Now that’s a bit more like it! After season 7 returned with two half-decent but misfiring episodes, it was up to Mark Gatiss to revive my hopes for this season with his fifth Who episode. It felt like more of a return to the more classic episodes of the revived Who series, no coincidence as Mark as written an episode for most of the seasons since the series returned in 2005.
The Doctor and Clara unexpectedly end up on a Russian nuclear sub underneath the Arctic ice, as the Cold War ran into 1983. They don’t bother explaining how they ended up there instead of the intended Las Vegas (odd considering how accurate is has to be a lot of the time), and a line of dialogue at the very end takes care of the conveniently inconvenient absence of the TARDIS for the duration of the episode. That felt a bit sloppy with hindsight!
Either way, by a stroke of luck they arrive just before one of The Doctor’s old enemies from the 70s is defrosted and wreaks havoc on the sub. In contrast to the latest warrior race to be revived, the comedically blustery Sontarans, this is an Ice Warrior that quickly shows just how powerful, intelligent and dangerous it can be.
There were a few parallels with the Dalek’s revival episode, 2005’s “Dalek”, particularly an attempted negotiation with the compromised warrior by Clara, and the enemy coming to grips with apparently being the last of their kind. Ultimately it’s negotiation and compassion that saves the day, at least a more reasonable conclusion than some of the emotional Deus ex Machina endings we’ve had recently.
I prefer the serious tone this episode took practically from the beginning. While Matt scowling for 45 minutes might get old if we get it every week, at least this is better than the rubber-faced flippancy we’ve put up with this series. Clara held her own and is settling into her companion role well, I just wish she was just an ordinary girl without this story-arc-in-waiting hovering over her. However, with indications that there are a few visits to Victorian London before season is out, I hold hope that this will be taken care of sooner rather than later.
Horror legend David Warner was an unexpected addition, even if he had an uncertain role in plot, aside from shoe-horning in a few cringey pop culture references. It was an incredibly English cast for a Russian sub, with the one-line explanation of the TARDIS’s Google Translate service stretched to breaking point considering its absence for the episode.
But all in all, I quite enjoyed it, and I’m suddenly feeling a lot better about the remaining episodes.