Doctor: Patrick Troughton (2nd Doctor)
Companions: Jamie, Victoria
Written by: Brian Hayles
Directed by: Derek Martinus
Editor's Note: Hey guys! Matt here stepping in real quick to mention that this week's blog is brought to you by Cassandra, who crushed it when talking about this week's story. But never fear! I'll be back next week with some thoughts on "Meglos", and as always keep checking out "The Doctor's Companion" for even more Classic Who discussion. Awesome stuff coming up. BUT FIRST! I'll let Cassandra kick things off!
Background & Significance: Ice Warriors, mofos!
I'm really excited to talk about this story because this is the first Troughton story I get to discuss, and I love Ice Warriors. Like, love. I don't care that they look silly or they hiss and it's hard to understand what they're talking about. They're freaking sweet.
Of course, this is the first story featuring the Martian race known as the Ice Warriors, and it's a really great first outing for them. Creator (and writer of this and every subsequent Classic story involving the Ice Warriors) Brian Hayles was approached by producer Innes Lloyd and script editor Peter Bryant to create a new recurring alien race for the Doctor to go up against, much like the Daleks and the Cybermen. Of course, the Ice Warriors wouldn't be utilized as often--they only show up in three stories after this one--but they're still, in my humble opinion, a great and iconic Doctor Who villain.
This story also deals with the idea of weather manipulation, which is a recurring theme in this era, starting with "The Moonbase". While so scientifically inaccurate it's insane, it's a lot of fun to be able to trace the various ideas people were entertaining at the time and how that bleeds into the social consciousness through a popular show like Doctor Who.
Of course, this is one of those stories thought lost to the ages at first, but thankfully was mostly recovered, with only two out of the six episodes missing (which is quite lucky, when you consider all the other stories missing in their entirety).
But enough of all that. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
I love Troughton. He’s seriously fantastic. I’m elated that I get to do a Troughton story finally. And one that exists (for the most part)!
The thing about this story, and this episode in particular, is that it starts off rather strangely, at least it felt that way to me. We don’t see the Doctor til about six minutes in, which is fairly standard for a Classic story, as the new world and the circumstances are set up and waiting for the Doctor and his companions to stumble into them. But the thing about this episode is that there’s so much information that’s handed to us at once, and I’m not entirely sure where they’re going with it (or even where this place is) til about two-thirds of the way in when Leader Clent explains the situation to the Doctor. That’s when I started going ‘okay, this serial is actually pretty awesome.’ Which is something I’m not entirely crazy about; I want to be intrigued and interested in the story on the outset. I want to be engaged before the Doctor shows up. And in my opinion I don’t think that this story really succeeds at that, but at least I’m hooked before the end of the first episode. So there’s that.
And this story is so interesting and relevant! Surprisingly so. I was reticent to dive into this one because it’s six parts (daunting) and I knew that some of it didn’t exist, which meant dealing with reconstructed episodes, but... The premise and ideas in this first episode? So good. I know I just complained about the fact that it takes a while to get the ball rolling and my interest piqued in what’s going on here and why these people in this ice base matter, but once they do? Oh man. So interesting. I love the idea of these people and this civilization in the future dealing with this Second Ice Age and the ramifications of humanity’s impact on the planet. I love how relevant this story is, exploring climate change and how our choices as a species have such a huge impact on the future of the environment. Which of course, is something that scientists today are immensely occupied with. I know, because I just took a course that dealt with climate change and global warming and Ice Ages and all that. Pretty heavy stuff.
I love the ingenuity of this, even though I’m pretty sure the science is way off. While it is possible to effect the balance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (hello, global warming), I’m not sure how likely it is that the carbon dioxide decreases rapidly instead of increases. And wouldn’t getting rid of most of the plants on this planet result in an increase in carbon dioxide instead of a decrease, which is apparently the explanation behind the Ice Age in this story? Because I’m pretty sure that’s what’s happening right now, among other reasons like fossil fuel emissions, which is contributing to way too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and resulting in much warmer temperatures and an unstable climate.
…..Whatever man, it’s Doctor Who! Points for trying.
