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“Computer Says No”. Doctor Who and the Original Ice Warriors

January 23, 2016


The Tardis crew had a very cold time of it in the latter part of 1967.  A six part adventure set in the Himalayas was succeeded by a six part adventure set during the onset of a new Ice Age.

Sometimes you wonder whether the human race really deserves to survive.  At some point in “the future” we learn that humanity has decided to get rid of nearly all plant life on earth to make room for extra living quarters.  As a consequence, guess what, the loss of photosynthesis has resulted in sudden devastating climate change – in fact – another impending ice age.

So this is a time to wrap up very warm indeed- or so you’d think.  The episodes of this adventure are strangely and evocatively numbered with great glacier shaped digits looming up against an frozen wilderness as soon as each set of credits has played.

A scientific base is trying, in concert with others at the same latitude scattered around the world, to hold back the glaciers with ionizers.  They are suitably attired in op-art costumes.  The women are mini-skirted and look more suited to a David Bailey shoot than an arctic expedition, a fact which amused Jamie no end but offends Victoria, whose sartorial standards are more, well, Victorian.

Victoria is, incidentally, even screamier than usual for this adventure  – and seeing as the whole story is set in an avalanche zone, the screamyness is even more inconvenient.

The Ice Warriors themselves are led by Varga – a giant inhabited by giant actor Bernard Bresslaw – famous as “likable not very bright enormous friend of Sid James” in successive Carry On films.  The warriors are very heavy on ssssssibilantsssss in conversation, which makes them almost as slow as the stupid humans when it comes to formulating a plan.  Sometimesssss you  think Hell will freeze over before Varga and hissssss team hit upon a sssssscheme to sssssssave themssssselvesssss.

There are some fine guest performances in this one.  Note Angus Lennie, who would also appear in a stereotypically Scottish capacity in Terror of the Zygons and who is most famous for being best pals with Steve McQueen in The Great Escape – you know – the little guy who goes crazy when one of the tunnels is discovered and hurls himself at the wire – perishing in a hail of machine gun bullets.  Lennie plays a scavenger called Storr, a man whose hatred for all things scientific leads him to think he can cut a better deal with the Ice Warriors than with his fellow humans at the science base.

And then there’s the redoubtable Peter Barkworth – who can always be relied upon to realise  the perfect less than inspiring authority figure – a consummate Stanley Baldwin.  As Leader Clent, Barkworth is the embodiment of querulous impotence – hamstrung by his computer dependency – he will allow everyone around him to perish before he dares make a decision of any kind.  And what Brian Hayles manages to dramatise in this six parter is the truth that far scarier than the Ice Warriors is the prospect of a world in which deference to computerised logic has deprived much of humanity of the will to live.

The standout performance is, however, Peter Sallis as Penley.  Long before Last of the Summer Wine or Wallace and Gromit, Sallis shines as an sardonic and embittered scientist who has turned his back on a witless technocracy that seems to have abandoned creative thinking and is suffering fairly predictable consequences.  He and Storr are “offgrid”.  The slow redemption of the not particularly brave and not particularly noble Penley represents the real heart of this adventure.  Indeed, it is Penley who first thinks up the blindingly obvious way of fighting Ice Warriors – just turn up the thermostat.  Indeed turning up the heat on Ice Warriors became such a recurringly successful strategy, that it’s a wonder that our Martian neighbours never organised themselves to secure the heating systems before they ever tried to take over anything else.  They’re as foolish as the Wicked Witch of the West, leaving buckets of water around.

This is not really a story about the Doctor defeating Ice Warriors but rather Penley defeating Clent.


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