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Updated June 2017
The Ice Warriors appeared in the BBC's longest-running sci-fi series, Doctor Who (1963-1989, 2005+). They weren't as famous as the Daleks or Cybermen, but they were a popular addition to Doctor Who mythology, despite appearing in just four stories in the show's original run, and only once to date since the relaunch in 2005. They have encountered the Second and Third Doctors twice each and the Eleventh Doctor once.
Inhabitants of Mars, the Ice Warriors lived in the icy caverns deep beneath the surface of the planet. They could survive only in freezing cold temperatures and were best suited to an atmosphere rich in carbon dioxide. They were immensely tall, powerful creatures with scaly green reptilian flesh, clamp-like hands and a ridged green exoskeleton shell.
The Ice Warrior society was based on a warrior caste system, ruled either by an Empress, Lords1 (sleeker versions of the normal warrior with no exoskeleton armour, domed helmets and flowing capes) and Grand Marshals (the same as the Ice Lords but with glittering helmets). Although technically Martians, they were nicknamed 'Ice Warriors' by humans because the first one seen was believed to have been a Viking warrior frozen in the ice. They were also vulnerable to extreme heat: increasing the temperature causes them to collapse or completely evaporate into nothing over a short period of time.
Over the centuries, Mars' orbit brought it closer and closer to the sun, and the ice caverns where the Ice Warriors lived began to melt. Realising the need for a new home, dozens of Ice Warriors were sent out in spacecraft to search for a suitable new home while others entered hibernation.
The Ice Warriors are masters of sonic technology and use sonic waves to destroy the brains of their enemies, fired from slender tube-shaped guns clipped on their wrists. They also use sonic rifles, which have increased range and power compared to their sonic guns. Sonic technology can also be used to remotely control their armour.
Below is a description of the Doctor Who stories that have featured the Ice Warriors to date.
'The Ice Warriors' (1967)
One of their spacecraft, commanded by an Ice Warrior named Varga, crash-landed on Earth. The spacecraft and the Ice Warriors were buried and frozen in ice, only to later be dug out and revived by a group of human scientists in a nearby base during the third Ice Age in the year 3000. Free of the ice, Varga and his warriors attempt to seize control of the Ionizer, a weather-controlling computer device located at the base. Unless their demands are met, they will use the deadly sonic cannon located on board their vessel. However, the Ionizer is instead used against them and the Ice Warriors perish in the rising heat.
The tortoise-like nature of the Warriors is highlighted by having their heads sink down below the neckline when not talking. Crocodiles also played a part in the inspiration for the design. The Ice Warriors were revealed to have circuitry in their armour, which other than proving that the warrior was not a frozen Viking, received little attention.
In this first appearance of the Martian giants, the main Ice Warrior was played by lumbering comic actor Bernard Bresslaw, familiar to fans of the Carry On... series. Another actor who appears in the serial is Peter Sallis, best known as Wallace from the Wallace & Gromit stop-motion animations.
Sadly episodes 2 and 3 of this serial are missing. It has been released on DVD with animation used to fill this gap.
'The Seeds of Death' (1969)
In the 21st Century a group of Ice Warriors, led by a Martian Lord named Slaar, take over a Transmat station on the moon. Also known as 'T-Mat', the Transmat is a matter-transmission teleportation device used to move all cargo around Earth, crucially including food. Their plan is to use the T-Mat system to dispatch deadly seed pods down to Earth to remove the planet's oxygen, killing humanity and making the Earth more suitable for the Ice Warriors. However, the Doctor discovers that water destroys the seed pods and so uses a weather control station to cause a huge shower of rain to wipe out the seeds. He then journeys to the T-Mat station and destroys Slaar by causing his sonic gun to self-destruct. A vast fleet of Martian ships is then sent hurtling into the sun by the Doctor, where they perish.
Since 'The Seeds of Death', Doctor Who refers to most, though not all, matter-transmission teleport devices as T-Mats or Transmats.
'The Curse of Peladon' (1972)
Over the centuries, the Ice Warriors turned to peace and, in recompense for their war-like ways, joined an alliance of different planets known as the Galactic Federation. When a comparatively primitive, feudal planet called Peladon asks to join the Federation, Ice Warriors Lord Izlyr and his warrior lieutenant Ssorg are sent as delegates to Peladon (along with representatives from Earth, Arcturus and Alpha Centauri) to see if it is suitable to join the Galactic Federation.
