Doctor Who: The Ice Warriors (part one)

I had been wondering whether, when the great big Martian Ice Warrior that some scientists find in the glacier starts to come back to life in the big base that’s about to be under siege, our son would think it was creepy enough to send him behind the sofa. It was! Just as the end credits started over this memorable cliffhanger, he stood up and gingerly walked behind us for safety. It didn’t faze him too much, but he announced “that was so scary when the monster started moving its arm! And instead of an arm, he had a claw!”

“The Ice Warriors” is the third serial from Doctor Who‘s fifth season, shown in November and December 1967. “The Abominable Snowmen,” the second, is largely missing. The story is by Brian Hayles, who had written two serials for William Hartnell’s Doctor, and many other TV episodes and films like Warlords of Atlantis, which I hope we’ll watch for this blog one day. (I need to land a copy!) It’s directed by Derek Martinus and includes in its cast three really big guest stars: Peter Barkworth, who was in between seasons of the successful ATV drama The Power Game, Peter Sallis, who would later co-star in a hundred seasons of the comedy Last of the Summer Wine, and Bernard Bresslaw, about whom more in another chapter.

Anybody interested in some really clever additional reading about Doctor Who should check out the first six volumes of About Time by Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles, published by Mad Norwegian. The books really try to place Who in a contemporary cultural context, and the authors constantly come up with really interesting observations that I’d have never caught. Here’s a great one: Who fans tend to just think of this story as the first of four serials featuring the big Ice Warriors, but that’s not what this was at the time. The Martians that we meet are secondary to this story’s real plot, which is the dynamic between Barkworth’s character, an overworked scientist-bureaucrat, and Sallis’s character, a computer expert upon whom everyone and everything relies, but who stormed off six weeks ago to take his chances outside the base. Miles and Wood suggest that Barkworth was cast because of his work in The Power Game, which was the sort of human drama that producer Innes Lloyd really wanted to make. I may be watching the interplay of these characters more closely, and paying a little less attention to Bresslaw and the Ice Warriors this time around.

But also of great note: the hilarious exchange between Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling just before the cliffhanger. Because they’re in a 1967 vision of the future, everybody wears rubber costumes, and all the ladies are in miniskirts. Jamie starts talking about the fashion, to Victoria’s displeasure, and then cheekily wonders aloud whether his prim-and-proper friend might like to wear something like that. “We will now change the subject,” she replies.

About Victoria: this story immediately follows the events of “The Abominable Snowmen,” which in turn seemed to closely follow “The Tomb of the Cybermen.” There seems to be some consensus that “Tomb” is set right after the story that introduced her, “The Evil of the Daleks.” I don’t buy it, and here’s why. Certainly “Tomb”s opening scene in the TARDIS is immediately after “Evil,” because the Doctor and Jamie are introducing her to the ship, but I think that there must be a gap before they join the expedition in “Tomb.” See, there’s a bit in part three where the Doctor asks Victoria whether she is happy with them. Not one single decent thing has happened to her in that hour of screen time. I like to suppose that they spent a few weeks traveling and not getting into danger, seeing some beautiful sights and actually having a great time before the poor orphan started getting guns shoved in her face and locked in weird closets. Otherwise she would have been more likely to reply “No, I am most certainly not,” you know?

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