I can’t talk about a Troughton story without saying how great he is several bajillion times over. But really, guys, he’s such a joy to watch. From the moment the TARDIS shows up and he sticks his head out the door, I’m sold. He’s not some man acting like the Doctor, he is the Doctor, and you can tell he’s really giving it his all. I love the comedic beats in this story, as the Doctor and Jamie and Victoria all attempt to climb out of the sideways-landed TARDIS, I love their interactions and how much this TARDIS crew just feels like a family. I love how insatiably curious Troughton’s Doctor is, as they explore the Brittanicus Base and he senses something odd and just needs to go exploring, even as Victoria implores him not to and his response is a devilish little grin. I love how frantic and involved the Doctor gets in the control room, as he adds up all the numbers and realizes a catastrophe’s about to happen. I love the urgency and the tension as he shouts to make himself heard, as he panics to arrive at the scientific answer Leader Clent quizzes him about after the emergency has been taken care of. It’s just... everything is so good and he’s so on form and I love his performance in this episode.
That love definitely extends to his companions, too. There’s just something so great about Jamie and Victoria’s relationship and their interactions with the Doctor and each other. They just work, and in some ways I think the relationship that these two have is better than Jamie and Zoe. I like how Jamie is at once playful with and protective of Victoria, and how Victoria keeps him kinda grounded and in check (right now I’m thinking about the exchange she and Jamie have at the end of this episode about the uniforms the female officers in the Base are wearing, and I can’t help but crack a smile. So glorious). While not the most able-minded or able-bodied female companion I’ve seen, Victoria has heart and is so charming, and I think her ordinariness just makes her that much more wonderful.
So far I’m really impressed with the writing on this. I love all the concepts, like the different bases stationed around the globe keeping glaciers at bay with Ionisers (again, not sure about the science on this, but it’s a totally rad idea), and the concept of a “world control” computer. I love the introduction of concepts that will be expanded upon, like that of the so-called Scavengers, the computer, and of course, the Ice Warrior discovered by Clent’s team of scientists.
Knowing quite a few things about the Ice Warriors before watching this story, I wasn’t expecting this to take place on Earth. I was anticipating a story taking place on Mars, maybe a base-under-seige story that’s typical of this era (and ultimately what this becomes), but definitely one under different circumstances. So this took me by surprise. Would we even see an Ice Warrior in this first episode? But of course we would.
And I love the promise of it, the Ice Warrior trapped in the ice, everyone excitedly examining the discovery, and then the swift change in tone as the Doctor realizes what they have on their hands. Which sets up for a great cliffhanger as the Ice Warrior defrosts and wakes up from its sleep in the ice. It really leaves me wanting more, which is what a cliffhanger is supposed to do, so good on you, Brian Hayles. (“Hayles yeah,” as my brother would say.)
When watching this the first time, the version of this story I had included an “official” 15 minute reconstruction of parts two and three, since they’re missing. Not 15 minutes each, mind you; 15 minutes total. Which is kinda telling that they can condense two episodes of this story into a 15 minute action-packed chunk of awesome and that’s enough information to watch the rest of the serial and know what’s going on. But that’s the thing about a six-parter; you need to expand the story and sustain it over six episodes, so you pad it up a little, sprinkling crucial bits of the story to move it forward as you go.
The thing I find about this story is that I don’t really mind it being six parts. In fact, I think it’s pretty awesome that it is. I start feeling the length of it around these middle episodes, 2-4, and it does tend to drag a little, but the thing that Hayles does so well is world-building. We saw it with Peladon, and we see it again here. Yes, six parts is a lot of space, but I think he uses this space effectively, fleshing out the characters and the world that they’re operating and interacting in. Throughout this part, we get more of a feel for who Leader Clent is, how he and the character of Miss Garrett have such an incredible and unwavering respect and devotion for the computer and, as a result, whatever answer the computer spits out is the right one, and they’re going to stick with it, period. The set up of these characters and how they react to certain problems eventually culminates in a humanity versus technology theme that plays out over the course of the rest of the story. And I think it’s interesting how that theme effects the characterization of the ancillary characters on the base; Jamie and the Doctor are extremely worried and concerned about Victoria’s abduction at the hands of the Ice Warrior, for example, but Clent’s main objective is the mission, and he never wavers from that. In his own words, he “never fails” much like his computer role model, and it’s kind of chilling how much that extends into his character, working with the precision and coldness of a well-oiled machine.
