a review by Nalini Haynes
The Ice Warriors (1967) is out on DVD today, 28 August 2013. Patrick Troughton is the Doctor (sans flute), accompanied by Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Victoria (Deborah Watling).
Ice Warriors begins in a scientific centre where a last-ditch effort is being made to halt the glacier about to destroy the centre. Leader Clent (Peter Barkworth), an administrator, is bemoaning Penley’s (Peter Sallis: Wallace from the Wallace and Gromit series) defection. Clent promotes Miss Garrett (Wendy Gifford) to lead scientist in an effort to fill Penley’s shoes. They’re using experimental technology to ionise the atmosphere in an attempt to reverse global cooling.
The Doctor and company arrive; it’s one of the TARDIS’s more… creative… landings. At first they’re mistaken for scavengers and slated for evacuation to the refugee camps in Africa (irony, anyone?). The Doctor insinuates himself into the scientific centre, proving his worth but all the while urging Leader Clent to install an expert.
Scientists on the glacier are supposed to be preparing for the next phase but Arden (George Waring), the party leader, delays to dig a frozen man out of the ice. When the expedition returns to base Clent rips into Arden while the frozen man is thawed. The Doctor notices that the helmet the frozen man is wearing has electrical connections. While the grown-ups are distracted and arguing, the ice warrior wakes…
Live-action and animation
Ice Warriors has six episodes: the first and fourth to sixth are live-action, but episodes two and three have the original soundtrack dubbed over animation due to loss of the original film. All episodes are in black & white or, to be more accurate, greyscale. The first episode was a bit fuzzy; the quality of the other live-action episodes was better but isn’t up to bluray standard on a large TV. As a historical artifact, the quality is more than acceptable.
The animated episodes were well done. The figures are a bit blocky and rigid, bending somewhat robotically from very specific joints, but the faces, the FACIAL EXPRESSIONS WERE BRILLIANT. If you have to choose between bodies and faces in a character- and plot-driven story, you should TOTALLY focus on the faces. The eyes were more detailed than any other portion of the characters. Eyes, eyebrows and mouths moved to capture the mood of the moment, frowns, deviousness, smiles, whatever. I cracked up when the Doctor eyerolled. At another point, the long-suffering Leader Clent sighed while looking heavenward.
Some of the details were amusing. For example, Jamie was, as usual, wearing his kilt. My husband took this somewhat personally; I suspect his… anatomy… was feeling chilly in sympathy. Jamie donned cold weather gear that was, essentially, a transparent plastic coverall. In the animated episodes it looked as if Jamie was wearing tartan shorts under the coverall. After the transition to live-action, I couldn’t help but note that, under the coveralls, Jamie’s kilt was carefully tucked around him while lying down but he was not wearing shorts.
It has to be said: the science in this story sucks. Humanity has practically wiped vegetation off the face of the planet, causing a decrease in carbon dioxide, leading to global cooling and an ice age. And yet there is vegetation on the way back to base. And BEARS. (Not even the polar kind.)
To fix the global cooling and loss of carbon dioxide, they’re ionising the atmosphere. [headdesk] Ionisation does not fix the oxygen/carbon dioxide balance but it would cause freak weather including storms, stress out humans and animals etcetera.
IT WAS THE NINETEEN SIXTIES.
This was back in the day before science fiction shows were practically required to get scientific consultants on board and the writers couldn’t even consult wikipedia. My thoughts headed to Day After Tomorrow and my scientist father-in-law talking about global warming preceding catastrophic global cooling. Also, if you ignore the initial errors, the story itself held together.
PLOT AND CHARACTER DRIVEN STORY FTW.
If you’ve got plot and characters down, the audience can forgive much.
I loved the blind obedience to the computer against which Penley and the Doctor railed; for this trope Doctor Who was definitely ahead of its era.
The ice warriors
Recently Doctor Who revisited the ice warriors, with a kind of Alien being emerging from the armour. I was furious; the ice warriors from the Monster of Peladon struck me as humanoid Martians rather than an elite killing machine wearing humanoid armour. Not that I’ve watched the Monster of Peladon recently; this was one of the stories endlessly repeated through my childhood so I felt New Who was trashing my childhood memories.
After watching this episode I want to rewatch both the Monster of Peladon and the New Who story to cross-check my impressions. These ice warriors are wearing apparently ill-fitting armour: their heads hunch down inside their suits so on occasion the lower half of their faces are inside the suit while the upper portion – from about the nose upwards – is poking out.
The ice warrior’s mouths sometimes look like puppetry rather than people wearing makeup, increasing the alienness of these creatures. Watching, I was like: OMG. New Who may well have been justified in their new take on these monsters of my childhood.
The Menz in this Doctor Who story were in lead roles but women were there in spades. At first I considered writing off this episode as presenting women in subordinate positions but careful viewing presents a very different perspective.
At first Victoria irritated me with her whining and helplessness but later she proved to be quite capable – for someone of her backwards era – even though she talked like an anime girl freaking out. Jamie played the cute dumb guy while, on occasion, Victoria actually knew some stuff, explaining it to the audience:
DOCTOR: It’s ammonium sulphide.
VICTORIA: It’s a stink bomb.
It’s also important to remember that Victoria and Jamie were the ‘children’ of the episode, significantly younger than the other characters as well as being runaways from bygone eras.
In the scientific centre women abounded with Leader Clent, a guy, in charge. At first I assumed the women were more secretarial support, ‘in their place’ so to speak, but Clent promptly promotes Miss Garrett, a scientist, to act in Penley’s role after Penley’s desertion, enticing her with prospects for a greater career.
Miss Garrett shows signs of being a free thinker but eventually becomes enmeshed in Clent’s obsessive obedience to the computer; this appears less gender-oriented than role oriented. Miss Garrett is part of the group-thinking semi-administrative semi-scientific cohort who, if compliant, may have a career ahead of her. Failure to comply with workplace expectations would almost certainly cost her future promotion.
Penley is the freethinking rebel who was prepared to walk away from the conformist workplace. One might wish that Penley had been a female character but if that character was a woman in 1967 the reading of the story would have been very different. Besides: WALLACE FROM WALLACE AND GROMIT. As soon as I heard that voice, I SQUEED.
The role of the Doctor
The Doctor arrived well after the story was set in motion, emerging from a TARDIS parked on her side for comedic affect. He promptly insinuated himself and, by association, his companions into the scientific community in an effort to help, all the while urging Leader Clent to get in an expert. The message is clear: the Doctor was more expert than everyone in the centre (sorry Miss Garrett; this rankled a bit), so he’s urging Clent to reconcile with Penley, whose creative genius needs to be accommodated by the administrator to ensure success.
This is what I love most about classic Who. It’s not a soapy about the Doctor and his companions: every episode is a new adventure ensnaring our intrepid travellers who try to help.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Ice Warriors for the first time; it’s inspired me to rewatch other episodes, exploring the relationship of classic Who with new Who as well as seeking out intelligent social commentary of the eras in which the stories were made. Ice Warriors has 7.3 stars on IMDB; although this is a good rating, it deserves more. Perhaps the IMDB rating will go up with this rerelease including animated episodes to complete the story.