'THE ICE WARRIORS' DVD (BBCDVD3558) RELEASED IN AUGUST 2013.
IN THE DISTANT FUTURE, EARTH FACES A NEW ICE AGE. WHILE A DEDICATED TEAM OF SCIENTISTS BATTLE TO HOLD THE APPROACHING GLACIERS AT BAY, A STARTLING DISCOVERY IS MADE DEEP WITHIN THE ICE... AN ALIEN WARRIOR, FROZEN FOR MILLENNIA. WHEN THE DOCTOR, JAMIE AND VICTORIA ARRIVE THEY SOON DISCOVER EARTH IS UNDER THREAT FROM THE ICE WARRIORS - FEARSOME MARTIANS INTENT ON CONQUERING OUR PLANET FOR THEMSELVES...
THE ORIGINAL LIVE ACTION VERSIONS OF "TWO" AND "THREE" ARE BOTH MISSING, BUT THE BBC DVD RELEASE CONTAINS ANIMATED REPLACEMENTS THAT UTILISE THE SURVIVING OFF-AIR SOUNDTRACKS.
The Ice Warriors
11TH NOVEMBER 1967 - 16TH DECEMBER 1967
The Ice Warriors has always had a certain ‘end of the line’ feel for me. I didn’t get to see its four surviving episodes until 2006, when I finally tracked down a copy of the VHS box set through eBay, making them the last classic episodes that I ever saw (save for subsequent discoveries). Now this feeling has been compounded by the serial’s DVD release, which finally ensures that every surviving Doctor Who story is available to buy in the medium, leaving only animated reconstructions; affordable reissues; exhaustive special editions; and a lone Troughton treasure to keep the range alive. But The Ice Warriors is anything but the last of the summer wine, and its long-overdue release on DVD is not a reflection of the esteem that it’s generally held in, but the extraordinary efforts employed in making its long-anticipated arrival as satisfying as possible.
Whilst four of The Ice Warriors’ six episodes were found in 1988 when the Beeb stumbled across them when clearing a building due for refurbishment, sadly “TWO” and “THREE” remain absent from the BBC archives. When the story was put out on VHS in 1998, the Restoration Team bridged the gap in the narrative with fifteen minutes’ worth of imaginative linking material that they’d cobbled together using off-air soundtrack recordings and John Cura’s telesnaps, which worked the “interruption of service” into the story’s fiction. These inspired links still form part of the DVD release, but henceforth they’re only likely to be watched as an interesting curio, as like The Invasion; The Reign of Terror; and The Tenth Planet before it, The Ice Warriors’ missing episodes have now been recreated in stunning monochrome CGI, allowing viewers to watch the entire six-part serial (and, indeed, its original ninety-second trailer) for the first time in almost fifty years.
Above: Qurios Entertainment's Niel Bushnell takes us Beneath the Ice
This time around, the task of animating the missing episodes was outsourced to Qurios Entertainment, whose animation differs from both the highly-stylised art of The Invasion and vivid detail of The Reign of Terror. Fortunately the end result is no less pleasing, possessing a convulsive charm that feels perfectly suited to the cold and clumsy warriors. The second disc’s eleven-minute featurette, Beneath the Ice, melts away little of the mystery surrounding the techniques used by Niel Bushnell’s team. I was fascinated to learn of how they’d divined the shots in lieu of a camera script, for instance, or assigned unseen actions to sounds, not to mention how the non-Who fans in the contingent had coped with total immersion in the minutiae of just two antique episodes for months on end.
The set also includes a twenty-five-minute documentary, Cold Fusion, that looks back at the making of The Ice Warriors the first time around in 1967. Enlivened by ever-affable companions Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling, and of course wrestler-turned-Ice-Warrior Sonny Caldinez, this programme covers everything from the merits of casting a silver-screen superstar (and then hiding his face!) to the practicalities of working with bears on set. Bernard Bresslaw is represented in the piece by his son, James, who recalls his late father’s memories of the production, including his decision to play the first Ice Warrior with that now-notorious rasping lilt.