Also set up here is the contrast between Leader Clent and ex-Scientist Penley, who’s taken to hanging out with a crude and primitive Scavenger named Storr (is it just me or is there some kinda subtextual relationship going on with these two guys? Penley seems surprisingly affectionate and protective of his Scavenger friend). I think it’s interesting how the Doctor comes into contact with both of these men in this episode, and it’s through the Doctor that this contrast is observed and explored. Penley is all too human, risking his life and potential capture to get medicine for his friend, while Clent is all about the mission and what must be done to stop the glacier. He doesn’t even care about the presence of the Ice Warrior until the idea arises that their ship might be atomically powered and thus react badly with the Ioniser and cause a huge nuclear disaster.
Now I get to talk about the Ice Warriors more!
I was honestly surprised how quickly the Ice Warriors came into play in this story; you would think with a six part story, we’d see the new alien foes around the end of this episode? But I love that things start happening right away in this story, with the discovery of the thing in the ice and his reanimation at the end of last episode. And Varga is an Ice Warrior who knows what he wants, and will not hesitate to get it. Which creates good conflict and drives the story forward.
I’ve always really liked the Ice Warriors, even before I’d seen them. The idea of a race of reptilian warriors from Mars is just so badass. And having seen all of the other Ice Warrior stories before watching this one, it’s nice to see their debut and how Hayles originally envisioned them. Varga is so menacing and creepy, and I think he’s very well-played by actor Bernard Bresslaw, so that despite the silly and bulky costume, I’m able to take him seriously as he bullies and threatens Victoria into helping him (I think it also helps that it’s in black and white; there’s something about watching sci-fi horror in black and white that is unparalleled. There’d definitely be a different feel to it if it were shot in color, like the Pertwee Ice Warrior stories).
I was reading the entry on this story in Running Through Corridors and Robert Shearman makes an excellent observation about Clent’s character, especially in this part. Many of the people who work with Clent consider him something of a robot or a computer himself, cold and heartless and intent on his mission with the Ioniser. And that aspect of him shows, especially when it seems like he doesn’t really give a rat’s ass about what might happen to Victoria, out there on her own with the Ice Warriors. But right after that Arden shoulders the blame for bringing the frozen Ice Warrior back to base, and finally acknowledges that his fellow scientist died while they were out there (you’d think that would come up sooner? Arden’s just an asshole, that’s why), and Clent attempts to comfort and console him. It’s an incredibly awkward moment but I think it’s played incredibly well; it’s a moment that humanizes Clent, gives us an insight into the more vulnerable and sympathetic aspects of his character, which contributes to his well-rounded characterization, much like his limp and the fact that he uses a cane to get around. It’s subtle things and moments like this one that are just so impressive and part of the reason why I’m so into this story and don’t mind that it’s six parts. The space allows Hayles to have moments like this, and I think it’s definitely for the better.
Another one of these character moments is the conversation between Penley and Miss Garrett, where we get a better handle on not only their characters, but also more insight into Clent and also the futuristic society that they’re working so hard to save from the coming of the Second Ice Age. As Shearman notes, this conversation is cut from the “official” abbreviated reconstruction, because it’s not strictly integral to the plot, but that’s part of the reason why it’s so interesting. Because it’s not a plot driven moment, but a character one. The contrast between Leader Clent and Penley is played up even more here, as Miss Garrett (a true believer in the computer and the way things are done in society) attempts to get Penley to come back and help them with the Ioniser. But he refuses, and insists and he’s “a man, not a machine” (with of course the implication being that any human who willfully goes along with society and the guidance of the computers is a machine). Not only does that add more to the theme of reliance on technology vs. reliance on human instinct, but it’s insightful commentary on the notion of individuality vs. conformity. Penley leaves the team because he, as a scientist, feels stifled by the mechanized environment; in order for science and discovery and curiosity to thrive, one needs a sense of individuality and creative freedom, not a computerized dictator. On the other hand, conformity helps ensure that things work smoothly and are accomplished efficiently, as Clent is fond of reminding everyone he comes into contact with.
I’m not sure what else there is to say about this part. The Ice Warriors continue to be awesome and creepy. I love the hissing of their laughter (it took me a while to figure out that is what they were doing, but once I did, oh man. It just works so well, and it makes them even more intimidating, I think), and I love how ruthless they are. They just gun down people without a second thought, and that makes for a really effective villain. There’s no posturing or hesitation, they just do whatever. Ice Warrior doesn’t care. Ice Warrior doesn’t give a shit.
