Sunday, 11 June 2017

Specieswatch: The Ice Warriors

A return for this very occasional series of articles exploring different alien and non-human races in science fiction and fantasy. This time, we take a look at the Ice Warriors from Doctor Who.

 The original Ice Warrior, played by noted British comic actor Bernard Bresslaw in very heavy makeup and costume.

Fictional History

The Ice Warriors are the original inhabitants of the planet Mars, a race of reptilians who evolved at a time when Mars was much warmer than now and had a breathable atmosphere. Their civilisation took shape along the shores of the Oceanus Borealias and the Hellas Sea, building great cities under the rule of their Queens. They developed spaceflight technology, but Earth and Venus, closer to the Sun, were too warm for their tastes, and the moons of the gas giants further out from the Sun were too cold.

The Martian civilisation achieved greatness but also came to extol the virtues of battle, honour and noble sacrifice. Wars wracked the surface of Mars, accelerating the planet's cooling (the result of its magnetic field disappearing, resulting in the planet's atmosphere being stripped away by solar winds). As the planet became less and less habitable, and with their incessant warfare reducing the time and resources for technological research (the Martians never developed FTL on their own), the Martians eventually had no choice but to built vast cryogenic vaults deep under the surface. With Mars becoming a dead world, they went to sleep for millennia.

The Ice Queen Iraxxa, who led her people out of hibernation, helped mastermind the relocation to New Mars and forged the original alliance between the Ice Warriors and the Alpha Centaurians.

However, some Martians had noted that their neighbouring world of Earth had started to become more habitable. A scout ship was sent to the planet circa 3000 BC, but it crashed. Its severely wounded pilot placed himself into suspended animation to heal. Five millennia later, in 1881, he was awoken by British colonial soldiers. He formed an alliance with them and they helped him repair his ship and return home, where he awoke his hive and its empress, Iraxxa. A potential conflict between the Ice Warriors and humanity was averted by the intervention of the Time Lord known as the Doctor (in his twelfth incarnation). By his internal timeline the Doctor had encountered the Ice Warriors on numerous previous occasions and was able to help broker a peace deal. The Doctor then signalled the neighbouring spacefaring civilisation of Alpha Centauri, which helped relocate the Martians to a new, more suitable homeworld, New Mars. However, isolated hives of Ice Warriors would remain buried deep beneath the Martian surface for many centuries.

Grand Marshal Skaldak without his helmet.

In 1983 another Ice Warrior scout ship was recovered near the North Pole by a Soviet submarine. The pilot, Grand Marshal Skaldak, considered himself to have been attacked by the Soviet personnel and prepared to wipe out the crew and seize its nuclear arsenal to sterilise Earth. An earlier incarnation of the Doctor (the eleventh) proved unable to convince Skaldak that his race survived on another planet, but the crisis was averted when an Ice Warrior starship arrived from New Mars to pick up the Grand Marshal and take him to his new home.

In the mid-21st Century an Ice Warrior invasion force planned to invade Earth utilising its new T-mat (matter transmission) system and its relay base on the moon. The Doctor (in only his second incarnation) averted this invasion. It is unclear if the Ice Warriors in this incident were a rogue faction from New Mars attempting to conquer a planet in their home system, or from a rogue hive on Mars that had awoken; the latter is more likely given their lack of FTL or other advanced technology.

A thousand years later, a research base on Earth, studying the advance of glaciers in a new ice age, inadvertently stumbled across an Ice Warrior spacecraft, possibly also left behind from the same era as Skaldak and the Ice Warriors loyal to Iraxxa. The Ice Warriors disdained attempts at peaceful communication and planned to destroy the base. The Second Doctor, in (by his own internal chronology) his first encounter with the species, helped the base repel the attack and destroyed the Ice Warriors.

Ambassador Alpha Centauri, Ice Lord Izlyr, the Third Doctor and Ambassador Arcturus on Peladon.

The Doctor next encountered the Ice Warriors in the latter part of the Fourth Millennium. By this time Earth had joined Alpha Centauri, Arcturus and New Mars (amongst many others) in the Galactic Federation. A Federation delegation was sent to the primitive planet Peladon to negotiate mining rights and possibly discuss it joining them. A spate of murders took place, with the presence of an Ice Warrior embassy raising the suspicions of the Third Doctor. In the event, the Ice Lord Izlyr and his Ice Warrior bodyguard Ssorg proved blameless and helped resolve the situation peacefully.

Fifty years later, the Third Doctor returned to Peladon at another crucial moment in its history, with again a Federation delegation attending. This time the Ice Warrior representatives were indeed up to no good, planning to annex the planet on behalf of the Galaxy Five Confederation, but were stopped by the Doctor.

Behind the Scenes

In 1967, at the end of Doctor Who's fourth season, the Daleks were permanently (or so it was believed) retired, the result of rights issues as their creator Terry Nation tried to launch a spin-off series in the USA. However, the show had successfully introduced a new race, the Cybermen, to replace them a recurring foe. Building on this success, the BBC and the show's producers decided to create several new races of recurring monsters. They had a surprisingly high hit rate, with the Macra (from The Macra Terror) and Great Intelligence (from The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear) going on to make return appearances even in the rebooted, post-2005 version of the show.

