Cold War was the eighth episode of the seventh series of Doctor Who produced by BBC Wales. It saw the first televised appearance of the Ice Warriors since The Monster of Peladon 39 years previously, and their first appearance in BBC Wales’ production of the show. Also of note was the first physical appearance of David Warner in a televised adventure of the series, who had previously only taken part in roles that simply featured his voice.
It is the North Pole, in the year 1983. Aboard a Russian submarine, a warning repeats that the “signal is genuine.” The Captain and first mate use their keys to prime an ICBM launch. They prepare to fire, but are interrupted by the entrance of Professor Grisenko, singing Ultravox’s “Vienna”. The Captain reports the drill has been abandoned. The first mate says they must run it again, to which the Captain says, “Tomorrow.” The Captain then asks the Professor about the “specimen,” wondering if it’s a mammoth. In the hold, the crewman in charge of the specimen muses that they are supposed to wait till the crew arrives back in Moscow to thaw the specimen out. However, he uses a blowtorch to thaw the block of ice, until he is grabbed by a claw that emerges from the ice.
Havoc erupts on the submarine. The hull has been breached and crew members are being attacked by a green armored figure. The TARDIS materializes in the midst of the chaos. As the Captain orders the sub to be brought to the surface, the Eleventh Doctor and Clara are thrown across the bridge. Clara concludes that they are not in Las Vegas, as they expected to be. The Captain asks who they are, while being informed by a crew member that the main turbines aren’t responding. The Doctor tells them their only chance to survive is to use the lateral thrusters in order to land on a ridge, which will prevent them from dropping further. The captain then orders the crew to do this.
Crew members search the Doctor and Clara, confiscating a number of items from his pockets, including a doll, a ball of yarn and his sonic screwdriver. Unexpectedly, the TARDIS suddenly dematerialises. Clara falls into a puddle after a jolt rocks the sub, temporarily losing consciousness. When she wakes up, the Doctor and the Captain are arguing. They are interrupted by a raspy noise coming from behind the Doctor. He initially thinks that it’s gas, but turns around to find the green armored figure, which he recognizes as an Ice Warrior. The creature identifies himself as Grand Marshall Skaldak. The professor reveals that Skaldak has likely been sleeping under the ice for five thousand years. Just as the Doctor seems to be close to diffusing the tense situation,Lieutenant Stepashin sneaks up behind Skaldak and electrocutes him with a cattle prod. The Doctor berates the Lieutenant and reveals that it was an extremely bad idea to have done so. He warns the crew that their only option now is to “lock him up.”
Now in chains, Skaldak asks one of the crew if he has been asleep for 5,000 years. The crewman confirms that this is what the Professor said. Skaldak signals for his brothers to save him. Meanwhile, the Doctor tells the Captain, Stepashin, the Professor and Clara that he knows of Skaldak. The Grand Marshall was so feared that his enemies would carve his name into their flesh. The Captain wants to know more, but the Doctor says that there isn’t time. He tells them that the Ice Warriors are Martian reptiles that became cyborgs when their climate changed. They are vulnerable to heat, which is why the cattle prod worked. He again tells the Captain that there isn’t time. Stepashin believes that the Doctor and Clara are western spies. Clara says that she wouldn’t make a very good spy as she doesn’t speak Russian. The Doctor tries to shush her, and, failing, mutters that it’s the TARDIS translation matrix allowing her and the Russians to understand each other. Stepashin believes that Skaldak is a Western weapon, a survival suit, and Moscow must be told so that they can retaliate. He scoffs at the idea of a “little green man from Mars”. The Professor corrects him, as it’s a “big green man from Mars.” He’s willing to consider they might be telling the truth. The Captain says that Stepashin sounds like a broken record. Regardless, the radios are down, and they have other priorities. He details Stepashin to continue repairs. The Doctor brushes water from the Captain’s lapel, saying that if they had done nothing, Skaldak would have ignored them. However, they attacked him: “Harm one and you harm us all” is the Martian code. He points to the headphones on the Professor’s Walkman, where he can hear the sound of “Hungry Like the Wolf” being modulated by Skaldak’s distress call.
The Doctor says that he is the only one who can talk to Skaldak, but the Captain is unwilling to risk his only source of knowledge. It can’t be the Captain, as Skaldak will be able to tell he’s an enemy soldier. The Captain points out that the Doctor seems rather like a soldier as well. As it can’t be the Captain, any of his men, or the Doctor, Clara declares that she’s the only choice. The Doctor protests, but prepares Clara for the task.
Clara approaches the restrained Skaldak, with the Doctor coaching her through an audio link. She salutes him and recites a ritual greeting, followed by more of the Doctor’s words, before her light goes out. The Grand Marshall speaks to the Doctor directly, and tells a story of singing the songs of the Red Snow with his daughter (who is now long dead). The Doctor offers to help, but is soundly rebuffed. Clara has been inching forward. She realizes something is wrong, discovering that the armor they have chained is now empty. Skaldak has left it.
Skaldak says that it is time he studied his enemies, and swears to retaliate. The Doctor tells Clara to get out of there and begins to rush to her, but the Captain pulls a handgun on him. The Doctor tells him he’s never seen one out of his shell before. The Captain lets him go. The Professor says it should be more vulnerable without armor, but the Doctor says it will be more dangerous – to an Ice Warrior, leaving its armor is one of the most dishonorable things it can do. He runs for Clara, who hears hissing and sees Skaldak rush by as she tries to open the hatch. The others reach her and the Doctor pulls her through. She asks him how she did. The Doctor says it wasn’t a test, but she did great.