Though I’m not entirely sure what their plan at the end of the episode is? There’s a sonic cannon pointing out of their spaceship but I don’t know what it’s pointing at or what purpose it serves? Seems like overkill for offing Victoria, especially since we’ve just seen them use their sonic guns to kill Arden and knock Jamie out. It’s kind of a weird moment and I’m not sure what to make of it. And the cliffhangers were doing so well...
Oh, before we move on, I just have to mention the Doctor’s outrage at his calculations being checked by the computer. I love that moment because it’s so funny but it also feeds into the whole theme of human brain/instinct power as opposed to the cold efficiency of a computer. It’s like the moment in episode one where the Doctor is a second off in his calculations of how much time the base has before exploding. It’s a comedic beat but it also serves a purpose, and I love that.
One thing I notice about this story is that there are a surprising amount of comedic beats happening, which Troughton really plays up and excels at. While is a fantastic actor able to ratchet up tension and convey emotion, he also does comedy really well (and subsequently makes me jealous because I’m not as talented or as awesome as he is). Like the scene where Troughton gets water out of the high-tech automatic chemical dispenser and then drinks it; it’s just a really funny moment that is so very Troughton. I think humor is used really effectively in this story because it breaks up the tension and gives the story and the conflict room to breathe, which just serves to highlight when the tension or seriousness of the story starts to build again. It’s just really well utilized.
And in this part again we have more awkward attempts from Clent at being human. I know he’s human, but he doesn’t really act like it a lot of the time, does he? We have him at the top of the episode practically bullying a terrified Victoria for information on the Ice Warrior’s spaceship, and being an all-around dick. But then he has another moment of vulnerability as he attempts to put into words the growing respect he has for the Doctor, but the only way he really knows how to communicate this is by saying the Doctor’s come to replace Penley on the team; Clent soon gets frustrated and snaps back into base commander mode. But it’s a really intriguing moment and allows us further insight into this character who started off as so inaccessible and computer-like. I like that Hayles humanizes Clent’s character the more we get to know him, it’s a really interesting thing to watch. And it helps that Peter Barkworth’s performance is really great.
I love Troughton’s rendition of the Doctor so much, and there are a lot of reasons behind that, like his playful demeanor or the way he cares so much about his companions or all the funny little quirks, but there’s a moment in this episode that just encapsulates the Doctor for me, and that’s where the Doctor’s preparing to go out into the ice to try to contact the Ice Warriors, and he insists that he doesn’t need to take a weapon with him, despite the protests of Miss Garrett and Leader Clent. And that... yes. Just yes. My Doctor doesn’t need weapons, he just needs his intellect and his tricks and the words out of his mouth. And Troughton gets that, I think. He’s just so, so good. Guh. I can’t get over it. I’m really loving him in this story. He’s getting just the right amount of screentime and involvement.
I think this part is probably the weakest in the whole story, and it’s where I start to feel the six-episode burn. I question elements of the script, like how there’s a convenient ice fall that separates Victoria from the Ice Warrior that’s chasing after her through the caves, and how she’s able to escape but by the end of the episode winds up captured again. This is such a Classic Who trope and we’ve seen it many, many times, companions or the Doctor escaping just in time to get captured again. It’s major wheel-spinning, but I can almost forgive it because this story is really enjoyable and good so far.
There is another element that I haven’t really talked about yet that I noticed in this episode, and that’s the race against nature aspect of this story. We don’t really ever see the Doctor up against a force like a glacier or anything, and sure the presence of the Ice Warriors complicates things quite a bit, but this story starts with humans trying to keep the forces of nature at bay through their technology, and that continues to be a major component of it, even after the appearance of the Ice Warriors on the scene. I’m not really sure if there’s any sort of message to be found in this story that speaks to this particular aspect of it, but it’s rare we have the Doctor going up against something like this, so whenever he does I find it endlessly fascinating.
