In a scientific research station at a time when the Earth is experiencing another Ice Age, a team of scientists scramble to stop the encroachment of glaciers over Europe with a device called the ionizer. The station’s manager Clent thinks Europe can be kept inhabitable, but scientist Jan Garrett and the rest believe that soon they’ll have to not only abandon the mission, but the station. Outside a member of the team is conducting research on a glacier and discovers something frozen in the ice. He guesses that it’s a warrior from a forgotten prehistoric civilization and another scientist dubs him “the ice warrior.” Meanwhile the TARDIS arrives and instantly gets stuck in a snowstorm. After getting out, the TARDIS crew sees two militantly Luddite scavengers, Storr and Penley, the latter of whom used to be a scientist working at the very same station, take food and supplies from the station. After jaunting inside the base, the Doctor impresses Clent with his useful advice about the ionizer and is asked to help make the ionizer fully functional after the Doctor passes a scientific pop quiz.
An avalanche kills a member of the research team outside and causes Storr to break his arm. Nonetheless, the frozen body is bought in and left to melt. The Doctor examines the body and rushes out to warn Clent that the frozen body’s supposed stone age helmet is actually an advanced space helmet. While the Doctor is gone, the Ice Warrior comes alive, attacks Jamie, and abducts Victoria. Holding her captive in a storage closet, Victoria learns the reptilian Ice Warrior crash landed on Earth with a crew from Mars, before the Ice Warrior interrogates her and decides to try to recover and resurrect his own crew. The Doctor and Jamie are dismayed that Clent and Jan rely on diagnostics generated from computers, even when dealing with an emergency situation like the revival of the Ice Warrior. Also the team at the station decides to send Jamie and one of the scientists to save Victoria and learn the nature of the Ice Warriors’ spacecraft’s engine, which if hit by the ionizer could trigger a nuclear chain reaction.
The Ice Warrior forces Victoria to help him try to revive his crew with the station’s technology and knocks Clent unconscious when he tries to stop him. The Doctor runs into Penley getting medicine from the best for Storr and unsuccessfully tries to convince him to stay and help with the ionizer, and later he learns from Clent that Penley did not just defect but had suffered a breakdown. In the meantime, the Ice Warrior succeeds in finding and resurrecting his comrades. Jan attempts to force Penley to return to the base to help, but is overpowered by Storr. However, Penley gives her a clue to pursue in his notes. With what Jan mines from Penley’s calculations, the Doctor is able to get the ionizer working. although the Ice Warriors’ engine is still a possible threat. Out on the glacier, the Ice Warriors kill the scientist and wound Jamie, who is rescued by Penley.
Finding their ship buried in a cave deep in the glacier, the Ice Warriors work to repair it. While they debate over whether or not to kill or further interrogate Victoria, she escapes, but while trying to elude a pursuing Ice Warrior she gets caught in an avalanche. Meanwhile the Ice Warriors plot to invade the station and loot it for fuel, while also assuming that the ionizer is a weapon to be used to destroy them. Victoria is “saved” by Storr, who set out to try to negotiate with the Ice Warriors and drags Victoria with him. Victoria is recaptured and Storr is murdered for his trouble. Armed only with a gas he deduces would be toxic to the Ice Warriors yet harmless to humans, the Doctor heads over to the Ice Warrior ship to get information on their engine. The Doctor tries to reason with the Ice Warriors, but they refuse to cooperate, believing that even if the ionizer doesn’t cause their ship to explode the melting glacier would flood their engines, trapping them on Earth, and they take away the Doctor’s communicator, leaving Clent and Jan without enough data to make sure it’s safe to use the ionizer. Penley and a recovering Jamie return to the base, and Penley pushes Clent to use the ionizer even without the data to no avail. The anxiety over whether or not to use the ionizer is ended by an Ice Warrior invasion. Back on the ship, the Doctor knocks out the one Ice Warrior left behind with the toxic gas and adjusts the ship’s sonic canon to be (somewhat) harmless to humans before firing it on the station, which, along with Penley boosting the station’s heat, forces the Ice Warriors to retreat. The Doctor and Victoria leave the ship for the base, but not before sabotaging the canon. Penley takes control of the ionizer and fires it at the glacier, which destroys the Ice Warriors’ ship without causing a nuclear explosion. The crisis solved, the Doctor, Victoria, and Jamie slip away as green growths appear in the melting snow.
Our Future History
There’s only one vague hint about exactly when this story takes place, but based on just that humanity is due for a (man-made) Ice Age by some point in the fifth or sixth millennium. The global warming deniers will (very, very eventually) be right!
“Regulations do not apply to me.” -The Doctor
With this episode we get another iconic enemy alien species, the Ice Warriors, who also made an appearance in the 2005 series – and it’s not until then we see them without their helmets.
Besides the first appearance of the Ice Warriors, this serial is probably best known for one of the most glaring science errors in the show’s history, which is really saying something for the franchise that still defines “soft sci-fi.” The Second Ice Age is – explicitly and at length – said by the Doctor and Clent to be caused by “a severe drop in the carbon dioxide level in the Earth’s lower atmosphere” which was caused when humanity completely replaced agricultural production with technologically generated artificial food, which (for some reason?) meant that “the amount of growing plants on this planet were reduced to an absolute minimum,” to which the Doctor notes, “No plants, no carbon dioxide.” Caught that? Not to brag, but even a dunce like me who hadn’t taken a science course since my senior year of high school noted the tiny flaw that plants actually use up carbon dioxide, meaning in this scenario the planet should actually be warmer.
And, anyway, who thought it would be a good idea to wipe out most plants? I get that the implication that humanity just gave up growing crops, but did that necessitate just shrugging and declaring, “Screw the rainforests!” and going to town on most of the planet’s wilderness?
I know that classic “Doctor Who” ditched its educational mission almost toward the beginning and tended to be written and produced on the fly, especially by modern standards, but you’d think someone along the line would have caught messing up one of the first scientific facts children are taught in school. Maybe given how much the plot hinges on the wonky science it wasn’t worth the headaches from a deep rewrite, but I can’t help but feel bad for the elementary school audience who got terribly confused when the brilliant Doctor they loved contradicted their textbook or their science teacher.
Sorry, I probably shouldn’t have harped on that but there isn’t too much else to say. It’s an average “Second Doctor in an isolated base attacked by monsters” story. The plot tries to build up to a moral about not becoming dependent on technology while not ignoring the benefits of science, but it gets muddled when the climax comes down to little more than blind luck. It’s still a fun story that doesn’t rely quite so much on padding (with the big exception of poor Victoria getting captured twice) as other serials from the show’s early eras, with a couple of great moments like the Doctor making his calculations for the ionizer by crawling around and rummaging through his own discarded, crumpled-up notes and scribbling numbers on the floor. Plus the serpentine design of the Ice Warriors is simply classic. Still, besides its contribution to continuity by introducing the Ice Warriors, it’s not essential viewing for those making a tour of the Second Doctor era.