Autons, Nestenes, Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, the Master, Davros, Silurians and very soon Zygons… 21st-century Who has made a pretty good fist of bringing last-century baddies back to life. (I’m still holding out for the Meddling Monk – perhaps reincarnated as Ricky Gervais – and Alpha Centauri, a sort of tentacled, timorous willy in a yellow cloak.)
Yet the chances of seeing the Ice Warriors again – Doctor Who’s very own invaders from Mars, absent for four decades – seemed slim. That is, until Mark Gatiss came to their defence.
He’d longed to revive them and says he had to cajole Steven Moffat, who was concerned they epitomised the lumbering, green monsters people can’t take seriously. Well, in a way they do, although that doesn’t gainsay their enduring appeal.
Now, in Cold War, Mark Gatiss has done an excellent job of rehabilitating the Ice Warrior. For a start, their name: it’s simultaneously a great and silly name. The human scientist who found the first one frozen inside a glacier coined the term “ice warrior” (in 1967) and it stuck. By The Monster of Peladon, the Martians were even using the name about themselves; yes, they were warriors, but they hadn’t visibly been near any ice in centuries.
Mark gives them back their ice. Cold War begins with one frozen inside a block hewn from an Arctic glacier, where he’s lain dormant for five millennia. He thaws out on a Soviet nuclear submarine and turns out to be Grand Marshal Skaldak, an aggressive but proud warrior, properly creepy, with an imposing voice by Nicholas Briggs.
Mark also picks up on their creator Brian Hayles’s original concept of their armour being partially electronic, which was lost down the years. And of course, he’s promising “something new” – an aspect we haven’t seen before…
All credit to Neill Gorton and his team at Millennium FX for taking on the redesign. When I spoke to Neill last week, he explained his own reservations about the original version. “The very first one was OK because it was built around [actor] Bernard Bresslaw and fitted him properly. But subsequent ones got sillier and sillier, and suffered from not being updated or properly maintained.”
He wanted to stay true to the 1967 design but alter small aesthetic details: “My problem with the old ones is they had Lego hands and weird, spindly arms but a bulky body and these strange saddlebag hips, almost feminine. They had fur sticking out everywhere. So all of that together didn’t suggest “ice warriors”. They should be much beefier and stronger. We gave it more of a bodybuilder physique, changed the hands and styled the body to make it look more like armour-plating, even though it’s reptilian.”
The original costumes were constructed from fibreglass and latex rubber. What did Neill use? “The problem with fibreglass is it rattles and clacks together and gets damaged very easily, so we used a flexible urethane rubber, a bit like the rubber on the dashboard of your car – heavy-duty, plasticky. It feels and looks solid but actually has a bit of flex to it and it’s more comfortable for the performer to wear.”
So was it tailored to the actor Spencer Wilding? “Yeah, we did a full body cast so everything is made to fit him. He was the Minotaur last season [in The God Complex]. Also I’ve worked with him on a lot of other productions so he’s one of the performers who’s great at playing creatures and gets used a lot.”
As you’ll have seen from the photographs, the new Ice Warrior costume is impressive but wait till you see it in action. Cold War is a claustrophobic tale, tautly directed by Douglas Mackinnon, and just about as creepy as Doctor Who can get in its teatime slot. There are allusions to Alien and The Thing from Another World (and many a submarine movie), but with the action carefully toned for a broad audience. I’ve just watched it as a treat at a family gathering (age range five to late 40s) and everyone lapped it up.
So it’s a cool introduction to the Ice Warriors for the fan-newt. While for the fan-fart what’s rewarding is how artfully Mark Gatiss has distilled the essence of the Patrick Troughton “base-under-siege” format – and included a deliciously obscure reference to something from 1969!
Patrick first joined Radio Times as a teenager in the black-and-white days of 1984. A career in journalism led to ES Magazine, Time Out, rival TV guides and Doctor Who Magazine. The Tardis returned him to RT in 2005, since when he’s been reviewing Nordic noir and Sicilian vice, saucy sitcoms, the BBC Proms and the further adventures of the Time Lord. He lives in the Smoke but prefers a sea breeze.