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Ice Warriors - An Accidental Creation
The creatures from Mars that we see in Doctor Who have a curiously chaotic origin. Their arrival emerged from a complete disregard for what was written in a contradictory mess of script and yet they sit up amongst the "top monsters" in the popularity leaderboards.

Ever Wondered why Ice Warriors Make No Sense?


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I first saw Doctor Who's Martians in Seeds of Death and as a child I loved everything about them. Huge, half-human turtle monsters whose bodies could be vaporised into a tiny pool of liquid, lead by a husky-voiced and slender individual whose cat-like movements contrasted sharply with his bulky colleagues. I loved the detail that Slaar's voice rasped due to our air - unlike his Grand Marshall superior who appears on a screen at the end speaking normally in the atmosphere aboard his own ship. They had some depth, and some credibility.

I didn't see their TV début until years later and it was something of a revelation to watch the gigantic soldier warriors with more movement and personality than some of the human characters. These aliens in their first appearance were only superficially similar to the ones which reappeared later in Seeds of Death and watching The Ice Warriors is quite a surreal experience due to the lack of harmony between the script and the production.

We encounter it in the very first shot of an Ice Warrior inside the glacier, when the impact of what we're seeing is undermined by jarring dialogue.

"Is it a man?"

"Perhaps it's an animal!" says Davies.

This could have been quite creepy if the view inside the ice was heavily obscured. But we can see clearly - which makes Davies appear to be an idiot, or blind, or both. What's visible straight away is that the figure inside the ice is wearing a helmet and has huge eyes. Even on the grainy film transfer, it's obviously man-made and retrospectively we also know they were observing a green helmet and red visor. Not very animal-like.

Ice Warrior in IceContinuity wobbles at this point as suddenly less is visible until some snow is scraped off, affording a full view of this large helmet with its lower half cut away revealing a humanoid chin.

"A giant among pre-historic men!"

"You see the kind of armour he's got on?"

These onlookers are getting a pretty good look at this character in the ice, yet they observe merely "armour" and make no mention of its colour, or unusual appearance. Even assuming the schooling of the future is terrible, their comments seem incongruous.

We then get a sentence of such mind-blowing absurdity that it's hard to rationalise. We might speculate that Arden is simply completely ignorant of history if we hadn't been given his back-story about wanting to be an archaeologist. He observes of the figure in the ice: "He looks pre-Viking. But no such civilization existed in pre-historic times before the first ice age."

"Pre-Viking” is a nonsensical term which doesn't sit with "pre-historic times" (which in human terms can mean anything from 3 million years to a couple of thousand years ago) but, roughly speaking, before the Vikings were the Saxons. In a curious way it turns out that's actually what the writer Brian Hayles was driving at. Despite the repeated references to Vikings, his inspiration for the appearance of this frozen warrior came from the title sequence of Hereward the Wake – a TV series about the late Saxon leader who fought Norman resistance. Although this is still a mess in terms of dates, it has some kind of meaning, stylistically.

Nevertheless, this jumbled mix of ideas about frozen, pre-historic Vikings and Saxons leads to the coining of their name:

"Proper Ice Warrior, isn't he, sir?"

Jamie makes a similar assumption upon seeing the figure: "It's a Viking Warrior! Look at the helmet!"

Anglo Saxon HelmetThe writer Brian Hayles' intention is clear, although his dialogue about the dates is garbled. The characters are studying a fairly ordinary-looking man with Saxon or Norse-style head-gear. Anyone looking at the helmet inside the block of ice would be forgiven for mistaking it for something like this one on the right - with protective side-plates and triangular eye-holes.

The Doctor gets to the nub of the dating controversy: "The helmet - it's wrong. When this man was frozen to death, only primitive cave-men existed."

The suggestion is that the person frozen in the ice appears to date from somewhere between 7th and 11th century based on the helmet, and yet the ice sheet is at least tens of thousands of years old – tying into the comment at the start of the episode that they might have found “another mastodon” - animals which died out roughly 12,000 years ago (albeit in the wrong part of the world). The Doctor's reference to "cave-men" pushes the date back even further than this, suggesting somewhere in the middle of the "last ice age" (Quaternary glaciation) - which means if his date is accurate then the Martian civilization could have been anywhere from 10,000 to 1,000,000 years old.Original Ice Warrior Design

It's odd then that this story specifically deals with the Earth being under threat from the advance of new ice sheets, and yet the drama unfolds around the discovery of an anachronism in an ancient ice sheet. It's a story that could equally have been told in the present day. There's a double-anachronism at work because even a Saxon/Viking would be impossible in a pre-historic ice-sheet and yet the next discovery is met with further shock by the Doctor:

“It's an electronic connection.”

“It can't be,” whispers Victoria.

Pretty narrow-minded for a bunch of time-travellers.

Finally the ice melts and, at the end of episode one, the “Ice Warrior” turns his head to the camera. His chin looks quite human, and messy hair flows out from under his helmet which is completely open in the lower half.

The costume designer Martin Baugh created this appearance based upon the script outline which indicated that the helmet was “hood-like”, following a late-Saxon style but with “photo-electric cell facets”. The resultant look is quite medieval but with red glass in the eye sockets and electronic ear-plates embedded.Original Ice Warrior Design

But, once episode two begins, the appearance of these supposedly-medieval warriors steps even further away from the script. The helmet which originally satisfied the author's description was completely redesigned before studio work began. Director Derek Martinus ordered a new helmet to be made for the main alien, Varga and his second-in-command, and so when the alien stands up for the first time, the helmet is small, fitting tightly to the head, running under the chin, with a hole cut for the mouth (right). The hair which had originally emerged from under the helmet was used as trim around the neck.

