April 3: The Ice Warriors Five & Six

So, not the most dramatic cliffhanger resolution ever, as the Doctor just says, "All right!  All right!" and agrees to back down and answer Varga's questions.  But we do get a nice moment right after, as the Doctor enters, sees all the Ice Warriors, and tries to go right back out.

But this is the episode where things start to come together.  Penley returns to the base with an injured Jamie, which means that he can start to have it out with Leader Clent.  "Don't you spit your stupid liberty in my face, Penley," Clent says.  "We know your kind of freedom.  Freedom to run away from responsibilities, from service, from moral judgment.  I may be a physical coward, Penley, but you're a coward in the mind."  "Well at least I have a mind and not a transistorised junction box," Penley replies hotly.  "I would act, but you daren't.  And so you're going to be destroyed along with your mechanical master."  And before that is the scene where Clent decides to wait and puts a brave face on it, making himself busy and talking with the personnel: "Well, what do you feel about all this, Walters?  Bet you didn't think you'd have ice monsters and things like that to deal with when you volunteered for the job, did you?"  "I didn't volunteer," Walters replies, which wrongfoots Clent (rather wonderfully, the way it's played): "Ah, yes.  Well, good man, anyway."

And the Doctor is inside the Ice Warriors' spaceship, and so he can learn about their propulsion system -- as well as learn that the Ice Warriors need fuel for their engines.  Varga seems to believe that they'll find what they need at the base, and the Doctor only agrees because they're holding a gun to Victoria's head.  This means that the Ice Warriors are heading to the base -- but first they're going to fire their sonic cannon at it as a show of force.  The Doctor tries to stop the remaining Ice Warrior with the ammonium sulphide he picked up in episode four.  "Ammonium sulphide?  It's only a stink bomb," Victoria protests.  "Yes, you've had the benefits of a classical education," the Doctor responds drily.  "...Harmless to humans, but to aliens very possibly deadly!"  The stuff does overpower Zondal, but not before he can manage to fire the cannon, despite the Doctor's efforts to stop him.  Well, that's the idea anyway, but it really looks like Patrick Troughton is trying to help Roger Jones find the control while making it look like maybe they're struggling.  He's not terribly successful.

Varga threatens Clent with death while Miss Garrett protests.
(The Ice Warriors Six) ©BBC
But episode six opens with a massive explosion, as the sonic cannon demolishes the records wing of Britannicus Base.  With this show of force, Varga and his fellow Warriors arrive, ready to take the fuel they need from the humans. Clent insists that the base doesn't use the mercury isotopes the Ice Warriors need, but Varga doesn't believe him and forces him to shut down the Ioniser and dismantle the base's reactor so that the Ice Warriors can take its isotopes for fuel.  But the Doctor has rigged up the sonic cannon to fire at a frequency that affects fluids, which therefore has a greater adverse effect on the Ice Warriors, who retreat to their spaceship to plan their next move.  Meanwhile, the Doctor returns to the base and sends Victoria back to the TARDIS (who's off camera at the moment -- apparently she had somewhere to be the evening of recording, so all her crucial scenes were filmed in the afternoon), and then he and Penley both try to convince Clent to use the Ioniser, even though the computer can't come to a decision either way.  Clent and Miss Garrett both refuse to make a decision, so it's up to Penley.  The Ioniser is used, the Ice Warriors' spaceship explodes (though only a minor explosion), and the base is saved from the oncoming glacier.  And then, rather touchingly, Penley allows Clent to keep his dignity: "Clent, will you check these readings with me?" he asks.  "And you've a report to prepare."  And in the aftermath the Doctor and Jamie slip away.

It's not quite as slow as The Abominable Snowmen, but there's still a general feeling of a story being stretched out beyond what might be considered its natural length -- but Brian Hayles chooses to fill these spaces with character moments rather than an excess of circling action: those bits of incident that come right back to where they started when they're over.  It's a real boon for this story, which at its heart is about the conflict between man and machine; the Ice Warriors are there as an additional threat, but they're not really at the heart of this story.  This story is ultimately about the viewpoints of Clent, Penley, and Storr, with the way forward shown as being able to use machines but not to become completely dependent on them.  Granted, this argument isn't always played out in the most subtle of ways, but it's still entertaining to watch.  And then add on that the Ice Warriors themselves, who through Varga (and actor Bernard Bresslaw) are given more specific characteristics than we might otherwise expect.  Thanks to Bresslaw and the other actors inside those fiberglass shells, the Ice Warriors come out as a distinct race, rather than a generic monster.  No wonder they made a return appearance.

(Well, that and the costumes were probably expensive, so they'd likely want to get as much use out of them as possible.38)

38 See Genesis of the Daleks Part Two for the ultimate fate of one of the shells.