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Doctor Who: Cold War

Grisenko: 'I need to know... Ultravox! Do they split up?'

The opening quote pretty much sums up the episode: funny, sometimes clever, often cheesy, occasionally suspenseful, and probably the best Mark Gatiss episode since 'The Unquiet Dead'. (Admittedly, not much of an accolade.) It also had the Doctor kissing a dolly, promising to kiss Professor Grisenko, and Ultravox. Surely the ingredients for a future classic?

Generally, I think I enjoyed this. On first watch, I didn't like it at all—then I turned down the lights, busted out the popcorn, pulled on my Doctor Who pyjamas, and suddenly it felt far more entertaining. I think you need a darkened room for the suspense to work. Sadly, a lot of the supporting characters didn't get much of a chance to shine. I was a little disappointed that Liam Cunningham's character, Captain Zuckov (not a suggestive name in the least), didn't get much to do other than sport a magnificent beard, be gruff, shouty, and ultimately wrong all the time. And Lieutenant Stepashin was just a red shirt sans the red shirt. (Not to mention an anagram of 'thespians'.)

But I liked Professor Grisenko. At least he managed to serve a purpose—that of keeping Clara calm. Not a small thing when there's a desuited Ice Warrior on the loose. And Clara seemed to establish her credentials as the perfect companion: rational, unafraid of getting her feet wet (quite literally), level headed in a crisis, and looking magnificent in wet clothing. (An absolute must for the aquatic adventurer.) She did crumble a little at the end. It may have been half-hearted, but when all seemed lost, she definitely sung a bar of 'Hungry Like the Wolf', but I've always imagined that Duran Duran would one day save the planet. They won't, but I like to imagine it.

I was also impressed by Clara's ability to assess her own performance at the very height of things going wrong. Thankfully, the Doctor, although initially curmudgeonly, managed to take time out of his busy, freaking-out schedule, to reassure her that she was doing fine. Nice moment that. She's still new to all this, and presumably this was the first time she's seen mangled human remains. Of course, that's an assumption. The other two Claras have had more high adventure than you can shake an overpowered sonic screwdriver at, and we still don't know how all that fits in. Did Grisenko want Clara to sing because he thought it would calm her, or because it would calm him? Probably both.

Disappointingly, some of Skaldak's lines bordered on the Gorgonzola. His 'There will be a second red planet, red with the blood of humanity' line has me cringing in the dark—despite this sort of gibberish being stock dialogue for Who baddies. They really love their super-villain one-liners. Usually they last just long enough to either effect an escape, or to bring about their defeat. My other complaint (already hinted at) was the Doctor's over-reliance on his sonic screwdriver; what with detecting geographical anomalies, tracking monsters and whatnot, is there anything it can't do?

Sadly, the ending was another talky resolution. Sometimes I wish they'd just solve things the old fashioned way: bare breasted, with child friendly violence, and maybe a smattering of pew pew noises. I liked that it was Clara who eventually persuaded Skaldak to show mercy, as I'm not sure the Doctor's bluster was working. Clara managed to exploit Skaldak's pause in attacking Grisenko perfectly, buying herself time to reason with him as a father. Pretty smart when all the Doctor could manage was some shouting, threatening to kill everyone, and wafting his magic screwdriver around.

In summary, a rather splendid base-under-siege type story, some sharp dialogue, a decent return for an old foe, some effective Alien-style monster shenanigans, and Clara more than earning her monkey nuts. Oh, and my faith in Mark Gatiss has kind of been restored. Until next time, anyway. But how long before they reconnect with the TARDIS? With no TARDIS to get them there, the South Pole seems like an awfully long way away.

Other Thoughts:

—There's always some arsehole with a blow torch eager to melt your ice specimen and then stand there for ages waiting to be punched in the face.

