Following on from The Rings of Akhaten, this episode we took the plunge to the depths of the Arctic Ocean as the Doctor and Clara encountered an enemy from the earliest days of the show's history.
Whilst I was personally delighted to see The Ice Warriors return for New Who, there was always a danger that the event itself would overshadow the story. Mark Gatiss might not have crafted a classic episode here, but in providing new twists on a familiar foe in the ingenious setting of a Soviet submarine did succeed in making these old enemies of the Doctor scary for a modern audience.
Ice to See You
Whovians will know that the last time the Ice Warriors were on screen was 1974 in Third Doctor serial The Monster of Peladon. They might have been cumbersome creatures with lego hands but the whispering martians were unodubetdly scary. Copying the formula of season one episode Dalek, here we have a sole Ice Warrior, Skaldak, who escapes from capture and goes on the rampage.
A nice twist is that we, and the Doctor, discover that The Ice Warriors can leave their "shell-suit" if needed as a means of avoiding detection. Somewhere between Alien and Das Boot, here we have the nimble Skaldak crawling amongst the corridors of the submarine and picking off the soldiers one by one.
The monster's spindly green fingers coming down from the ceiling echoed the budget horror of classic Who stories, with the device an inspired way of making the Ice Warriors feel scary again.
Hungry Like the Wolf
Unfortunately the rest of the cast in this week's episode were given nowhere near the same level of development. Game of Thrones fans would have enjoyed seeing Liam Cunningham (aka Davos Seaworth) looking as stern as ever as submarine captain Commander Zhukov, but he spent much of the episode acting confused as to what was going on.
Watching David Warner as a new romantic loving soviet professor was a treat, but his musings with Clara felt more like filler between the moments of action than anything that really added to the story.
The cold war setting does lend itself to an interesting look at 80s American-Soviet tensions and the idea of mutually assured destruction even if those born after the fall of the Berlin Wall might struggle to see the significance.
But having the Ice Warrior on board used as a symbol of the cold war served as a great too for Clara to see the lengths the Doctor will go to protect the planet. It also gave the new companion a chance to shine alongside the Time Lord, and to prove that despite not being a soldier she can be just as fierce.
Mutually Assured Destruction
Whilst I felt Clara's mothering role towards Merry last week was an unoriginal take on a companion, here we get to see her courage in helping the Doctor. Appearing genuinely scared by the Ice Warriors and admitting to the professor that after seeing the dead bodies, "It's all got very real", she still has the temerity to help the Doctor and convince Skaldak to not detonate the warheads at the end.
After her words persuade The Ice Warrior to save Earth, she realises what journeying with the Time Lord means. As she says to the Doctor, "Saving the world then, that's what we do".
Whether the Ice Warriors will return remains to be seen, but after proving that the villains can still be scary for a new audience Gatiss deserves a shot at writing an episode with a whole army of the ruthless reptiles. The horror was high and setting sublime, it's just a shame that in the claustrophobic corridors of the submarine the other characters weren't given as much time to breathe.