Dear Steven Moffat: Cold War

Doctor Who - Series 7B

Dear Steven,

Showing the sort of prescience one might expect of a show about time travel, tonight’s mammock o’ Gatiss, Cold War, took us back to 1983; a time when, according to Conservative mythology, a bevaginated abstraction known only as The Iron Lady, was engaged in a furious battle to rid the world of isms – communism, socialism, Darwinism and my personal bugbear, minimalism.

The death of the Thatcher myth (for I don’t believe she truly existed, Steven), has got us all thinking about the ’80s: a simpler time when the world was polarised between ideological opposites, when being on the dole and having no future was chic, and you could get a Wimpy anywhere, even in a mining town. Those of us that grew up during this period of social disintegration, bitterness and spiritual desolation miss it, Steven. We also miss the very real threat of nuclear annihilation. It was a joy to see that revived in Saturday teatime.

Cold War was your archetypal monster on the loose episode, which revived the Ice Warriors; Martian menaces who were last on screen when most of us were a masturbatory fantasy between two drunk teenagers in a dingy, North London nightclub. In what was surely a visual metaphor for their long dormant status, Gatiss had Skaldak, a warmonger dating back to Martian antiquity, revived from a block of ice. He’d been frozen for 5,000 years, which is almost as long as the audience have now been waiting for an episode that carries a bit of weight.

What prevented this ‘Hunt for Red Planet October’ becoming ‘Das Bollocks’ was Skaldak himself. He was a likeable beast with a suitably monstrous voice, thanks to the vocal menace of Who veteran Nicholas Briggs. Intimidating to be sure but, we learned, also a family man who was understandably upset that his daughter was long dead and his people, if you can call them people, in absentia. When he learned he was on a boat “fat” with nuclear missiles, he was determined to initiate a holocaust.

Sure, his motive seemed to be a noxious combination of pride and spite, but no matter, it gave us something to ponder amidst the usual histrionics – running around tight corridors, The Doctor’s peacocking, some dull moralising and necessary exposition for the benefit of those who didn’t see the Warriors’ last appearance and couldn’t ask their parents because the two were in the bedroom, arguing about Dad’s affair.

Even half-conscious viewers would have asked themselves two questions, however: 1) Why couldn’t the crew all just get into the TARDIS and escape this doomed sub containing a deadly stowaway and 2) as there’s been no nuclear war, the threat of the episode is an empty one so why should I care? Fortunately Gatiss saw those two traps and took the time to side step them.

The TARDIS, once again showing its mischievous side by dropping The Doctor and Clara into the middle of a crisis, went further and disappeared. Though this was later explained as the activation of its HADS – the newly fixed Hostile Action Displacement System, viewers suspected an ulterior motive; an attempt to murder Clara, who we learned last week was not the time machine’s favourite companion. Had she grown fond of Amy and Rory perhaps or, as is more likely, did she imagine that this one was determined to sleep with The Doctor and would eventually grind him down? We’ve seen the look in her eye, we know it’s on her mind. No wonder original series man Waris Hussein complained there was too much sexuality in the show these days. Every time The Doc extends his sonic screwdriver Clara’s eyes widen. It’s becoming embarrassing. Still, at least the very real threat of mushroom clouds persisted. “History’s in flux, it can be changed” The Doctor told his drooling assistant, and a good job too or any tension surrounding the question of whether Skaldak would succeed in launching the Soviet sub’s nuclear payload would soon have dissipated.

As for the rest, well, the usual pointless observations, old fruit. If the Russians only sounded like they were speaking English spanks to the TARDIS’ translation matrix, why were the sub crew yapping in our vernacular both before it landed and after it’d disappeared? If Gatiss is a fan of The Hunt for Red October, and who isn’t, why not steal its great wheeze: starting off with Russian dialogue, only to carefully zoom in on the mouth of one officer, make the switch to English, then carefully zoom out – a neat bit of visual grammar that tells the audience that the language hasn’t changed but the way we’re hearing it has. What’s that, it would have got too complicated when the TARDIS arrived? Well, maybe but at least the first few minutes would have made sense. I’d have liked some thick Russian accents too. How I am supposed to know they’re Ruskies unless they sound like Boris Yeltsin’s Spitting Image puppet?

All in all it was a bit of an unremarkable episode; sub-aquatic you might say, in which Martian modesty was shown to be a myth as Skaldak spent most of the running time shamelessly sauntering about the sub naked. “He’s desperate,” said The Doctor and so it seemed, hoping for a bit of attention from a boatload of sex-starved Soviet sailors.

I confess I’m getting concerned that this season is just a bit, well, incidental, and that each mini-blockbuster is, like its big budget namesakes, high on concept but low on inspiration and character development. Viewing figures seem static too. Perhaps that’s an indication that you can waste time designing movie posters for each new instalment and talk up as unmissable, but most of us don’t care about the PR, we just want stories that have breadth, depth and as little screwdriver use as possible. What hope?

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go and defrost the commune’s freezer. Don’t ask me what they’ve got in there.

Yours in time and cyberspace,


The Past:

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

Published in: on April 13, 2013 at 19:13  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. David Warner is the best Doctor Who ever.

    • An older Doctor? Are you insane? Even the suggestion has caused my Demographiliser to spark up.

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