On Saturday, April 13th, the newest episode of Series 7.5 of Doctor Who was aired (Sunday the 14th, for those hailing from the United States). The story takes place on a sinking Soviet submarine (alliteration FTW) during the Cold War. The quarters are cramped and tensions are running high as the vessel slowly fills with water and an Ice Warrior named Skaldak – who believes himself to be the last of his kind – runs rampant. Or perhaps slithers, as he does in fact vacate his armor and travels through the sub making very Basilisk-y rasping sounds. This is the first time we have seen an Ice Warrior without a helmet, and the face is quite cool (though depressingly humanoid, as most TV aliens are). The clawed hands reaching down from the rafters (do submarines have rafters?) were exceedingly cheeseball and would have been right at home in an early episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Series 1 of Doctor Who.
I enjoyed the comparison of (and contrast between) the “real” Cold War – the period of political and military tension between the Western Bloc and the Eastern Bloc taking place in the outside world of this episode – and the “cold war” occurring within the sub, which was in essence a game of chicken between several trigger-happy (cattle prod-happy?) naval officers, a really cranky Martian, an ages-old Gallifreyan and his 21st-century companion who were both anticipating Vegas and were instead confronted with a wet, cramped submarine and a lily-livered TARDIS…and twelve nuclear missiles.
The ending was a charming example of deus ex machina – an Ice Warrior spaceship appears, looking very much like the classic interpretation of a flying saucer (except with some bitchin’ purple lights lining the edges). It then draws the submarine up to the surface of the ocean with a tractor beam and Skaldak beams out, refraining from remotely blowing up the submarine and showing everyone that yes, friendship is magic.
The Doctor-Clara dynamic is fantastic – Matt Smith and Jenna Louise-Coleman play off each other extraordinarily well. Most characters have a chance to throw out several grintacular one-liners, and the script is intelligent and smooth. (Thank you, Mark Gatiss.) The professor, played by David Warner, is an endearing refresher as a kid stuck in an adult’s body. (His one question to Clara upon discovering that she is a time traveler is “Ultravox – do they spilt up?” Love that guy.) Also, was it an accident that Clara hums “Hungry Like the Wolf” by Duran Duran when she gets nervous? Bad Wolf allusions, anyone? There are rumors flying everywhere about the 50th Anniversary special/series finale, so this could be relevant or just a red herring. Also, the Doctor seems to be carrying around a doll that looks very much like Rose Tyler. In the final scene, the Doctor finally explains why the TARDIS mysteriously disappeared – he implemented a protocol called HADS, or Hostile Action Displacement System, which teleports the TARDIS out of danger – and it was brilliant. Plus the Doctor gets to do annoyed-little-kid facial expressions. Smith’s acting is fantastic as always, and he and Clara defeat an enemy without violence, which was nice. (This was also the case with “Rings of Akhaten,” and I appreciated it.) However, the fact that Clara let the Doctor tell her to stay put was just infuriating. No self-respecting companion ever heeds the Doctor’s words. Ever.
So, all in all, a very well-scripted episode that could have had more dramatic tension, but in the end was satisfying and gave us several red herrings.
Read my dissection of two trailers for “Cold War” here, my review of Episode 2 “The Rings of Akhaten” here, and my review of Episode 1 “The Bells of Saint John” here.