Six Smart Women Discussing Doctor Who

Doctor Who - Series 7BCold War

I’ve been thinking about Mark Gatiss’ “Cold War” since we recorded, and I think I’ve put my finger on the number one reason it disappointed me.  I can sum it up in one word: tension.  Actually, it was the lack thereof, so it’s three words.  Anyway, I’ve seen lots of people say they were gripped by this episode, but I was so far from the edge of my seat, I was literally reclining.

The story felt very by-the-numbers.  Sometimes that’s okay in horror—you really do need to include certain elements or it ceases to be horror, but when you’re going to stick to those numbers very closely, you need to do something else that’s compelling to get me to buy in.  This story lacked anything resembling that.  I thought maybe the return of a classic villain might do it for me.  Alas, it did not.

One of the “numbers” was the friend-turned-enemy subplot with Lieutenant Stepashin.  Yes, I disliked him the way I was supposed to, but then that plot didn’t really go anywhere.  Maybe killing him off so soon and suddenly was Gatiss’ attempt to get away from “the numbers,” but if so, it failed.  Perhaps with more time to play out, it would’ve worked well.  I come back to my assertion (while recording) that this felt like a classic episode of Who shoved into a new-Who time-slot.

The bright side of “Cold War” (excepting the set and direction, of course: drool) was Clara, but as she wasn’t exactly shining here, that didn’t make up for much.  And I can’t say I was fond of the exchange between Clara and the Doctor when she says “Saved the world then.  That’s what we do.”  It made them sound like a superhero team.  I’m not sure how I feel about the Doctor’s interference being so blatantly referred to that way.  I know that’s what the show has become, and maybe one can’t blame Clara for seeing it like that after only a few encounters, but I much prefer the Doctor to bumble along and save people almost incidentally.  And I should stress *people*.  Saving the world/universe/all of time is wearing a bit thin for me.

Nits to pick:

  • Why does that dude unthaw the Ice Warrior?  Like the TARDIS’s disappearance, I find this annoyingly convenient.  I realize that both elements are necessary for the story to move forward, but I think that both could’ve been handled more gracefully.  The unthawing bit in particular smacks of brute-force storytelling.  That’s not something I automatically associate with Mark Gatiss, but perhaps I should now that I think about some of his previous stories.  (Spitfires in space, anyone?)
  • Gosh, those chains on Skaldak must have loosened an awful lot to let the armor open enough for him to escape.  Even if you argue that he can completely flatten himself, we *see* the armor open when Clara looks at it, and it opens pretty darn wide.  Is everyone on this sub incompetent?
  • As Tansy said, that poor grunt is lifted up just like Paul McGann in Alien-cubed, but to where is he lifted?  It’s such a cramped space, that scene seems unlikely.  Maybe subs have between-deck hidey-holes.  I don’t know.  I’m not a submariner.

Happy bits:

  • I do like that the Doctor comes clean about being a time-traveler so quickly.  It’s an approach so rare as to be a refreshing change.  A little gem amongst some dull rocks.
  • Clara of course.  Her curiosity at the Ice Warrior when it first appears is amusing as she creeps up behind the Doctor to see it better.  I think that bright curiosity fades a bit by the end of the story, and I like that too.  After she realizes how real things are she’s more hesitant, but perhaps wiser.
  • I think it was Tansy who said she liked individual bits of the writing last week.  I felt that way to some extent this week.  I liked the exchange about speaking Russian, and I loved the line from the Professor about Skaldak wanting to talk to the organ grinder and not the monkey (not to mention Clara’s reaction to it).  The dialogue was mostly pretty decent, it was the framework upon which it hung that sagged.
  • Speaking of the wacky professor, I loved him.  When the Doctor says “I could kiss you” and he responds with “If you insist,”  I smiled hugely.  I’m going to insert a small complaint here in the pros section, and that’s that I wish there was more done with this character.  He seemed like he probably had a really interesting, full backstory that we didn’t get to see (again—this story felt squished).  I want that backstory.  Some have theorized that David Warner will return.  I hope that’s the case.  I want more of this guy.

