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Recap / Doctor Who S33 E8 "Cold War"

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"Hair, shoulder pads, nukes... it's The '80s. Everything's bigger."
The Doctor

The One With… the Ultravox fan.

Written by Mark Gatiss, and the first television appearance of the Ice Warriors since 1974's "The Monster of Peladon".

The Doctor and Clara land on a damaged Soviet nuclear submarine at the height of the Cold War, in 1983 (instead of, as they were aiming for, Las Vegas), as it spirals out of control into the ocean depths. They immediately get captured while the TARDIS vworps off without them, leaving them stranded in a submarine that's (a) slowly filling up with water and (b) home to a massive chunk of excavated ice with an Ice Warrior stuck inside it. The Doctor decides to cut straight to the point and explains that he's a time traveller. He confronts the Ice Warrior as gently as possible, and learns that his name is Skaldak — the greatest war hero in Martian history. Unfortunately, one of the crew electrocutes Skaldak out of sheer terror, and the Doctor realises that to the Ice Warriors, this can only be seen as a provocation into interstellar war.

Skaldak is chained up, and Clara volunteers to negotiate with him as a neutral party, someone who — unlike the crew and the Doctor — has never seen war. Skaldak sees right through her plans, and directly addresses the Doctor via Clara's headset. Clara, scared of out her mind but trying to remain stoic, soon notices that there's something wrong with Skaldak... and finds out that he's escaped from his chained-up armour, and the contraption of wires and scales is left behind as a husk. It's also sending out an interstellar distress call. It isn't being answered, and Skaldak is forced to come to terms with the idea of being the last of his kind.

While Skaldak rushes around the submarine, killing people from the shadows and dissecting them for information on mankind, the Doctor and Clara try to reason with him. Skaldak eventually learns that the submarine has nuclear warheads, and decides to blow up the Earth in retribution, preferring to go down fighting instead of dying defeated and alone. The Doctor vows that he'll gladly sacrifice himself and everyone on board if it means keeping the web of time intact. He and Clara extend the stalemate with Skaldak — with Skaldak's finger on the button the entire time — long enough for the Big Damn Heroes to arrive: an Ice Warrior spaceship, which picked up Skaldak's distress call after all.

The Doctor explains that the TARDIS vworped off because he finally got the Hostile Action Displacement System to work. She safely parked herself on the Pole... the South Pole.


  • Author Appeal: The Ice Warriors are one of writer Mark Gatiss's favorite Doctor Who monsters, and he'd been long itching for an opportunity to be able to reintroduce them into the New Series.
  • 24-Hour Armour: An Ice Warrior never takes off their armour, as it is the ultimate expression of dishonour and it can signify that they have nothing, not even any honour, left to lose.
  • Animated Armour: Skaldak's Powered Armour suit can be remote-controlled by its master, as the crew find out. Clara has an Oh, Crap! moment when the armour opens and she realises her negotiations with Skaldak were pointless, because he's already freed himself by leaving his suit and is wandering around the sub.
  • Armour-Piercing Question: When discussing who should talk to Skaldak, the Doctor dismisses the captain as an enemy soldier that Skaldak will not listen to, because he'll smell his nature as such, and Captain Zhukov asks if Skaldak will smell the same thing on the Doctor. The Doctor — not typically thought of as a soldier, but who has fought in at least one war — has no answer.
  • Anyone Can Die: Stepashin is introduced as a significant character who, by the conventions of this kind of Doctor Who story, will be an evil xenophobic human who will hang around for a long time making things worse by inciting everyone else to violence. Skaldak kills him very early on.
  • Artistic Licence – History: Despite it being the height of Cold-War tensions and paranoia, in 1983 a single multi-nuke strike would not necessarily have been enough to provoke a saturation-strike response — likely only warranting a tit-for-tat attack upon a similar (or greater) number of targets. This is because the USA had finally abandoned its de facto policy of Massive Retaliation Doctrine (full nuclear war in response to any nuclear strike) by this time, after having nominally abandoned it way back in the 1950s. Then again, they would've had to look up a specialist journal or book detailing Nuclear Retaliation Doctrines of the Cold War to find that out.
