It’s safe to say that frequent Doctor Who writer Mark Gatiss is a big fan of classic series monsters the Ice Warriors.
“Oh I've always loved them,” Gatiss told RadioTimes.com and other journalists ahead of the aliens’ return in his Doctor Who episode Empress of Mars tonight.
“I mean, it's a funny thing – it's early impressions. Because Jon Pertwee was my Doctor, and the Curse of Peladon is one of my favourite stories, so seeing them being very green and scary as a child definitely made an impression on me.”
Accordingly, Gatiss took the time to talk us through the Ice Warriors’ longstanding appeal and history in the sci-fi series – and why he’s finally taking them back to their home planet for the first time in Doctor Who history.
Two Ice Warriors (with alternate armour designs) in the classic series
For those not in the know, the Ice Warriors are a warrior race (the clue's in the name) of large humanoid reptiles who originate on Mars, communicate by hissing and wear special bio-mechanical armour that protects them from attack and temperature malfunctions while also providing weaponry.
“I think they're almost the definition of the old Doctor Who monster,” Gatiss says now. "They're big, they're lumbering, they're slow, they're green, they're hissy.”
Created by Brian Hayles in 1967 episode The Ice Warriors (where they faced off with Patrick Troughton’s Doctor, above) as a replacement for the Daleks, the green-suited fighters quickly made an impression – even though they would only appear in a limited number of serials before the series was cancelled on the 1980s.
“They were only in four stories before I brought them back for Matt Smith – but they were always in the top 3!” Gatiss said. “It was the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Ice Warriors. They cast a long shadow.
“So I was always lobbying to bring them back, and now I've done it twice! So I've done a third of their stories now, which is very exciting.”
The full list of Ice Warrior stories in the original series is as follows:
- The Ice Warriors (1967)
- The Seeds of Death (1969)
- The Curse of Peladon (1972)
- The Monster of Peladon (1974)
Return in the modern series
The Ice Warriors first returned to Doctor Who in 2013 episode Cold War, where one of the revived monsters faced Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor (pictured) and Jenna Coleman’s Clara Oswald on a Russian submarine.
“I said to Steven, with Cold War, ‘I've always wanted to do a story on a submarine,’” Gatiss recalled. “ ‘And I want to bring back the Ice Warriors’. And then he said ‘Why don't we put the Ice Warriors on a submarine?’”
The returning Ice Warriors were given a hefty redesign while still keeping their basic iconic look, as well as a big change to their continuity when it was revealed that their armour could actually come off…
The original Ice Warrior costume and the updated version from 2013's Cold War
“The redesign is very faithful to the original, because it's a great look, great design,” Gatiss said. “But then you can subtly update.
“The key thing was that I had this idea that there might be something inside it, that we'd never seen, that was like a gecko, that was really quick. And that got very exciting.”
Back to Mars
Richard Ashton as Friday in this week's Doctor Who
Fast forward four years, and Gatiss decided to bring back the Ice Warriors once again for what could be his final Doctor Who story (dumping a planned sequel idea for 2015 episode Sleep No More in their favour) – and he knew exactly the setting to frame the action.
“I was just really interested in trying to explore a bit more of their backstory,” Gatiss said. “And actually put them on Mars, which you know... I can't believe we've never done that before.
“But weirdly though, Brian Hayles, who created them... his original story was called Lords of the Red Planet, and it was about the Ice Warriors on Mars. So it's been in the works for about 50 years.”
And Gatiss hopes that Empress of Mars will also fill in some other gaps in the Ice Warriors mythology, which has been left surprisingly sparse over the decades.
“The interesting thing about the Ice Warriors is that for such a big monster in the Doctor Who mythology, there's really remarkably little detail,” Gatiss said. “The Ice Lords come in, in the second story, The Seeds of Death.
“We know basically they're sort of cybernetic, reptilian creatures, and they've made an armour which is connected to their real tissue and all sorts of things, but there's not much about their backstory, what kind of Mars they ruled or will rule. Famously in the Curse of Peladon they turn out to be the goodies – and that was a great twist!”
“And then in The Monster of Peladon they're back to being baddies, and I just always found that really rather clever and unexpected,” he went on.
“It's that lovely thing of having shades of grey in an alien race.”
The Ice Queen cometh
But of course, one of the biggest innovations in this week’s episode is the much-teased new kind of Ice Warrior – specifically, the female of the species (who we can only assume is more deadly than the male), played by Adele Lynch.
“Yes, there's an Ice Queen!” Gatiss told us. “There's a joke in there somewhere. She’s called Iraxxa.
“[The Ice Warriors are] a sort of noble race with great culture, but also really bloodthirsty at the same time. There's a lot of stuff to explore there I think, which is rather good. So bringing in the notion of a female Ice Warrior and an Ice Queen was sort of key to that.
“So I started with the title, Empress of Mars, which was a very Edgar Rice Burroughs kind of title. I like the idea that it might refer to Queen Victoria, who became Queen Empress of India. It might be Iraxxa, it might be Bill – who knows who actually eventually has the title?
“It's kind of the story I've always had in the back of my mind to do, I suppose,” Gatiss concluded. “And it's just so nice to see loads of Ice Warriors. I mean, it's just never happened before.
“And a new one – an Ice Queen. So yeah, I'm very chuffed with it.”
Doctor Who continues on BBC1 tonight (Saturday 10th June) at 7:15pm