So that’s my slightly-more-than-two-cents about “Cold War.”  If you’re interested in a couple other reviews that reflect my views (at least in part), I highly recommend checking out episode 303 of Two-Minute Time Lord and Kyle Anderson‘s review over at Nerdist.

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Comments on: "Episode 10 – Last Word: Erika" (5)

  1. I kind of want David Warner’s character to turn up on the Moon Base. If they do another 1980′s story, one which addresses the bloody Moon Base (which 1960′s Doctor Who TOLD us was there in the 80′s) would be most excellent.

  2. Mark Pursglove said:

    Firstly, absolutely loving Verity! Podcast incredibly high quality in content and production, so thank you for that !

    I was genuinely saddened for you that Cold War left you quite literally cold.

    I’m totally with you on the ‘by the numbers’ interpretation of the story. I have been disappointed with all the Doctor Who stories of Mark Gatiss, because I love a lot of his non Who stuff.

    However although the structure felt formulaic Base under siege/Aliens, there were some excellent nuggets of dialogue wedged into the scenes, expertly delivered by some excellent actors. For me this was enough to keep me from worrying about the formula or about the size of the corridors.

    However what pushed this episode home was Skaldak’s character as a grieving father.

    It really got under my skin. A proud career military man who’s daughter followed in his footsteps. An intelligent honourable, deadly but restrained man, somewhat Samurai-esque (Samurai crossed with a tank !).

    Wakes up with everything he had loved and fought for long since dead (so he thinks). Isolated, angry and grieving, he wants to make someone, anyone, else suffer for his loss.

    I have come to realise, any stories with loss, grief or genuine threat of harm to children, hits me square In the emotions, and I am quite heart on sleeve as it is !

    At the I could almost feel Skaldak’s armoured finger tip grazing the button, I could almost feel him wondering if he could actually do it, destroy a whole race, and knowing it probably wouldn’t take the pain away.

    Yeah it was lump in the throat time !

    As you can tell I got a lot from the story, despite its formulaic structure. So it was a bit sad that it left other people cold, however it does make the discussions about episodes a lot more interesting !

    • I am so glad that this ep rang true for you! Perhaps it’s my turn to be the cold-hearted podcast member. :) I wanted so badly to feel as you did. I think I did intellectually–it’s a great idea for a character, and I appreciate the motivations and backstory cerebrally, it just didn’t penetrate to my feels (to use the internet parlance the kids are using these days). I tend to be more easily manipulated, and I think that if I’d found somewhere else to buy in, this woulda hit me square. I do have a long history of not appreciating military-based media, so perhaps that filtered out any warm feelings I could have had for this story. I’m not sure.

      Anyway, thanks so much for listening and for your feedback. Thanks also for appreciating this story where I can’t! :)

      ^E

  3. I have to say I agree with you, Erika. I wanted to love this episode but it didn’t click with me. :(

    The biggest issue for me was that the whole setting didn’t really work. Don’t get me wrong, “Ice Warrior in a submarine!” sounds pretty cool but it stretched my suspense of disbelief a wee bit too far – a lot more than last weeks Rings of Akhaten. With the latter you could always handwave any inconsistencies with some technology that just hasn’t been mentioned on screen (forcefields and stuff like that). But submarines from the Cold War don’t have that luxury. So I kept thinking stuff like: Since when are subs so spacious? And have so few crew members? How the hell did they get that huge block of ice in there? Would the sub really sustain its shape when hull is breached and water is coming from everywhere? Speaking of water, it should be icy and everyone should suffer from hypothermia within minutes! Why is no one freezing? Cattle prods against Polar Bears? What? etc. I really wanted to stay with the episode but throwing this stuff at me all the time made it unnecessarily hard.

    But to end on a more positive note: I continue to like Clara! Even though she hadn’t had that much to do here the bits when she was figuring out something was wrong with Skaldak and her trying to deal with the situation did add to her characterisation. (Was actually any companion ever confronted with such a gruesome gory death in their early adventures? At least in NewWho? I mean, yes, all got a taste of people dying around them – but seeing a dissected corpse? That’s harsh!)

    Looking forward to the next episode!

  4. [...] “Cold War” Podcast My Lasst Word***  [...]

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