Doctor Who's fifth season is an interesting one. Essentially one long series of "base under siege" stories, it was the season that gave the series many of its iconic monsters. Coming smack dab in the middle of it, and just before the monster-less "The Enemy Of The World," came "The Ice Warriors." With the titular creatures still appearing in the series as recently as Peter Capaldi's final season, it's safe to say that they've become mainstays across TV and spin-off media. How does their debut story stand up after fifty-one years?
Thankfully, with the 2013 DVD release, we can watch the story again in full. With two of its six episodes long missing from the BBC archives, judging the story hasn't been an easy task despite surviving audio and the stills reconstruction done in 1998. The 2013 DVD release offered up the two missing episodes (two and three, respectively) as animations. The black and white stories suit animation rather well, especially given that Patrick Troughton's Second Doctor is well suited to the caricaturing animation requires. Unfortunately, the animation for "The Ice Warriors" is the weakest seen to date in the Classic Who DVD range with characters feeling more like paper dolls with painted faces at times with odd limb movements (see Jamie being knocked out by an Ice Warrior moments into episode two). Despite that weakness, the animation completes the story and allows us a better idea of what the story was like before being wiped and junked by the BBC.
Trailer for the 2013 DVD Release of the Story
For starters, it has a solid premise. Brian Hayles' script contains a fair share of interesting ideas and themes brought nicely to life by the production team. The story, set at a base in Britain in a future time where ecological disaster threatens, is as solid premise in 2018 as it was in 1967. Even more so when one considers that the base under siege is run and populated by people using a technology that not only offers salvation but over-reliance. There's even Storr, a character that willfully denounces science as evil despite the evidence around him of disaster (with intriguing consequences). These elements almost make this a story one which is better suited for our time rather than the summer of 1967.
Where Hayles' script is very much ahead of its time is in how it unfolds. Like virtually all of the stories from Classic Who's fifth season, it's six episodes long. Unlike, say, "The Enemy Of The World" or "Fury From The Deep," it also feels like it. There is an inordinate amount of wheel spinning going on throughout, with characters consulting computers, sojourns back and forth to the Ice Warriors ship, and base commander Clent (Peter Barkworth) alternating between bravado and insecurity. Even watching the story an episode or two at a time (while keeping in mind viewers saw one episode a week in 1967), one can't escape the sometimes thin plotting by Hayles.
Thankfully, the story has other things going for it, such as the titular creatures from Mars. Watching the story, it isn't hard to see why the Ice Warriors have remained as popular as they have. From the moment the warrior Varga comes out of the ice, they have an immediate presence. Towering over the rest of the cast and armed with thin but hissing voices, they exude menace and strength. Even if they have Lego hands and stomp along, that doesn't diminish their presence. Indeed, they help keep interest in a sometimes flagging plot which makes them all the more memorable.
The story also benefits from its performers. The casting is solid from the TARDIS crew down with Troughton's Doctor getting to shine from the moment he climbs out of the TARDIS to various confrontations and conversations. Though the story sidelines Frazer Hines' Jamie in its back half, the upshot is an increased role for Deborah Watling as Victoria though she is reduced once more to sobbing and screaming at times. The supporting cast is strong as well with Peter Barkworth's leader Clent, Wendy Gifford as his willing aide Miss Garrett, and Peter Sallis as the brilliant but disaffected scientist Penley being particular highlights. They bring Hayles' script to life nicely, breathing life into sometimes thin characterizations.
The story also benefits from being a solid production. The design work of Jeremy Davies creates setting ranging from a Victorian house overrun with (by 1960s standards) futuristic technology to icy wastelands and a Martian spaceship. While the technology may look dated, the sets do not, creating a believable setting for the story. Dudley Simpson's score is full moments of menace and intrigue, creating one of his most memorable scores in the process. With director Derek Martinus at the helm, the story is elevated as a result though it never overcomes the flaws in its pacing or plotting.
That last sentence is as good a description of the story as I can present. "The Ice Warriors" has plenty of good things to say for it, the introduction of the Martians being amongst them. Ultimately, despite its strengths, it can't overcome the need to stretch things out that harms a fair few of Classic Who's longer stories. It's a solid story, but, it could have been a great one.