Doctor Who: The Ice Warriors and the End of an Ice Age

Hmm, which ssssssuit...

On the day the Cybermen might just get the upgrade they deserve, a celebration of recovered Martians and look at the difficulties of reintroducing monsters.

IT’S BEEN A FEW WEEKS SINCE THE ICE WARRIORS ENDED THEIR LONG ABSENCE AND RETURNED TO THE DOCTOR WHO UNIVERSE IN ITS 50TH YEAR. I was stoked to see their return as a long-term fan, although oddly, never having seen them on screen.

Scales of history

The Ice Warriors hit a little bit above their weight in the Whoniverse, perhaps it’s their clamp like exo-gloves that just chip the chin.  Reptilian, cold blooded, hailing from Mars; theirs is a militaristic society based on honour and hierarchy – even though it’s long since been scattered throughout the stars by their home planet’s death.

My fascination with the Ice Warriors unfolded through classic Doctor Who TARGET novelisations, where their sibilance was even more pronounced and their appearance un-dulled by some hard-to-walk-in costumes.  So, having finally no choice but to see them on screen in Cold War I embarked on not so much a retrospective as an introduction. The complete Ice Warrior TV stories, after what felt like an Ice Age.

Thussss did I ready the sonic device (speakers attached to a TV) and dived a good few furlongs in.  First was the Ice Warrior’s second appearance in the Seeds of Death, the siege and invasion story that pitted them for the second time against the Second Doctor.  Then there was the Peladon saga, The Curse of Peladon and The Monster of Peladon, political and satirical tales of intrigue with the Third Doctor.  Their ‘triumphant ‘return in Cold War was a given and then – in anticipation of the freshly part-animated DVD release of their first story The Ice Warriors this Summer  – I just re-thumb through of the TARGET novelisation of their tale for good meassssure.

I’ll stop hissing now.

I was hooked on the green scaly ones since I first read The Monster of Peladon – that may even have been my first Doctor Who book – well, perhaps just beaten by The Carnival of Monsters.  It informed in me, although I didn’t appreciate it then, a fondness for the Third Doctor (aided by strategic broadcasts of The Daemons and Planet of the Daleks in the early 1990s of course) – but also a fascination with the ice Warriors that was only confirmed later by reading The Ice Warriors, and pawing over Adrian Rigelsford and Andrew Skilleter’s 1990 tome, Doctor Who: The Monsters. I was clawed in.

The Martians’ rather inexplicable hiatus helped stem any need to see them on ‘video’ so it took me until now to see them in cold blood.  While they’d popped up in the Doctor’s printed adventures, they hadn’t appeared on television in any meaningful way since 1974. 27th April 1974 in fact – 39 years last month.

I was in no rush: they were held vivid, green and suspended in my imagination.  But why such a fascination with the armoured aggressors?

Red-coloured spectacles

I was of course, a combination of things. It was the fact that they were reptiles, it was the hissing sibilance that worked well on the page. And then there was always the Target novelisation front covers – so definitive, fixed, static and importantly, drawn. The Ice Warrior stuck there on cover of their eponymous first tale, with its rather inhuman shape and that Lego hand sticking out of the page. I had been a massive Lego fiend since before I knew what opposable thumbs were, so that surely didn’t hurt.  Of course there’s also the rather jaw dropping front cover to Gary Russell’s Peladon sequel New Adventure, Legacy (1994) – perhaps one of the best.  There was also the idea of the exo-skeleton armour – their ear devices were the first thing the Doctor noticed about them – as well as the Ice giant mythological element and some heavy cultural reference points I’ll come on to later.

Importantly, there was also the fascinating class factor, though that surely crept in subconsciously. It’s ridiculous to consider any planet doesn’t have the diversity of Earth – although conceding that a multicultural alien race is almost impossible to convey on screen.  It’s an interesting part of Who that while the Doctor often finds himself in hierarchical struggles with authority that hinder him as much as his foes, many of the his most notorious nemeses have deliberately and zealously removed diversity from their species through genetics, augmentation or cloning.  The Ice Warriors however, have contended with mass environmental change while hanging on to their civilisation fairly intact.  While they pose yet another not entirely organic foe for the Doctor, hierarchy is constantly an effective way to show their civilisation and of course, create dramatic threat.

But the Ice Warriors seemed far more subtle than simply having a Cyber-leader or a Supreme Dalek. There were ranks among the Ice Warriors, with differing armour denoting status and then soon enough there were the less armoured Ice Lords.  Ice Warriors were generally awfully obedient and polite to their Lords. I found them quite the fascinating creation before I was sucked in by the horrific origins of the Cybermen.

