Mon
Apr 15 2013 11:00am

And I’m Hungry Like the Wolf? Doctor Who’s “Cold War”

Doctor Who, Cold War, Clara

I really love Mark Gatiss. Most of his Who scripts are lovely, and his Sherlock scripts are superb. I think the Ice Warriors are a pretty cool villain from the classic series. But I’m sort of at a loss to understand what I was supposed to get out of “Cold War” this week. Am I the only one?

The pacing of this episode is just plain sloppy. We’re thrust into the middle of a dilemma that we’re given seconds to adjust to, regardless of the title card giving us place and time—and frankly, if you need to start the episode by giving that information, that may be a clue that you’ve given the shorthand just a little too much. How often do Doctor Who episodes begin with a text introduction to the locale? Um... never? Because this is a show about time travel where the main character is a time traveler and it’s his job to key us in. Because it makes for good storytelling.

Doctor Who, Cold War, Skaldak

So little happens in “Cold War” that you find yourself waiting for the episode to justify its premise. I’m all for closed sets, and everyone looking wet and uncomfortable was admittedly impressive, but let’s see, the plot was essentially: Doctor and Clara end up on a Soviet submarine in 1983. The Soviets found an Ice Warrior and made him mad by attacking him. Ice Warrior is furious and lonely. He tries to kill everyone in the world. Doctor sort of convinces him not to, but mostly his own Ice Warrior people come and pick him up. The End. (Of the Cold War. Not really.)

That’s it. That is literally all that happens. Tobias Menzias (who is known elsewhere for playing amazing characters like, oh, Brutus on Rome) is cast as a traitor whose treacherousness leads to nothing but the Ice Warrior knowing where to find a nuke, so no interesting development there. Liam Cunningham has been on practically everything for the past decade plus, and can currently be found on Game of Thrones as Davos Seaworth, but he does nothing in this episode besides be non-offensive and level-headed. David Warner is surprisingly adorable as a crew member who is really into pop music and loves Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf.” Good choice, David Warner. What are you doing here?

Doctor Who, Cold War

It was nice to see the Russians painted as something other than Awful Commie Villain #1 here, but X-Men: First Class did practically the exact same thing in their film using only five minutes of footage. If you’ve got 45 minutes to tell that side of the story, it would be great to go more in-depth with the entire crew of characters that you’ve bothered to create, instead of allowing a short-sighted alien to be their stand-in for the whole episode.

The CGI for Ice Warrior Skaldak is goofy no matter how you cut it, but bad special effects aside, his story doesn’t play. If some kind of metaphor is being chipped away at here (he’s an Ice Warrior in the middle of a Cold War after all, and is considering pressing the button that all of humanity was holding their breath about at the time), it can’t change the fact that the Skaldak fails to be either empathetic or practically interesting as a foe. He’s displaced out of time, but we only get the briefest monologue on how he feels about that, and he immediately jumps to conclusions because his people don’t pick him up the instant he sends his distress signal. After five thousand years. Real together guy, totally the sort you would expect everyone to be terrified of. His killing spree doesn’t really make him more scary or sympathy-garnering, and he doesn’t have the same historical weight attached to him that that the Daleks or Cybermen have earned, so there’s nothing to get excited about.

Doctor Who, Cold War, Clara, Skaldak

Clara’s character development is nil on this one. We see her speak up when it counts, but other than that, it’s your standard “brave companion” schtick. She talks to the big bad warrior, but she actually allows the Doctor to tell her what to say. As my viewing buddy noted, that’s something a Davies companion would have never stood for. Heck, I’m sure Amy Pond would have had something to say about it, too. Sure, Clara is learning the ropes, but we don’t know her that well yet. Instead of personality flashing through, what we received was a conversation where she literally asks David Warner if she fulfilled her episodic function well enough. ‘I did what the Doctor asked and that was helpful, right? I’m earning my keep on this show?’

