Last week's "The Rings of Akhetan" split the Doctor Who fan base like no other episode than I can remember in a great many years. Many loved, many hated it and there was no middle ground. Personally, I loved it! It was high-concept storytelling for the romantic soul. A jaw-dropping gorgeous episode, the highlight of which was The Doctor staring down a worlds-sized dark god with a speech that shattered the mold of epic soliloquies.
But I thought that "Cold War" - this week's episode - was a stew of awesome elements which never coalesced into a story that lived up to its full potential.
Naturally, The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) arrive smack in the center of it all. En route to Las Vegas the TARDIS steers them instead onto the sub's bridge. As the boat settles precariously on the edge of an undersea abyss, The Doctor discovers that the Soviets have been transporting an Ice Warrior: one of a Martian race which The Doctor has not encountered in a very long time.
And this particular Ice Warrior is not happy.
When I first heard about "Cold War" my expectations were high. I mean: the return of the Ice Warriors from the classic series? An entire story set aboard a Soviet ballistic missile submarine? David Warner in a guest starring role?! Everything was in place for a kick-ass episode... but it only felt so-so. Better than "The Bells of Saint John"? Yes, certainly. Not by much though. I was particularly let down by how little David Warner's character - a Russian scientist - figured into the story. David Warner is one of those actors with unbelievable talent and one of the craziest good resumes ever (The Omen, TRON, hey I'll even mention Time Bandits) and in "Cold War" he gets frustratingly under-utilized.
I will say however that the upgraded appearance of the Ice Warriors is very very good. And it was nice to see an alien race which is as nuanced about war and peace as humanity is. They don't all have to be entire species of xenocidal psychos out to exterminate or assimilate every living thing in the cosmos, right? The revived series has done this well with the Sontarans and I hope it will similarly explore the Ice Warriors again in seasons to come.
I'll give "Cold War" Two and One-Half Sonic Screwdrivers. Not great, but not entirely bad either. But with three episodes so far into this half-season - one great and the other two hovering around average - let's hope that Steven Moffat and his crew can raise their game as Doctor Who builds toward the milestone fiftieth anniversary in November.
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