Above: Frazer Hines undergoes Cold Fusion
Hines is also on hand to share some of his Doctor Who Stories in the second part of his interview recorded for BBC One’s fortieth anniversary documentary, The Story of Doctor Who. Be it by accident or design, many of the topics that he covers in these fourteen minutes are the same ones that he discusses more animatedly elsewhere on this release, making this programme feel a little stilted by comparison. This more universal feature is thus probably best saved for a rainy day, rather than appreciated alongside the rest of the bonus material immediately upon purchase. The Blue Peter “Design-a-Monster” excerpts are probably best saved indefinately, unless you’re still clinging proudly to your decades-old Blue Peter badge, though completists will appreciate the clips’ inclusion in any event.
The finest feature on offer is, surprisingly, the serial’s commentary. The contributors on the surviving episodes cover much of the same ground that they do in Cold Fusion, but here it’s presented amidst friendly banter, which includes Hines’ allegedly-innocent surfeit of double entendres and Watling being accused of once playing footsie under a table in the presence of her oblivious father. However, it’s on the animated episodes where the commentary really comes into its own. Taking its lead from the experimental soundtracks found on The Reign of Terror’s reconstructed episodes, the second episode sees Toby Hadoke present a collection of rare material concerning those not able to participate in the commentary, including the story’s late writer, Brian Hayles; deceased actors Bernard Bresslaw and Roger Jones; and director Derek Martinez. As if Hadoke hadn’t earned enough of my respect with his dogged insistence on referring to the year 2006 as “twenty-o-six”, here he really goes for gold with his presentation, which fuses archive interviews with actors playing interviewees and even his own delivery of lengthier memoirs’ key points. He even paid the actress who played the short-skirted Miss Garrett a visit and had her stuff him with cakes, all the while probing her for reminiscences, which include a particularly interesting anecdote about Bresslaw’s layered characterisation in rehearsal, which was of course put paid to by the fibreglass suit that he was bolted into on set.
Above: Resurrection of The Ice Warriors' missing episodes
The commentary for the third episode is even more fascinating as Patrick Troughton’s lesser-known son, Michael, joins Hadoke to discuss Troughton the man, as opposed to Troughton the Doctor - a topic that I had precious little knowledge of prior to listening to this. I’m not normally one drawn in by the cult of celebrity, but I’ll certainly be looking out for Patrick Troughton: The Biography of the Second Doctor Who, as well as keeping my fingers crossed that a documentary on the man’s life (ideally in the mould of the recent Jon Pertwee piece, A Dandy and a Clown) will show up on a future part-animated or special edition release.
As for The Ice Warriors itself, Hayles’ story is based upon an enchanting idea that puts a brand new spin on the done-to-death Martian cliché. Inspired by a news report about a woolly mammoth found preserved in a Russian glacier at the turn of the last century, Bryan Hayles set his serial in the far future where - thanks to humanity’s ingenious idea of doing away with most plant life - the excess carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere has blocked out the sun and caused a second ice age. A team of scientists, charged with halting the flow of a dangerous glacier, find a Martian entombed in the ice - and then, rather stupidly, set him free.
I can’t fault the unsettling juxtaposition of ancient and alien, or for that matter the creative realisation of the Martian by either actors or costumiers. Even the pressure-cooker base under siege is prototypical Troughton, and the performances of the ever-inventive regulars, not to mention an abnormally sinister-looking (but actually quite amiable) Peter Sallis and a beguiling Angus Lennie (a Zygon in waiting), are invariably superb. Yet The Ice Warriors has never really done it for me; for the most part I find it slow and repetitive, and over-reliant on the trite despite its shattering of the commonly-held “little green Martian” stereotype. No matter how much I might want it to, this one just can’t grab me with its frosty pincers.
My own views on the serial notwithstanding, this release is sure to satisfy those who look upon it with great fondness and have been lobbying for its completion ever since Cosgrove Hall changed the landscape of lost Who by returning The Invasion to its former glory. But even those who share my views on The Ice Warriors still have plenty to enjoy here, as the fascinating special features on offer easily make up the shortfall in main-feature excitement.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2009, 2013
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