Doctor Who: The Ice Warriors DVD Review: A Classic

Frightening, hissing Martians break out of the ice.
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Whether you are a new fan of Doctor Who, or have been watching the show since its debut in November 1963, you are probably aware of the BBC’s notorious “wiping” policy, which erased a huge number of episodes. The majority of the episodes that were wiped were from the first years of the series, in the ‘60s. William Hartnell portrayed the First Doctor from 1963-1966, and Patrick Troughton was the Second Doctor from 1966-1969.

Thanks to the amazing efforts of fans all over the world, a great deal of the missing episodes have been found, but not all of them. As it stands today, it is the Troughton years that have the most missing episodes.

With that in mind, the release of the Second Doctor serial The Ice Warriors as a two-DVD set is a real treat. The six-part story is missing the second and third episodes, but through the magic of animation, they have been reconstructed to present the full story. I imagine that in some quarters, the idea of completing these lost serials via animation is nothing short of blasphemy.

I applaud the BBC’s decision though, as this admittedly imperfect solution does work, in its own way. I also think that the animation team did a much better job with The Ice Warriors than the ones who did with the only other “reanimated” Doctor Who serial I have seen, The Reign of Terror.

The Ice Warriors holds a special place in Doctor Who lore as the producers set out to create a villain strong enough to defeat the Daleks and the Cybermen. They were looking for some seriously evil foes, and they succeeded. The Ice Warriors are scary dudes, without question.

The serial originally aired from November 11 to December 16, 1967. The TARDIS has landed on Earth sometime in the near future, with the Doctor and his companions Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines) and Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling). The planet is facing a new Ice Age, and a team of scientists are in a facility attempting to keep the growing glaciers at bay.

A major component of this is in melting them, which has the unforeseen effect of thawing out some very bad guys, who had been frozen during the first Ice Age. These are the Ice Warriors, who are actually Martians that had been sent to take over the planet at the time of the first Ice Age, which apparently froze them in place.

As is often the case, the Doctor has to battle small-minded humans in charge, and in this case it is the leader of the group, Clent (Peter Barkworth). Clent believes that his computers have all of the answers, and will not listen to the Doctor’s advice. Nothing new there. With a six-episode serial, there are plenty of cliff-hanging adventures, and most of them involve the somewhat reptilian-appearing Martians.

I will be the first to admit that some of the creatures in the older Doctor Who serials are not very fearsome, in fact a lot of them have an almost camp appeal. These Martians are truly frightening, not only their look, but in the way they talk. They did not catch on quite the way the Daleks or Cybermen did, but they certainly had the potential to.

Like all BBC programming at the time, The Ice Warriors is in black and white. And for this serial, I believe that it works best. As I have mentioned, these Martians are monstrous-looking creatures, and I think that they would have been less so in color. It is their voices that really get to you though, the way they hiss is incredibly creepy. That the Doctor finds his way out of the situation and saves the world is a foregone conclusion, but The Ice Warriors is a great serial all the way through.

Of course there is the animation, and that is something that could understandably be a huge stumbling block for people. Specifically, it is the second and third episodes that are animated. In the DVD extra feature “Beneath the Ice” (10 minutes), producers Chris Chapman and Niel Bushnell, along with animation director Chris Chatterton discuss the challenges they faced.

One of these, which I had not really considered before, was of how to present the animated versions of the episodes as if they were done at the time. One challenge was in re-creating the somewhat low-budget atmosphere of the existing four live-action chapters. The overriding goal was to remain true to the serial as a whole, and in this regard, I believe they succeeded.

The second DVD of this two-disc set is devoted to bonus materials, and besides “Beneath the Ice,” there are some very intriguing segments. As is standard in these sets, there is a making-of piece, in this case it is titled “Cold Fusion” (24 minutes). The bulk of the piece deals with the various sets that were used to create the ice-world, especially the huge ice-cave sets made of Styrofoam. I found the most interesting part of “Cold Fusion” to be when Deborah Watling explains that the Martians where intended to be the next great Doctor Who villains.

This theme is expanded even further with a couple of excerpts from a BBC children’s program of the time titled Blue Peter. The 10-minute “Blue Peter Design-A-Monster” features hosts Valerie Singleton, John Noakes, and Peter Purves announcing a contest to create “A monster deadly enough to beat the Daleks.”

The announcement is made, then there is the follow-up, featuring the three winning entries. The BBC actually made working versions of the three winners, with a 13-year-old’s “Aquaman” turning out to look a lot like what eventually became the Martians of The Ice Warriors. You gotta hand it to those in charge of these extras for finding such a cool thing to add to the set.

It is clear that The Ice Warriors has always had a huge following among fans, as it was released on VHS in 1998, with 15 minutes of “links” used to fill viewers in on what happened in the missing episodes. This is the subject of the imaginatively titled “VHS Links from the 1998 BBC Video Release" (19 minutes).

The piece includes the original introduction by Deborah Watling and Frazer Hines, who both look, well…15 years younger than they do today. It seems that the audio of The Ice Warriors somehow survived, because it is obviously being used along with still shots to explain the basic plots of the two missing episodes.

The final major extra is “Doctor Who Stories - Frazer Hines (Part Two),” which is a 13-minute piece recorded in 2003. In it, Hines talks about things that went on during his time on the show. One of his favorite memories is of how he and Bev Bevan of the English band The Move resembled each other. Apparently they would even sign each others autographs as a lark. Another Hines musical adventure was when he recorded a pop song, which promptly went nowhere.

The animators went so far as to reproduce the trailer for The Ice Warriors, which again utilizes the original audio. It is long for something like this, at about a minute and a half. A four-minute photo gallery, PDF materials, and various commentaries (including the animated episodes) round out the extras.

The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who is just around the corner, and I imagine that there are all sorts of tributes and articles going on in England that I will never see. It’s a shame, but the best way to celebrate the show is to watch the great serials themselves. The Ice Warriors is a classic in this regard, and recommended.

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