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.
- 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.