“I’m a great believer in free will, I like to take the scenic route”
While the crew of Ares 1, NASAs first manned mission to Mars, investigate an “anomaly” on the surface of Mars, the Doctor and Peri find themselves inside a strange alien building. What is frozen inside the blocks of ice that guard the doorways? And what is the Red Dawn?
Nothing is quite what it seems and the Doctor is about to meet some old adversaries, as well as some new ones…
This is the first story to feature the Fifth Doctor and Peri and it would appear to be quite soon after Planet of Fire as the Doctor is promising to give Peri a tour of an alien world and she is still showing an interest in botany. However, the way Peri talks during the first two episodes gives the impression she has already made at least one other trip in the TARDIS. The two characters are separated quite early on and, although they communicate with each other, don’t actually meet again until the last episode. This gives Peri a lot more to do than in Whispers of Terror and the character comes across very well as a result, especially in Parts Two and Three.
Aside from the Doctor and Peri there are only six main characters in this story, Pilot Roberts doesn’t last long into Part Two and Commander Lee Forbes, although being in all four episodes, really doesn’t do much except stand there and listen to the Doctor and Lord Zzarl. The main characters are Paul and Tanya Webster, a bio-weapons developer who wants to steal Ice Warrior technology for his own purposes, his teenage ‘sister’ who is actually a clone with Ice Warrior DNA and the two Ice Warriors themselves, Lord Zzarl and his adjutant Sstast.
Paul is the villain of the story and is revealed as such in Part Two; in the first half I get the impression that he’s supposed to be quite cool and calculating, but he just sounds bored or half asleep. It’s not until the second half of the story, when he becomes desperate and panicky, that he becomes at all interesting. Tanya, on the other hand is supposed to be likeable from the start and remain so all the way through, and that’s what we get. Georgia Moffat plays the character well and is easily the best of the Human characters.
That’s the Humans out of the way, what about the Ice Warriors? I love the Ice Warriors, I always have – although I prefer the evil, Troughton era to the peaceful, Pertwee era. Having said that, all the books that came after portrayed them as the latter, a noble, honour loving race (presumably because it offered a richer history to explore) and they did it well. This story follows in the same vein. Indeed, Lord Zzarl – very well played by Matthew Brenher – is as noble and honourable as they come; caught between trying to protect his people from the Humans and trying to help the Humans despite the cost to his own people. He is a likeable character and a well portrayed Ice Warrior. It’s just a shame that they don’t put enough of an effect on his voice; he doesn’t sound anywhere near as raspy as his three television predecessors.
Sstast is Lord Zzaal’s adjutant – a normal warrior as opposed to a Lord – and has much more of a character than any of his kind portrayed on television, there they were just lackeys to the Lords; here, Sstast is intelligent and capable of tactics and leading others and, by the end, is also quite likeable. His voice is fine.
The story itself is a simple one that feels like it belongs in the Patrick Troughton era and that’s no bad thing; the audio format offers so much more scope for the stories than a television budget can allow, but that doesn’t mean you have to cram a massive cast and elaborate plot in there. Sometimes a slower, simpler story can be just as effective (although, at 86 minutes – with one over-long re-cap – this is quite short and could actually have done with being a little bit longer). There is a nice attempt at realism with the NASA crew at the beginning and the inclusion of the Brookings Report, and I actually found the shuttle re-entry scene quite tense.
There are a few flaws with this one though that really should have been dealt with; the first two cliff hangers go on for a few seconds too long after the point where the theme should kick in (you get an ambiguous sound effect instead). Zzarl tells Sstast that there’s more to honour than just winning or being right or blowing the bejesus out of everything so many times it feels preachy. The villain is too half-hearted and the music is absolutely awful – There’s one cue in Part Three that reminds me of The Seeds of Death but the rest of the music throughout the story is utterly inappropriate to the style and atmosphere and far too intrusive; halfway through Part One and I was getting angry every time I heard it.
A good story (maybe a little too basic) let down by some poor production decisions. A bit longer and with more care taken on the details, this would’ve been really good.
The Doctor: Peter Davison | Peri: Nicola Bryant
With: Matthew Brenher (Lord Zzarl), Hylton Collins (Sub-Commander Sstast), Stephen Fewell (Paul Webster), Jason Haigh-Ellery (Sskan), Robert Jezek (Commander Lee Forbes), Alistair Lock (Zizmar), Georgia Moffat (Tanya Webster), Maureen Oakley (Pilot Susan Roberts), Gary Russell (Razzbur).
Writer: Justin Richards | Director: Gary Russell | Music: Russell Stone | Release Date: May 2000 | Running Time: 1 hour 26 minutes | Number of Episodes: 4
Set Between: Planet of Fire and The Caves of Androzani