    • However, see Shown Their Work for the effect it would've had if the nukes were fired at Russia...
  • Artistic Licence – Ships: Despite looking like a Delta-II, the featured submarine is far more massive. For comparison, a Typhoon class is larger than a Delta-II, and yet the crew are dwarfed by the conning tower when standing on the bridge — not something anyone was at risk of with a Typhoon.
  • Asshole Victim: Stepashin tries to strike a bargain with Skaldak, imploring the Ice Warrior to create war so that Stepashin may fight again.
  • Attack on One Is an Attack on All: The Doctor remarks that this is the Martian warrior code, and Skaldak later echoes the same. Skaldak sees his capture and imprisonment on the Soviet submarine as an attack on the entire Ice Warrior race, and so intends to annihilate humanity as retribution.
  • Author Appeal: Mark Gatiss chose the time period because he was "kind of obsessed" with the Cold War, and felt that there were several times in the 1980s where the danger was close.
  • The Backwards Я: According to the poster, the episode is called "COLD WAYA". And since this would, given it's a British show, mean it's pronounced something like, "Cold Warrior", well, it's definitely intended!
  • Bait-and-Switch: At one point, the Professor asks Clara what happens in the future. Clara can't tell him, because of Gray's Sports Almanac circumstances. He starts pressuring her until he says he just wants to know if Ultravox break up.note 
  • Big Bad: Grand Marshal Skaldak.
  • Big Red Button: One of these is used to fire nukes. The Doctor would rather blow up the entire sub than let anyone push it.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Martian morality works differently from that of humans. Skaldak's a Martian hero whose enemies carved his name into themselves as they died as a means to honour him and attacking him counts as a threat towards the entire Ice Warrior race.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: "Hair, shoulder pads, nukes..."
  • Break the Cutie: Clara sees her first dead bodies, and needs a few minutes to cope with what she's seen.
  • The Bus Came Back: The Ice Warriors return to the show, having last appeared in 1974's "The Monster of Peladon".
  • Chewing the Scenery: The Doctor gets very intense while threatening to blow up the submarine to stop Skaldak at the climax.
  • Chromosome Casting: Clara is the only onscreen female character in this story.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • As the Doctor lists off various explanations that he will not give the Captain to explain his presence in the sub, he says "no pretending to be an Earth ambassador". He used this exact alias in a previous Ice Warrior story, "The Curse of Peladon".
    • There's a brief mention of Phobos as one of Skaldak's battlefields.
    • The Hostile Action Displacement System has returned, and it works, sort of.
    • This is the second episode straight to possibly make reference to a previous Doctor's nickname — Grandfather last week, and the Professor in this episode.
    • The episode itself is a homage to the "base-under-siege" plot that characterised many of the stories that were made during the years Patrick Troughton was the Doctor. Including the two stories the Ice Warriors themselves appeared in during this time.
    • The Doctor explains to Clara how it is that the Translation Matrix allows them to be speaking Russian, a more hurried version of an explanation he gave to Sarah Jane in "The Masque of Mandragora".
  • Cool Old Guy: Professor Grisenko is genuinely nice to Clara, and even saves her life. Also, he has great taste in music; who doesn't enjoy "Hungry Like the Wolf"?
  • Deadpan Snarker: Professor Grisenko.
    Stepashin: What's the alternative? A little green man from Mars?
    Grisenko: Correction. It's a big green man from Mars.
    Grisenko: Maybe they're telling the truth.
    Stepashin: The truth?
    Grisenko: It's a revolutionary concept, I know.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The Doctor tells the professor "I could kiss you!" Professor Grisenko isn't all too bothered by the idea, since kissing on the mouth was a common gesture of friendship between men in the Soviet era. The Doctor looks mildly confused and decides on "later!".
  • Despair Event Horizon: Skaldak, due to believing himself the last of his kind, has given up on all hope of rescue and has nothing left to lose. As the Doctor points out, leaving one's armour is an extremely desperate act for an Ice Warrior because it leaves them vulnerable and is a mark of deep shame.
