The Cold War
New Who, Series 7
Mark Gatiss fizzles, Jenna-Louise Coleman sizzles in ...
The Cold War
|Clara meets death. Screenshot, The Cold War. Doctor Who copyright © BBC 2013.|
Set aboard a Soviet Submarine somewhere under the Arctic ice-cap during the 1980s, "The Cold War" sits painfully on that very thin line between perfectly adequate and laughably awful. Which rates this episode as a solid B-minus in the Moffat era (cough — pirates, anyone? — cough).
On first viewing, Mark Gatiss' story shamelessly cribs from any number of monster and spy movies, but the narrative moves along at a good clip, with director Douglas Mackinnon lending a competent hand behind the camera. But on second look ...
It seems almost a requirement of Moffat-era Who that the stories make no sense. "The Cold War" is no exception; its narrative crumbles in the face of logic as easily as the Berlin Wall seemed to far-off observers to breach in the face of popular protests in 1990.
The idiot-plot starts right at the beginning, with a cheat. Amid tense music, we see a Soviet submarine Captain give the order to launch his boat's nuclear missiles — and World War Three. Only — phew! — it's just a drill!
Which we learn through the sudden arrival of an unkempt and absent-minded professor, who wanders onto the bridge wearing a Sony Walkman and singing along with a pop tune from the era. (Does a submarine have a bridge? Dunno. Better we should ask: does a nuclear-armed attack submarine usually carry an eccentric and dishevelled science officer among its complement?)
Onwards. After the professor's interruption inexplicably puts an end to the drill, there is an equally inexplicable — and inexplicably heated — debate between the Captain and what I presume is the boat's political officer, which results, er, in the decision to run the drill again tomorrow. Why this is of such (let alone of any) import is a question never answered.
Meanwhile, the TARDIS pops in and the Doctor and Clara pop out. Standard consternation and threats ensue.
And meanwhile, a sailor set to guarding the melting block of ice finds a blow-torch and decides to speed up the process. (Did I mention the block of ice? Like some sort of aquatic Starship Enterprise, our scientist-ferrying nuclear attack-submarine, is also blessed with the ability to, somehow, cut out huge blocks of ice from the Polar Cap and bring them aboard (presumably via a secret Soviet transporter beam) whenever the eccentric science officer spots what he believes to be a frozen mammoth — even though said ice-cube is in no way mammoth-shaped.) (Did I mention the plot makes no sense?)
Sorry. The urge to snark really is strong. Suffice it to say that "The Cold War" is a dumb story, if not without its charms. Long time fans while surely cheer the return of the Ice Warriors, small children will find reasons to hide behind their sofas, and gents (and ladies of the Saphic persuasion) will marvel at Clara, splendid in naval epaulets.
And speaking of Clara, this reviewer will at last be able to come to the point, the most note-worthy aspect of the episode, Jenna-Louise Coleman herself. Not because she looks good in naval blue, but because she is proving to be one hell of an actor.
|Jenna-Louise Coleman shows, Mark Gatiss tells. Video excerpt from Doctor Who Series Seven episode #8, "The Cold War." Doctor Who copyright © 2013 by BBC. The excerpt is a fair use under copyright law.|
Take the scene that starts around the 27:00 minute mark (see video at right). The Ice Warrior has slaughtered — forensically "dismantled", the Doctor explains — two of the submarine's sailors, giving Clara her first visceral experience of bloody carnage.
Following an off-stage scream, the Doctor leads Clara and the professor to a cabin in which we are shown only a bloodied arm and hand. Coleman's expression tells us everything else we need to know. Eyes darting, body nearly immobile, Coleman's Clara is a woman in shock, struggling not to break. Watch her sway as the oblivious Doctor brushes past her, and how she stumbles a little, when the professor doubles back to guide her from the gore-filled cabin.
In the next scene the Doctor still doesn't notice that Clara is reeling. "Stay here," he tells her, "don't argue."
"I'm not," Clara replies, reiterating in two words the horror of what she has just witnessed. The scene could have ended there, or with Mackinnon showing her shrug off her fears to carry on.
But Gatiss has to pile on exposition, making redundant Coleman's performance. "Clara," the professor asks her, "what is it?"
What IS it? the viewer wants to scream. Have you forgotten the "dismantled" corpses in the next room! You dumb shit! What do you mean, 'What is it?'
Coleman struggles nobly with the idiocy, but the inanity of the ensuing dialogue shows all you need to know about the flaws in this story, and of the level of story-telling craft demanded by show-runner Steven Moffat.
At this point, Jenna-Louise Coleman is the best thing about the program. Since Clara has already been set up as a Mystery, we are almost guaranteed that we will never get the chance to know who Coleman's character is as a person. Or at least not this series. At best, we can only hope that at least Neil Gaiman's episode, "Nightmare In Silver", will give her one script worthy of her talents.
Post-scriptum: The accompanying video is the first I've "created" myself, rather than yoinking it from someone else's Youtube account. However, presumably because I didn't try to disguise its provenance, it was flagged for review for copyright violation by Youtube the moment I posted it.
I've disputed the claim on the basis of fair use, but who knows how that will play out; if it stops working, please use the contact form to let me know. If necessary, I'll host it here on Rex and let the Beeb argue with me directly if they will.