Reviews – Doctor Who: Cold War (Writer: Mark Gatiss) and Hide (Writer: Neil Cross)

I hadn’t planned to write two reviews in the same post, but it’s a case of serendipity as both stories take their cues from traditional storylines from the Doctor Who stable – “Cold War” using the base under siege plot device which was employed in stories such as “The Moonbase”, “The Ice Warriors” and “Warriors Of The Deep”, whilst “Hide” used the haunted house theme made popular in stories such as “Image Of The Fendahl”, “Ghost Light” and, to a lesser extent, that modern day favourite, “Blink”.

“Cold War” marks the first appearance of the Ice Warriors since 1974’s “The Monster Of Peladon” and it was nice to see writer Mark Gatiss take his cue from that stories prequel, “The Curse Of Peladon”, in not making the Ice Warrior himself a villain, but an honourable soldier.

To place the Doctor and Clara in the middle of the Cold War makes for an interesting couple of dilemmas.  Primarily, there is the element are thought of as spies, despite their sudden appearance in the TARDIS.  In addition to this, however, there is the additional dilemma for Clara in her first journey into the past that she doesn’t understand that time can be changed by the push of a big red button.  Beyond this, the story seems to have the episode “Dalek” and the film “Alien” as influences.

The relationship between the Doctor and Clara has grown since their first real adventure in “The Rings Of Akhaten” and this is shown through Matt Smith’s and Jenna-Louise Coleman’s on screen chemistry, something that I’ll speak more of in the second half of this review.

The main “human” guest stars in David Warner and Liam Cunningham are well fitting for this episode and, coincidentally both have previous ties to the series.

David Warner, who may be known to some of you as an alternative incarnation of the Third Doctor in the “Unbound” range of stories by Big Finish as well as some notable big screen roles in films such as “Time Bandits”, “Titanic”, “The Omen” and “Tron”, gives a quirky performance as the Duran Duran and Ultravox.  It’s interesting that I mention Mr Warner’s previous performance as a Doctor, because he displays some nice Doctor-like attributes in the role of Grisenko, especially in the way he shows concern for the safety of Clara with his “Courage, my dear” phrases and his withering remarks at the expense of the military.

Liam Cunningham, who previously went up for the role of the Eighth Doctor and is more known for his role in “Game Of Thrones”, gives an interesting performance in the role of Captain Zhukov as on the one hand he has to follow the party line as a member of the Soviet military, whilst on the other he is a man who tries to be more enlightened that the East v West rhetoric by trusting the Doctor’s judgement on how to deal with Skaldak.  He also shows an empathy with the Doctor in the scene where he says that a soldier knows a fellow soldier, something that carries weight because of the burden of war that the Doctor carries around with him.

But the real guest star of the episode is the man behind the modern day Who monster voices himself, Nicholas Briggs.  He follows up his work with the Daleks and Cybermen with another classic in the Ice Warriors.  Mr Briggs follows in the tradition of the likes of Bernard Bresslaw and Alan Bennion in supplying suitable menace and a sense of honour in thr role of Skaldak, but he also allows room for the audience to sympathise and empathise with Skaldak as he realises that the world he knew has been left behind and his daughter is nothing more than a memory of songs being sung on a journey into battle.

“Cold War” is an interesting piece in trying to inject modern day Who with a good dash of nostalgia whilst adding new tricks (such as Skaldak leaving his battle armour to give the story a sense of Ridley Scott’s “Alien”, well as near as it can be for tea-time audiences).  If I had an issue with this episode is that the resolution was rushed and the pace of the story could have warranted a possible two parter to ramp up the tension of whether Skaldak would have gone through with his threat to destroy humankind.

That said, I am looking forward to Mark Gatiss’s second story for this series, “The Crimson Horror”, which will no doubt see a return to the horror genre as seen in his classic first season episode, “The Unquiet Dead”.

“Hide” by Neil Cross is a story that has a bit of “Greatest Hits” feel about it, as it features quite a lot references within it that will have the inner fanboy, or fangirl, squeal if you are familiar with the history of the series.  I mean not only do you see a return of the Psychic Paper which was a staple of Nu-Who at one point along with the Doctor air kissing as previously seen in “The Lodger” and Clara’s “big chin” comment, reminiscent of Oswin in “Asylum Of The Daleks”, but there are references to the famous blue crystals from Metebelis 3 – (Does somebody have a concession stall for something that’s so rare?) – which featured in the Third Doctor stories “The Green Death” and “Planet Of The Spiders” and the “Eye of Harmony” which featured in “The Deadly Assassin” and the 1996 TV movie, along with on screen visual cues including the return of the “Cloister Bell”, the “TARDIS Voice Visual Interface” and the Doctor travelling on the outside of the TARDIS as Jack did in “Utopia”.

