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Caves And Twins: Cold War

Not much to say about this. It was OK. But is stuff like Cold War really significantly better than an episode virtually anyone with a modicum of talent could manage? Gatiss is very talented, but you wouldn’t really know it from the majority of his Doctor Who work, either on television or novels.

The fact that Cold War has been heralded with comments acclaiming Gatiss’ best ever work for Who say it all. For me, The Unquiet Dead is far and away his best effort. It’s eerie, funny, frightening and probably the best example of the ‘celebrity historicals’ if you don’t count Vincent And The Doctor.

Cold War was a decent-enough runabout with sufficient cribs from superior material to see it through. It also managed to inject some threat into the show, which has been sorely lacking of late. A few directorial flourishes and some deaths that are played for scares, rather than mawk, mean that Cold War actually came close to remembering that Doctor Who is frequently at its best – and certainly working best for kids – when it’s frightening.

That Moffat has clearly forgotten this, in his mission to resolve everything bloody thing in Doctor Who with the power of love, has been the biggest problem in his run of as showrunner.

Ultimately Cold War merely has the seeds of a good story, before abandoning it in favour of another talky ending that doesn’t convince and, inevitably, we have to have a load of bumph about how the Ice Warriors are ‘noble and ancient’ and all that jazz.

While seeing David Warner in action was nice too, it was a shame he was saddled with a ridiculous gimmick that was an attempted shortcut to ‘characterisation’. In a wholly unbelievably spot of crass affectation, Warner’s character loved New Romatic music and managed to crowbar in some shite references to his love of Ultravox and Duran Duran into moments that would have led to his sectioning and removal to a northern gulag. And quite right too.

The moment Warner’s character appears to go mad and insist on knowing what happens in the future, only to reveal that he simply wants to know when Ultravox split up, is one of the most ineptly judged moments I’ve ever seen on television.

IceWarrior

Elsewhere the episode sees some of the worst CGI seen in the rejuvenated Doctor Who and some plot clunkers – why wear armour if you’re more of a threat out of it, can exist easily outside of it and break free at will? What’s more, it’s become apparent over Season 7 that Matt Smith has simply lost his character.

Whereas Smith seemed to ride a fine line between NuWho-patented wackiness that seems to pass for Doctorish eccentricity these days and some more considered moments, he’s slipped almost totally into parody now, his Eleventh Doctor now pitched somewhere between fictional character, the odd public persona that’s rolled out when he’s talking to kids or appearing on Children In Need and, basically, Matt Smith. Smith is constantly braking kitschy cathphrases in the same way that Tennant did – all Come On Big Boys! and Hello Yous! What’s more he’s started to do it in a phony cockernee accent, just like Tennant did.

It robs the series of any dramatic tension as it’s almost functioning on some sort of meta level these days. The Doctor, when he’s not waving his Sonic Cock Screwdriver around, always seems to know that the camera is on him – why else would he keep burbling on about the show’s title? – and there’s always an air of silliness whenever the Doctor’s on-screen that sucks all dramatic tension out of the action.

This season has seen the show appear to be extremely pleased with itself – winks to the camera, storytelling that seems to be veering towards meta-fiction and an inclination to nonsensical conclusions that appear somewhere between laziness and smugness. People might burble on about hyper-compressed storytelling, but really I suspect the reality is that deadlines and block are the reason behind such hypercompressing rather than anything more elaborate.

In Cold War, Warner’s characterisation in Cold War was straight out of that playbook, but at least some behind-the-sofa moments put the show back in touch with one of its defining traits.

The fact that Gatiss’ latest – the Gatisst? – was welcomed with such relief does not, to me, indicate that it was particularly good. It shows up the paucity of quality, imagination and coherent storytelling that has defined Doctor Who since the end of Season 5. Cold War? Cold comfort.

Caves

I’m glad they kept the Ice Warrior design largely intact, following the disasters of the redesigned Daleks, Cybermen and Silurians.

Some moments that attempted to be eerie and dramatic were welcome. The tentacles-around-the-head was particularly effective.

Twins

Cold War has some of the worst CGI I’ve seen on television in recent years, up to the standard of those Sci-Fy channel Mega-Piranha Versus Giant Beaver-style films.

David Warner had some nice moments but his character was a total fiction; utterly unbelievable even within the confines of the Doctor Who universe. When suspension of disbelief is impossible it’s hard to invest anything in the series.

Matt Smith has been on a downward curve for a while. I think he’s a good actor but, like Tennant, his Doctor has become a parody of itself.

Clara doesn’t always convince here – her final speech just doesn’t ring true. So far she’s a combination of classic Moffat tropes. Sassy, wise-cracking, flirtatious, fast-talking. Thus far there’s not much flesh on the bones, despite what we’re constantly told by the narrative.

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