Featuring guest recapper, Alex Doyle.
So I was hoping this week’s Doctor Who episode, “Cold War,” would clear the air tainted by last week’s steaming deuce, “The Rings of Akhaten,” and I’d be spared another marital round of “I’m not touching that. YOU clean it up.” Alas, the stench of Akhaten was not wafted away by the refreshing potpourri of an episode like “In the Time of Angels,” but rather pushed aside by the lit match of “Cold War.” I was somewhat ambivalent about this episode, but Barbara hay-hay-hated it. She said, and I quote: “I hated this episode so much I don’t want to even rewatch it for the parts I slept through.” So I’m recapping. Again. And given that Neil Cross, who wrote Akhaten, is writing next week’s episode, entitled “Hide”…I’ll probably be seeing y’all next week, too.
We all liiiiiiive in a Russian submarine …
We start off on a Russian nuclear submarine, where the captain is just about to pull the trigger when he’s stopped dead in his tracks by…Ultravox, which is only the first of many heavy-handed Eighties references in this episode. A scientist on board is toting his five pound walkman and singing along with it, distracting the bridge crew and revealing that the whole trigger pulling thing was just a drill, and that the New Romantics probably played a much smaller role in preventing nuclear armageddon than would be inferred from this encounter. Of course, the scientist is played by David Warner, who was that guy who was in all those movies in the 80s. Usually played a bad guy. Oh, you know the one.
The scientist mentions the specimen they have in the hold that’s probably a mastodon, and when we cut to the hold, we see a humanoid figure frozen in ice. So we immediately know that this scientist isn’t really good on his biology, or his history for that matter. A sailor decides he’s gonna thaw it out and see what it is, and like pyramids, rope bridges, portals to other dimensions, and raising the dead: NO GOOD CAN COME OF THIS. Seriously. If he’s super lucky, he’s got a “mastadon” that’s severely over it’s sell by date. If he’s lucky, it’s Captain America, which would be super cool…except it’s a Russian submarine and he’ll have some ‘splainin’ to do. Odds are he’ll get something between The Thing, and a Scooby Doo villain….and the odds are correct. As the sailor thaws it out, a scaly hand punches out to choke him and we cut to credits. Vworp vworp!
The Doctor and Clara finally appear, popping out of the TARDIS into a sinking sub. As they step out, the TARDIS takes a look around and thinks, ‘Never liked you anyway, Clara.’ and ‘Sinking sub? Eff this!” and vanishes. Or maybe I’m just assuming that last part. The Doctor manages to convince the crew to steer the sub onto a ledge and then they’re stuck. Under the sea. And it is definitely not better down where it’s wetter, under the sea. And it is wet. This whole episode. And steamy, but that’s to be expected, since by design, when Soviet submarines start leaking, they turn into saunas (much in the same way a failing escalator turns into stairs) so that the crew may be totally relaxed for their impending implosion.
After the ledge incident, there is a basic mistrust between the Doctor and the Russian crew. The Doctor loses his screwdriver, and we discover the Gift Of The TARDIS is accepted on failing nuclear subs as Clara uses her perfect Russian. To talk to the people who were not speaking Russian of any kind before the TARDIS even arrived.
Ice, Ice (Warrior) Baby
As the Doctor goes to assess the damage and assist with repairs, the thing from the ice – a high ranking Martian Ice Warrior – manages to sneak up behind him. The Doctor reveals it’s at least five thousand years old, very dangerous, probably the last of it’s kind and HOLY CRAP!!! A dude with a cattle prod just shot it in the back, and the Ice Warrior goes down like a water balloon. The Doctor, realizing this thing is gonna be way pissed when it wakes up, has it tied up and quarantined.
While it’s chained to a pipe, the Ice Warrior sends out a distress signal which goes unanswered, pretty much proving that it is the last of it’s kind. Because it doesn’t like talking to warriors, or something, the Captain and the Doctor send Clara in to talk to it, using the biggest gaming headset ever…but it was the Soviet 80’s so…state of the art. Clara has no idea what she is doing, other than being plucky, so the Doctor coaches her on what to say to make peace. Sadly, the Ice Warrior figures this out fast enough and lets them all know that since he’s got nothing to lose anymore he’s gonna wipe out everybody by launching a nuclear missile, and political tensions being what they are, they’re gonna be in a Fixx, as one thing leads to another.
Clara realizes that there’s something weird with the chained up Ice Warrior and touches it, opening up it’s armor and letting it escape. As Clara goes to get out the thing flashes by her and is now loose in the submarine. The TARDIS, were it there, would look knowingly at Clara with disgust.
James Cameron and 80s references
It’s at about this point when I start realizing there are a number of parallels between this episode and the films of James Cameron. The comparison isn’t helped much by the armor-free alien having, well, “Alien” style hands. As the crew tries to track the alien down in a steamy, pipe-ridden, soggy environment, they fail to use the cattle prods they had for No Apparent Reason Other Than Flamethrowers On A Submarine Would Be Too Ridiculous to kill it, and they get picked off one by one in a fairly predictable manner. As the Ice Warrior completes his sub-wide scavenger hunt (and this sub is surprisingly roomy – roomy enough to have walls for the Ice Warrior to hide in and come out of) he gathers the information to be able to launch missiles, and interrogates the crew to learn about the concept of mutually assured destruction. So the events on the surface are paralleled by the events in “The Abyss.” And the events in the submarine, too.
About the time the crew is looking roundly screwed, the scientist gives the Doctor back his sonic screwdriver and a Barbie doll (which is never explained – maybe it’s got Clara’s soul in it?) As they go off to fix the situation, the scientist tries to get Clara to calm down by singing “Hungry Like The Wolf,” because we’d almost forgotten about the awkward, weirdly actualized 80s references in this episode. As they’re talking, the Ice Warrior’s hands come out of the ceiling and wrap themselves around Clara’s head. The scientist shoots the creature, which takes off long enough to wrap it’s hands around the scientist’s head.
The Doctor shows up for a bit of back and forth with the Ice Warrior, who lets The Doctor know that he’s ready to launch missiles. He also lets The Doctor know that he has valet armoring, as his empty suit of armor comes stomping in and opens up for the Ice Warrior to hop in, presumably Dukes Of Hazard style.
The armor stomps off and we’ve got a Mexican Standoff, with the Ice Warrior’s claw on the launch button and The Doctor waving his screwdriver around, threatening to blow up the sub if that missile goes off. Just when you think it’s an intractable situation, the distress signal is answered and an alien ship hauls our heroes’ damaged vessel out of The Abyss to the surface. Our Ice Warrior is beamed out and nuclear destruction is avoided. The episode is wrapped up neater than an episode of “Family Ties.” Sha la la la!
Oh, and The Doctor explains that he’d set the TARDIS to exit, stage left, if there was danger, and apparently it’s at the south pole. The Doctor cheekily asks for a lift, Clara laughs adorably, we cut to Martian spaceship flying off, and we’re done, hoping that next week’s episode is better so that Barbara might finally be wooed back to recap it.
Alex Doyle is a writer for Sweatpants & Coffee.