Soon mysterious deaths and other events cause unrest among the delegates. The Doctor (now in his third incarnation), posing as the chairman delegate from Earth and aided by Izlyr, find that the traitorous High Priest Hepesh was using Peladon's sacred beast Aggedor to sabotage the delegate's conference. He is allied with the treacherous delegate Arcturus, who plans to prevent the planet from joining the Federation in order to steal Peladon's vast supply of minerals. Ssorg's sonic rifle kills Arcturus and Hepesh are killed by Aggedor after the Doctor has tamed it.
Peladon joins the Galactic Federation after all, and becomes a planet of great strategic importance due to its near limitless supply of minerals, including the mineral trisilicate, previously thought to exist only on Mars. This would become of great importance later, when the Federation is at war with a rival power bloc called Galaxy Five.
During this time period, the Ice Warriors' strategic and tactical knowledge became essential to the Federation's success.
'The Monster of Peladon' (1974)
Some fifty years after 'The Curse of Peladon', a rebellious group of Ice Warriors, who prefer their war-like nature, secretly invade Peladon to steal its supply of trisilicate. Supporters of the Federation's rival, Galaxy Five, they plot to eliminate the Galactic Federation. Led by a Commander Azaxyr and his warrior deputy Sskel, the Ice Warriors invade the network of mines and attack the royal citadel. However, the Third Doctor uses a directional heat ray and a hologram of Aggedor to kill and terrorise the Ice Warriors. Their invasion was aided by a traitorous human engineer called Eckersley, but he is killed by the real Aggedor after the death of Commander Azaxyr. Sadly, Aggedor dies while killing Eckersley.
'Cold War' (2013)
Set on board a Soviet submarine2 armed with nuclear missiles in 1983, the frozen body of Grand Marshall Skaldak is recovered from the North Pole. At first he is mistaken for a frozen mammoth3, yet his true nature is realised. Assaulted by a crewmember, the Martian code of honour demands that he seek retribution. Believing himself to be the last of his kind and seeking vengeance, he is willing to commit the ultimate dishonour and leave his armour in order to bring about the complete annihilation of the human race.
'Empress of Mars' (2017)
After a NASA satellite around Mars uncovers the hidden words 'God Save the Queen' buried beneath polar ice, the Twelfth Doctor, Bill and Nardole travel back to 1881 where they discover that a company of British Red Coats have claimed Mars in the name of Queen Victoria. They travelled to Mars after rescuing a lone Ice Warrior they have named 'Friday' who was trapped in hibernation in his crashed spacecraft. In exchange for helping with his repairs, Friday has given them a powerful laser-based mining tool they hope to use to uncover Mars' mineral wealth.
They discover the tomb of Empress Iraxxa. Despite the Doctor's warnings, one soldier named Jack Daw tries to steal the jewels embedded in her sarcophagus. This activates the 'tomb', now revealed to be preserving Iraxxa in suspended animation; the Ice Warrior race are far from dead after all. Waking up to a dead world after 5,000 years, will she wipe out the humans wishing to colonise her planet?
Created by Doctor Who writer Brian Hayles in 1967 after reading about a frozen mammoth found in Siberia, the Ice Warriors were a reworking of the more traditional idea of 'little green invaders from Mars' from books such as HG Wells' The War of the Worlds (1898). Hayles originally imagined them as purely robotic creatures similar to the Cybermen, but Doctor Who's costume designer thought they would be better as reptilian creatures. This concept was merged with that of a Viking, with tufts of fur visible around the joints of the costume (one of the original Ice Warrior helmets even sported a huge moustache!). Brian Hayles wrote all four of their original stories. Sadly, Hayles died in 1978.
TV Episode Checklist
'The Ice Warriors' (1967): 6 episodes, written by Brian Hayles. Commander Varga played by Bernard Bresslaw, Zondal played by Roger Jones, Rintan played by Tony Harwood, Isbur played by Michael Attwell, Turoc played by Sonny Caldinez.
