Cold War Review
by Christian Cawley
Just who is Grand Marshall Skaldak? Since The Wedding of River Song Steven Moffat has been teasing Doctor Who fans with the coming reveal of the Time Lord’s true identity, something that not even Andrew Cartmel would have gone ahead with back in the dark days of the pre-cancellation series.
Yet here we are, with Cold War about to be broadcast and the Doctor Who production team are posing another question. Who is Skaldak? Is he an Ice Warrior we should know about already? Why should we care if he is?
Put simply, we should care because this is a veteran, a great warrior of Mars. It doesn’t matter if we haven’t seen this particular Ice Warrior before (we haven’t) – in 2005 we hadn’t seen the solo Dalek before, but he made his presence felt in that episode, just as Skaldak does here…
Before we get carried away with continuity and comparisons, there is another C to deal with – Clara.
This time around we don’t really get “her story” – the focus really is on Skaldak and Professor Grisenko, played by the wonderful guest star David Warner. He isn’t a major fulcrum to the plot, but it is, of course (or should be), a crime to waste David Warner, so we see plenty of the grand old actor throughout.
As far as Clara is concerned in Cold War, we simply learn more about her character rather than dropping in on flashbacks or trying to fathom out her existence. How might a 24 year old behave when thrust into the world of 1983 and a sinking submarine (especially when she’s wrong-footed after expecting Las Vegas?). You’ll find out it isn’t as surprising as some character developments, but then again, we’ve had a few surprises from this companion already.
You’ve perhaps already heard about or read the references to a rich background for the Ice Warriors as mentioned in Mark Gatiss’ Doctor Who Magazine interview, and these pieces of dialogue uttered by the Doctor certainly convey the impression of a species to be admired, in much the same way as Russell T Davies referred to The Nightmare Child and the Cruciform when relating the horrors of the Time War.
While we haven’t met Skaldak before, older Doctor Who fans are certainly aware of his kind. But in Grand Marshall Skaldak we see something new about the Ice Warriors, something that takes what we do know and advances them onto the next logical step. I’ve already mentioned 2005’s Dalek, and there are certainly parallels between the two episodes – I’m not going to list the similarities here, however!
Mark Gatiss has had a bad rap from Doctor Who fans, perhaps for things that were out of his control. The Unquiet Dead is almost universally loved; The Idiot’s Lantern less so, and perhaps we should ignore Victory of the Daleks for now. Night Terrors was an improvement, but anyone expecting an episode that is anything like the writer’s previous five will be in for a surprise. Simply, if you didn’t know that this was a Mark Gatiss episode, that news would come as a massive surprise.
Yes, there are Ice Warriors and almost-new companions, but there is also a marvellous set, excellent guest stars (Liam Cunningham as Captain Zhukov, Tobias Menzies as the untrustworthy Lieutenant Stepashin and the obligatory monster voice for Nicholas Briggs while Spencer Wilding does the physical Skaldak acting) and another superb performance from Matt Smith.
Here’s a thing: have you ever noticed how Tom Baker was clearly enjoying certain scenes in Full Circle and The Keeper of Traken much more than the rest of Season 18? His latter-day DVD commentaries confirm that he’s an actor that loves working with other actors, character actors of a particular pedigree. Take Anthony Ainley and George Baker, however, and swap them with Cunningham and Warner, and you get an idea of how “on fire” Matt Smith seems to be in Cold War, clearly thrilled to be working with actors of such experience.
Series 7 has been a mixed bag to date, hampered by splits, disrupted by new companions and TARDISes and promises of answers that we probably don’t actually want. Cold War is an exception, something to be enjoyed as a standalone episode – albeit one that will spawn a brand new history for the Ice Warriors.
Let’s just hope they can finally fulfil their early promise.
Our thanks to Christian Cawley of Kasterborous for this preview