The Return of the Martians

Doctor Who returns to BBC1 and, I assume, SyFy and Space on Saturday, March 30, with The Bells of St. John, written by Steven Moffat. This will be the first of an eight episode run, followed by a 60 minute anniversary special in November, and a Christmas special at the end of the year.

The trailer below has officially been released by the BBC. You may want to look away if you want to avoid every last possible element of spoiler-hood. And I'll type up my thoughts on one aspect of this trailer after the break.

As this trailer confirms, one of the "monsters" returning this season is none other than the Ice Warriors. Rumours have abounded, been confirmed, and there have been publicity shots. The trailer above is the first bit of video of the new monsters in action.

I believe the last time we saw the Ice Warriors was in the Jon Pertwee episode The Monster of Peladon. That was in 1974. As gaps between episodes go, the Ice Warriors don't hold the record (that would be the Macra, which appeared in Patrick Troughton's The Macra Terror in 1966 and again in Gridlock in 2007, a gap of 41 years), but it's close. However, it's safe to say that fans of the original series probably drew a breath of anticipation to see that the Ice Warriors returning -- a breath that became a gasp when they saw how well the new design both pays homage to the original series design and looks darn cool in this day and age.

new-ice-warriors.jpegI share this anticipation, but have a bit of trepediation, as I'm a little worried over how the Ice Warriors will be treated. They're not the best known of the classic series monsters (they take a back seat to the Daleks and the Cybermen for sure), but the original series ones did develop a subtlety that other monsters did not have. To whit: when it came right down to it, they weren't monsters.

According to the Doctor Who canon, the Ice Warriors were Martians. Their civilization peaked millions of years ago when the Martian climate took a turn for the worse. We first saw them in the Patrick Troughton episode entitled The Ice Warriors. The story is set on Earth a few hundred years into the future, as human civilization struggles to hold back advancing glaciers and the dawn of a new ice age. Attempts to melt the ice uncovers an ancient Martian spaceship and wakes the crew who are in suspended animation. Realizing that Mars is dead, this crew of Ice Warriors decides that an ice age Earth is just the thing they need, and they strike out against the humans attempting to hold back the glaciers and claim the world for their own.

When the Ice Warriors reappeared in The Seeds of Death, they followed the same formula, trying to change Earth's climate for the colder so that they could claim the world for their own. This episode is notable for having some of the only references to Canadian cities (Ottawa and Toronto) in the original Doctor Who canon and for showing that there was more going on underneath the Ice Warriors' scaly exterior. Indeed, their hulking appearance was shown to be stiff armour. Other Ice Warriors were more mobile outside the shell, though we've yet to see anything approaching a naked Ice Warrior.

Where the Ice Warriors really develop as characters is in their third major appearance: the Jon Pertwee story The Curse of Peladon. In this tale, a murder takes place among a bunch of alien delegates gathering to debate whether or not to bring the rising planet of Peladon into the Galactic Federation. When the Doctor stumbles into the midst and assumes the identity of the Earth delegate (who is, in reality, delayed due to shuttle traffic), he immediately suspects the involvement of the Martian delegates, who are all Ice Warriors. It is a great delight to say that he is wrong, in every respect. The Ice Warrior delegation is shown to be loyal members of the Federation, and a key Earth ally. The Doctor wins the respect of Lord Izlyr, and vice versa, and a new chapter is written on this "monster" race.

The Monster of Peladon does put the Ice Warriors back into the role of villains, but the writers were careful to state that these were rogue elements, demanding a return to the old ways, and not indicative of the culture as a whole.

Although the Ice Warriors have had only four stories under their belts (along with a handful of cameo appearances), they have had a significant impact on the history of the program. You can see it in the fact that the revival has sought to bring the Martians back. Indeed, this is the second attempt at a revival, as the Ice Warriors might have put in an appearance in the twenty-third season of the program in 1986, had the season not been cancelled and the show put on hiatus. The New Adventure novels did a lot of work to flesh out the race, making their love of war more like an appreciation of the art of war as seen in the Samurai kingdoms of Japan. But I think this would not have been possible had not author Brian Hayles taken the step of saying that there was more to the Ice Warriors than just invading Earth for kicks.

Once you realize that the desire to invade Earth is not just some sci-fi trope but an actual choice and, more importantly, it's a choice that the Ice Warriors can reverse, you start to ask yourself why they made the choice in the first place. It isn't hard to imagine possible reasons. From the start of the Ice Warriors' entry into canon, it was known that Mars was a long-dead planet, and the Ice Warriors were a civilization without a home. Indeed, Russell T. Davies' The Waters of Mars suggests that this death may have happened suddenly, and due to outside influence.

So, if you are a civilization and your planet is dying out from under you, what do you do? Under these circumstances, why wouldn't you cast your eyes on your closest neighbour, which happens to have a thriving ecosystem? Of course, it's not currently in a condition that will make Ice Warriors comfortable (or even healthy), so what do you do? You try to change it to make it so. And if you end up wiping out a number of species that is already there, well hey, it's either you or them, isn't it?

So, now the Ice Warriors have a motivation to do what they do. They are not wholly evil. They can be reasoned with. However, the big problem -- the elephant in the room, in fact -- is that they've lost the cradle of their civilization, and they're desperate. A great number of them may like to negotiate with you for your planet but, in the end, they need what you got and they need it right now, and if you don't get out of the way, they'll run you over.

And this motivation gives the Ice Warriors a subtlety that the Daleks and the Cybermen don't have. The Cybermen are tragic (they sacrified their humanity in order to save themselves from extinction), and the Daleks are just tanks. The Ice Warriors are people. In cool looking turtle-shell-like armour.

The new series has ably captured and updated the look of the old Ice Warriors. I deeply hope they've captured the nuances of their character as well.

Further Reading

blog comments powered by Disqus