Even the Doctor himself fails to be interesting. After last week’s emotional tour-de-force, we’re left with him giving muddied explanations at the last minute and shrugging his shoulders when things don’t go to plan. Matt Smith seems bored to act the part here—he doesn’t come off as more than vaguely worried at any point in the episode. When the Doctor is stuck in these claustrophobic situations, most of the drama usually comes from people either keeping secrets, or fighting against him, but that doesn’t happen here. He’s got nothing to work with. I found myself longing for an closed set tale more like“Midnight” or even “42”—there was true immediacy there, some solid humor, and a good sci-fi concept.

Doctor Who, Cold War, Skaldak

Honestly, when “Cold War” completed, I literally shouted at my TV screen, “That’s it?!” And I think that sums up the experience quite eloquently.

On the list of possible clues/cool shout outs:

  • David Warner’s character bringing up Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” makes me think Bad Wolf. Since we know Rose is back for the 50th anniversary, is Bad Wolf cropping up again? Was she the woman in the flower shop who gave Clara the Doctor’s number? Because I can think of no other reason to have Clara singing the song, even if it is out of nervousness.

Doctor Who, Cold War, red setting screwdriver

  • The screwdriver has a red setting! This is the first we’ve seen of the infamous red glow that shows up on River’s screwdriver in Season 4’s “Silence in the Library”/“Forest of the Dead.” So that’s awesome.
  • The TARDIS’ Hostile Action Displacement System is a cute shout out to a 2nd Doctor serial called “The Krotons.” The suggestion has been that each of these episodes leading up the the 50th anniversary is meant to embody a classic doctor type of adventure—“The Rings of Akhaten” reminds us of the First Doctor when Eleven brings up his granddaughter Susan and fights a god called “grandfather,” and this episode features the Ice Warriors, which were created in Troughton’s era. Which means that next week’s episode should please Third Doctor fans... fingers crossed on that one, for sure.

Emily Asher-Perrin just sort of wishes that armor had never come off. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

31 comments
Steven Halter
1. stevenhalter
I think that Clara sang "Hungry Like the Wolf" at the end as reminder of Skaldak's daughter singing beside him. This gives him the empathy needed to spare humanity. So it is Clara who saves the Earth.
That's how I saw it, anyway.
shellywb
2. shellywb
I agree completely. I was so excited when I saw who had written the episode, then was aghast at the pacing and dialogue and lack of anything to make the episode special. The only thing I liked was Liam Cunningham because he made a wooden part seem human. Even David Warner though could not with his because his presence in the script was just so meaningless. The pacing of the button pushing moment at the end was beyond horrible - you could practically see them counting off beats to wait even though they were obviously bored and wanted it over with. It made no sense! What were they thinking?
shellywb
3. simon le bon
Although I have yet to see this episodes (or even read this synopsis), I find that IMHO the 80’s have been quite an era that is not re-visited that often in Who (it’s like it’s this era that has that weird time distortion thing that prevents us from seeing the Ponds again). From what I’ve seen of the episode so far, it’s nice to see some of the trademarks of that decade represented here (the Cold War! New Wave music!). As an 80’s brat, I’d love to visit this era more often (maybe with the totally awesome Ace in tow?).
Jenny Thrash
4. Sihaya
See, I think you nailed the analysis of this week's episode, but what's funny is that I think last week's episode suffered some of the same problems. We need more dialogue and guest character development, and less Docsplaining.

I did like the inclusion of bootleg music, and the various reactions to it.
shellywb
5. sofrina
viewing 1 - fell asleep; viewing 2 - left the room for an hour; viewing 3 - came in at about 30 minutes and picked up where i'd fallen asleep. intermittently wished for the return of amy pond. clara's tenure is not off to a good start.

cannot believe they made this episode. something spectacular must be in the offing. dougray scott better kill it next week.
Flint Timmins
6. Giovanotto
I agree, this episode was pretty lackluster. I thought the sub interior looked great but was disappointed when I found it to be the best thing about the episode. I was really hoping for a pschological thriller of some sort.

