Doctor Who: A Copy of a Copy of a Copy
In general I am a big fan of Mark Gatiss's writing. I'm actually reading his Second Doctor novel The Roundheads now. It's very likely that when Steven Moffat hangs up his hat as showrunner, it's Gatiss who will step forward as the heir apparent. That's a good thing, but I can say in all honesty that "Cold War" is not his best work.
The episode has received a lot of attention as the return of the Ice Warriors, a race of Martians that The Doctor has a fairly strange relationship with. Frankly, the focus on this half of the season in returning old villains is starting to feel just a wee bit pointless. We still have the Zygons to look forward to, and we've seen the Great Intelligence return as presumably this season's Big Bad. Nonetheless, it sort of smacks of being out of ideas.
We open in 1983 on a Soviet nuclear submarine full of Russians who inexplicably speak in British accents. If that sounds a lot like how Sean Connery couldn't be assed to attempt a Russian accent in The Hunt for Red October (published only a year after this story takes place), well, don't worry, the similarities don't end there.
Captain Zhukov (Liam Cunningham) is returning the sub after a drilling mission at the North Pole, where they have found a frozen creature later revealed to be a famous Ice Warrior known for his ferocity, Grand Marshal Skaldak. A crew member thaws it out, after which Skaldak hunts the crew through the air vents with cattle prods.
Wait, isn't that the plot of The Thing and/or Alien? Yes. Yes it is. I'm also convinced that the hissing, clicking noise that signifies Skaldak on the hunt is the exact same sound effect used for the Predator. So within the first half of the episode, it's little more than a sloppy combination of four other highly successful movies with The Doctor and a classic villain thrown in as if to try and remind you that Doctor Who came first.
Which is true, and I am not for a single second denouncing the influence Doctor Who has had on the world of science fiction. That said, the show rarely benefits from aping other franchises, and "Cold War" is no exception.
The Doctor is actually pretty useless in the episode, losing the sonic screwdriver early on, losing the TARDIS, allowing Clara to almost drown, barely able to keep from being shot, and outflanked at literally every corner by Skaldak. Coming off one of the greatest moments of the whole show in "The Rings of Akhenaten," it feels like a strangely weak performance.
Clara isn't much better, as the offness of her existence still seems to be hampering the flow of the action. Her performances in "Asylum of the Daleks" and "The Snowmen" marked her as possibly one of the best companions ever, yet her time as a full-time TARDIS crew member is full of awkward pauses that are supposed to convey mystery but come across as just...nothing much.