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Sunday, 14 April 2013

Cold War

Wow. If ever there was an episode to divide opinion in the most surprising way then it was this. Cold War, Mark Gatiss' Ice Warrior return; in my opinion the best episode of the whole of series seven (including the Ponds' last five).

Let's get it out of the way straight away; there was little in terms of actual plot in this episode, but its claustrophobic setting and near-real-time format meant that it hardly needed anything to push it along. The story was very simple and, I think, very effective.

In 1983 a Russian Nuclear submarine finds a creature encased in Arctic ice and ill-advisedly thaws it out. The creature was a Martian Ice Warrior which had been frozen for more than five thousand years. A clumsy attack from the Russians is all it takes to send this confused and desperate soldier into attack mode. Enter the Doctor and Clara, missing Vegas by miles and years.

Without retelling the tale frame by frame, it was up to the Doc to mediate between frightened humans and deadly Martian. And that's it. Forty minutes of an alien stalking the atmospheric innards of a leaky submarine. And it worked.

Many claim it was boring; I can't agree. It was hellishly suspenseful, taking the singular threat format of series one's 'Dalek' and adding the fact that this alien probably could be reasoned with! Others claim nothing happened; again, I can't agree, although I concede that what could have been a more perilous hunt was softened by the episode being a single-parter. With a little more of a journey this would have made a fabulous two-parter.

Still others claim that the dialogue was clunky in places, which I will agree with. There were too many attempts to force the fact that this was happening in the 80s down our throats and a few clunky "we've seen these monsters before" reminders too. But I don't care. After last week's disappointing if pleasant offering, this week dragged me back into my love for Doctor Who with a great story of desperation and responsibility told with a minimalism that only adds to the pleasure of watching.

Cold War was simple, creepy and looked great. Even the Ice Warrior armour - something that has always looked so silly that even a redesign can't shake the giggles - was used to brilliant effect, ramping up the peril by giving a knowing audience something they aren't familiar with, even after 39 years of knowing the baddies. Seeing the Ice Warrior out of its armour could have been a very bad idea, but it was handled with style; the vicious, if slender, claws slowly grasping from the darkness more than makes up for the rather generic CGI face we got (but shouldn't have got) to see towards the end.

All in all, I have one or two niggles and no complaints. I loved it. I've watched it three times already and will be doing so again later tonight too. It was a lovely surprise - it could have been awful and it really, really wasn't.