I think the Duran Duran song was just there to remind us "Hey! It's the 80's!" as if Cold War Soviets didn't do the trick.
Ursula L
7. Ursula
As far as Clara's characterization goes, I think that part of the point of this episode is that the Doctor still isn't seeing Clara for herself. Clara lets the Doctor speak through her, which other modern companions would not have done - but the Doctor would not have tried to make previous companions act as his puppet.

Clara asks if she did okay only after the Doctor has dismissed her, told her to stay behind. Faced with the rejection of the person she is most dependant on, she seeks affermation elsewhere.

One of the earliest conditions that Clara placed on the Doctor was that if he wanted her to travel with him, he would need to see her as herself, no matter who she reminds the Doctor of.

And the Doctor isn't seeing her for herself yet.

Any companion, in running away with the Doctor, finds themself in an oddly dependant position, vulnerable to mistreatment or misunderstanding. Clara figures out the emotional connection that gets Skaldak to pause long enough for the Martian ship to find him. But the Doctor isn't seeing her, or her acomplishments, and is quickly distracted by the next crisis. He doesn't know how to respond to her hug - a friendly one of combined relief and celebration.

The final scene is Clara walking away, laughing, with the Russians, the other humans, while the Doctor, alone, salutes the Martian ship.

Clara seems off balance as a companion, because the Doctor isn't (yet?) seeing her as a companion in her own right, rather than someone to bring along as he figures out the mystery she embodies.
Douglas Freer
8. Futurewriter1120
I agree with the pacing. It felt like they were russian (pun intended) to the end without really telling us anything. It was like we needed another 25-30 minutes for the story to be told.
Not one of my favorites so far since I was expecting more with the Ice Warriors.
shellywb
9. w00master
Honestly, I'm surprised by the "hate" on Tor.com for this episode. For me, it was truly one of the finest episodes of this series. Very "Classic Who" feel - base siege, Troughton-esque episode. To me, this was akin to Series one's "Dalek," not as good mind you, but I thought still brilliant nonetheless.

To each their own, I guess.
Douglas Freer
10. Futurewriter1120
@9 It's not so much hate but disappointment. It's been around 45 years since the Ice Warriors had been on screen and we all expected something more out of it. My opinion might change if I see the other Ice Warrior episodes.
yo sil
11. catperson
Wow, I'm suprised... I really liked this episode! I thought that the Ice Warrior was quite scary (at least until his face was revealed). The sub setting was very well done, and the atmosphere was claustrophobic. I liked the implication that the Doctor was stained by war being the reason he couldn't speak directly to Skaldak. Clara did get some character development, in that she realizes what being a companion to the Doctor will mean, and what are the kind of things she will be exposed to.
shellywb
12. Lalo
I agree this episode didn't live up to my Gatniss expectations--which was a bit egg in the face because I managed to convince a friend to give this episode a try because it had Liam Cunningham, David Warner and Gatniss all involved and ultimately it didn't justify itself.

I found myself a bit at odds with Clara too--where was the reckless bravery from the first episode? The do or die attitude of the second? How was this experience any MORE frightening then being trapped in a cyber-cloud or burned alive by an angry sun-god?

As for needing affirmation--the Doctor has spent the other two episodes/adventures basically praising her ability/resourcefulness. He seemed less inclined in this episode and part of that I think may have been because Clara didn't come up with anything on her own--most of what she did was built off something else someone else did for her.

It was also just a missed opportunity--I know Moffatt doesn't want to to do two-parters anymore, but I think this may have benefitted. Draw out the fact that the Ice Warrior isn't in his suit--then when crew members go missing its more 'what else is on this ship?!' and less 'Great he has a new trick!'.

