The Doctor and Clara are back in the Eighties, but with slightly better fashion sense in this week’s episode of Doctor Who.
It’s 1983, and a Russian nuclear sub is cruising around the North Pole, looking for oil. In their search, they’ve retrieved a “specimen” frozen in the ice that they’re planning on bringing back to Moscow to defrost. Midshipman Plotdevice decides to be That Guy and uses a blowtorch to crack the ice a couple of weeks early, leading to his untimely, if predictable, death and the release of this week’s Bad Guy.
A number of hours later, The Doctor and Clara, who had been aiming for Vegas, appear on the bridge of the now-sinking submarine. The Doctor manages to keep the sub from sinking below its survivable depth by maneuvering it onto a nearby undersea ridge. Unfortunately, the jarring impact and a well-placed leak give the TARDIS a bit of a fright, and she skips off without her pilot or her passenger.
The Russians’ attempt to figure out whether or not the Doctor and Clara are spies for the West is summarily interrupted by the appearance of “the specimen,” whom the Doctor recognizes as Grand Marshal Skaldak, the greatest hero the Martian Ice Warriors have ever known. A frightened sailor hits him with a cattle prod, which is an act of war by the Martian code. Now, rather than summoning his people and going home, Skaldak is going to kill every last human on Earth. Harsh.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, Skaldak’s people aren’t responding to his summons, leaving him with nothing left to lose. He abandons his armor (a huge dishonor in Ice Warrior culture) and starts tearing apart both the ship and its inhabitants to study how best to accomplish his global destruction plan. He comes to the conclusion that all he needs to do is launch a single nuke at the Western powers to kick off the Cold War and allow humanity to destroy itself. Skaldak makes it to the bridge and arms to the warheads. All he has to do is press one button and the entire world ends in 1983. The Doctor demonstrates the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction by promising to use the sonic screwdriver to blow up the entire submarine with them inside if Skaldak makes a move towards launching the nukes.
Clara manages to talk him down by appealing to his deeper emotions about his now long-dead daughter. As Skaldak is making his decision, his people arrive in a ship large enough to drag the sunken sub up to the surface, thereby saving everyone on board. Skaldak, now back in his armor, is beamed back to his ship, but the warheads are still armed and under his control. After several tense moments, the Ice Warrior send a signal back to the sub to disarm the nukes and the 80s are safe once again. The Doctor and Clara, however, need a lift to the South Pole, where the TARDIS is now patiently waiting.
So this was not a bad episode, and it was awesome to see the reimagined Ice Warriors, but I can’t say it was a brilliant episode, either. “The Rings of Akhaten” had a much better flow and a stronger place in the season arc, as far as I’m concerned. To me, this episode seemed a little patchy in places. I couldn’t figure out why the Professor was supposed to be a prominent character, nor did I understand the purpose of
Leftenant Grumpypants Stepishan. They set Stepishan up as the traitor who was going to screw everything up about halfway through the show, but then killed him before he got that far. Kind of a waste of a B story, if you ask me.
I have to admit, there was a moment there when Clara was having her little “this has all got very real” breakdown when I was hoping she wasn’t going to make it out of this episode and we’d end up with yet another version of her character. That would have given this episode a tie-in to the season arc that it lacked. Granted, it’s a lack I wouldn’t have noticed in a more cohesive episode, but this one just didn’t have enough oomph to stand on its own.
That’s okay. Next week’s episode of Doctor Who is going to be awesome. I’m a sucker for haunted houses!
Doctor: Professor, I could kiss you!
Professor Grisanko, with a sigh: If you insist.
Things to Ponder:
- Maybe it’s just something I don’t know about Cold War-era submarines, but aren’t they still functionally dead in the water?
- Continuity question: what happened to the Ice Warriors during “Waters of Mars”?
- “Hungry Like the Wolf” will never not remind me of Rose Tyler, except when there’s a drunken, shirtless werewolf dancing on a bed. (Thank you, Lost Girl!)