Monday, February 20, 2006


The Ice Warriors

Broadcast – and some episodes burnt – by the BBC before we were born, I got to know this from the novelisation, which I was fond of particularly for the cover painting of the killer reptile-monster with lightning crackling round its clamp-like claws. These days I can make a slightly more grown-up appraisal, but the killer reptile-monsters are still a major part of its appeal. Set a thousand years in the future, there’s a new Ice Age (the ’60s scientific fear before evidence of global warming, with a scene setting out the ecological fable that’s still great despite four decades of hindsight proving the science is rubbish) and the plucky British fighting the ice are menaced by the discovery of an alien spacecraft, frozen long ago and swept along by the advancing glaciers. Obviously, the aliens inside are labelled ‘Ice Warriors’. They turn up several times in later Who, and it’s easy to see why; despite being obviously men in suits, they’re very big men in very big suits, and have real screen presence. For me, a successful monster needs to break up the human form – these have something of the crocodile and the turtle about them – and an interesting voice, and these have a very distinctive hiss.

Aside from the monsters, the two things that stand out are the actors and the themes. It’s got a particularly endearing Doctor and friends – Troughton has a comic edge and a terribly reassuring voice, along with Jamie the refugee from Culloden and Victoria the imaginatively-named Victorian lady – as well as guest stars Peter Barkworth, Peter Sallis and (in the green reptile plating) Bernard Bresslaw. I’ve always thought Bresslaw had just about the widest range of the Carry On actors, and he’s great here, but just as important to the story are the parts played by Barkworth and Sallis, both very well-characterised and who sum up the writer’s intended clash: a highly-strung bureaucrat versus a free-thinking scientist with a disdain for authority. It couches different freedoms against each other – Barkworth’s character is very New Labour. The ‘ooh, computers will order us about’ message is dated in the way it’s told, rather than all its implications (now we’re scared of databases rather than having to be slaves to logic, dressed in circuit-pattern outfits). In the end, a bit slow but with the unusual combination of great monsters and considerable intelligence.

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