Plus keeping the episode completely devoid of the overarching mystery is ridiculous--even if it was at the end and kind of shoe-horned in like the Amy Clone thing, at least it would have tied the story into the larger season. When there's only 8 episodes left you shouldn't have one episode that could be erased from memory and it wouldn't affect anything for anyone.
shellywb
13. Fenric25
I have to say, I was quite surprised to see a somewhat negative response to this episode here on Tor.com. The Doctor Who forums that used to be Outpost Gallifrey, known for some of the most critical and cynical members of the fandom, had a mostly positive response to the episode. I personally loved it and felt it was one of the best in some time, certainly Mark Gatiss' second best (I'd say that, aside from the ending, The Unquiet Dead is still his best story. He does have trouble with endings) The Ice Warrior felt scarier than it ever had, I felt the acting was top notch if the characterization was a little thin (though David Warner's character was perfectly fine, would love more of Grisenko, he was quite good), and I felt the CG for the Ice Warrior's actual body worked quite well, especially as they kept the monster mostly to the shadows, thus leaving some ambiguity (it was also nice to see a warrior culture in Doctor Who treated properly, definitely felt the most in keeping with the original series aliens aside from the Daleks). While I admit that Clara wasn't used as well as she could have been, I still think that she did quite well with what she was given. Matt Smith seemed as good as the Doctor as he usually is, had no problem with him, he's the one great constant throughout the past few seasons in terms of writing and acting, in my opinion. The pacing was just fine for me, the direction and production values were quite good, loved the HADS joke, too. It was also nice to see some gruesome deaths for a change, not enough of those under Moffat (unless you're Rory, I suppose) If anything, this episode should have been a two-parter so Gatiss could have made some more well-rounded characters, explain the silly Barbie doll thing, and allowed for a few more moments for Clara to shine. Then it would have great,a true classic episode, in my opinion. As it stands, it's still pretty damn entertaining, even my brother, who's often degrading and cynical towards the new series, loved it. I am, however, looking more forward to next week's episode, definitely looks different and rather evocative of the creepy mansion stories of the 4th Doctor's era with a dash of 3rd and 7th Doctor for good measure.
Alan Brown
14. AlanBrown
I didn't think the episode was too bad, and agree that Clara's singing was what saved the world. I liked the fact that, as ruthless as he was, the solution was to appeal to the better aspects of the Ice Warrior's nature.
First, just some basic research stuff. Some of it was good. The sub looked like a Delta class, and they did their patrols in the Arctic Sea during that time period. But I'm not sure Soviet boomers ever took time out to do some scientific research--them carrying a scientist and freeing frozen relics from the ice doesn't sound too plausible. And how did they get such a big chunk of ice into the ship through the hatches, and why wasn't it melting before the hapless crewman started working on it? And I hate that dripping water cliche--when you are 700 meters down, which is pretty deep for anything but a research sub, when water comes in, it doesn't just drip, it comes in at a high velocity, and little holes become big ones rather catastrophically. And though the Ice Warrior's 'tractor beam' lifted them to the surface, someone would have had to pump some ballast tanks, or repair whatever had been keeping them on the bottom, if they were going to stay on top.
The characters were kind of cliches, but that comes with a one hour episode. I did like the Captain (who if I am not mistaken, also moonlights as a smuggler in Westros), and David Warner was a likeable enough eccentric scientist. Like others above, I was surprised that there was nothing in the episode to build on the relationship between the Doctor and Clara--it seemed disconnected from the previous episodes.
I had never encountered the Ice Warriors before, being rather new to Who, but I thought they did a pretty good job with him, and I especially like that they never showed him completely outside his suit--like burlesque dancers where the mystery is part of the act, it is never effective when the monsters show too much.
I too notice that there are 'big' episodes of Who that move the story arc, and 'midseason' episodes that tell a standalone story. I would prefer to see that distinction to be a little less clear--I think the show would be better if it was more cohesive.
But, all in all, quibbles aside, it was an enjoyable hour of television.
shellywb
15. Drake1992
THANK YOU!

Every other critic on the internet loved this episode. I thought it was the worst one in the season (so far).
shellywb
16. Puff the Magic Commenter
Nope. Best episode of the season so far -- which was a relief after last week's exercise in dopiness -- and Gatiss's best Who by far ("Night Terrors" is down there with "The Beast Below" and the pirate thing among the weakest of the Smith era episodes).

