The best Doctor Who DVD release of the 50th anniversary year so far is an absolute must-have. “I don’t think this one can smile, but by gum he can wink!”
Catalogue no. : BBCDVD3558
The evocative title is there to get the kids watching. There may be invaders from the polar regions of Mars in the story – and Bernard Bresslaw creates an entirely believable, reptilian alien culture through his tour de force performance as Varga, the warriors’ commander – but as in a lot of the Patrick Troughton Doctor Who serials, they’re not the main focus.
You can tell we’re in the television year 1967 as Scientist Penley (Peter Sallis) has resigned from his job at Brittanicus Base because of the bureaucratic intimidation of Leader Clent (the excellent Peter Barkworth, on leave from ITV’s The Power Game), a manager who’s people skills are severely lacking. There’s lots of talk about being an individual and not behaving like a machine, so I’m rather surprised that a big white balloon doesn’t come bouncing across the arctic tundra towards Penley. It would have looked entirely at home in this story’s monochrome TV-friendly, future ice age. Like the contemporary counter culture dropouts they’re based on, ‘scavengers’ Penley and Storr (Angus Lennie) grow inspiring beards.
What’s remarkable about ‘The Ice Warriors’ is how contemporary the art direction, acting and dialogue all are, particularly in the figure of Penley. The music is phenomenal – composer Dudley Simpson’s combination of ethereal female vocals, quirky sound effects and flanged drumbeats is like nothing heard in the series before and appears to have been responsible for the careers of Portishead and Goldfrapp. It’s also worth noting that this is the first Doctor Who story where office politics are central to the narrative and the way the characters interact (as they would be again in the story’s sequel, ‘The Seeds of Death’). Because of all this, ‘The Ice Warriors’ doesn’t look like it belongs to the same series as the last-but-one story ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’. Some impressive production design aside, that serial’s out of sync performances and speech idioms range from laugh-out-loud melodrama, to American characters written and played by people who’ve clearly never met an American.
Another sign of the ‘The Ice Warriors’’ maturity is that Doctor Who companion Jamie (Frazer Hines) is allowed to reveal what he thinks about girls, hinting that he’s wondered what Victoria (Deborah Watling) would look like dressed in the Brittanicus Base’s revealing fashions. He’s also allowed to be a vulnerable action hero, temporarily crippled from episode three onwards by the Martians’ sonic weapons.
The great thing about Patrick Troughton is that he gives a slightly different performance as the Doctor in every story. Between the amiable manipulator of ‘The Evil of the Daleks’ and the amiable bumbler of The Krotons’, he’s quietly confident throughout 'The Ice Warriors'. However, his patience with the abrasive Clent isn’t inexhaustible: at one point, it looks like the usually placid second Doctor is really going to lamp him.
|(Image: Rob Fairclough collection)|
The animated episodes, courtesy of the company Quiros, are delightful this time, matching the visual pace of the surviving instalments, basing their picture compositions on the telesnaps of the story taken at the time and on how director Derek Martinus frames his shots in the four surviving recordings. The way the animators have caught Troughton’s likeness is particularly impressive. So confident are BBC DVD in the cartoons’ authenticity that they haven’t flagged them up as a special Extra, although they certainly are special. The reconstructed trailer for ‘The Ice Warriors’, notably highlighting Clent’s staff problems, is a real gem.
As has been the case ever since Dene Films took over producing the ‘making of’ documentaries, Cold Fusion is an efficiently made, engaging piece. It’s mainly notable for production designer Jeremy Davies’ cheerful admission that he found working on the “low budget” series frustrating, as well as his equally cheerful admission that after watching ‘The Ice Warriors’ again it exceeded his expectations. Lovely graphics, too.
Beneath the Ice – Animating the Ice Warriors highlights the commitment producer Chris Chapman and the animation team at Quiros had to accuracy. “The challenge with this one was to limit ourselves to what would have been possible in the late ‘60s,” Chapman says, a task made easier by access to the original shooting scripts. Quiros’ 3D test model of William Hartnell’s head is amazing. I wouldn’t mind seeing that approach developed in the future.
For completeness, the links from the video release are included; at the time they were made, they were as cutting edge as the animated episodes are now. It’s a pleasing indication of how closely the Doctor Who range has kept pace with developments in video technology.
In Doctor Who Stories – Frazer Hines, originally recorded for the anniversary documentary The Story of Doctor Who, the charming actor is on fine form. It’s fascinating to hear his reminiscences of the 1960s’ pop music scene, having songs written for by him by Alex Harvey – front man of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band – and the songwriters for Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdink (in case you were wondering, that is a made up a name). Frazer’s debut single, Who is Doctor Who?, was the only flop the songwriters had. (A similar fate befell Edward Woodward from ITV’s Callan with his premier 45 This Man Alone, a vocal version of the spy series’ theme).
In another well put together Photo Gallery, there’s some excellent photographs of Bernard Bresslaw being fitted for his Varga costume. It shows just how good an actor he was, as so much character shines through from under the heavy prosthetics.
The DVD is an essential purchase for the 1967 Blue Peter footage about the Doctor Who Design a Monster "to beat the Daleks" competition. I watched it forty-odd years ago and I vividly remember the end titles of the edition that launched the contest, repeating the clip from ‘The Power of the Daleks’ of the monsters screeching “Daleks conquer and destroy!” And how Mod do John Noakes, Peter Purves and Valerie Singleton look? Three very ace faces.
Would you get a mature and helpful reprimand about the consequences of ripping off other people’s drawings and designs from Cbeebies today, like the one viewers do here? I doubt it. The BBC’s lawyers would have a fit.
If I’d been choosing the Troughton story for this year’s Dr Who at 50 BFI festival, I’d have put ‘The Ice Warriors’ on instead of ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ in a heartbeat; for my money, even incomplete it’s the best Patrick Troughton story that survives in the BBC archives. Because of that, it’s entirely fitting that it should be the last Troughton DVD to be released.
What a shame there won’t be any more.
“Ice! Give me ice, man!”
For more on the BFI’s ‘Doctor Who at 50’ season, visit: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/Online/doctor-who-at-50