Monday, December 16, 2013

"The Ice Warriors"

Aired Nov 11 - Dec 16, 1967

6 episodes

Story 39

Written by Brian Hayles

Directed by Derek Martinus


The TARDIS arrives on Earth at the time of a new ice age and the travelers make their way into a base where scientists commanded by Leader Clent are using an ionizer device to combat the advance of a glacier.
A giant humanoid creature, termed an Ice Warrior by one of the scientists, has been found buried in the nearby glacier. When thawed, it revives and is revealed to be Varga, captain of a Martian spacecraft that landed on Earth centuries ago and is still trapped in the glacier. Varga sets about freeing his comrades and formulating a plan to conquer the Earth, now that Mars is a dead planet.

The scientists fear that continued use of the ionizer on the glacier could cause the alien ship's engines to explode. Their trusted computer is unable to advise them without further information, and it seems that disaster is imminent. A scientist named Penley, who recently defected from the project, is persuaded to return by the Doctor. They eventually decide to risk activating the ionizer. There is only a minor explosion, which destroys the Martians and, at the same time, checks the ice flow.


Season 5 is almost always referred to as "The Monster Season" for the obvious reason that every story bar one has a monster to terrify the kiddies. While it is called this with fondness, it's a nickname that implies that this is Doctor Who at its most basic. There's a little bit of truth to that, and certainly the base-under-siege setting that goes hand in hand with these stories is already becoming tiresome, but there's plenty of complexity on display as well.

While The Ice Warriors deals mainly with the treat of the titular monsters, the script is just as concerned with asking questions such as whether technology and science themselves have an intrinsic moral value and can you rely too much on technology? The themes are explored interestingly and through the actions of characters, rather than artificial speeches, with Clent (Peter Barkworth) representing the side of technology, and Penley (Peter Sallis) representing the side that favours human ingenuity. The Doctor, while he clearly sides with Penley's view, tries to act as mediator and to bring the two sides together to solve the main conflicts of the Martian invaders and environmental catastrophe. This is brought to life through some very good performances by Barkworth and Sallis, who help elevate the material substantially.

As for the Ice Warriors themselves, they make a suitably creepy and effective first impression. Bernard Bresslaw is very good as the leader of the Martians, and it's easy to see why they were brought back. The design of the costume is just fantastic. They may be the most powerful and well-designed monsters since the Daleks, especially in black and white.

But, even with these considerable positives, it must be said that the actual plot is a little thin and doesn't contain enough incident or variation to support itself over six episodes. This is always a problem with the six-parters, especially when they confine themselves to one location. If the action was split up, maybe with two-three parts happening in one place and the rest in another, then there could be enough variation to sustain the length.

Despite a great cast, interesting thematic elements and a classic villain, The Ice Warriors falls just short of being a classic. But it's still an enjoyable story in a season that is definitely one of the greats.

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