Compare and contrast the AVClub review. Interesting extremes of opinions, to say the least.
Jenny Thrash
17. Sihaya
When did "Meh," become an extreme?
shellywb
18. NiktheHeratik
I agree with the "meh" assessment. They brought in good actors an interesting set/premise and did nothing with it. The action was predictable with the only question being whether any of the crew with speaking parts would get killed.

The alien didn't have any kind of clear personality. Were you supposed to feel sorry for him? Then where was the hook that lets you do so (like with Dalek in S.1). Where you supposed to be afraid of him? Then where is the clear menace? There was no need to bring in that cold war BS. These were people trapped underwater. They could die and no one would ever find out what killed them. The threat to the crew was more interesting than nuke war.

And the alien guy then starts babbling about "revenge" but it's unclear whether he blames the crew for being turned into an ice cube or if his warrior code demands global extermination for being zapped by a cattle prod.

And why didn't the Doctor offer to take him back in time using his time machine! Wouldn't that have been a good solution to the dilemma?

TL;DR: the idea was good, but the script needed an overhaul.
Jeanette Donato
19. Djinn
Actually, this episode was a winner with our family. After the last two episodes this one was a pleasant surprise. Sure, some of the dialogue was cringe-worthy but overall we all really enjoyed this. Maybe because we don't read spoilers and, therefore, didn't know that a Ice Warrior was going to be in the episode. Our expectations, well mine at least, were very low after the first two but in this one I was actually entertained. So it gets a thumbs up in my book.
Shelly wb
20. shellywb
One other thing that made this episode less than stellar to me is that they took the arc of the Ice Warriors culture throughout DW and slammed it into 42 minutes, when it had already been done so much better over a number of episodes and years. They started out as Warriors, but out of honor and other aspects of their culture became allies of the Doctor (later in history but earlier in his life). And annoyingly, we've already had a story where a group were frozen in the ice and discovered by another earlier doctor.

Their culture is really fascinating and could have led to a wonderfully complex story. I'm sad that they wrote a retread rather than trying something new, and also that they didn't better fit in the Doctor's history with them considering he's number 11.
Iain Cupples
21. NumberNone
@9; yeah, I'm another who thought this episode had a real 'old-Who' feel to it. It was good. Not incredible, but certainly good. I'm at a loss reading some of these complaints: people don't see why you would empathise with the Ice Warrior? People thought Smith's performance looked 'bored'? Really? Well, mileage does vary, I suppose... but I really liked the ep.
shellywb
22. beerofthedark
Count me among the likes. Not the greatest, but it knocked the socks off the last episode. As previous posters have said - Classic Who style episode. It also nicely set up the possibility of future Ice Warrior stories (which I thought was it's main purpose).
As for those who didn't see character development in Clara I did find myself wondering if I'd watched the wrong episode when I read the review. She is gung-ho, even when frightened at the start of the episode and then she sees the dismembered bodies of two people she's just met, albeit briefly. Remember, she's not seen anyone killed in her adventures with the Doctor yet, just threatened. Her chat with David Warner was a great bit of acting through someone dealing with shock and trauma and having difficulty processing. Similarly the Doctor's brief pause at the top of the ladder when she says she will stay put nicely (imo) indicated that he recognised that the deaths had fazed her. Subtle, I'll grant you, but give me subtle over last week's badly-written melodramatics any day.
shellywb
23. Nicholas Winter
There an odd continuity error in this episode. Clara was amazed the Russians spoke English but in the previous episode never remarked upon the fact all the aliens spoke English. Was the order of these episodes reversed?
shellywb
24. ProfMel
"That's it?" totally sums up my reaction to this show.
shellywb
25. ChrisG
I'm with Emily on this one. Perhaps we can take hopeful consolation in the idea that Mark Gatiss was distracted by the awesome Sherlock script he is working on.
shellywb
26. Dashing-D
I am dissapoint. The best ep of series 7 so far has been the v 1st one (Asylum of the Daleks) and the 2nd best has been the Xmas ep (Snowmen). Both featured a fun, scintillating Clara; now that we have Clara #3, she's by far the least interesting of the bunch. Is Moffatt losing it?
shellywb
27. dtrowbridge
I was initially so excited by all of the build-up that Clara was going to be the new companion. I mean the first two times we meet her she's smart, defiant, sassy and so enjoyable. But now that she's on as a full time companion, the writers seem to have lost all of that sense of her character and are trying to find their footing. I've been rather disappointed with the past three episodes. And ending last week's with a corny joke? What are they making here, a bad sitcom?
shellywb
28. Tamlyn
I'm another one who liked the episode. I could definitely understand the mutilated human deaths really bringing it home to Clara when a huge sun-god on what could be a dream world didn't. And I adored the scene where the doctor told her to stay, then expected her to disobey and she had a rather bemused, "I... am staying here?" A companion acting sensibly rather than disobeying, falling into danger and needing rescuing?
Ashley Fox
29. A Fox
I also quite enjoyed this ep. Then again I watch it with a 5yo..tensions immediately escalate by +10 :D Though at the end it did feel a bit abrupt. Sub gets sucked up by spaceship, IW goes, Clara sings half heartedly=world saved, and quip. Though I did love the docs mock face.