However, the most successful new of the "Monster Season", as Season 5 was often dubbed, were the Ice Warriors. Writer Brian Hayles was inspired by a story about a baby mammoth being found in the Siberian ice in the early 20th Century and by his own fascination with the planet Mars. The 1951 movie The Thing From Another World was also cited as an inspiration. Originally the Ice Warriors were described as being cybernetically linked to their armour but this was downplayed due to fears of confusing the viewers with the Cybermen (this idea was resurrected in later stories). The Ice Warrior costumes were built from fibreglass and far more expensive than was normally the case on the show, but the producers felt the script was strong and they wanted to bring them back the following season, which would help spread the costs.

In a slightly surprising move, the veteran and popular British actor and comic Bernard Bresslaw (best known for the Carry On movies) was cast as the lead Ice Warrior, despite him being completely unrecognisable either in appearance or voice. Apparently this was down to the producers going after the tallest British actor they could think of and Bresslaw enjoying the experience, even going as far as studying reptilian vocalisations to give the Ice Warriors their recognisable rasping voice.

The Ice Warriors and the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) in The Seeds of Death.

The Ice Warriors indeed turned out to be a major hit, and returned the following season in The Seeds of Death. This story revolved around teleportation, a standard SF idea which Doctor Who had not explored much previously. Contrary to popular belief, this episode was not inspired by Star Trek (which did not start airing in the UK until several months after it aired) but may have been influenced by the 1958 horror movie The Fly. Although a solid story which expanded the lore of the aliens a lot more (introducing their militant structure and hierarchy, with the Ice Lords and Grand Marshals established above the basic Warriors in rank), The Seeds of Death was less well-received and with the series switching to a format with a lot fewer episodes the aliens were rested for several years.

Their next appearance came in The Curse of Peladon, which aired in 1972 as part of the show's ninth season. For the past two-and-a-half seasons the Doctor had been exiled to Earth by the Time Lords with only brief forays to other worlds permitted. For this story the production team were experimenting with sending the Doctor to other worlds once again and the success of the story convinced them to permanently rescind the Doctor's exile the following season. For The Curse of Peladon returning writer Brian Hayles decided to satirise the discussions and controversy surrounding Britain's entry to the European Economic Area (the forerunner of the EU). A miner's strike saw electricity supplies interrupted across large swaths of the UK during the airing of the serial's later two episodes. An irritated Hayles used this to inspire a sequel, The Monster of Peladon, which aired in the eleventh season two years later.

And...that was it, at least for the original series. The Ice Warriors didn't show up again until the show's unofficial cancellation in 1989. This wasn't because of a lack of interest or popularity, just that the writers couldn't come up with a good idea for their return. In 1985 producer John Nathan-Turner decreed that they would return and directed Philip Martin to write a two-part story that would see the Ice Warriors joining forces with Martin's own popular creation, the slug-like alien Sil. However, the BBC almost cancelled the series and reversed their decision at the last minute, after ordering a completely new storyline to be created for the entire season.

Sarah Jane-Smith would confront the Ice Warriors in The Monster of Peladon (1975).

The Ice Warriors would go on to appear in the New Adventures novel line for Virgin Books. Gary Russell penned the novel Legacy, in which the Seventh Doctor and Bernice Summerfield would travel to Peladon some time after the events of The Monster of Peladon and again join forces with an Ice Warrior ambassador. It was established that Bernice was a huge fan of the Ice Warriors (from her archaeological work on Mars) and fangirled them incessantly, to their bemusement. They also showed up in other novels, such as Godmachine, which attempted to untangle the somewhat confusing history of Mars on Doctor Who and reconcile the presence of the Ice Warriors with the Osirians (from Pyramids of Mars).

The Ice Warriors returned to the screen in the episode Cold War, airing in 2013, 39 years after their previous appearance. This episode, written by Ice Warrior fan Mark Gatiss, showed what they looked like without their armour for the first time, but otherwise was fairly accurate to previous depictions of the species. They returned again in 2017 for Empress of Mars, which was the very first time they actually appeared on Mars, despite frequent mentions of the connection between them. This story also featured the first appearance of the Alpha Centaurians since The Monster of Peladon 43 years earlier (with the same actress supplying their voice!).

The Ice Warriors are one of Doctor Who's more interesting antagonist races. Before the advent of the Sontaran Strax, they were the only one of the "Big Four" monster races (the others being the Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans) to be shown as a complex race of individuals and factions, rather than murderous cyborgs or clones. The wrong-footing of the audience by having the Ice Warriors as the good guys in The Curse of Peladon remains one of the classic show's more adventurous and amusing moments. There's also a certain timelessness to the original design from 1967; their redesign in 2013 was surprisingly restrained, mainly restricted to removing their slightly silly "Lego hands" and streamlining the armour somewhat.

The Ice Warriors have been around on Doctor Who for fifty years, making surprisingly sporadic appearances. It may take awhile, but I daresay they will show up again.

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