Doctor who Story Number 39 – The Ice Warriors

Written by Brian Hayles
Directed by Derek Martinus

During a glacier melting project, something living is found in the ice.

“He didn’t come by shetland pony, Jamie.”
Conceptually, I think this story is amazing.  The Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria arrive in Earth’s future and discover a planet being destroyed by glaciers.  We learn that as humanity progressed, they began to significantly decrease the plant life of the planet, which caused a catastrophic shift in climate.  It seems that the Earth’s scientists underestimated the effect of plants on the climate.  Now, humanity is evacuating to Africa and other warm continents as science outposts work to drive back the glaciers with specialized equipment that should be able to melt the ice.  Science destroyed the world, and now science plans to save it.

At the European base, a scientist named Arden makes a trip to the glacier on a general scouting run.  He discovers something unexpected in the ice.  It appears to be a humanoid wearing a helmet, and Arden quickly hypothesizes that it is a Viking.  He returns to the base, the creature in ice in tow, electrodes hooked to the ice and slowly thawing it.  Much to everyone’s dismay, the creature is not a Viking.

I love the starting point of this story.  England is under siege by nature and few people remain.  Like all great post-apocalyptic stories, images of desolate wastes and abandoned civilization haunt this story.  The European base is in an old mansion, mixing historic with futuristic technology and clothing.  A scavenger and ex-scientist Penley take their refuge in an abandoned botanical building.  And the typical base-under-siege format is turned slightly on its head as Ice Warriors are held under siege by the European base’s ioniser, the European base is held under siege by the Ice Warriors’ sonic weapons, and both parties are under constant threat from the glacier.  No one has it safe in this story.

Penley and Clent exchange words.

“You’re not a man.  You’re just a machine slave.”
Possibly the concept that I have the most difficulty with is that of the computer.  In this futuristic society, computers are deferred to for just about every decision.  The scientists feed data to the computer and consult it before taking any action.  Penley left his post due in part to this blind allegiance.

Now I don’t have a problem with the concept, per se.  I’m sure we have all seen people who do not seem to function without their smart phones.  How many people these days can read a simple map without having to rely on their GPS?  These are smaller examples of the point this story is trying to make, but I take issue with how heavy-handed the story portrays the society.  Miss Garrett in particular seems to view the machine with the reverence some people pay to celebrities or deities.  In the end, the scientists face the decision to either be destroyed by the glacier (or ceaseless confrontations with The Ice Warriors) or destroy The Ice Warrior ship and risk an atomic explosion that would kill everyone.  Essentially, this is an impossible decision where either option could result in the death of everyone in this story.  The computer is unable to make a decision that would result in its own destruction, and it malfunctions, rendering Miss Garrett and Clent unable to decide.  Penley must make the final call to act, to use the ioniser against The Ice Warriors.  It is hard for me to envision people becoming so blind in their dependence, but perhaps I’m just too hopeful for the power of human competence.

“I refuse to let you go!”
“Splendid!  You go instead.”
There are some great bits to this story.  Again, I love the dire view of the future.  I enjoyed Clent, the leader of the project.  I found him at once irritating and sympathetic.  I’m glad that most of the scientists at the base survived and that Clent recognized his own weaknesses in the end. But working against the story, for me, were the aforementioned computer worship and the six-episode format.  I think this story could have been told quite well in two.  That said, I think Hayles did a good job of creating enough characters to fill the space, but sub-plots such as Jamie’s temporary paralysis and Storr’s attempt to ally himself with The Ice Warriors were unnecessary.  But, as is usually the case, the episode count probably preceded the scripts, so it wasn’t necessarily Brian Hayles’ fault.

As for The Ice Warriors themselves, they are compelling, but I don’t necessarily see much depth here.  They are your standard alien monsters.  Granted, Varga is more interested in survival and freeing his warriors than imparting great swaths of Martian history and culture.  As such, he is less likely to trust, but seeing him quickly go so quickly to distrust and superiority toward the humans with little real reason was a bit disappointing.  Sure, the Ioniser could be seen as a threat, but Victoria and The Doctor both attempted to reason with him, and he hardly listened.  That said, knowing The Ice Warriors will be back, possibly with more depth, is something to look forward to.

Click here for Doctor Who – The Ice Warriors [VHS]

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4 thoughts on “Doctor who Story Number 39 – The Ice Warriors

  1. Odd how formulaic this seems in retrospect and yet the Ice Warriors hold a place in my heart. This may be due to the way they change from villain to hero in the Curse of Peladon – a level of sophisticated concept we rarely get even now

    • I’m honestly looking forward that the change in Peladon. There is something intriguing to me about portraying a race as something more than just monsters. I know that many people love the monsters in Doctor Who, but it doesn’t hurt to have complexity every so often.

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