Clara..clara. I dont seem to love her as everyone else does I didnt so much have a problem with her being a bit less chirpy this ep. That fit, tense, tight story. Reality of violence all to relatble via the nukes even if dealing with an alien. Seeing mutilated bodies Having doubts about what it is she is actually doing with the doc. (That last gives me some up re my next point)

I think it may be the actress herself. She's just a bit wooden. Her facial expressions do not change much, although she does quirky smile well. Maybe this is why some find fault in this ep? It doesnt have room for the cheeky quips and smiles and so the actresses faults show through a bit more.

Or...that woodeness may actually be acting if Clara's confusion, inner turmoil is actually part of the chara and part of a later reveal. Then okies...we'll see.

Why do I say this? Some observations.

When Clara falls into the water she looks at the sonic scredriver... gloing green all on it's lonesome She's pretty fixated on it. She does not it her head.

Timelapse. She holds her head as if implying that she was knocked out in a physical manner.but was she? Why was the sonic glowing, what was it doing? Coz brains are like organic computors, when she was downloaded the body lay quisient.I dont know, feel there is something more there.

Then later the sonic is found on the (dryish) floor, Clara on looking. After this it then has the new setting, glowing red...which the doc seems a bit surprised by or at least as a look of significance.

Other possible clues/refs:

An empty suit-River's empty suit when she breaks out as a child. Power contained and escape.

Doc "stay here dot argue"
Clara "I'm not"..Doc pauses. This is almost a forceable reminder that Clara is not like Amy/River. They would have argued/done their own thing. There are a few other moments when Clara is asking how she's doing ect which seem to imply that she is aware that she is filling another's role The Docs hesitantions/repetitions when anwering shows he is seeing the differences. I dont know if this will have greater meaning but it is a nice bit of development between them..the awkward stage.

Blink. Rather than the IW saying the first to look away...he says blink. Dont blink the proof against weeping angels, who took the last companions. Blink the ep also has a locale of the shop and a relationship defined a just a shop. Does this connect with Clara's woman in the shop? There is also the passing of info across timelines.

I'm probs just thinking to much ha, its like a bizzare came of connect the memory dots.
shellywb
30. Ellynne
I was trying to remember when that one Soviet sub sank. I thought from the beginning that this episode was a reference to it and that they were all doomed. It was a big surprise to me when they lived.

When the Martian ship showed up, I was a bit disappointed in the Doctor. This is the guy who spews out histories of entire galaxies at the drop of a hat. I expected him to know if there were any Martians around to answer the call or if they were too far away/insuspended animation.

I do want to know how this ties into The Water of Mars.
shellywb
31. TomBakersScarf
It-was-really-good ya?

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