“We do not need an army. Earth will be ours for the taking, very soon…” – Slaar
This is a solid and enjoyable story as both the premise and plot are fairly well crafted. At some point in future earth history, matter transmission (T-Mat) becomes the mode of transport and delivery across the world. (The instantaneous nature of this travel is highlighted well in the script as the computer intones about various exports: “Toronto/Calcutta system activated. Toronto sending now; Calcutta receiving now. Dispatch completed.”) But mankind has lazily and foolishly given up all transportation beside it, even space flight, and become insular and very dependent on the technology. Martian Ice Warriors are able to exploit this vulnerability, taking over the supposed infallible T-Mat at moon control and paralyzing all earth transportation. They then use the T-Mat to deliver pods to locations around the globe that, when activated, emit a smoky mist that seeds the ground with a fungus. In seconds, the fungus multiplies and covers the land, eating up oxygen as it goes to the point of depleting breathable air worldwide. Once the earth’s population is subdued, the arriving fleet will move from moon base throughout the globe and occupy it.
Despite the global nature of this threat, our part of the story focus on the crews of main Earth-control and Moonbase encountering the invasion threat and working to overcome it. It’s a very nice idea to include a character like Eldred. Sidelined and humiliated for clinging to the old ways of space flight and rocketry in the age of T-Mat, he is vindicated when his “obsolete” technology suddenly becomes the only means to get to the moon to deal with the problem. Indeed, it’s interesting how much the side characters are allowed to be the ones figuring out solutions in this story rather than just the Doctor (like Phipps immediately setting out to build solar energy trap). For once it makes these supposedly advanced technicians not seem so dim and ill-suited to their jobs. We even see a number of characters cut down by the Ice Warriors while bravely standing up to them—especially jovial Osgood who throws a wrench in the smooth plans from the start by “accidently” overloading the circuits with a shrug and smirk. His steely bravery shines through in just these few minutes on screen in a way that stands in stark contrast his underling Fewsham who is so scared of dying in the horrible way wrought by the Ice Warriors weapons that he sells out his planet. Only at the very end does Fewsham get some redemption as he sacrifices himself just like his mentor in order to broadcast their plan.
The Doctor is well in form throughout the story too —escaping death by talking his way out of it (“Your leader will be angry if you kill me. I…I’m a genius!”) and figuring out the connections of all the invasion plans. (Though even the Doctor miscalculates the deadly nature of the seed pods for bit.) He apparently has a great poker face when it seems to everyone including us that he failed to stop the homing signal; that he actually just switched it to just sound in the room is a surprise to us all. Zoe’s perfect memory gets referenced again several times but it’s really Jamie who gets all the points for bravery in this story, several times taking on Ice Warriors head on to save the Doctor and arriving in the nick of time with a “Craeg an tuire!” at the end.
Since the identity of the baddies is not telegraphed in the title, it’s nice that their identity is initially hidden from us while hints are given by the nature of their weapons and the hissing sound of their breathing. This story expands the use of the Ice Warriors quite well, even giving differing uniforms and physical characteristics to the leader elite like Slaar which would become a staple. It’s great when one appears in the T-mat cabinet and simply smashes through rather than walking out the door. There is some nice model work for the opening credits showing the earth emerge from behind the moon and a passable rocket work as well. While the story is pretty basic and straightforward, it is well-paced and moves without dragging too much which is a great thing for a six-parter.
Best (or Worst) Unsettling Moment:
I really like Phipps in this story so it’s sad realize that he is shot down dead out of sight in the vent.
- First mention of T-Mat (aka Travel-Mat)
- Ice Warrior leaders as a physically different
Despite a few nice shots (like having the countdown numbers reflected on the face of Kelly), a lot of the story is undercut by badly directed character close-ups where they actors have to ‘freeze’ unnaturally to set up the effects for the Ice Warrior gun. It’s also full of by cramped sets where actors (and us) have to pretend they can’t see something that is clearly in their line of sight. At one point, Zoe opens a door to say there is an Ice Warrior down the corridor when it is literally standing right in front of her! Other instance where you have to ignore obvious flaws come when another character has to mime like he can’t fit through a vent which anyone can see is perfectly wide enough for him or when you have to pretend like the nearly 50 degrees centigrade on climbing dial wouldn’t kill the entire crew. Unfortunately all these glitches and obvious goofs make some dismissive of a good story.