The Big Thaw

There are two crucial parts of Ice Warriors being great.  Unique among the main Who monsters, they were singularly written by one writer: Bryan Hayles.  He took them on their own journey through four adventures.  As part of this journey, the Martians are also distinct in the Who pantheon – until Moffat’s rather odd handling of the Sontarans – as being portrayed as both aggressors and allies of the Doctor – a concession to time, tolerance and in-discriminatory aliens that predated Star Trek:The Next Generation by a good 15 years.

About that punching above their weight: In the scheme of things, the Ice Warriors are generally considered one of the Big Four of Who Foes – a little kindly considering they’ve only appeared a handful of times.  While they recurred twice with two Doctors, the Ice Warriors comeback in the new series took longer than expected and brought its fair share of challenges. They are not alone in that, many of these were the same challenges that the new Who crew faced when bringing other monsters back to the successful revival.

Carnival of Reunions

For the return of the Daleks, New Who wisely turned to the marvellous resource of Big Finish Audios. Show-runner Russell T Davies even drafted in Robert Shearman, well regarded writer of audio adventure Jubilee, which he reworked for the show.  It was a wise step to introduce just one Dalek – focussing as much on the Doctor in the wake of the Time War as the pepper pot’s array of powers.  The reintroduction of the Daleks was effective, especially in the context of their appearance at the Series’ end.

The Cybermen was a different kind of reboot.  Considering we had never seen the actual origin of the Cybermen on their home planet of Mondas, it was an extra step to watch the birth of the Cyber race on a  modern, if  parallel, Earth.  This gave us unfettered Earth Cybermen as opposed to the Mondas Cybermen of the original Who universe who were indicated to still be pottering around. Unfortunately, this had a rather unfortunate result. It’s presumably The Next Doctor when we see the real universe’s Mondas Cybermen – but these had somehow evolved from the Revenge Cybers seen in Dalek to match their parallel universe cousins.  For a race that generally evolved in each appearance, their static development has stuck out like handlebar ears.  Tonight may change that with a redesign and writer Neil Gaiman tasked with making the steel army scary again.  As anyone who’s read Gaiman’s prologue to the reissued TARGET novelisation Doctor Who and the Cybermen will know, this bodes well.

In Series four, the Sontarans resurfaced in a rather random two-parter that stole healthily from the classic Ice Warrior adventure The Seeds of Death. It set up the war mongers nicely though, putting their ethos and fighting at the frontline and making up for some of the shortfalls that technology and budget had let slip in the classic series; while it didn’t exactly establish height parity, it set a look appropriate for a clone race. As show runner, Steven Moffat would later diversify the Sontarran culture somewhat – but perhaps that monster’s reduction to comic relief can wait for another time.

So, it’s tricky and needs thought this reintroducing malarkey – perhaps a little more than when these monsters were created.  While the Cybermen emerged with an origin story in 1966, it took the Daleks over a decade.  So, perhaps it’s not surprising that our planet’s own Silurian’s rose above the Ice Warriors in the pecking order of returnees.  And the re-establishing of Homo Reptilia posed its own challenges which would have a marked effect on the Ice Warriors.

Both species are of course solar system originating reptilians and in some kind of Who mirror, they are neighbouring planet cousins similar to Humans and the Mondasians who would go on to become the Cybermen.  The Martian timeline is a little unclear though.  While they are not shown as existing in the present day until Cold War, they have been shown to be active in Earth’s vicinity thousands of years ago and in the far future.  They’ve then spread out in the cosmos and generally discovered a new way of life in the even further future.  The Silurians by comparison were building space arcs and badly positioned cryogenic cities millions of years ago.  With a generally lengthy evolutionary cycle it’s possible that the two know each other, and if so, I doubt they’re on the best of terms.  The prospect of their (inevitable) run-in is perhaps more tantalising than Daleks versus Cybermen.

Clearly the two species had different approaches to dealing with environmental changes: building snug armour versus millions of years of cryogenic suspension (hang on, they really are the reptile equivalent of Mondasians versus Humans in the Who universe!)

Back to Ice Picks

The Ice Warriors originally emerged into Doctor Who in a totally obvious reptilian way – or so it seemed. They were cold blooded creatures literally frozen in time – and long sleeps are ideas constantly reinforced by science-fiction and culture. Perhaps this meets every gene carrier’s fascination with immortality in a similar vein(sic) to vampirism – see the Amber encased mosquitoes that provided a time machine for dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.  In addition, the frozen, slumbering giants of Mars had many cultural connotations.  There are the Ice Giants of Norse legend, the warmongering son of the Roman God Mars – and also bring the snow-bound parenthesis of Frankenstein creeping into play.

