Cold War – review

“It’s a new function, it glows red in the presence of gaping plot holes…”

Rushing home after our matinee performance of Richard III (at the Genesian Theatre, tickets still available here), my friend worried that we might miss the (very) cold open to the latest episode of Doctor Who. Reassuring her, I said that it would probably involve the submarine in a state of crisis, with a young crewman all alone in a storage hold. There would be a rustle of noise, and the Ice Warrior would strike, leading in to the thrilling, opening sting of the theme music!

Fortunately, we made it to a television in the nick of time, and proceeded to watch the pre-credits sequence of Mark Gatiss’ Cold War pan out… exactly as predicted. When Doctor Who – you know, that incredible television series about a madman with a box who can travel LITERALLY ANYWHERE in space and time – churns out some of the most trite and tedious forty-five minutes of science-fiction ever to be televised, you know something’s gone terribly, terribly wrong.

Even for Gatiss, who has made a career out of rehashing old tropes, this episode was depressing in its lack of originality. Wise, grizzled commander? Check. Fiery, mutinous second-in-command? Check. Po-faced speech about the beauty of human life? Check. It was as if someone had asked Gatiss to bake a cake out of the leftovers of other cakes, and then covered up the awful-tasting result with some CGI icing and, frankly, the stupidest monster voice we’ve heard since the Sycorax (and at least they were meant to be a joke).

Worse than that, the pitiful excuse for a story didn’t even hold up to a first viewing, let alone a second. To point out the most glaringly obvious example: what happened to Lieutenant Stepashin? He completely vanishes from the story after betraying the crew, because apparently once you’ve done a bit of plot you don’t need to bother with piddling concerns like “resolution” or “making sense”.

NB: Since posting this, I’ve been told that apparently Stepashin died, because the Doctor picked up a wallet with a picture of a lady in it, so… emotions, I guess? Whatever happened, it was unclear and ineptly done – I’d go back and rewatch it, but I don’t hate myself that much.

(And the attempt to ratchet up the tension by having Skaldak threaten the whole planet Earth is the laziest science fiction cliche imaginable – so lazy, in fact, that even pointing out that you’re pointing it out has become hackneyed.)

I hated this episode. Hated it, hated it, hated it. I hated it for its lack of originality and for its contempt for the audience. I hated it because since 2005, Mark Gatiss has been plundering the work of better writers and not getting called out on it. Especially after the mad brilliance of last week’s The Rings of Akhaten, this story was an insult to Doctor Who.



  • “Do Ultravox split up?” was pretty funny I guess.
  • Dr Science says: Martians wouldn’t describe their planet as red, since from their point of view it’s more of a caramel colour. So… “My world is dead, but now there will be a second caramel planet, caramel with the fudge of humanity!”
  • Next week: Neil Cross is back. Thank Christ.
  • Purple coat: still good.

When not reviewing Doctor Who, Patrick Magee is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. More of his ramblings can be found here, and you can buy his novel As Baile: A Story here.


One thought on “Cold War – review

  1. Pingback: The Crimson Horror – review | Patrick DoubleThreat Magee

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