  • Double-Meaning Title: "Cold War" can refer to the the time period where the story takes place, or it can refer to the Ice Warrior and/or the fact that the episode takes place underwater, which is likely to be cold, especially below the Arctic.
  • Dwindling Party: With the exceptions of Captain Zhukov and Professor Grisenko, just about all of the sub's crew are killed by Skaldak.
  • "Everybody Laughs" Ending: Played unusually straight... until the Doctor sarcastically joins in.
  • Exposed to the Elements: Clara, expecting to arrive in Las Vegas, wears a sleeveless dress and gets promptly soaked by freezing seawater. She wears an officer's jacket for the rest of the episode. At the end, everyone goes out on the top deck of the now-surfaced submarine, in polar climes. This is less than 40 minutes or so after they were all drenched in seawater. They should be freezing cold being outside and wet, but act perfectly fine.
  • Eyes Never Lie: The Doctor challenges Skaldak to look him in the eyes and declare that he will commit genocide.
  • Fatal Family Photo: The posthumous version, when the Doctor has to check the vivisected political officer's ID to establish who he was.
  • First Contact: One of the soldiers, Onegin, thinks this is what's happening, and is excited at the idea of returning home a hero. Belevich, on the other hand, is more pessimistic and suspects that any previous alien contacts like theirs have simply been covered up by the Kremlin.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: Skaldak, by 5,000 years, because of being frozen in ice.
  • Flying Saucer: At the end, one of these arrives to lift the sub out of the water and retrieve Skaldak.
  • Gilligan Cut: No way the Doctor is letting Clara interrogate an Ice Warrior all on her own. Absolutely not. Never. The next scene is her entering Skaldak's makeshift cell.
  • The Glomp: Clara gives the Doctor a big hug after the world is saved.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: After the Ice Warrior has been vivisecting humans, the screen hovers above them. This is more so with poor Onegin and his friend, where we see nothing, but also when the Doctor finds Stepashin's body and all we see is a pair of feet and a little bit of blood.
  • Hidden Depths: Turns out the aged Soviet scientist Grisenko is a big fan of early 1980s British New Wave Music.
  • Honesty Is the Best Policy: The Doctor decides not to bother pretending to be an ambassador or something and admits from the start that he and Clara are time travellers, though the missing TARDIS, dire situation and lack of other usual aids forces his hand.
  • Human Popsicle: Alien Popsicle 5,000 years old.
  • Immune to Bullets: Skaldak, whilst armoured up, cannot be harmed by bullets.
  • Improperly Placed Firearms: The pistols the Soviets are shown using are Browning Hi-Power pistols that look nothing like the Makarov PM, the real-life service pistol of the Soviets at the time. The Kalashnikovs aren't the AKM or AK-74 model that a Soviet vessel of the '80s would have.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Clara and Grisenko strike one up over contemporary British music.
  • Internal Homage: The Doctor has a ball of string in his pocket.
  • Implausible Deniability: Quite by accident, too. Clara tries to argue that she can't possibly be a spy, because she doesn't speak Russian... except that because of the TARDIS's translation circuits, the Soviets hear this in Russian.
  • It's What I Do: Clara points out that saving the world is the job of the Doctor and his loyal companion.
  • The Juggernaut: The Ice Warrior in his armour can't be stopped by anything the crew of soldiers can bring to bear.
  • Karma Houdini: Skaldak himself is a mild version. He basically got what he wanted (i.e. rescued by his people) and got away unpunished for his murder of Soviet military personnel. Then again, he has already taken some character-shaming from the Doctor and Clara, so his disabling of the warheads was his making amends.
  • Last of His Kind: Skaldak believes he is, and thus has nothing to lose. He's not.
  • Long Bus Trip: Until now, we hadn't seen any Ice Warriors on the show for 39 years.
  • Logical Weakness: The Ice Warriors' Power Armour is weak against extreme heat.
  • Mistaken for Spies: The Doctor and Clara are initially suspected as spies because they're not Soviet soldiers. Captain Zhukov quickly quells that because it's foolishness.
