Doctor Who: Cold War

Well, that was an unexpected effect of this week’s Doctor Who – it made me remember how old I am! 😉 Seriously – it was a historical drama, set within my life time.

SPOILERS AHEAD! Hover mouse over text to read, or read on entry page:

And not only that, but the script had to gloss the terms “Cold War” and “Mutual Assured Destruction”. Because there are adults alive today who were born after the 80s. To be fair the first current affairs event I remember really paying attention to was the Berlin Wall coming down so really I’m post-Cold War in my adult paying-attention life. But the (recently-written) science fiction I consumed in the 80s was often post-apocalyptic “what life is like after the nukes have done their job”, so there was definitely some of that sense of being only one button press away from The End of the World. Just one ideologically sound soldier’s reaction away from doom.

They conveyed that well, I thought. The second in command(? political officer?) with his fanatical fervour, and the claustrophobia of mind to go with the claustrophobia of the reality of the submarine. And the way the two superpowers are facing each other down and all the rest of world can do is hold their breaths and hope – nicely paralleled with the Ice Warrior & the Doctor (both incomprehensibly powerful beings) facing off at the end of the episode.

Awesome casting having the guy who played Brutus in Rome (TV series on HBO) being the fanatical officer, who even tries to conspire with the alien to bring about the destruction of the US. And that also ties back into the theme – “I’ll destroy us if I have to, if that’s the only way to stop you”. Overt from the Doctor, implicit for the Soviet submarine crew.

Dead mothers last week. Lots of father/daughter stuff going on this week. Both actual and metaphorical. Interesting partly because I felt Clara’s characterisation was “off” but the stereotyped hole she was filling wasn’t so much “every man’s desire” but “every man’s daughter”. She’s looking for fatherly approval from the Doctor (“did I do OK?”) and the Professor treats her like a daughter. And in the final stand-off she reminds the Ice Warrior of his daughter, both literally by talking to him about his daughter and metaphorically (it’s her singing that impels him to mercy).

But her characterisation did seem a little shaky, which is a shame. One thing I did like tho, was that she was shown having to come to terms with the actual reality of life travelling with the Doctor. Not just the traditional “whoops, not where we thought we’d be”, but culture shock (language, culture, history can change so we could die here and the world end) and most of all that people would die and die messily. And it all just got real. And for a change we see her having difficulty processing it (and I felt that was presented sympathetically – it’s outside her experience so of course she finds it difficult to cope with).

Singing was important again as well – the Professor diffusing the tense drill by bursting in singing (badly) along with “Vienna”. Then the Ice Warrior & his fond last memory of his daughter. And the Professor trying to get Clara to sing “Hungry Like the Wolf” with him. And of course, the singing Clara does right at the end to remind the Ice Warrior that the Earth is full of people’s daughters. It’s probably coincidence, but having this episode straight after The Rings of Akhaten did make the singing stand out.

References abounded – if last week was all Star Wars & Star Trek, this was Hunt for Red October and Alien in aesthetic. And J said some of the sounds were fairly Predator-esque. And all with that claustrophobic one-push-of-that-button-and-we’re-dead thing.

Things I didn’t like: The mcguffin that got rid of the TARDIS. I mean, I know it had to be gone to make the plot work, but that was lame. The “oh give us a lift” at the end – obviously the captain of the submarine so, so, so can’t do that. But how the hell do they get there without him? Also, and less nitpicky-ly, I didn’t like the way Clara barely does anything but “be a daughter” and do what she’s told.

Overall I’d rate it “reasonable”, whilst still enjoying it (a large part due to that whole Cold War thing, and the way they paralleled that across the plot and the setting).