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Ice Cold in Malice
on 11 December 2014
A long winter's tale of ice, ions and indecision, with sonic guns, stinkbombs and huge fur coats. Freeze to your seat and go with the flow of the ice for a chilly classic with the big green men from Maaaarsssssss. 5*
Brian Hayles' famous creations make their debut in a definitive Second Doctor story from the legendary `monster season', believed lost until 1988 when most of the episodes were defrosted from somewhere under a glacier in an old BBC building. The quality of the restoration is excellent, it probably looks better now than it would have done on a 1967 television. Fortunately the opening episode survived as did the whole second half of the six-part story including episode 4, which visually is possibly the best of all - this icy world looks great in black and white.
Episodes 2 and 3 were not recovered but we now have animated replacements to watch with the restored soundtrack. The sound is excellent, as are the recreated `sets' and use of perspective and zooming - the `feel' of the animated episodes really matches the rest of the story. The faces are good with quite a lot of `expression' through eye movements etc. and the animation tells the story very well, though some of the arm actions are occasionally rather `hinged' and puppet-like. The `telesnaps' reconstruction of the missing episodes from the VHS release is on disc 2 and well worth watching to see the actors and also shows that the animation captured the style of the missing scenes, good to have this option but it would have been even better to have the choice of animation or telesnaps on disc 1. Perhaps the best of the telesnaps are Victoria confronted by Varga, and the view of the other four warriors still encased in ice after Varga has carved them from the glacier.
After shorter than usual `vortex' titles, we are swept into a world of icicles, glaciers and snowy mountain vistas by an extended title sequence with a wordless soprano solo singing like an icy wind, part of Dudley Simpson's excellent music. It's a great, atmospheric opening for a studio-bound production that very successfully creates Earth in a new ice age. The glacier, icy wilderness, avalanches and so on are all done extremely well, using film on the larger stages at Ealing to excellent effect especially in episodes 1 and 4, plus very small amounts of stock footage and a (very) small but live bear! The story also greatly benefits from a really strong guest cast.
The TARDIS lands sideways as if skiing on a snow bank, forcing the Doctor and his companions to climb out, precariously and with some nice comedy business. Patrick Troughton's Second Doctor sparkles with intelligence, courage, good humour and compassion, a tremendously likable character, a genius of course but always with a slight `human' uncertainty about him - until the chips are down and he takes command.
For Frazer Hines as Jamie this story is almost `The Moonbase' over again as he spends half his time in the surviving episodes lying down (for perfectly good plot reasons!) - his fear and frustration at his enforced immobility are well played. Deborah Watling is a very Victorian Victoria in this one, always in peril, being captured and fleeing from danger, but she does it perfectly and has some great scenes.
Inside their protective dome, Leader Clent (Peter Barkworth), Miss Garrett (Wendy Gifford) and their computer-reliant team are using the Ioniser to intensely heat and drive back the glaciers, but after a severe breakdown of team relations, Chief Scientist Penley (Peter Sallis) has stormed off into the wilderness to live with the Scavengers who reject all science, represented by Angus Lennie as Storr, ranting ineffectually against everything `scientific'. Without Penley's partly intuitive expertise, the Ioniser is at best ineffective and at worst could actually explode.
The conflict between the organised and the `natural' world, between logical and intuitive thought, is one of the main themes of this story. It's a good idea and the guest actors bring it to life with great performances before the eventual resolution, with the two `sides' of human intelligence coming together as represented by Clent and Penley, excellent casting and direction by Derek Martinus. Ultimately, the solution in this story is shown to be technology but under thoughtful human control.
It was a clever idea to have the futuristic base inside a carefully preserved stately home - that's what the team are trying to do for Earth, hold back time and ice. The `explanation' of the ice age is just wrong! If humanity killed most plants, less plants means more carbon dioxide and higher temperatures, not lower. At a guess, the story wanted to blame `science' for the ice age as part of the idea of conflict with nature.
The Doctor soon gets the Ioniser more or less working, but things really heat up when scientist Arden discovers a "pre-Viking" man trapped in the glacier, dubbed by one of his team as an "ice warrior", huge, menacing - and ice-cool; the discovery scene still conveys a sense of wonder. Before long the ice has melted and Commander Varga is in action, an intelligent leader intent on freeing his small band of warriors and his ancient craft from the ice desert - not only ruthless but ice cold in malice, he enjoys it - just listen to that evil laughter: "sssss ... sssss ... sssss ..."
Bernard Bresslaw is totally brilliant as commander of the Martians and personally created the idea of the now-famous hissing voice. The `Ice Warriors' are *individuals*, with their own names, ranks and emotions and obviously part of an advanced alien warrior culture, Viking style but with ion-drive spacecraft and sonic weapons. They are alien people, not just mere `monsters', dominating the screen in every one of their scenes and towering over the humans. Even the Doctor is awed by his first sight of them as a group and almost `runs for it' in a typically fun Second Doctor moment, before facing up to the task in hand.
There's a good symmetry to the problem both sides face; the Ioniser base needs to know if the alien ship is nuclear powered - will it cause a nuclear explosion if they use the Ioniser against the advancing glacier? The warriors want to know the same about the human base - they need mercury isotopes to refuel with. The Doctor resorts to brain power and subterfuge while Varga tries force, warrior-style - needless to say the Doctor's intelligent approach wins and with some help from the reconciled base crew, humanity - and science - is victorious again and the Doctor and his friends slip quietly away to their next adventure ...
The story could possibly have been an episode shorter (true of many six-parters) but only at the cost of interesting `character moments', though it might have benefitted from losing some of the `computers or people' arguing in the base. However, the surviving second half is especially good, the acting is excellent, the creation of an icy wilderness is superb and the `Ice Warriors' are fantastic in their original story, even better than I expected they would be. The animation works well to give us a complete story again and there's a very good set of extras.
Thanks for reading; this story deserves its fame and fiiiive sssstaaaarsssssss ...
DVD Special Features:
On Disk 1: The commentary is enjoyable with Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling joined by Sonny Caldinez (Turoc), Pat Heigham (grams operator) and designer Jeremy Davies.
In place of commentary, animated episode 3 has an interview with Michael Troughton while episode 2 has an excellent collection of short interviews, some from archive recordings, with contributions from writer Brian Hayles, director Derek Martinus, actors Bernard Bresslaw, Peter Barkworth and Wendy Gifford, Martin Baugh (costume designer) and Sylvia James (make up).
On Disk 2:
Cold Fusion (25 mins) - excellent `making of' documentary, well styled and with a very good set of contributors including Deborah Watling and Frazer Hines, Jeremy Davies and Bernard Bresslaw's son James. For me the highlights came from Sonny Caldinez with his memories of a happy team, and life as an Ice Warrior.
Beneath the Ice (10 mins) - looking behind the scenes of the animated episodes, interesting to see the attention the team gave to achieving an authentic `feel' for the production - this showed when watching the results.
VHS Links (20 mins) - the telesnaps reconstruction of episodes 2 and 3 (15 mins) plus a short introduction by Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling, from the video release.
Blue Peter `Design a Monster' (10 min) - a competition from 1967. Pure nostalgia with the top team: Val, Pete and John.
Doctor Who Stories - Frazer Hines (Part Two) (15 mins) - anecdotes and even few bursts of song, recorded in 2003; fun as expected.
Photo Gallery (4 min) - short but very good photo gallery including several great pictures of Bernard Bresslaw being transformed into Varga.
Animated reconstruction of the original trailer using off-air sound.