'The Seeds of Death' (1969): 6 episodes, written by Brian Hayles and Terrance Dicks. Lord Slaar played by Alan Bennion, Ice Warriors played by Sonny Caldinez, Tony Harwood and Steve Peters.
'The Curse of Peladon' (1972): 4 episodes, written by Brian Hayles. Lord Izlyr played by Alan Bennion, Ssorg played by Sonny Caldinez.
'The Monster of Peladon' (1974): 6 episodes, written by Brian Hayles. Lord Azaxyr played by Alan Bennion, Sskel played by Sonny Caldinez.
'Cold War' (2013): 1 episode, written by Mark Gatiss. Grand Marshall Skaldak played by Spencer Wilding, voiced by Nicholas Briggs.
'Empress of Mars' (2017): 1 episode, written by Mark Gatiss. 'Friday' is played by Richard Ashton and Empress Iraxxa is played by Adele Lynch.
Ice Warriors' Return
It was Mark Gatiss' idea and it was very much his pitch – he'd been pitching for Ice Warriors for a while. I slightly resisted them. I was slightly worried that... they're slow moving and you can't hear what they're saying. Is that the archetypal slightly silly monster? But then Mark had ... a couple of very, very clever ideas of what we could do with an Ice Warrior.
- Steven Moffat
In 2013 the Ice Warriors returned to Doctor Who after 39 years. When interviewed about this, Mark Gatiss said,
I've always loved the iconic Ice Warriors and have been badgering to bring them back for ages. And now they're on a ssssssubmarine!
He had long desired to write a film set on board a submarine, having been inspired by submarine films such as Ice Station Zebra (1968), Grey Lady Down (1978), The Hunt for Red October (1990), Das Boot (1981) as well as The Spy who Loved Me (1977). After considering whether to write an episode about Ice Warriors or one set on board a submarine, he decided on a scenario that combined them both. When considering updating the design of the monsters for the 21st Century, Steven Moffat would say Sometimes you think a design should be changed because it's so familiar; that [the Ice Warrior design is] slightly less familiar, so we just made a super-version of the original.. The costume was therefore slightly tweaked. Neill Gorton of Millennium FX, who redesigned the Ice Warriors, commented,
My problem with the old [Ice Warrior design] is they had Lego hands and weird, spindly arms but a bulky body and these strange saddlebag hips, almost feminine. They had fur sticking out everywhere.
The redesign was inspired to give the Ice Warriors a body-building physique to emphasise their great strength, as well as three fingers. The costume was also made out of urethane rubber rather than the fibreglass used in the past. In the story it was revealed that the Ice Warriors are able to leave their armour (which they can control remotely), something never before seen.
Gatiss' second Ice Warriors story, 'Empress of Mars', had numerous inspirations. As well as the two Peladon stories, including mining machines that can be used as weapons, and classic Troughton story 'The Tomb of the Cybermen' (1967), he was also influenced by his childhood favourite authors including HG Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs. There were many references to films, predominantly the visuals of Zulu (1964), with Red Coats colonising the red planet. In a delightful nod to 'The Curse of Peladon' (1972) and 'The Monster of Peladon' (1974), which both featured Alpha Centauri, everyone's favourite hermaphrodite ambassador makes a cameo appearance, still voiced by original actress Ysanne Churchman, now 92. Also, for the first time, a female Ice Warrior is seen, their queen, Iraxxa. Gatiss described her with the words,
She's quite full-on and gung-ho. This is a great opportunity as we've never seen an Ice Queen. Her helmet is like the Ice Lords'; it's sleeker and she has sort of dreads, and a cloak. I said she has to have a cloak.
Frozen Ice Warrior Stories
In early 1968, Hayles drafted a story entitled 'The Lords of the Red Planet'. In this, the Second Doctor, Zoe and Jamie landed on ancient Mars. The story was later adopted by audio adventure company Big Finish in 2013 as part of their 'Lost Stories' range.
In 1986, during pre-production on the planned 23rd season of the series, writer Philip Martin wrote a story called 'Mission to Magnus' in which the Ice Warriors (in conjunction with Martin's own villainous creation, the alien con-artist Sil) would have seized control of a planet called Magnus. When the series was put on hiatus for 18 months, this story was dropped along with a number of others and replaced with an entirely different story. Martin later novelised this story for Target Books.