However, these trappings hide a clever story with some great thematic devices underneath.

Firstly, the relationship between Professor Alec Palmer and Emma Grayling alongside that of the Doctor and Clara.  Both are based, to a greater or lesser degree on a lie.  Alec and Emma’s relationship is one where there is a professional distance hiding the fact that he has romantic feelings for her, despite the fact that she knows this due to her empathic nature.  Whilst the Doctor and Clara’s is based on a whacking great lie.  Even though the Doctor genuinely cares for Clara, their relationship is primarily based on the Doctor’s interest in who Clara is following his experience with her “twins” Oswin and 19th century Clara along with a sense of guilt that he doesn’t want history to repeat itself in making her “the woman thrice dead”.

The second theme is that people shouldn’t go on living in the death of others.  Despite the Doctor’s protestations that Alec doesn’t continue to do this, the Doctor IS doing this and has been pretty much since the Time War – the Time Lords, Rose, Donna, Amy and Rory… even the Master, this is very much a case of the Doctor saying “do what I say and not as I do”.

This leads to the third, more subtle, theme of people returning from war and warriors recognising each other, something that I mention in Zukhov’s dialogue in “Cold War”, only this time it’s reversed.  The Doctor recognises that Alec has been emotionally damaged by his experiences in war.  However, their stories diverge in where the Doctor has become a legend because of his exploits in The Time War and The War of Demon’s Run, Alec wants to hide his experiences away, as much as he wants to hide away his Victoria Cross in the attic.

The final theme is that of loneliness.  You have Alec alone in his survivor’s experiences, Emma alone in her skills as a psychic empath, the “monsters” separated by a pocket universe along with time traveller Hila Tukurian on her own, and you could say the Doctor will always be on his own, even with a companion, although he reflects that “every lonely monster needs a companion” – whether that means the Doctor himself or the monster in the pocket universe, I’ll leave that to you to decide.

On the acting front, you have four top notch actors in the main performances.  Dougray Scott gives an appropriately haunted portrayal in the role of Alec – the man who lives on in the death of others as penance for his war experiences.  Jessica Raine follows up her performances as Jenny in “Call The Midwife” with another beautifully nuanced performance in the role of Emma with the empathic/romantic relationship with Alec and empathy of a different kind when it comes to the Doctor and Clara relationship and I’m really looking forward to her portrayal as Verity Lambert in the forthcoming docudrama as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations.

Now for Matt and Jenna-Louise.  This story, along with “Cold War”, shows how the relationship can be stretched and shaped, dependent on the storyline.  In “Cold War”, the relationship is pretty happy-go-lucky between the pair despite the danger presented by Skaldak.  However, the relationship is edgier in “Hide”, primarily through the warnings given by Emma to Clara not to trust the Doctor because he has a “sliver of ice in his heart” whilst the Doctor can happily sneak behind Clara’s back to find out if there’s anything unusual about her.  This edge to the relationship is becoming more reminiscent of the seventh Doctor’s relationship with Ace.

Beyond this, the Doctor’s relationship with Emma is one where he has no real latitude of deception, as pointed out above, due to her nature as an empath.  However, he is also able to surprise her when he reveals Hila’s suspected origins.

However, it’s Matt’s solo scenes which are the most interesting as he really gets to portray the Doctor’s fear.  Whenever he is with Clara, the Doctor is full of bravado and childishness accusing Clara that her “pants are so on fire” whilst Clara asks the Doctor to dare her to carry on with the ghost hunt.  But when the Doctor is on his own, his reason for bravery and bravado is gone and it’s interesting to see Matt’s portrayal of the character in extremis, something that is reminiscent of the episode “Midnight” or when the Doctor is trapped with the Dalek in “Dalek”.

The relationship that I’d like to highlight for Clara is that of her and the TARDIS.  As with “The Rings Of Akhaten”, there is something more than meets the eye with the relationship between the two with the TARDIS locking Clara out again, but there appears to be a thawing between the pair as two of the ladies in the Doctor’s life having to compromise.

“Hide” is a well written story which adds new layers to the Doctor’s and Clara’s individual characters, as well as the partnership and it will be interesting to see how this partnership develops.  If I had a problem with it, it’s that there are a lot of references, obvious and not so obvious, to the show’s past in this story and I felt that it could have stood up on its own without them.

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