125In keeping with the recent trend of resurrecting villains from the Doctor’s past, a la the Great Intelligence in Snowmen and The Bells of Saint John, and the Zygons in the upcoming 50th anniversary special, the Ice Warriors certainly deserved to make a return, and they did so in a big way in Cold War.  I love when references are made to Classic Who, but when they actually bring something back which hasn’t been seen since the 70’s it just brings a warm fuzzy feeling to my singular Whovian heart. 
“Prepare to launch nuclear weapons!” is the first line spoken in the episode.  Of course it’s just a drill, but there’s still something deadly on board a Soviet Submarine; an Ice Warrior!  It is the first time an ice warrior’s claw has graced the screen in over thirty years and it is busting through a block of ice and grabbing someone’s throat!  The Ice Warrior breaks free and causes the sub to plummet.  The TARDIS materializes amidst the chaos that ensues.  The Doctor, not yet privy to his old foe’s presence, helps land the sub safely…700 meters below the surface.  Despite his help, Submarine Captain Zhukov orders the Doctor seized, and soon Clara appears as if she’s in trouble as she attempts to retrieve the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver which was knocked from his hand.  This was one of the most action-packed openers in a while, and it worked brilliantly.    
doctor-who-cold-war-promo-pics-6-170x125The Doctor’s re-introduction to the Ice Warriors comes when one appears behind him as he is talking to Captain Zhukov.  The Doctor is surprised to say the least, but not as much as when the Ice warrior announces himself as Grand Marshal Skaldek, who the Doctor knows is a long lost Ice Warrior hero.  It turns out Skaldek has been frozen in the North Pole for 5,000 years.  After being rendered unconscious and bound in chains, Skaldek awakes and sends out a distress call to his “brothers” when nobody is looking. 
I really enjoyed the way the Ice Warriors were fleshed out as a race.  Through clever dialogue and exposition the Doctor elaborates that the Ice Warriors are a proud race of soldiers that live by a code.  Along with Skaldek’s story of losing his daughter and his civilization being dust after his 5,000 years of sleep, depth is finally given to a previously two-dimensional species after nearly forty years.  The Doctor tries to appeal to Skaldek and convince him that they aren’t his enemy by trying to explain how what happened to him was a mistake.  The trouble really ramps up when Clara discovers that the Skaldek they shackled for safekeeping is actually a decoy.  In actuality the creature simply escaped his armor.
doctor-who-cold-war-promo-pics-14-170x125Alone with the Ice Warrior Clara is in trouble, and for the second time this episode we get a brief sort of “out of time” moment with Clara as she goes through a life-threatening situation.  I wonder if this was deliberate, and is some miniscule clue to her mystery.  We actually don’t get anything more about Clara in the episode, and I have to say I am happier for it.  I, for one, prefer this mystery to be drawn out rather than rushed.  One thing to note about Clara in this episode is that she often takes control of the situation by pointing something out, coming up with a solution, or simply taking the reigns where it would usually be the Doctor doing so.  At times this appears to surprise the Doctor, although he shows that he is proud of her with subtle expressions.  The mystery surrounding Clara is intriguing enough that I’m starting to see possible clues in everything, even where they probably aren’t.  

So the Doctor realizes Skaldek hasn’t gotten a response from the other Ice Warriors and that he must feel that he is stranded and without hope.  Skaldek being on a submarine with nuclear missiles and nothing to lose, the Doctor suggests, may not be a good thing.  In a scene where some poor seaman is looking for Skaldek we get one of the creepiest scenes I’ve seen in Doctor Who: a pair of sinister reptilian claws appears from the ceiling and wrap around the poor seaman’s head.  It is made even more menacing because an Ice Warrior has never been seen outside of its armor.  I think it was a brilliant way to add something new to something so very old. 

doctor-who-cold-war-promo-pics-26-170x125 (1)A little later on when Skaldek’s spindly claws grab Clara I thought we were going to see another of her incarnations die.  But it didn’t go that way.  Instead we get a glimpse of the ice warrior’s true face through thick black smoke up in the ceiling.  It’s a surprisingly effective visual, keeping in line with the rest of the episode’s superb look and feel.  It seems as though Skaldek was just buying time, as he soon becomes reunited with his protective armor that he had remotely summoned.  After he stomps off to use the missiles on the sub to bring as much destruction to the planet as he can, the Doctor and Clara quickly pursue. 
All gathered around the launch controls the Doctor threatens to blow up the entire submarine to stop Skaldek from launching just one missile that would turn the Cold War into a very hot one.  He appeals to Skaldek’s sense of honor, but it is Clara who picks up on an earlier moment When Skaldek hesitated as he was about to kill someone.  She makes him think of all the innocents who would die, reminding him of the daughter he lost, and it delays him long enough for a triumphant rescue… by the returning Ice Warriors!  They tractor-beam the sub up from the depths and take away Skaldek before he has a chance to launch the missile.  With Skaldek gone, it is still possible the Ice Warriors could trigger the launch remotely and the Doctor is poised on the edge of making the decision to destroy the ship.  Luckily the Ice Warriors leave, perhaps due to the appeal of their returned hero.  
doctor-who-cold-war-promo-pics-31-170x125This episode was more viscerally menacing than most in recent years.  Mr. Moffat has been trying all season to make us feel like we’re watching a “blocker buster” movie every week, but this is the first episode that succeeds in reaching that goal.  Also, I find it refreshing being able to sit back and watch a well put together science fiction adventure without having to care about the details of story behind it.  This isn’t a knock on the episode at all, but a welcome diversion from the intertwined narratives that have been threaded through the episodes recently.  This was a true standalone episode, and it was an excellent one at that.
I’ve noticed a subtle change in the show itself this entire season, even stretching back to before the Ponds left.  The last two episodes especially have felt very much like Classic Who adventures.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I can’t ignore it either.  I don’t know if it was deliberate by the episode’s writer, Mark Gatiss, or if it is all part of Mr. Moffat’s grand plan, but this episode made me feel like I was watching a Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker episode in all the best possible ways.  I am not exaggerating when I say that after my first viewing this episode jumped up into the company of my favorite episodes of NuWho.  It wasn’t overly plot-driven, didn’t rely on timey-wimeyness, and there wasn’t any saving the world with Love.  Cold War was just full of mood, tension, action, and good old-fashioned fun.  Fantastic episode!
image source: [doctorwhotv]