I know I just said that this episode is probably the weakest one in the bunch, but there’s a ton of stuff to talk about in here nonetheless. Like how Storr views everything in terms of scientists/not-scientists, and for that reason he’s quickly dispensed with. With such a black and white view of the world, he’s practically as close-minded as Leader Clent is, and Storr is so self-assured that the Ice Warriors will help him out purely because he’s against the people in the ice base, and he dies as a result of it. As Varga says, Storr is “useless and unnecessary” (possible meta-commentary moment? I love shit like this), and that really comes down to the fact that he’s unwilling to give up his view of the world and how he thinks. Which is a shame because he and Jamie were just bonding like true Scottsmen and all that.
I also kinda like how Clent is almost Shakespearean in his hesitation to do something without the consultation or instruction of the computer. It really reminds me of Hamlet on some level. Or maybe it’s just because I’m a huge English lit nerd and I’m grasping at straws at this point.
I just realized that the Ice Warriors have Lego hands!
Also, this cliffhanger sucks.
Did I say part 4 was the weakest episode in this? I was mistaken. This is it.
This episode, while having very good moments and things that make me laugh and things that make me think, it’s whole premise is that we’re waiting for something to happen. The crew of the Brittanicus is waiting for instructions from the computer, the Ice Warriors are waiting to get information out of the Doctor about the base, etc etc. The computer is telling us to wait. The number of episodes is telling us to wait. But it’s so freaking dull.
While we do have more of those comedic bits I love so much, like the Doctor wanting to run away right after he meets the Ice Warriors for the first time, or the scene in which Victoria fake-cries very loudly to conceal her conversation with the Doctor about his plan, there isn’t much else that this episode has going for it. I’m ready for the conclusion of this story, I’m waiting for someone to make a decision, but it’s just not happening here (because it can’t yet). Which is unfortunate, because I really love this story. But I guess not everything can be perfect.
A few other problems that I’ve been pushing to the side in favor of gushing about how awesome this story is are much more noticeable in this part, cuz there’s not really anything to keep me engaged for the whole 25 minutes. For one thing, the computer is really very difficult to understand, the voice is garbled and half of the time I don’t really understand its instructions. You’d think that with the Ice Warriors whispering and hissing all over the place the problem would be with understanding them, but instead it’s the computer that everyone in this story is supposed to be following and taking orders and instructions from. How ironic.
Also, what the hell has Jamie done in this? Not a goddamn thing, that’s what. He is probably the most passive companion I’ve ever seen, at least in this story. Which is lame because I’ve seen some really good Jamie, and I know what he’s capable of. Victoria gets a lot of play in this story, but as a result Jamie is given a backseat and relegated to being shot at and paralyzed and knocked out. It’s just a waste of talent, really, and I’m not a fan.
Victoria though... I know I keep talking about it, but I seriously love Victoria the more I see her. She has a great moment when the Ice Warriors threaten her life if the Doctor doesn’t give them the information they’re looking for, and she stands up tall and is clearly scared out of her mind but she tells the Doctor not to say anything. Of course we’ve seen this moment happen in stories over and over again, not just Doctor Who, and I suppose it is cliche, but you know what? I think it really works here and it’s a great moment for her, one that really speaks to her character.
There’s not much else to talk about in this one, since everyone is literally just waiting around, but there is an interesting discussion of freedom that happens when Penley and Clent finally meet up again. Clent, ever mindful of duty and his mission assignment, basically accuses Penley of running away from responsibility, under the guise of “freedom”. I think it’s a really interesting look once again at the concept of the individual vs. the collective, as well as a presentation of both sides of the argument. We’re inclined to side with Penley on this one, but that doesn’t mean that Clent’s view on the subject are off limits and don’t deserve to get some play. It’s really fascinating, and I think it speaks once again to the strength of the script and Hayles as a writer, that he’s able to present this concept in such a mature and intriguing way.
And I still maintain there was something going on between Penley and Storr. Swear to god, the way Penley talks about the guy, and the way they interact... I’m probably reading way too into it, but oh my god gay subtext everywhere. Which I’m totally in favor of.
Hooray! Last part!
I know I haven’t really talked about any of these things much yet, but the sets for this story have been really quite awesome and believeable. I’m also a fan of the direction, it’s solid, and you can tell from the quality of the performances from the various actors and actresses. I also really like the music, I think it sets the tone well, especially at the beginning of this story with the woman singing; it reminds me of Star Trek in a way, just big 60s sci-fi awesomeness.