—Here's a thing: when the TARDIS is around, it translates, right? Yet, before the TARDIS even appeared on the submarine, we could understand Captain Suck-off and Co. perfectly. How did that happen? Not one Russian sentence or subtitle anywhere. Which I initially found confusing, listening to two English chaps swapping exposition about the Cold War like total pros. So, I can only assume that the TARDIS was in my back kitchen prior to it turning up on the submarine. This would also explain why there are no fish fingers in my freezer and the custard tin is empty.

—Skaldak was voiced by the ever versatile Nicholas Briggs.

—Great submarine setting. The externals looked a little like when I used to play with toy boats in the bath (last week), but the interiors looked cool.

—I was vaguely amused by the Doctor telling Clara to wait, and her actually waiting.

—Noooo ! Not a dreaded finger-almost-pressing-the-end-of-the-world-button style finale!

—I'm chuffed that Clara said chuffed.


Doctor: 'Stay here.'
Clara: 'Okay.'
Doctor: 'Stay here. Don't argue.'
Clara: 'I'm not.'

Doctor: 'Professor, I could kiss you.'
Grisenko: 'If you insist.'

Clara: 'Are we going to be okay?'
Doctor: 'Oh, yes.'
Clara: 'Is that a lie.'
Doctor: 'Possibly.'

Grisenko: 'Why don't we sing a song? Keep my spirits up.'
Clara: 'Yeah, that would work. If this was Pinocchio.'
Also posted at The Time Meddler.


  1. Thank-you for the review! You convinced me to re-watch the episode although I'm not sure if it's a good thing that for every episode since the break I have had to re-watch to appreciate. Clara is growing on me and the snappy one-liners are there but the pots don't seem very full lately. I'm not sure what is bugging me but there is something. Still I can't wait to watch every week so they are still doing something right.

  2. Plots, I mean plots - maybe the pots are full. I haven't been paying attention.

  3. I think it's a combination of things, Doc. For me, DW is at its best when it has a strong season arc. This season, however, the heavy turnover of personnel, combined with fewer episodes spread over two years, has left no room for a central story. They really should have chucked in a couple of two-parters. Some of the stories just don't feel properly fleshed out.

  4. I thought this one was quite a bit better than last week's episode, but I think the previous comments are exactly right too - something just seems a little "off" over the last few episodes, and maybe even before that. And the sonic screwdriver is being WAY overused - a few weeks ago I was watching the Peter Davison episode where they decided to destroy the sonic screwdriver, and in the DVD extras they talked about how it had become too much of a crutch. The current writers need to go back and watch that. Still, overall, I enjoyed this one. David Warner was great, I thought.

  5. A fun, if unoriginal, episode. Definitely Gatiss' best since season 1. I think one of the problems with the episodes lately is that the writers just can't seem to come up with any decent endings. This isn't really anything new. DW stories have always struggle with this problem. RTD was fond of giving characters superpowers to get them out of the corners he'd write them into. The Moffat era has too many days being saved by either waving the sonic or the power of love.

  6. I agree with Paul that the splitting of the season into two (as well as the splitting of an overall central story into two - one half about the Ponds, the other about Clara) has sort of left the overall story a lot weaker. That's not to say I want a big complicated story, but that the whole spate of one-episode stories have made for some skimpy storytelling - I want some two-parters back.

    In the case of this episode, though, I thought it went much better than last week's. Great setting, a simple and straightforward but effective story, and no cheesy ending. And yeah, the sonic screwdriver was still overused, but at least it wasn't pushing back energy waves this time around. And although the resolution was a bit simple, it did make sense; Clara noticed Skaldak's hesitation and she used it.

    Overall this episode reminded me a lot of 'Dalek'. Both re-introduced an old Who villain in the same scenario: lock the characters in a room and let the deadly villain decimate his way through. It was effective, if not *quite* as good as Dalek, in my opinion.

  7. "Yet, before the TARDIS even appeared on the submarine, we could understand Captain Suck-off and Co. perfectly. How did that happen?"

    What sorcery is this?!?

    It's a very common TV and movie practice to render dialogue between non-English speakers into English and avoid the need for subtitles. The show is far from perfect, but come on - let's not be ludicrous in our criticism.

