The Ice Warriors [Classic Doctor Who]

Doctor Who has long been my favorite show, but in recent years rewatchings of old episodes have been few and far between.  But lately I decided to spend both some of my 50th birthday spending money and my Christmas spending money on some of these adventures, and enjoy them with one or two of my nerdier daughters.

(Daily Doctor Who #106)

The Ice Warriors

Starring Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor.
Companions:  Frazer Hines as Jamie McCrimmon and Deborah Watling as Victoria Waterfield.
Written by Brian Hayles.  Directed by Derek Martinus.
Animation director: Chris Chatterton.

Format:  6 episodes, each about 25 minutes long
Originally Aired:  November-December 1967 (Episodes 11-16 of Season 5)

When I first started watching Doctor Who in the mid-1980’s, this story was completely missing from the BBC archives. Then in 1988, four of the six episodes were recovered, and in 2013, the last two were recreated via animation. The story is notable, of course, for introducing the Ice Warriors, who would return again to the TV series in the future to face the Second Doctor (again), the Third Doctor, the Eleventh Doctor and the Twelfth Doctor.

Spoilers Ahead!

As a long-time Doctor Who fan who spent years thinking that so many of these First and Second Doctor stories were lost and forever out of reach, so I’m grateful for the animated re-creations that have been produced to replace missing stories (like Fury from the Deep) or to fill in gaps like with this one. But still, I have always found it a bit tricky to fully “enter into” these stories–even if the animation work is still well done–which may have contributed to me not enjoying Fury from the Deep as much as I’d hoped. Fortunately, in this case, there are only two missing episodes, and both of these animated re-creations are from the first half of the serial (episodes two and three), which means you have quite a long run of “proper” episodes to watch at the end.

Brian Hayles’ script for The Ice Warriors contains a lot of interesting ideas. In addition to the classic monster trope of the creature frozen in the ice and then thawed out by foolish but eager scientists, it’s also a cautionary tale about man’s impact upon the environment, and a fable about the dangers humanity becoming overly dependent upon automation. Some of the development of these ideas is a little clumsy: all the talk about how much trouble one should put into a computer’s logic is definitely dated and doesn’t reflect how demystified the devices are for us now. But still the story holds together these disparate themes reasonably well, and they keep it from being “just another science fiction monster story.”

And of course those monsters, the Ice Warriors, are the serial’s real contribution to the Doctor Who universe. They’ve got an interesting enough design and sense of presence, but it’s their personalities that are the most interesting. Though they are definitely menacing, the Ice Warriors are portrayed here with a motivation that just goes beyond just conquest or villainy. They are trying to survive and find their own people once again. I’m speaking with the benefit of hindsight here, but one can see the potential for the Ice Warriors to be used as characters in a way that you don’t get with the Daleks or Cybermen.

Also present but unspoken in the story is Jamie’s deep affection for Victoria, which is a bit of characterization that I appreciate. Having recently watched Fury from the Deep and listened to The Story of Extinction, I’ve had a lot of chance to see this aspect of their relationship explored, and so it’s nice to see it on display here.

And Jamie and Victoria aren’t the only ones who are well served–everyone’s personalities are sharp and clear, even the minor players. And they are served by a good cast, which includes Peter Barkworth (an actor I remember from a series called The Price) as Clent, Peter Sallis as the rogue scientist Penley, and Angus Lennie (Ives from The Great Escape, in which William Russell also apepared) as Storr. Not to mention Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling, who are all solid in their regular roles. This combination of strong characterization and interesting concepts help what might have been a fairly routine story from ever being boring, and make me grateful it’s part of the Doctor Who canon that is available to watch.

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