At this point too the full costume is revealed and the creative decision by the director and the costume designer to make a “typical” alien monster lead to a huge departure from the medieval character which Brian Halyes had conceived.

The creature that made it to screen was entirely reptilian and the "armour" was interpreted not as a manufactured clothing but as natural protection – a shell. And from this shell sprouted fur!

Original Ice Warrior DesignInterestingly, the original Varga helmet was retained for the rest of the studio work, but transferred to a non-speaking Ice Warrior. The helmet was modified so that instead of being just a hood, it was a complete head-piece complete with chin - a modification which was quite obvious (right). Surprisingly, when the Ice Warriors made their final appearance of the classic series in The Monster of Peladon, this untidy helmet was still in use.

To compliment their reptilian costume in rehearsals, Bernard Bresslaw, playing the lead martian, devised this a hissing speech pattern with the other Ice Warrior actors . Their voices were muffled by the costumes so pre-recorded dialogue was played into studio during shooting.

And so the rest of the story went into production with these creatures which had essentially been designed by committee. They had small helmets that looked nothing like Vikings due to technical difficulties, they had a reptilian shell which conflicted with the script, and a voice added as an afterthought to fit the appearance! This iconic creature is credited to Brian Hayles but in truth its famous characteristics were devised by other people. A story not unlike the creation of the Daleks.

Perhaps the most confusing aspect of Baugh's design legacy is that once the word "armour" was interpreted in the living sense, like that of a crocodile or tortoise, it becomes hard to reconcile the fully organic appearance with the origins of battle-dress in the script. It would appear, however, that the costume designer intended it all be the living body of the creature - perhaps with only the helmet removable. But, then again, with the Cybermen in the public consciousness, and the in-built technology suggested in the script, even the helmets might have been grown into the creatures themselves. A cyborg-reptile race.

If we were to speculate whether some of the armour could be removed, the body-shell does have a large split down the side (a by-product of the construction technique)! This might then tally with the later appearance of another class of Ice Warrior in Seeds of Death: The Ice Lords.

Slaar Ice Warrior DesignFollowing on from the original design concept of Varga's first helmet, designer Paul Allen gave the leader of the Ice Warriors a hooded helmet in their second story. Slaar lacked the bulky shell of all the individuals seen in the first adventure and it begs the question as to whether Ice Lords are different genetically, or merely wearing different clothes? If you look carefully, you'll see that Slaar is wearing gloves and boots. Does he have clamp-hands under his clamp-gloves? Not according to the latest Doctor Who Ice Warrior story, Cold War - Martians have three fingers and sometimes wear three-fingered gloves.

It might be tempting to speculate that Slaar is completely naked aside from the collar and breast-plate. Could that mean the chin is the only truly organic bit of an Ice Warrior ever seen, and all else is clothing? One thing which does point towards the armour being organic is that it vapourises along with the rest of the creature when the solar energy reflectors are turned into weapons. Clearly the solar energy can't melt inorganic objects as nothing else is ever damaged by them, and this all follows the comment the Doctor makes in his first encounter with them, that their bodies have a higher water-content than humans. If the armour was artificial, it should be intact on the floor with the melted creature inside. But we would have to wait until 2013 to prove or disprove this theory...

What is never answered is: Where do all the bunches of hair sprout from on the rest of the creatures? Although these clumps only appear at the joints and around the neck they are attached to the outer body rather than peeping through gaps. This curious mixture of lizard and mammal characteristics made it interesting to speculate about their evolutionary ancestors. This was side-stepped by the 2013 redesign as these new monsters have no hair. It proves too difficult a job to reconcile the organic, hairy shells of the original costumes, with the direction the new series takes with the Ice Warriors...Slaar Ice Warrior Design

When the Ice Warriors returned for two stories in the 1970s with Jon Pertwee, their culture and back-story were added to, but no explanation was offered for their curious form. The Ice Lords returned with a newly-designed hooded-helmet. The new Ice Lord wears a belt in the middle of his reptilian body suggesting that the "skin" is indeed a suit - except the chin.

The Ice Warriors remained a curious enigma for decades. Designed by accident and with an appearance that defies logic. Personally, I always liked to think they were entirely organic with giant shells - after all that was how the visual design was conceived - with natural armour augmented by technology. I know it doesn't make any sense and it wasn't how it was scripted, but I never questioned the logic of these giant turtle monsters when I was kid. However, that all changed in 2013 when writer Mark Gatiss finally answered all these questions.

In Cold War, The Ice Warriors' back-story was sketched in to match that of the Cybermen, and also the Daleks, as originally hinted at in the 1960s. Their dying world forced them to create survival suits. This retro-active continuity thus established that despite the naturally-evolved appearance of their shell in the earlier adventures, it was in fact a front-opening technological armour. Quite why these agile wall-climbers devised casings in which they could barely walk - and then made it a cultural indignity to be seen unsuited - is perhaps more mysterious than the question of why and where some of them are hairy. But nevertheless, this addition to the canon of Ice Warrior adventures finally explained their hybrid shape and also showed us the true face of the Martians for the first time...


New Ice Warrior Cold War

Original Ice Warrior CostumeOriginal Ice Warrior Costume

Original Ice Warrior CostumeOriginal Ice Warrior Costume

Ice Warriors