So there’s a Russian nuclear submarine in the North Pole, circa 1983. It’s a tense moment in American-Soviet relations: Evil Empire, Grenada, cruise missiles, Contras, Reagan, Antropov, Thatcher, WarGames. The submarine is preparing to launch its missiles. The crew includes Davos Seaworth from Game of Thrones, Brutus from Rome, and Bad Guy From TRON. Bad Guy From TRON is singing along to “Vienna” by Ultravox. Captain Seaworth is annoyed: “We were about to blow up the world, Professor,” he deadpans. “Again?” responds Professor Bad Guy From TRON. Lieutenant Brutus wants to run the drill again: The NATO exercises have him spooked. Tensions are running high, which is never a phrase you like to hear with regards to a nuclear submarine.
It is, in short, an auspicious moment in human history. It is also the specific moment when a massive fist punches its way out of the giant block of ice downstairs, and a monstrous walking metal man-thing begins to run amok on the lower floors. (“Run amok” is another phrase you never want to hear w/r/t a nuclear submarine, metal man-thing or otherwise.) The sub begins to sink, 200 meters, 300 meters, 400. Alarms are sounding. Water is pouring in. And then a blue box materializes in the middle of the control room, and a man wearing a smart purple coat and Studio 54 Sunglasses walks out, yelling “Viva Las VegaAAAAHHH!”
So began last night’s episode of Doctor Who, which sent the Doctor and Clara into an enclosed space with a monster and a couple nuclear missiles and watched the sparks fly. The Doctor sprang into action quickly, telling the Russians that they could save themselves if they took advantage of their sideways momentum. The Lieutenant figured it was an American trick; the Captain didn’t care, and executed the Doctor’s plan, and the sub wound up perched on the edge of an undersea cliff. But the trouble was just beginning. The Doctor informed Clara that they had landed at a precipitous flashpoint in the world’s history, a moment when time could be rewritten — or erased — just by casually pressing a single button. “It’s the ’80s. Everything’s bigger,” he explained. To drive the point home, Captain Seaworth grabbed the Sonic Screwdriver, the TARDIS disappeared, the sub dipped to the side, and Clara fell underwater, unconscious.
When she came to, she was modeling a snazzy Soviet uniform over her Vegas-appropriate cocktail dress, and the Doctor was trying to explain himself to the Captain (played by Brit journeyman actor Liam Cunningham.) Things were tense, and breath is a precious commodity on a sinking submarine, so the Doctor opted to cut to the chase: “We’re time travelers.” Right about then, the monstrous walking metal man-thing walked up behind the Doctor to say hello. The Doctor recognized it immediately. It was an Ice Warrior, a native to the planet Mars. “We go way back,” he explained.
The Ice Warriors have been a part of Doctor Who mythology since the early days; they first appeared in 1967, in an episode that also involved a Martian in an ice block. This particular Martian had been lying dormant for five thousand years — the sub found him while digging for oil. But this particular Martian wasn’t just any particular Martian. This was Grand Marshall Skaldak, Sovereign of the Something or Other, Vanquisher of the Something or Other, Greatest Hero the Martian Race has Ever Produced.
This was a moment for soft diplomacy. Alas, this was also the moment when Lieutenant Brutus attacked the Martian super-soldier with a cattle prod.
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