Saturday, July 31, 2010

Grab Bag Reviews: "The Ice Warriors"

And now we have yet another audio story. Unlike "The Daleks Master Plan" where most of the story is missing, "The Ice Warriors" is only missing two episodes out of six. In the 1990's the story was released on VHS with shortened reconstructions in place of the missing episodes. In the 2000's though the BBC chose to release the story to audio rather than DVD... so far (there have been rumors that the BBC may be going to try replacing the missing the installments with animation but only time will tell). Also as with "Master Plan" "The Ice Warriors" uses descriptive narration to fill in the action which is not visible. In this case, though, the narration is provided by actor Fraser Hines, who played companion Jamie McCrimmon.

There was never much trouble or controversy with this story. By and large the time of Patrick Troughton's run as the Doctor went fairly smoothly. The casts and crews meshed well and in interviews most usually speak highly of Troughton's professionalism which was tempered with a sense of humor and a genuine liking for his co-workers. "The Ice Warriors" fell pretty much bang in the middle of Troughton's second season with the show and so everyone was settled and working together like a well-oiled machine.

The Martian Ice Warriors themselves were, as with the Cybermen, introduced in hopes of creating alien baddies with as much popularity as the Daleks. The producer at that time was eager to get past using the Daleks since creator Terry Nation had been guarded of their use as he was trying to convince American TV and/or film to pick up the rights for a Dalek based TV show or movie. The Warriors actually did become minor fan favorites. They would be used in one other Second Doctor story and would appear in a Third Doctor story before being retired. They got a bit of a mention in the Tenth Doctor special "The Waters of Mars" but so far they have not reappeared although fans of the older series continually hold out hope...

The Plot: In the distant future the Earth has fallen prey to a new ice age. The world's governments have come up with a plan to destroy the advancing glaciers by hitting them with a device, powerful enough to melt rock, called an ionizer. The Doctor and his companions Jamie and Victoria arrive at the Brittanicus Base in time for the Doctor to prevent an accident with the ionizer. They are also in time to witness the arrival of a strange, prehistoric figure found in the ice.

When the ice melts, however, the figure proves to be an alien who crashed on Earth millenia ago. Now reawakened he intends to thaw out his shipmates and conquer the planet!

The humans of the base are caught in a squeeze between the implacable Ice Warriors and the crushing, advancing glacier. The Doctor will need to use all of his cunning and cleverness to prevent wholesale destruction.

My Take: Yet another variation on the 'base under siege' motif. And while the writer ended up going the wrong way on the results of environmental catastrophe (global warming instead of the global cooling here) it is yet another sign of the topicality which had been creeping into the show for years. There is also elements of that good, old, stalwart Doctor Who theme of humanity vs. computers.

In point of fact, there's actually quite a lot going on here; the Ice Warriors are villainous villains not least because they are repeatedly offered peaceful solution but their stubborn mistrust and devotion to conquest ultimately doom them. Then there are the issues of naivete.

The scavenger, Storr, believes the enemies of his enemies will be his friends. He learns to his detriment that this is not the case. His naive view of the situation is a lesson to always consider all the facts instead of just one.

Of course Storr also fills a role in one of two extreme viewpoints presented throughout the story. Storr represents the "natural man" -- a hunter-gatherer with no use for science. Opposite him on the scale is Clent and the members of the the base -- men and women who have given up their own free thinking to computers. People who believe is science above their own ability to reason. Standing in the middle is Penley, who represents the blending of the two -- a man who knows how to use science as a tool without turning it into a god. The Doctor, as agent of change, tries to help Penley's model become the dominant one but at the same time he does not tell the people what to do -- the ultimate decision must be their own.

All of these themes and ideas are fun to explore, even now, over 40 years later. The problem is that they're presented in such a heavy-handed way it is a little hard not to giggle at the obviousness of it all. Of course, it must be remembered that at this time Doctor Who still thought of itself as "children's programming". And despite the diversity of themes running throughout they all manage to fit together well and nothing feels necessarily packed in or tacked on at the edges.

The Ice Warriors are, as I mentioned before, lovely villains. More than just their attitude, the decision to give them hissing, whispery voices adds to their menace and makes them work well in the audio format when you cannot see their lumbering, reptilian bulk. That reptilian nature, though, was wonderfully realized by the special effects team considering the limitations of the time. Their obvious intelligence and cunning teamed with their intimidating appearance and sinister voices make for truly impressive alien villains.

The guest cast does a nice job as well with the arrogant and superior Clent being one of those kind of "annoying allies" which tend to show up in Doctor Who while Penley comes off as actually good-natured at heart and there is just a tiny little hint of romance between himself and base technician Miss Garrett which humanizes both of them and keeps them from being such stock characters.

The real star here, though, is Patrick Troughton's Doctor. There are a wealth of great lines of dialogue all delivered with Troughton's usual panache. His insults ring with humor and a dash of snark, his moments of determination come across strongly and of course, as always, there are those moments where he walks right into the enemy's teeth without fear and gives them a chance to surrender. Once they ignore that offer all bets are off the table.

Fraser Hines's Jamie is also full of humor but his character lacks some of the good lines and good moments he has in other stories. There are a few moments, though, where he gets in a few digs at the Doctor and one endearing bit where he flirts shamelessly with Victoria.

And that brings us to Victoria. Ugh. This is NOT her shining hour. Deborah Watling would eventually leave the series feeling that she had done all that she would be allowed to do with the character and, like many women before her, tired of scripts where all she was allowed to do was scream and be helpless. While there is some small justification for the characterization considering that Victoria was supposed to be just that -- a sheltered, wealthy girl from the Victorian era -- she is at her worst here. Victoria does little except get captured, escape and get recaptured and to scream annoyingly. The. Entire. Time. It reaches the point where you would like to slap the character and tell her to knock it off she's being an embarrassment to women. It gets so bothersome that it actually ruins some scenes.

Victoria aside, the story as a whole is wonderfully entertaining and, as with "The Daleks Master Plan" one finds that visuals are not necessarily needed as imagination paints the scenes. The story really works even in it's audio format and there are still some lessons to be taken away from the whole affair. And even if all of that were not true this is Patrick Troughton at some of the top of his came -- whimsical, mercurial, and magical.

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