  • Modest Royalty: Skaldak is a Grand Marshal and Sovereign and a great Ice Warrior leader, but he wears a simple soldier's heavy armour instead of the lighter "Ice Lord" armour usually associated with the higher ranks. (Since we only see the "Ice Lord" armour in stories set further into the future than this one, it's possible it just hadn't been developed in Skaldak's era.)
  • Mood Whiplash: The Soviet crew is doing a nuclear launch drill, only to be interrupted by the Professor wandering onto the bridge singing an Ultravox song.
  • Moral Event Horizon: Invoked: The Doctor says this will happen to Skaldak if he wipes out Earth. He won't be remembered as a hero anymore, but a murderer.
  • Music for Courage: Professor Grisenko suggests Clara fulfill this trope by singing "Hungry Like the Wolf", but she refuses. At first, anyway.
  • Mutually Assured Destruction: Name-dropped a couple times. Cold war, you know? It also creates a local version between Skaldak and the Doctor.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: Captain Zhukov might be a reference to the WWII general.
  • Nice Guy: Professor Grisenko makes idle conversation with Clara over music and befriends her, even protecting her against the Ice Warrior.
  • Noodle Implements: Among the Doctor's personal effects are a ball of string, a candy apple... and a Barbie doll.
  • Not Even Bothering with an Excuse: The Doctor quickly realises he can’t use the Psychic Paper to get out of dealing with the Soviets.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Lampshaded. We only hear the Russians the way Clara does through the TARDIS translation matrix — speaking with British accents.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Immediately after Skaldak leaves his armour, all we see is something just out of frame rushing past; later, aside from a few closeups of his face in the shadows, all we see is a pair of very large claws. Also, when Clara realizes Skaldak has abandoned his armour, she's searching all over the room without finding anything, invoking this in spades.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Captain Zhukov offers to talk to the Ice Warrior, but the Doctor says Skaldak will instinctively recognise him as an enemy soldier. The Captain readily perceives that the same applies to the Doctor.
  • Obscured Special Effects: The episode mainly portrays Skaldak in a suit of armour made with practical effects, but when the time comes for scenes where he sneaks through the submarine without his armour, only his arm reaching down from the ceiling is shown most of the time, while a close-up of his face is done in the shadows. Only near the end is his unarmoured, unconcealed face seen, and then not even for more than half a minute.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • When the sub sinks.
    • When Skaldak appears.
    • When Skaldak leaves his armour.
    • Skaldak nearing the button.
  • Only Sane Man: Captain Zhukov, in contrast to Stepashin. He's not particularly worried by America's "sabre rattling", and knows exactly what will happen if one missile gets released.
  • Political Officer: While not explicitly described as one, Stepashin acts like one.
  • Power Armour: Ice Warrior armour is something that they can take off and on at will and affords them great durability.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Ice Warriors are naturally big on warrior things. Skaldak fondly remembers the first time his daughter saw battle.
  • The Queen's Latin: Everybody speaking Russian due to the TARDIS' Translation Circuits.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: The Doctor carries a Barbie doll on his person, and he's relieved enough to get it back he gives it a kiss, which causes Clara to pull a face.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Captain Zhukov is understandably suspicious of the two newcomers, but he maintains his composure and isn't given to fits of rage and bloodshed like Stepashin.
  • Recycled In Space: Alien ON A SUBMARINE!
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: The Ice Warrior, out of his power armour, has red eyes.
  • Religious and Mythological Theme Naming: The submarine is named Firebird.
  • Right Behind Me: The Doctor initially doesn't realize why Clara and the submarine crew are staring, unnerved, at Skaldak approaching behind him.
  • Scream Discretion Shot: The second redshirt's death is silent.
  • Sexy Soaked Shirt: Averted; Clara arrives on the sub wearing a silver cocktail dress and gets immediately drenched but she is quickly handed a military jacket which covers it up.
  • Shed Armour, Gain Speed: Skaldak sneaks out of his Ice Warrior armour, gaining not just speed, but more importantly maneuverability and stealth, allowing him to crawl around in ducts and attack people unexpectedly.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Skaldak's clicking noises and unmasking scene borrow heavily from Predator.