  8. Hello, TheShadowKnows. It was hardly a serious criticism. I know that it's common practise to render dialogue between non-English speakers into English. Thanks for pointing out the obvious though. I thought the custard and fish fingers comment would've been enough to tip you off that I was teasing. Maybe I need to start using winky emoticons or something.

  9. Paul, I double-dog-dare you to use a winky emoticon in your next review.

  10. I'm looking for a suitable ROTFPML emoticon as we speak.

  11. I assume the F in ROTFPML refers to "feline"? Because I am very picky about emoticons.

  12. Fair enough. You never know on the Internet. Back when LOST was on, some people went on and on (and on and on) about how Jacob and the Man in Black were speaking ENGLISH at the beginning of "The Incident". My attitude was basically, get over it, they didn't want to force the actors to learn a bunch of Latin and then force the viewers to read a bunch of subtitles. But there's no reasoning with some people - it had to MEAN SOMETHING. I'm glad to see you're not that daft. It's just a TV show after all.


  14. Speaking of languages, is it so hard to hire a Russian-speaking consultant? I bet you can find someone who would give a few genuine Russian words for fifty bucks. Maybe less. It's really annoying to see something like "МЕТЕРС" written on their depth indicator. I understand that they just took the word "meters" and wrote it in Russian letters, but, guys, it's "МЕТРЫ" (or "МЕТР" if you want singular"), and this indicator would probably be marked with the word "ГЛУБИНА" (meaning "DEPTH"). Seriously, how would you like to see a US submarine with indicators marked as "futy" instead of "ft"?

    Aside from that, a much better episode than the previous one.

  15. You guys, you.

    I will invent a YGAJTMAYMDO icon....

    (you guys are just too much and you make my day often)

  16. I had the same feeling, that there is definite quality to the shows, but something feels off. I don't think it is the lack of a season long arc, because classic Who didn't need them.

    I suspect it is because the Companion is usually the audience surrogate. To get the audience up to speed, the Doctor needs to explain certain things to the companion or some random side character.

    In this case, they are making Clara a mystery. We know only a little about her past, or even her personality (beyond witty fast talking). They have made the Doctor the "in" for the audience, despite being an alien who has far more experience/knowledge than viewer.

  17. This was a good episode..Gatiss can be a bit hit and miss..this was a hit. Loved the ultarvox-loving Russian..he'll be relieved that they've reformed recently.
    Clara is an excellent companion.
    Next week Neil Cross returns..I loved his Luther for BBC, but last week's episode also by him was a mistake.
    We'll see how he fares. I lost patience with Lost way before it ended I'm afraid.

  18. Better than last week but still sub par. Mighty excited to see photos of Matt and David Tennant for the 50th. I hope it's a step up in quality from what we've seen so far.

  19. A strong recovery after "The Rings of Akhaten," which I thought was the worst new Doctor Who episode (except maybe "Midnight"). Gatiss has a lot going on, with the submarine, cold wars, and 80's lyrics (which David Warner delivered with great humor), and he blends it together in compelling fashion.

    One criticism - Clara/Oswin was written as such a vibrant, original character in her first two DW stories - the last two episodes, she's become much more conventional, going through generic companion stuff. I realize there's supposed to be a character arc here, but I miss the uniqueness she started off with.

  20. "There's always some arse hole with a blow torch eager to melt your ice specimen and then stand there for ages waiting to be punched in the face."

    This may just be the greatest sentence in the history of the Internet! :)

  21. The over-reliance on the sonic screwdriver continues! I still find it odd that 5 lost his to the Terileptils when he never was that reliant on it in the classics, but here it's the Swiss army multi-tool to end all such tools?!

    I do like seeing the Ice Warriors back but they were at their best in Curse of Peladon where they weren't just this week's lumbering monster, although this one does bring a sense of genuine menace which is nice.

    Excellent for Mark Gatiss, which means roughly average in the show's overall stories.


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