Doctor Who – Thin Ice (The Lost Stories)

Where Can I Find It?

Big Finish

Written by

Marc Platt

Directed by

Ken Bentley

What’s It About?

Ad copy: Moscow 1967. The Doctor and Ace have arrived behind the Iron Curtain, and the Soviet Union is seeking a new weapon that will give it mastery in the Cold War. What is the secret of the Martian relics? As the legendary War Lord Sezhyr returns to life, the Doctor is faced with some of his oldest and deadliest enemies. The fate of Earth – and the future of Ace – are now intertwined…

cover for Thin Ice

What Might Have Been?

Any amount of research into the history of Doctor Who, specifically into the history of the McCoy era, will eventually lead to the Cartmel Masterplan. This hypothetical document dictated the plan to move Doctor Who from the perceived failures of the Sixth Doctor era and in to a bright, new future. The Doctor would have been made more mysterious, possibly being revealed as a mythical Gallifreyan known as the Other. The overall vision was to put the “who” back in Doctor Who.

Naturally, the problem with the Cartmel Masterplan theory is that the plan probably never existed. I remember listening to an interview with Andrew Cartmel which had been conducted by the Podshock podcast, and Cartmel said this plan didn’t really exist. At best, the plan was spontaneous and organic, evolving out of the scripting at the time, not connected to a long-term, detailed vision for the show. But over the years the hints of a future in the McCoy era, the allure of the cancelled season 27, and the mythology that arose from the New Adventures novels contributed to theory and speculation. The Cartmel Masterplan became a lost, apocryphal golden era for the show.

With Thin Ice we are given, then, a glimpse at what season 27 could have been. But this glimpse may be less effective than anticipated. Based on some accounts, nothing had gone to script for season 27, although ideas had been pitched. If this is the case, then these lost stories are remembered pitches filtered through decades of development. They are an attempt to reproduce a previous era, not a reflection of an abandoned vision. Essentially, Thin Ice was pitched in 1989 but not written until 2011. It is a product of its time, and that time is the present. That time has also mythologized season 27, leaving me to wonder if these stories can even really be termed “what might have been.”

Looking at what we have been given, then, is nonetheless interesting. Thin Ice engages with the idea that Ace was to be inducted into the Time Lord Academy. The Doctor, seeing her potential, submitted an application without her knowledge and the events of Thin Ice become a test to prove her worth. This is somewhat interesting, and yet, despite the themes of change and the development of Ace’s character in season 26, it seems sudden. If becoming a Time Lady has been Ace’s journey, it hasn’t really been set up well. Moving from bitter (toward her mother) and violent to merciful and peaceful doesn’t not inherently entitle one to the knowledge of the inner workings of all time and space. Fittingly, this plot point is dropped when Ace is not accepted into the Academy. Instead, the Doctor allows her to take a greater role in their adventures, moving from the pawn to an active player. This is far more fitting.

So in a way, Thin Ice plays against the Cartmel Masterplan expectation by deflating it. What we are given instead is an adventure rooted more in Cold War spy antics than Time Lord mythologizing. The Ice Warriors lend themselves well to the Cold War (Cold, Ice, Red Planet), which is something we’ve even seen in the current series episode Cold War. I am always interested when Doctor Who portrays its monsters with nuance rather than, well, monsters. The alien races the Doctor encounters can’t always become stand-ins for those traits of society that we dislike. This is why Malcolm Hulke was such a great writer for Doctor Who. The monsters had believable motivations. And we have the same in this story, with an Ice Warrior agent working with humans to recover an ancient Martian artifact from Soviet possession. The artifact is a helmet with the biodata of a legendary Martian warrior who will be reborn into the wearer of the helmet. The Soviets have been experimenting with the technology, but in addition to the problem this technology will create in the timeline, the inevitable rebirth of this legendary warrior into a human would be a bad thing for human history.

In the end, Thin Ice is an entertaining story, made even more so when divorced from the mythologizing season 27 has been subjected to. This so-called lost season is shaped more by an attempt to tell interesting stories than to recapture a long-playing, long-abandoned plot. The Ace as Time Lord concept doesn’t really work as anything other than a sign to the fans that this ideas has been abandoned. Put it out of your mind and approach the stories as they are, not as we thought they were to be.

There really is no “might have been.”

Doctor Who Story Number 048 – The Seeds of Death

Written by Brian Hayles
Directed by Michael Ferguson

From the back: In the late 21st century, the human race has become totally dependent on T-Mat, a revolutionary form of instant travel. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe arrive on Earth just as T-Mat is suffering a malfunction. Sinister Ice Warriors from Mars have seized the lunar T-Mat station to launch an invasion of Earth.

“Your leader will be angry if you kill me!  I’m a genius.”

Here we have our second meeting with The Ice Warriors, only this time the Martians are operating from a stronger position. Unfortunately, I didn’t find this story as engaging as The Ice Warriors, which, if you recall, I was conflicted over.  In the original story, the Earth was slowly being covered in glaciers and a band of scientists were attempting to find a way to push the ice back.  In The Seeds of Death, humanity is somewhat better off, merely having food supply issues–as if that is a minor problem in comparison. More so than previous Doctor Who stories, I had difficulty with the chronological placement of this conflict Ice Warrior history. Was this after The Ice Warriors? Before? If the former, has it been long enough that humanity has forgotten about the previous Ice Warrior encounter? These questions continually popped up as I watched this story, which means I wasn’t entirely engaged.  Following the tight pacing of The Invasion, this story drags quite a bit. It would have been interesting to see what Camfield would have done with it. Not that Michael Ferguson does a bad job. His camera-work is quite inventive in a number of scenes.

The performances, however, work quite well. I enjoyed the bickering between Radnor and Eldred. Many of the secondary characters were interesting in their own way, Fewsham being standout because he comes across as a fully-conflicted human.  He wants to do the right thing, but is afraid of death. It also helps that he looks a bit like Robert Carlyle. Even Slaar comes across as a chilling villain in this piece, the make-up being quite effective in particular. The only problems I had with characters, and this surprised me, is that Jamie is starting to feel a bit old and tired. It would be nice to see a bit of growth from him as the performance is becoming a bit rote. Gone is the character that challenged The Doctor with regard to rescuing Victoria from The Daleks. This Jamie almost comes across as an intellectual child in the presence of The Doctor and Zoe. He doesn’t connect as he once did.

In all, this is a good enough story. It is a straight-forward adventure without too much depth. It certainly isn’t one of my favorites, but it is still enjoyable.

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]