The Martian Revolution will be Televised: ‘Doctor Who: The Ice Warriors’

[26 September 2013]

By J.C. Macek III

On September 17, 2013 the first fully-animated Doctor Who serial released on DVD in the USA for the first time, however, Scream of the Shalka (2003)  was not the only Doctor Who release set for September 17, nor was it even the only Doctor Who animated release set for that day. The other Doctor Who DVD that came out that day with animation included is The Ice Warriors, the 1967 serial starring the Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton,, which was originally broadcast 36 years (almost to the day) before Scream of the Shalka.

There’s no need to reach for your calculators and calendars. This is accurate. While Doctor Who fandom may be at a worldwide high now with the revived series proving to be an international success and the 2013 50th anniversary of the show’s debut resulting in all kinds of tie-in merchandise and DVD releases, back in the original run of the first series, the very idea that anyone in the “far future” year of 2013 might show interest enough in programs from the ‘60s was pretty much laughable. You kids with your robot best friends, flying cars and ray guns can surely relate. Thus, films were frequently thrown away and video tapes were often recorded over to make room for new shows that were also erased just after broadcast.

The BBC’s collective “Oh my GOD, what have I DONE?” has resulted in a call for help in finding the missing episodes (of which there were hundreds) have resulted in fan recordings, foreign market films, garage sale finds and kinescopes finding their way back to the BCC and onto DVDs. The Ice Warriors is NOT among the newly re-completed serials the BBC has been able to piece back together, with episodes 2 and 3 completely missing.

However, Doctor Who is luckily unique in that every episode of the show still exists in audio form. Thus the BBC was able to hire Quiros Animation to reconstruct the two missing episodes as cartoons using the original audio and cues from still photographs and the shooting scripts. The results are impressive, if not seamless. As the bonus documentary “Beneath the Ice” illustrates (no pun intended), great pains were taken to not over-animate these episodes. 

Doctor Who episodes of the era were inventive, but decidedly low-budget with stiff, bulky monster-villains that weren’t terribly animated themselves. Should a company come along and create a beautiful, modern and epic quality cartoon for these episodes that featured creatures with moves like those in the current series, it might look great, but would hardly fit with the surrounding episodes or their own soundtracks. Thus, the images are black-and-white, the title Ice Warriors are bound by the same limitations that their live action, rubber suited actor counterparts faced and the characters and their facial expressions look like those that the actors might have used.

The serial itself takes place in Earth’s far future on the cusp of a new ice age. While the technologically inclined scientists work with their HAL-esque computer (voiced by Roy Skelton) to avert this potentially apocalyptic event, a former colleague named Arden (George Waring) uncovers one of the title monsters in a block of ice. As if on cue, the TARDIS arrives with the Second Doctor (Troughton) and his companions, Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Victoria (Deborah Watling). And, of course, quicker than you can say “The Thing From Another World” the Ice Warrior melts his way out of that block and starts to wreak havoc all over the science station that hosts most of the action. How soon till his Martian buddies show up to help in this Earth mutiny?

This “creature feature” does have its fair share of suspenseful moments and in classic Doctor Who style, the story builds slowly and reveals just a bit of itself at a time. The title monsters look a bit like bulky action figures (albeit extremely tall action figures), similar to Star Trek’s facially immobile Gorn and the entire affair has a decidedly “low budget” and dated science fiction air to it. That is, of course, part of the fun of the classic Doctor Who episodes and part of the reason that there has been such a push to get these completed serials recreated.

Ice Warrior and Doctor, animated

Ice Warrior and Doctor, animated

But the real attraction here goes beyond the introduction of these martial villains. The characters themselves drive Doctor Who arguably more than the stories, as they become chapters and series milestones in themselves. The Doctor’s companions consist of an 18th Century, kilt-clad Highlander in Jamie and an aristocrat from the Victorian age in Victoria. The two default to a “like family” relationship under The Doctor, but this also includes rivalry as much as friendship.

Troughton was only the second incarnation of this singular character whose instances now (officially) number at 12. There wasn’t a lot to build on yet, but Troughton stepped into his predecessor’s shoes beautifully and did much more than simply play the same guy at a younger age. Troughton’s playful, avuncular portrayal differs greatly from that of Hartnell’s First Doctor and has marked the character since. Hartnell originated the character, but Troughton was the man who originated “regenerations” thereof.

The bonus features on the two discs are an impressive grab-bag for fans. In addition to “Beneath the Ice”, each episode (including the animated restorations) have featured commentaries with some of the cast and crew as well as Troughton’s son Michael. A 24 minute Making Of documentary, a feature on the design of the monsters, a new trailer, VHS links from the 1998 BBC release and a photo gallery fill out the visual features. The discs also have PDFs of the radio times listings and production notes.

The Ice Warriors is the third Doctor Who serial to be released with animated episode restorations and the first appearance of the title villains. For these reasons alone, this show has earned its place in Doctor Who history. The fact that it is vintage Second Doctor Who with such a strong character focus makes the serial even better and worth watching in its own right.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/doctor-who-the-ice-warriors/