“It never rains, but it pours”
I used to have a theory, until Harrison Ford came and sullied things slightly. And it was this: there’s no such thing as a bad film set on a submarine. Even Down Periscope, the Kelsey Grammer-headlined spoof of sorts, worked better than it felt it should have done. I never got far enough past Harrison Ford’s Russian accent in K-19: The Widowmaker to call it either way though.
Following the divisive The Rings Of Akhaten, then, this week’s Doctor Who heads underwater. It’s toned down the singing (although not entirely, but it’s not what you think), and headed to colder comforts. And while it’s not a spectacular episode, Cold War does little to sully my academically non-proven theory.
Thus, the pre-credits sequence features a nuclear submarine, about to launch a world-ending missile, with only a bit of 80s music preventing the end of the planet as we know it. It’s a Russian sub we learn (with the effective, suitably grave Liam Cunningham standing in for Sean Connery), and we’re in the midst of the cold war here. With communications cut off, and stuck several hundred feet under water, all would be just about tolerable, as long as there wasn’t the kind of creature you wouldn’t want to be stuck on a submarine with on board. Ah well.
We get to meet that creature then pre-credits, although we won’t name which returning foe it is, on the very slight off-chance that you’ve missed every single trail and story about the episode thus far. Just to say that it’s been several decades since this particular monster popped up in Doctor Who, and it’s treated with due reverence. There’s a small parallel or two with Rob Shearman’s excellent Dalek, as it’s a force of one that the Doctor, Clara, their new chums and a collection of redshirts must do battle with.
Mark Gatiss, schooled firmly in quality horror movies, knows not to waste his monster, choosing to keep him locked away for a good deal of the episode, and his story does include some interesting sidesteps to keep you on your toes. It’s never hugely creepy, no matter how smoke-filled the corridors may be. And, in truth, this sort of thing has been done better in the past elsewhere. But that doesn’t mean that Cold War isn’t solidly entertaining. It’s happy to tip its hat to a movie or two, it gets across a sense of claustrophobia, and the monster in question is a welcome one.
There’s a lovely Matt Smith moment in Cold War too, when he comes face to face with his foe for the first time. There’s a delicious mix of surprise, awkwardness and nervously trying to stay in control to his reaction. Furthermore, Gatiss’ script isn’t short of a bit of humour, and it’s also another episode that puts Jenna-Louise Coleman’s Clara firmly in the firing line. Rose Tyler parallels, interestingly, continue to be present. Although that may yet just be us over-speculating. Let’s face it, it wouldn’t be the first time. We’ll explore these parallels more in the spoiler-filled review we’ll have live on Saturday night.
Cold War is likely to be more popular than last week’s The Rings Of Akhaten, although I’d argue it’s also a little less ambitious too, albeit with some nice touches for fans of the earlier shows. It’s a good, enjoyable piece of Doctor Who, though, and crucially, it keeps the law of submarines on screen firmly in tact.
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