This weekend’s Doctor Who brought another Classic Who villain back from the past, updating their design and reminding us again of just how many enemies The Doctor really has. “Cold War” was written by Mark Gattis, a huge and longtime fan of the series, and while it’s not a love letter like “The Doctor’s Wife,” it’s littered with homages to the era of Classic Who. Particularly those years of the Second through Fourth Doctors and adventures with U.N.I.T. The U.N.-British, alien task force doesn’t make an appearance, their role is filled by the crew of Soviet submarine damaged and sunken, but The Doctor and soldiers get on just as “well” as ever. Leading the crew is Captain Zhukov as played by Game of Thrones’ Liam Cunningham. He’s stern but fair and is basically fulfilling the role of the Brigadier in this sort of U.N.I.T.-era adventure. And I guess once a sea captain, always a sea captain. Then there’s Professor Grisenko played by David Warner because, duh, it’s David Warner. I wouldn’t have ever thought to cast Warner as an eccentric, 80s pop loving, Soviet scientist – and I’m not sure Doctor Who would have either – but when given the opportunity, jumped at it, and rightly so because his character is a definite highlight of the episode. These two give some of the best guest performances of the show to date.
The setting of a sunken submarine is perfect for this story as everything about it heightens the tension. The claustrophobic atmosphere, the dampness, long, dark, foreboding corridors; it’s all very uninviting and from the minute The Doctor and Clara arrive – in true Who fashion, completely unexpected and with the intention of arriving somewhere else – you immediately want to leave. Unfortunately, they can’t. Once the sub begins sinking the TARDIS disappears due to new safety protocols The Doctor has initiated, essentially stranding them. This is one of a few things that happen throughout “Cold War” for no other reason than the story needs it to happen, and it’s one of my few gripes about the episode. Had the TARDIS still been around the fear of both the submarine’s rapidly increasing level of water and decreasing level of oxygen, plus the reawakened Ice Warrior wouldn’t have been nearly as threatening. But I can kind of forgive such moments, too, because in a way this is what Classic Who was all about. It didn’t always make the most logical sense why The Doctor got himself into such situations, we just want to see how he gets out of them.