Doctor Who is Great – 5 – The Ice Warriors

This is the latest in a series in which I choose one serial per season which is unusually well-made and/or innovative. It’s also intended to serve as a recommendation of where to start for people unfamiliar with the show in general or with the classic series in particular. Today I’m discussing the introduction of the Ice Warriors.

Modern-day films aimed at children often include something for the parents as well – usually a subtly smutty joke, or a few classic film references. Classic Doctor Who often did the reverse, adding some scary monsters into a well-written story to keep its younger viewers entertained. From my perspective that’s what’s been done in The Ice Warriors – despite being named after them, this serial has more interesting elements than its eponymous reptiles.

The serial is set in Earth’s future when a lack of plant life – caused by an increasing percentage of land area being taken up with housing – has led to a new ice age. The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria arrive in a base set up in an old house in the UK, not far from the ice cap. Its purpose is to use ionisation to hold back the advance of the Arctic.

The base is run by Leader Clent, a man obsessed with following rules, consulting the base’s computer and maintaining his public image by making his mission a success. The base’s main scientist, Penley (Peter Sallis, later to portray the main character in Wallace and Gromit) has rebelled against Clent’s leadership and gone to live in the Ice Wastes with the scavenger Storr. And buried inside the ice is a ship belonging to the Ice Warriors, the inhabitants of Mars.

The main conflict is not between the humans and the Martians, but between Clent, who insists on consulting the base’s computer for every decision, and the Doctor and Penley who prefer to rely on human intuition. Towards the end the two scientists are proven right when the computer, forced to choose between two options both of which would endanger its existence, stops working.

Clent and Penley are both well-portrayed, multi-dimensional guest characters and though they only interact directly in the last two episodes, the conflict between them is played out via their interactions with the regulars and with Miss Garrett.

The Ice Warriors are written mainly as lumbering, violent creatures without much to make them sympathetic characters and it wasn’t until their later appearances with the Third, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors that their species became fleshed out. The acting saves them however, with their constant loud breathing, hissing laughter and whispering voices, and it’s that which made them one of Doctor Who’s iconic monsters despite only appearing as the main villain twice in the classic series.

The Ice Warriors is an effective combination of interesting human characters with a scary monster based around an interesting premise with a basis in science, making it a good representation of the Innes Lloyd era of the show.

Next time: a journey into the Land of Fiction in The Mind Robber.

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