On the whole there are a number of clear differences between the episodes, which have become called Classic Who and those named New Who. Advances in special effects notwithstanding the shorter episodes each mainly containing one story, have given a difference pace to ‘Who’. In addition to this the relationship between the Doctor and his companion has evolved to be more a team of peers than mentor and mentee.
Sometimes however the very best of Classic Who can be seen clearly in its ‘New’ cousin. Cold War is one such episode. The childhood Doctor Who fan that once was Mark Gatiss shines through in every aspect of the story. A classic monster (an Ice Warrior), military personnel, traitorous second in command, unconventional scientist, the list of classic elements goes on. There is also the subtle nod to the past in HADS and the Doctor losing the Tardis throughout the narrative, while the Time Lord loses his sonic screwdriver for a great deal of the plot. It can seem, occasionally, that recent stories are resolved with a mysterious wave of the apparently sonic magic wand and it was refreshing to watch the Doctor rely on his wits and knowledge in Cold War. Even when the story reaches its climax the explanation of why the sonic screwdriver is logical and adds to the tension rather than punctures it.
Had Cold War been a ‘Classic’ serial then time would have been given for the duplicitous Stepashin to try and work alongside Skaldak before being betrayed. Instead his death is sudden and surprising, especially as it transpires the rampaging Ice Warrior takes delight in destroying his victims, including a couple of other crew members as well.
Some reviewers may point to the performances being less polished and subtle than some other recent episodes. This, however, is not the point in a tense, claustrophobic episode where the plot, the threat and the adventure are pressed to the fore. Viewers may not be treated to character development but instead get an insight into the best of Classic Who instead.
It should not be assumed that during a driving plot line the quality of acting is lost completely. The lead cast are as efficient as usual, however it is established character actors David Warner and Liam Cunningham who lead the charge, adding depth and quality to the episode. Warner especially plays out of character as a distracted and less mysterious scientist with a passion for illicit western pop music.
Theoretically the core plot of Cold War could have been set in a great variety of places. However the use of a Soviet nuclear submarine adds a great deal to the story, especially as the climax draws close. The lack of escape possibilities, the distrust between the heroes and the rest of the ensemble, the threats from the natural world and the simple variety of not being a spaceship all add layers to what is a top quality, classic episode of New Who.