I invited a friend who’s a complete Who newbie to join me for this episode for two reasons: 1) to possibly convert her into the fandom, and 2) for laughs. I asked her to describe what she thought the show was about, and she said, “a well-dressed skinny man from the past who does…science?” She’s not entirely wrong. I’ve included some of her asides in this recap.
We start out back in the ’80s again, this time in 1983 in the North Pole inside a Soviet submarine. Shut your iron curtains because it’s the Cold War, y’all, and they’re running nuclear drills. The odd man out of the group is the eccentric Professor Grisenko, who’s rocking out to dope mix tapes a friend sends him, singing some Ultravox. Because it’s easy to mail care packages full of British pop to top-secret Soviet naval expeditions.
The crew picked up what they thought was a mammoth frozen in ice and are transporting it back to the motherland. Despite orders not to defrost, some young skipper is recklessly heating up a pillar of ice with a tiny blowtorch and then…A METAL CLAW/FIST BREAKS THROUGH AND GRABS HIS NECK.
Credits! (“This is some 2001: A Space Odyssey shizz”). The Ice Warrior is running amok inside the submarine, and it’s quickly sinking. Cue the velvety wheezing of the TARDIS and the Doctor and Clara pop out, ready for Las Vegas, but dumped off here instead. The Doctor sonics his way through some readings and commands the ship into a safe-ish place for the time being.
Things are getting dire and the TARDIS is all, “ain’t nobody got time for that!” and gets the eff outta there. Stranded and submerged, the Doctor comes face-to-face with the Ice Warrior and does a double-take when he realizes it’s Grand Marshall Skaldak, a warrior so feared that his enemies carved his name into their flesh before they died. Despite pleas of peace, another soldier subdues Skaldak with a cattle prod, and they chain him up in what looks like an engine/missile room.
Clara goes in to talk to Skaldak while the Doctor and the submarine’s Captain watch via surveillance cameras (“Where are the Doctor’s eyebrows? That’s the biggest mystery so far”). Skaldak has been hibernating in ice for 5,000 years and laments the fact that his daughter is now long dead. He sends a rescue signal out to any remaining Ice Warriors. As Clara talks to him, she nears his protective armor, and pries it open to reveal it’s totally empty, and dude is now skittering about the ship at super speed.
No one has answered Skaldak’s distress call, so he assumes the worst: that his species is extinct. The myriad of feelings associated with being the Last of His Kind is something the Doctor knows intimately, and he says Skaldak has nothing left to lose, and is more of a danger to them than ever.
Skaldak corners a soldier and puts his long, green claws on his head. “What do you want?” he squeaks. “To wear your body as a suit, probably,” my friend replies. But Skaldak is more in the information gathering business, learning about human weakness, the nuclear bombs, and the precarious tensions of the Cold War with its mutually assured destruction if things boil over.
The Doctor, Clara, and Prof Grisenko (aka Gris) wander the sub in pursuit. Gris turns into quite the Chatty Cathy with Clara, and mentions that he sings some Duran Duran to keep his spirits up. He tries to get her to sing with him, but she’s not into it. Skaldak murders two soldiers, and the Doctor dashes off, ordering Clara to stay put. Which she does, as maybe the first companion ever to heed that particular command.
Alone with Gris again, she admits that seeing the murdered bodies rattled her. Question: was Grisenko just meant to be a warm, reassuring character for this episode? I was getting a somewhat foreshadowy vibe from him. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him pop up again in a later episode.
Meanwhile, the captain and some soldiers are stomping around with machine guns (“like so many Steven Seagal movies”) and figure out Skaldak is slithering around in the walls. Gris is cracking jokes with Clara when Skaldak grabs her—oh no!—but Gris shoots at him, warding him off. Clara’s safe, but he’s really stepped in it with Skaldak: after being attacked by humans, he’s exercising Martian law and seeking to take revenge on all people of earth.
Familiar with the ship, humans, and the Cold War, Skaldak knows he only needs to launch one missile to push the world into destruction. He summons his armor to him like the Bat Mobile and marches right into the command center, prepping the warheads. The Doctor begs him to stand down by appealing to his moral code as a warrior, but it’s not working. Only once does Skaldak hesitate—when the Doctor says there’ll be no time for goodbyes for everyone on earth—and then he pulls the “I’m a Timelord, wanna mess?” card, threatening to blow everyone up just to stop him.
It looks like we are on for mutually assured destruction when Clara steps in. She mentions his daughter and how they sang at their last battle together (“aww, they’re getting to his little lizard heart”) when the submarine jerks again, caught in a tractor beam from an Ice Warrior ship. They’re brought all the way up to the surface, and the Doctor begs Skaldak to leave in peace, but he’s teleported up before he can answer.
The Doctor has his sonic set to detonate, and mutters, “I will destroy us if I have to” over and over. Clara’s so scared that she quietly sings “Hungry Like the Wolf” for comfort, like Gris suggested earlier. Skaldak winds up showing mercy in the end, and Clara asks where the hell the TARDIS went. The Doctor explains that it jumped elsewhere as a safeguard he recently installed, and is currently chilling in the South Pole. The Ice Warriors zoom off, and the Doctor salutes as they go.
What Was Totally Awesome?
The Ice Warriors are an Old Who villain but slow and clunky originally. It was a clever twist to modernize it by getting this one out of its armor. The claustrophobic feel of the submarine added to the creepy atmosphere, and Clara’s getting her companion sea legs nicely.
What Could Have Used a Little More Sonic?
Speeches about love saving the day are getting to be a bit old. Also, like last week, this doesn’t rank very high on the re-watch scale for me. I think we could have had a better/more compelling moment between the Doctor and Skaldak when Skaldak thought he was the only Ice Warrior left. Clara was fine and played a decent role, but we didn’t really learn anything new about her. A drawback to doing shorter half seasons is that these kinds of pure standalone episodes wind up feeling more like a waste because there’s less time to hit a full season arc.
Clara Theory Corner
- Bad Wolf Connections: So… “Hungry Like the Wolf” was really shoe-horned in there, eh? Clara singing “I’m lost and I’m found / and I’m hungry like the wolf” is either going to be important later or is a Bad Wolf red herring. I posted this in the comments last week, but this Clara/Bad Wolf theory is one I love, but doubt will be true.
- Great Intelligence: My personal theory that I’m running with is that after being partially uploaded/downloaded by the Great Intelligence and acquiring super computer skillz, Clara is able to download herself into other vessels. What may those be? Not sure. Maybe some Plastic replicas like we saw in The Rebel Flesh or some other such thing. My point is, she’s like a Cylon.
So, what do y’all think her story is? Is she a trap, like the cracks in the universe/Amy leading the Doctor to the Pandorica? A young lady version of the Master? Something even more implausible? Also, is it just a coincidence that this is the second episode in a row to have a focus on singing? Gris wouldn’t shut up about it, Clara sang, and Skaldak reminisced about singing with his daughter.
About the Contributor:
This post was written by Whovian extraordinaire Julie.