    • Many of the scenes where Skaldak hunts the crew of the submarine borrow directly from Alien and Aliens.
      Zhukov: It's in the walls!
    • Skaldak is a war hero who's been frozen in Arctic ice, much like Captain America.
    • Professor Grisenko has a huge love for British New Romantic music: his first on-screen moment sees him listening to "Vienna" by Ultravox, he encourages Clara to recite Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf", and when he realizes that she's a time traveler, his biggest priority is knowing whether or not Ultravox split up (they did in real life — three times, in fact).
    • An alien preserved in the ice that breaks free and attacks those who found it is from The Thing from Another World.
    • An alien who starts killing sailors on a submarine in the Arctic? Must be a Shout-Out to The X-Files. It even has an Inspiration Nod by the ship's scientist, who says they will be "another mystery for Moscow to ponder."
  • Shown Their Work: 1983 was indeed the point in which the the Cold War could have very easily run hot, due to the (alluded to) Able Archer '83 exercises that terrified the already paranoid Soviets. There were even several close calls throughout the year, including one famous incident where only the cool head of a Soviet radar operator deciding that the missile that appeared on his screen was not a launch but most likely an equipment malfunction prevented a full-scale nuclear launch. Coincidentally (or not), this event occurred only a couple of weeks before the 20th anniversary Doctor Who special "The Five Doctors" was broadcast.
  • Squick:invoked Clara sees her first dead body in this episode, leading to this reaction.
  • Sssssnake Talk: The Ice Warrior, though far less blatant than earlier versions of the Ice Warriors, still has the lisp.
  • Static Stun Gun: Soviet cattle-prods emit visible arcs of crackling electricity. They're useful when dealing with polar bears.
  • Stealth Pun: As mentioned under The Backwards Я, the poster gives the title of the episode as "COLD WAЯ", which would actually be pronounced "COLD WAYA", which, in a British accent, sounds similar to "Cold Warrior".
  • Styrofoam Rocks: In external shots of the sub this is done so obviously it's probably an homage to old sub movies. When chunks of boulder break off the underwater ridge, they fall just like they are in air; there's not even an attempt to make it looks like the rocks are falling through actual water.
  • Sub Story: Except the ending, everything occurs in the Soviet sub.
  • Survival Mantra: Grisenko talks about singing "Hungry Like the Wolf" when nervous, and tries to get Clara to sing. She does so when there's the real possibility that the Ice Warriors will start a nuclear war.
  • Taking You with Me: Skaldak was attacked, and believes his people to be dead. So he attempts to cause a nuclear war which will more than likely cause the destruction of Earth.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: The Doctor and Clara collectively convince Skaldak to be merciful and leave in peace rather than pursue a war against humanity.
  • Tempting Fate: Once again, the Doctor realizes that he spoke too soon.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Piotr, who melted Skaldak out of the ice block, even though they were supposed to wait until they reached Moscow, because he was impatient.
  • Tractor Beam: The submarine is rescued via one of these from an Ice Warrior ship.
  • Translator Microbes: Clara assures the soldiers that she's not a spy on the basis she can't even speak Russian. She says this in, as far as they're concerned, perfect Russian. The Doctor hadn't quite got around to explaining the "translation field" bit yet.
  • The Unreveal: We never really get to see what Skaldak looks like outside of the armour, apart from his hands and head.
  • Vertical Kidnapping: One unfortunate Red Shirt is victimised by this. Clara and the Professor, on the other hand, get timely interruptions to spare them.
  • The Watson: Clara seems to take on this role a bit more in this episode, establishing for viewers how she and the Doctor are speaking Russian, and why the near-annihilation of humanity is so very much on the cards in 1983.
  • We Can Rule Together: Stephasin proposes to Skaldak an alliance to launch the war. Skaldak likes his idea, but still kills him.
  • White-and-Grey Morality: A recurring theme of the season. The Soviets, with the exception of Stepashin, don't want a war and Skaldak, while not exactly a nice guy, just comes from a warlike culture, and even then decides to show mercy and disarm the nukes at the end of the episode.
  • You Must Be Cold: Clara wakes up wearing a Soviet officer's jacket.