Sunday, 21 April 2013

Doctor Who: Cold War

Grisenko: 'I need to know... Ultravox! Do they split up?'

The opening quote pretty much sums up the episode: funny, sometimes clever, often cheesy, occasionally suspenseful, and probably the best Mark Gatiss episode since 'The Unquiet Dead'. (Admittedly, not much of an accolade.) It also had the Doctor kissing a dolly, promising to kiss Professor Grisenko, and Ultravox. Surely the ingredients for a future classic?

Generally, I think I enjoyed this. On first watch, I didn't like it at all—then I turned down the lights, busted out the popcorn, pulled on my Doctor Who pyjamas, and suddenly it felt far more entertaining. I think you need a darkened room for the suspense to work. Sadly, a lot of the supporting characters didn't get much of a chance to shine. I was a little disappointed that Liam Cunningham's character, Captain Zuckov (not a suggestive name in the least), didn't get much to do other than sport a magnificent beard, be gruff, shouty, and ultimately wrong all the time. And Lieutenant Stepashin was just a red shirt sans the red shirt. (Not to mention an anagram of 'thespians'.)

But I liked Professor Grisenko. At least he managed to serve a purpose—that of keeping Clara calm. Not a small thing when there's a desuited Ice Warrior on the loose. And Clara seemed to establish her credentials as the perfect companion: rational, unafraid of getting her feet wet (quite literally), level headed in a crisis, and looking magnificent in wet clothing. (An absolute must for the aquatic adventurer.) She did crumble a little at the end. It may have been half-hearted, but when all seemed lost, she definitely sung a bar of 'Hungry Like the Wolf', but I've always imagined that Duran Duran would one day save the planet. They won't, but I like to imagine it.

I was also impressed by Clara's ability to assess her own performance at the very height of things going wrong. Thankfully, the Doctor, although initially curmudgeonly, managed to take time out of his busy, freaking-out schedule, to reassure her that she was doing fine. Nice moment that. She's still new to all this, and presumably this was the first time she's seen mangled human remains. Of course, that's an assumption. The other two Claras have had more high adventure than you can shake an overpowered sonic screwdriver at, and we still don't know how all that fits in. Did Grisenko want Clara to sing because he thought it would calm her, or because it would calm him? Probably both.

Disappointingly, some of Skaldak's lines bordered on the Gorgonzola. His 'There will be a second red planet, red with the blood of humanity' line has me cringing in the dark—despite this sort of gibberish being stock dialogue for Who baddies. They really love their super-villain one-liners. Usually they last just long enough to either effect an escape, or to bring about their defeat. My other complaint (already hinted at) was the Doctor's over-reliance on his sonic screwdriver; what with detecting geographical anomalies, tracking monsters and whatnot, is there anything it can't do?

Sadly, the ending was another talky resolution. Sometimes I wish they'd just solve things the old fashioned way: bare breasted, with child friendly violence, and maybe a smattering of pew pew noises. I liked that it was Clara who eventually persuaded Skaldak to show mercy, as I'm not sure the Doctor's bluster was working. Clara managed to exploit Skaldak's pause in attacking Grisenko perfectly, buying herself time to reason with him as a father. Pretty smart when all the Doctor could manage was some shouting, threatening to kill everyone, and wafting his magic screwdriver around.

In summary, a rather splendid base-under-siege type story, some sharp dialogue, a decent return for an old foe, some effective Alien-style monster shenanigans, and Clara more than earning her monkey nuts. Oh, and my faith in Mark Gatiss has kind of been restored. Until next time, anyway. But how long before they reconnect with the TARDIS? With no TARDIS to get them there, the South Pole seems like an awfully long way away.

Other Thoughts:

—There's always some arsehole with a blow torch eager to melt your ice specimen and then stand there for ages waiting to be punched in the face.

—Here's a thing: when the TARDIS is around, it translates, right? Yet, before the TARDIS even appeared on the submarine, we could understand Captain Suck-off and Co. perfectly. How did that happen? Not one Russian sentence or subtitle anywhere. Which I initially found confusing, listening to two English chaps swapping exposition about the Cold War like total pros. So, I can only assume that the TARDIS was in my back kitchen prior to it turning up on the submarine. This would also explain why there are no fish fingers in my freezer and the custard tin is empty.

—Skaldak was voiced by the ever versatile Nicholas Briggs.

—Great submarine setting. The externals looked a little like when I used to play with toy boats in the bath (last week), but the interiors looked cool.

—I was vaguely amused by the Doctor telling Clara to wait, and her actually waiting.

—Noooo ! Not a dreaded finger-almost-pressing-the-end-of-the-world-button style finale!

—I'm chuffed that Clara said chuffed.

Quotes:

Doctor: 'Stay here.'
Clara: 'Okay.'
Doctor: 'Stay here. Don't argue.'
Clara: 'I'm not.'

Doctor: 'Professor, I could kiss you.'
Grisenko: 'If you insist.'

Clara: 'Are we going to be okay?'
Doctor: 'Oh, yes.'
Clara: 'Is that a lie.'
Doctor: 'Possibly.'

Grisenko: 'Why don't we sing a song? Keep my spirits up.'
Clara: 'Yeah, that would work. If this was Pinocchio.'

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