Rigelsford and Skilleter’s The Monsters added enormously to the myth of the Ice Warriors, enhancing the Ice Warrior tales with various flourishes.  The front section, before eye-witness accounts of the Ice Warrior tales are reproduced, is set out neatly by a letter detailing explorer Frederick William Wells and his teams’ encounter with an Ice Warrior in 1896 inspired his cousin HG’s writing on Mars…

The Ice Warriors were instantly both monster and Alien, with a genealogy and history that made them ready made to be released from an icy tomb. The fact they are Martian is almost arbitrary; that the name ‘Ice Warrior’ has stuck from one glib scientist’s observation is an idiosyncrasy, but a powerful one. There’s an inherent and inescapable danger from the moment an Ice Warrior is discovered. While California Man may be an exception, millennia of Genies in bottles and Pandora’s box has shown that many things that are locked up should never be released. But where would science-fiction be without human arrogance?  Where would Doctor Who be?   The Silurians were similarly entombed,  albeit in a tomb of their own making.

Perhaps it’s the similarities that led to the fairly similar approach the Who Team took to the two species reintroductions in The Hungry Earth and Cold War respectively.   Personally, the Silurian’s re-entry into the cannon posed the most problems as it‘s the first time the new series has produced a remake of a classic series adventure.

Of course, originality can be a very subjective thing, especially in science fiction and especially in Doctor Who.  With some monsters there may be a fresh story, but constant re-use of familiar elements, for instance in most Dalek episodes. Then there’s occasional bonkers stark raving brilliant originality that knocks the wings off Weeping Angels .  Sadly there’s also the recycling of new found originality, often in quick succession – particularly under the current creative team.   The lowest point occurred in the latter half of a re-ordered Series 6 when the mid-run of stories was disappointingly repetitive.

In Series 5 however, the return of the Silurian’s was a straight up remake, retreading the same themes as the original show Doctor Who and the Silurians. All that was missing was the Brigadier blowing the whole bally lot up. Technically, there’s still many Silurian cities in slumber underground (and arcs in space) – and whole series of Doctor Who could be spent with the Time Lord visiting these thousands of sleeping cities under the crust.  The tale was fairly perfunctory other than the plot points it rehashed, and rather flat in the less than mind-blowing production values of series 5.  I wasn’t a fan of the complete remodelling of the Silurians.  While cousins of the originals they may be, this was a step too far – and the removed telekinetic  third eye would have livened things up no end.

That was one thing that was addressed a little more successfully with the returning Ice Warriors, although their return was still mixed. The method of the Warrior’s appearance is more a homage to the original story than a remake, but necessarily uses a lot of the same ideas again as the Warrior is released from its ice sleep near a tremendous power source.  This time however, we stepped back from Aliens to Alien as we observe just one Warrior in the confines of a submarine – similar to the original Dalek in the bunker.  Again, as does the Dalek, Skaldak drops his armour, but this time with more catastrophic results.

The armour redesign was brilliant and well promoted in pre-publicity.  Swift and deadly compared to their lumbering cousins (De Niro from Karloff), it looked the part while respecting the past, unlike the Silurians.  Skaldak was a Warrior as opposed to a Lord, though his reputation may have suggested otherwise, and some neat redesign incorporated Lords into the stylings of the armour, particularly above the chin from certain angles.    In this reboot, the Lords may not even exist of course – I’ve a feeling that we may find out soon.  It was the moving jaw of the Ice Warriors that had always been their most effective part.  Particularly in the black and white Troughton tales, they were tremendously effective.  But then Cold War’s attempts to expand the race came a bit unstuck.

As discussed in my review of the Pond’s swansong here, it’s only right that species and monsters should be explored in Doctor Who.  Perhaps with the Ice Warriors, this is more true than most.  They share common elements with the militaristic Sontarans and cybernetically enhanced Mondasians after all.  Interestingly, the Ice Warriors last appearance came in the same season that the potato heads first appeared.  While the Warriors had generally mellowed by that point, this time around it is the Sontarans who have been forcibly toned down while the Martians are introduced.  When Hayles originally hit upon the idea of the Martians wearing cybernetic armour, it was the design need to make the different from the Cybermen that resulted in the distinctive Reptilians we have today.

Therefore a simple and quick way to advance the species on their reappearance was to lose their armour.  All the surprise the Doctor registered couldn’t make up for the fact that this was implausible.  The Ice Warriors deserved a bit more than rubber hands during the Alien segments of the show.  But most crucially of all, they should have left the jaw alone.  Again, that jaw was the one hard and fast brilliant part of the original design.  So, when you see their face for the first time it’s completely different and, shudder, CGI… Something’s lost. A shame, a missed opportunity and frankly unnecessary.

That said, I’m not sure this is the last time we will see the Ice Warriors this year.  They are Who’s version of the Klingons, a martial but honour bound race.  While a force of absolute destruction, the ending rightly suggested that the Martians aren’t one-dimensionally evil – completely in line with their Who history.  When they pop up again, they may well not be villains, but in the efforts of diversity among the monsters, it might just be time for that scrap with the Silurians.

To another glorious return of the Martians.  Before the next Ice Age anyway.

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