Doctor Who: Cold War


This week, the Doctor and Clara found themselves on a Russian submarine during the Cold War, with a murderous Ice Warrior on the loose. And not much happened.

It's difficult to think of much to say about this episode of Doctor Who, because, well... it was kind of dull. There was so much potential, both from the possible horror of being stuck on an unmoving submarine with a creature who wants to kill you all, and with the Cold War setting. Yet it felt like not a lot happened. Ice monster is released, he threatens people, and then he goes home. The most interesting part was probably the last five minutes, when the Doctor and Clara celebrate and then realize they have to travel to the South Pole to find the TARDIS again. (I assume fanfic versions of this long journey are already cropping up online).

But let's talk about Clara in this episode. Since it aired, I've been seeing GIF sets comparing Clara's declaration that she was going to stay where she was, just as the Doctor told her to, with all of his previous companions refusing to stay behind when asked. It's refreshing to see a companion who doesn't have to have the sassy "I won't listen to you, I want to be involved in everything, even though you're the expert and this is only my second misadventure with you" attitude, but there was something slightly strange about Clara being the only one to ever do this, and for the fact to be highlighted so clearly. Is this another thing about Clara being somehow "special," that she is, in some way, the Doctor's ideal companion? Or is it actually less than ideal, if a character is willing to challenge him in flirty ways, but not in the middle of the action, when the Doctor often needs a humanizing element to keep him in check?

Weirdly, the big Clara scene that I remember didn't involve Clara speaking for herself at all. She was certainly brave, as she went up to the murderous Ice Warrior and tried to reason with it, but she was a conduit for the Doctor in that scene, saying and doing exactly what the Doctor told her to. When the script he feeds her breaks down, she is unable to improvise, and is then left out of the conversation entirely as the Ice Warrior directly addresses her puppeteer. I've been thinking about this since the episode aired, and I still can't figure out whether this bothers me. Companions are guided by the Doctor. He is the expert on aliens and on insane survival plans, and it's often a pretty good idea to listen to what he has to say. Clara has no idea how to approach an Ice Warrior, so she defers to him.  But the result was that Clara didn't really seem to do anything this episode. Correct me if I'm wrong, because my attention started wandering quite early on, but this was the big scene where she became involved in things, and it wasn't really her involvement at all. She's just a tool for the Doctor, and does not think or act for herself.

Clara did add a great human element to the story, as she took the time to talk to and connect with the submarine's crew -- vital if we're actually going to care about their fate. The show could easily have decided to use the Russian crew as other villains who threaten the Doctor and Clara, but all of them seemed reasonable individuals, with determination and morality and quirks of their own. Obviously, this episode was nowhere near a Bechdel pass, but since it was set on a submarine in the 1980s, I think that's understandable. Yet even with a good set of secondary characters and a potentially compelling setting, the whole episode fell flat to me. After the first five minutes, I just lost interest. And that seems like a major failure on the writer, Mark Gatiss's, part. Rumors have tipped him as a potential showrunner after Steven Moffat leaves... the blahness of this episode makes me really hope that isn't true.