Review: Doctor Who: The Ice Warriors/Cert: PG/Directed by Derek Martinus/Screenplay by Brian Hayles/Starring Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling, Peter Barkworth, Bernard Bresslaw, Peter Sallis/Release Date: 26th August 2013
The BBC’s systematic plugging of the current gaps in the Doctor Who archive continues with the series’ best animation project to date, as the two missing episodes from this 1967 six-part serial - episodes two and three - are brought back to life so sympathetically that, for the first time, they genuinely feel like part of the original production. While previous animations have jarred the viewer out of the story by opting for anachronistic tics and flourishes over sticking to the tone of the surviving episodes, the two animated episodes here benefit from some astonishing cast likenesses and a straight-forward, unfussy recreation of the missing footage which just lets the story get on with it.
The titular Warriors made their long-awaited comeback to the series earlier this year in Mark Gatiss’ Cold War, but in truth the lumbering Martian reptilians (and if the word ‘lumbering’ didn’t exist we’d have to invent it to describe their very particular mode of perambulation) have really never been better than in this debut story. The Ice Warriors is bristling with clever ideas even if many of them aren’t its own; exhumed from creeping glacial ice, resurrected Ice Warrior Varga can’t help but recall The Thing From Another World (in all its incarnations), but the siting of the story’s core location, the Britannia Base battling to hold back the encroaching ice field during a new Ice Age far in the future, within the walls of an Edwardian country house, is typical off-the-wall quirky Doctor Who. In the DVD’s ‘making of’ feature, designer Jeremy Davies recalls wondering how on Earth the serial’s ambitious scripts could be realised on a 1960s BBC budget with its demands for ice fields, ice caves, spaceship interiors, and the human enclave itself. Davies is pleased with how well the episodes hold up and so he should be; filming at Ealing sound-stages gives the icescape sequences a real sense of depth and scale, while the impressive Brittania Base interior is a sterling example of the show’s mid-to-late 1960s preference for centring much of its action on one huge fully-functioning set.
We’re used to modern Doctor Who episodes full of top-drawer guest performers, but, despite its popularity in the 1960s, the show didn’t always attract the most respected names to its cast. The Ice Warriors is packed with enduring TV favourites from the 1960s and 1970s and, in Peter Sallis as suspiciously-bearded outcast scientist Penley, one who thrives into the twenty-first century, largely courtesy of his voice work in Wallace and Gromit. We also have Peter Barkworth, hamming it up wonderfully as insecure, occasionally-hysterical Base boss Clent, and, hidden beneath Varga’s cumbersome armour, Carry On favourite Bernard Bresslaw, inexplicably cast as the sibilant alien leader (the Warriors‘ unusual hissing speech patterns were Bresslaw‘s own idea offered up during rehearsals). Troughton, as ever, is a quirky joy, ably supported by Deborah Watling’s Victoria, front and centre for once, and Frazer Hines as the redoubtable Jamie, out of action for much of the story thanks to an early encounter with an Ice Warrior’s sonic weaponry.
At six episodes, The Ice Warriors is a bit on the long side for the story it has to tell - effectively, the awakened Ice Warriors plan to activate the engines of their crippled spaceship in an attempt to leave Earth, with potentially-disastrous consequences if the blast detonates the Base’s nuclear reactor - and, inevitably, there’s a lot of running around and capture-escape-recapture shenanigans. But, in the Ice Warriors, there’s the suspicion that we’re seeing a new ‘classic’ Doctor Who monster in the making and Brian Hayles’ script rarely pauses for breath, even giving some of its supporting cast decent material to work with.
With its subtle, effective animation and the usual selection of comprehensive bonus material, The Ice Warriors is a wonderful example of 1960s Doctor Who, an era which, for the moment, is frustratingly unrepresented in the BBC Archives. It’s good to see that all the stops are being pulled out as the Doctor Who DVD range creeps nearer completion; The Ice Warriors, crisply digitally remastered, is another release fans will find irresistible.
Special features: Multiple commentaries, ‘Cold Fusion’ making of, ‘Beneath the Ice’ animation feature, VHS links, Blue Peter competition footage, Frazer Hines interview, production notes, gallery, trailer, listings.