Grisenko reports that the signal has stopped. The Doctor says Skaldak has given up hope of rescue and now has nothing left to lose. The Captain is skeptical about what the Martian could do, until the Doctor points out that they’re sitting on a large number of nuclear weapons. He says it couldn’t be any worse, just before the submarine slips a little further down the incline and more water pours in.
Skaldak stalks Stepashin, who is making repairs. Stepashin pulls his gun, but he is facing the wrong direction. He feels spindly, three fingered hands grab him by the shoulder and top of the head. Skaldak learns about the Cold War and the theory of mutually assured destruction from Stepashin, who wants to gain an ally to fight Western aggression.
The Captain addresses the crew. The reactor is drowned, they only have battery power, and they’re running out of air. They still have a mission, however. They need to stop the Grand Marshall before he gains control of any of the missiles. They are all that stands between him and the destruction of the world. Clara learns from the Doctor that time can be changed, and even if the world previously didn’t end in 1983, it can now. The Captain tells him that they have twelve men, but they can’t find Stepashin. They decide to split up and look for him, with a team to guard the bridge. Grisenko turns up with the sonic screwdriver and the doll and gives them back to the Doctor, who is quite happy to have them both.
They begin the search. As the Doctor scans, Clara asks Grisenko why they have a cattle prod on board, and is told that it’s for polar bears. The Professor tells her to have courage, and says he sings a song to stay brave. He asks if she knows “Hungry Like the Wolf”. She refuses to sing. There are alarms and some echoes as the Doctor tinkers. He says it’s the pressure, and Grisenko begins to sing, trying to persuade Clara to join him.
Onegin asks Belevich if he thinks it’s truly a Martian. Onegin thinks they’ll be heroes. As Belevich replies, Skaldak silently grabs Onegin. Screams echo, and the Doctor, Clara, and Grisenko arrive to find the two torn apart. The Professor calls Skaldak a savage, but the Doctor explains that he is studying the humans for physical weaknesses. They continue the search, but Clara is slow to follow. The Doctor tells her to stay in place. Clara agrees to do so. The Doctor is momentarily confused by her willingness to follow his instruction (unlike most of his companions), then continues onward. Clara confesses to Grisenko that she was bothered by the bodies. The Captain realizes that Skaldak is in the walls. The Doctor finds Stepashin’s body, then spots Skaldak moving above him. He follows.
The Professor tries to distract Clara from worrying about the noises she is hearing. He keeps questioning her, but she continues staring around, barely answering. He very seriously demands to know about the future — specifically, if Ultravox will split up. She breaks out into laughter, then gasps as Skaldak grabs her head. Grisenko produces a gun and shoots several times. Skaldak lets her go and grabs him. Clara pleads with Skaldak to let Grisenko go as the Doctor runs up. The Grand Marshall declares that they attacked him. By Martian law, this means that the people of this world are forfeit; he now has the information he requires to begin the destruction. He only needs one missile to trigger the exchange. With his people dead and dust, there is nothing left for him but revenge.
Skaldak signals his armor, and the helmet flips up. The Doctor tells him that there is one thing left: mercy. The Captain enters with a crewman, threatening violence in defense of the Earth. The Doctor says they’re negotiating, not fighting. The Captain replies that they will negotiate from a position of strength, and aims his rifle. Skaldak comments, “Excellent tactical thinking,” but goes on to explain his position isn’t as strong as he thinks. The armor has been summoned by Martian sonic technology. He releases the Professor and enters his armour. They open fire, but the Doctor stops them. Skaldak vows to create a new red planet from the blood of humanity. The Doctor follows him.
Skaldak extrudes probes from the gloves of his armor into the targeting computers. Text flows, lights change and locks shift. The missile tubes open. The others arrive and the Captain says that the warheads are being armed. The Doctor asks him to wait, asking where the honor is in killing billions of innocent people. He continues to appeal to Skaldak’s better nature, but seemingly to no effect. As Skaldak reaches for the button, he declares himself as a Time Lord, with his own sonic technology. If he needs to, he will blow up the sub and everyone on it to avoid starting the nuclear exchange. The Martian mutters, “mutually assured destruction,” and turns back to the button, as the Doctor lifts the sonic screwdriver.
The Doctor taunts him to look into his eyes, and Skaldak removes his helmet, asking which of them will blink first. Clara asks Skaldak why he showed compassion earlier, further asking about his daughter and when they had sung the songs of the Red Snow.
The submarine suddenly begins to vibrate. Skaldak declares that his people live and have come for him. The Captain says that they are rising. A spaceship raises the submarine to the surface in a beam of cloudy white light. The Doctor pleads with Skaldak to just go in peace. Another beam hits Skaldak and he disappears.
Clara says they did it, but the Doctor checks the console, which is still armed. One pulse from the Martian ship could launch the missiles. He holds up the sonic screwdriver, wincing and repeating that he’ll destroy them if he must. Frightened, Clara begins to quietly sing Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf”. The missiles disarm. Clara hugs the Doctor, before straightening herself. “Saved the world, then,” she says. “That’s what we do…”
The Doctor, the Captain, the Professor, and Clara go up top and get a look at the Martian ship. Clara asks the Doctor what happened to the TARDIS. The Doctor sheepishly confesses that, while tinkering, he reset the HADS, which he hasn’t used in a very long time. He says it’s bound to turn up, as the sonic starts buzzing. The TARDIS has gone to the pole… the South Pole. Embarrassed, he asks the Captain for a lift, and they all laugh. The Doctor salutes the Ice Warrior ship with an arm across his chest as it zooms off.