The dialogue really sparkles in this part, especially where the Ice Warriors are concerned. Varga gets a bunch of badass mofo lines that help underline not only how intimidating the Ice Warriors are in general, but it’s a return to their ruthlessness of the earlier parts of this story. Anytime someone says “surrender or die” you know they mean business (and really it’s just a badass line), and the Ice Warriors are pretty upfront about the fact that they want fuel for their spaceship and they’re gonna get it, goddammit. Another gem of a line is “What are your qualifications for existence?” which is just... man. Seriously, I love that line, it makes Varga and the Ice Warriors so cruel and direct. Again, great villains, they aren’t wishy-washy or speechy. It’s really great and it makes for great conflict (which in turns makes for great drama).
I’m gonna mention Robert Shearman again and his observations on Penley throughout the story. It’s interesting because Shearman views Penley as a sort of surrogate Doctor, a scientist who couldn’t abide by the rules any longer but still goes out of his way to help and, ultimately, it is Penley who makes the decision to save the day. As the theme of human ability vs. technology comes to a head in this part, the Doctor’s decision to risk the lives of the people in the base in order to knock out the Ice Warriors mirrors Penley’s decision to finally use the Ioniser to melt the oncoming glacier, thus showing that taking instructions from a computer won’t help you survive, it’s human ingenuity and the willingness and ability to take risks. Which is an amiable lesson to take away from a story. (And since Penley takes action as a surrogate Doctor figure instead of the Doctor himself, we don’t really need him to stick around, do we? And so he doesn’t, he just pimps out of there, which I find really interesting.)
It amuses me that every time the Ice Warriors show up, you just turn up the thermostat and they get all hot and bothered and defeated. And this story is no exception. In the base, Penley turns up the heat and the Ice Warriors aren’t able to function. Likewise, it’s from the heat of the Ioniser against the glacier that causes the spaceship to explode and the Ice Warriors to perish. It just makes me wonder... Is there any other way to defeat these guys? Do we really just have to take them on a vacation to the tropics and they’d do whatever we told them to? For such a badass race of aliens, that’s kind of a silly weakness.
Also amusing? That so much of 60s Who is dependent on people looking at screens and telling us the major climax moment of the story. It happened in “The Invasion” and it happens again here: a really awkward beat with everyone looking at a screen of some data and Miss Garrett finally kind enough to interpret it for us by saying “only a minor explosion!” Which is so, so totally Classic. But as funny as it is, for some reason I think it still works. Maybe it’s just the aesthetic of the era, but... Pretty awesome.
Final Thoughts?: This story is excellent.
I think it helps that Patrick Troughton is such a genius. I can't imagine watching this story unfold with any other Doctor. Just the feel of it... It's very much a story written with Troughton's Doctor in mind, and that really contributes to the strength and awesomeness of this story. It's just the right balance of character drama, humor, and sci-fi concepts. The sets look great, the guest cast is pretty much on top form, the direction is quite good (guy who directed "Evil of the Daleks"? Yes please.), and even though the costume design for both the people in the base and the Ice Warriors is kind of silly, they're also believable.
And oh god, the Ice Warriors! While their appearances after this are kind of shaky (with the exception of "Curse of Peladon", of course), I loved seeing them in their original adventure. Based solely on this, of course I would want the Ice Warriors to come back, not only as villains like they are in this story, but also as the allies they turn out to be in "Curse". I think they need a reimagining. If there's any Classic villain I want to return in the new series, it would be the Ice Warriors. And be honest. How badass would that be.
I was worried that this story would turn out to be a solid idea with a botched execution, but that turned out to so not be the case, for which I am grateful. It wasn't exactly what I was expecting, but at the same time it was so much more: not only a great introduction to these classic alien foes, it was also a surprisingly layered and intelligent story about human capability as opposed to relying solely on technology, and individuality, and even the need to be environmentally conscious. "The Ice Warriors" is one of those stories that prove just how versatile the sci-fi genre can be, and how relevant even some of the oldest Doctor Who stories can be in the present day. A great little adventure, and I'm so glad two-thirds of it still exists for us to watch and enjoy as it was meant to be.
Next Time!: 4th Doctor! Entropy! Prickly prickle fingers! Bidmead "Science"? And... Barbara? Next week Matt's back talking about "Meglos"!