“The Ice Warriors,” while entertaining, is the low point of the Doctor’s travels with Jamie and Victoria. Although it introduces a memorable new alien species, it has many flaws. Of course, the fact that it stars Patrick Troughton as the Doctor means that it’s still very watchable, and since season 5 is one of my favorite seasons, the low point of the season is still a pretty good episode. It was written by Brian Hayles, and I usually find his stories to be a bit on the dry side. They are generally serious and deal more with themes than characters or plot. However, this is probably his best story.
The plot is another Troughton “base under siege.” The base, in this case, contains a crew who operate the ionizer, a device used to hold back the glaciers and prevent another ice age. You see, in this future, mankind has stopped growing its food (and most plants), instead developing the land and building on it. There are, therefore, very few plants, and, as a result, there is very little carbon dioxide left in the air (Maybe in this future plants create carbon dioxide? Just don’t think about it too hard.). Without the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the heat of the sun is escaping, bringing about a new ice age.
Even before the arrival of the titular species, the base is already under a certain amount of strain. Leader Clent is a man for whom failure is not an option, and every decision he makes is vetted by the computer, to ensure that it is the correct choice. His rigid expectations for his staff has caused the one man who truly understood the workings of the ionizer, Penley, to leave and join with the scavengers who live outside of the base.
The Doctor and his companions arrive just in time for the Doctor to help the base avert a near catastrophe with the ionizer, but an even bigger danger lies ahead. One of the crew has just uncovered what he thinks is a man, frozen in the ice, who seems to be wearing some kind of armor. When this “man” is defrosted, he comes back to life, which is bad news for the base, since he is an ice warrior, an aggressive alien species from Mars. He quickly kidnaps Victoria, takes her back to his ship (which is also frozen in the ice), and revives his other crew members. The base is now in danger on two fronts. There is the threat of attack from the ice warriors, but they are also in danger from the steadily encroaching ice. Until they learn what kind of engine the ice warriors’ ship has, they can’t use the ionizer at the power necessary to hold back the glaciers, for fear of causing a dangerous explosion. The Doctor needs to save both Victoria and the world…
While the story goes on a bit too long (I definitely could have done without the bear attack), for the most part it is effective in its storytelling. It would benefit from a bit more humor, but humor becomes scarce after the first episode. This is another story in which the alien threat is compounded by internal strife at the base. However, the story does deliver an interesting mix of supporting characters. Each of the major supporting characters has a personality, unlike some episodes where the supporting cast mainly exists to get in the Doctor’s way. While they are not fully developed characters by any means, the cast treats the material seriously and does a good job of bringing the characters to life. Clent and his colleague Miss Garett, as well as Penley and his scavenger companion Storr, all contribute to the story and are, in fact, the ones who play out its major themes.
The conflict between Clent and Penley exemplifies the theme of individuality vs. conformity. Clent expects everybody to work in a logical orderly manner and, of course, always defer to the computer’s judgement. Penley does things in a more eccentric way, which makes him the only one who can act when they cannot use the computer to make the all-important decision of whether to risk using the ionizer at the end of the story. Everyone else, including the computer, is bound by what is logical, and therefore, cannot think creatively. Of course, this means that the story also touches on another favorite classic Who theme of human vs. artificial intelligence. To the surprise of no one, the Doctor comes down on the side of human intelligence and nonconformity.
Unfortunately, all this focus on the supporting characters means that the TARDIS crew themselves is not well utilized. Patrick Troughton is given some opportunities to shine in this, including some rather humorous moments where he infuriates Clent with his unorthodox working style. However, his companions don’t fare as well. The first episode contains a few good scenes for Jamie and Victoria; these include them awkwardly climbing out of the TARDIS (when it has landed on its side) and a rather strange exchange between Jamie and Victoria about Jamie’s desire to see her in the very short dress of the female base crew. By the beginning of the second episode, Victoria is captured and the TARDIS crew is separated for most of the remaining 5 episodes.
Jamie is marginally involved in the plot, as he is sent out to investigate the alien spaceship, along with another member of the base crew. Unfortunately, he is shot by the ice warriors and spends most of the rest of the episode paralyzed, until he is stunned by the base crew and wakes up magically un-paralyzed.
Victoria fares even worse. She is simply there as the damsel in distress and is rather annoyingly near hysteria for the bulk of the episode. The ice warriors keep her alive as bait (although they kill rather than capture just about everyone else they encounter), but I think the story would have progressed in almost the exact same way even if she weren’t there. This story is a major step back for Victoria’s character as she is basically helpless and missing the spirit she had shown in her previous adventures with the Doctor. The Victoria who went to investigate the monastery’s inner sanctum in “The Abominable Snowmen” or hit a cyberman with a thermos in “Tomb of the Cybermen” is nowhere to be found. She is even sent back to the TARDIS in the middle of the final episode (I believe because Deborah Watling wasn’t able to be on set at that time).
Besides the lack of development and/or involvement for the companions, the story also has a lot of confusing points, particularly around the scavengers. It feels like they were not really given much thought in the script except to exist as a group opposed to the scientists. Their beliefs are very unclear. If this story is set in the future, why are the scavengers so primitive? Storr, the only scavenger we meet, calls himself a loyalist. To whom is he loyal? Is the problem of scavengers vs. scientists a worldwide phenomenon, or is it just the area around this base? And, what on earth is so horrifying about Africa (Victoria, I’m looking at you here)?
The most memorable component of this story however, is the introduction of the ice warriors. This was their first appearance of five in the series, and it’s easy to see why they return. They are an intelligent race that can, therefore, explain their motivations, which gets used to more advantage in later stories. Their distinctive appearance also makes an impression. While they still cannot escape the man in a suit look that most of the 60’s alien species have, they feel very much like a race from another planet; the combination of make-up and costume is quite effective. And, of course, there is their unique way of speaking. I can see why they would catch on with children watching the show. After watching this episode, I couldn’t help but imitate their whisper hissing, as I imagine many children did on the playground the next day. What more doesss an alien ssssspecies ready need sssssssss?