Plot: Gender, politics and Ice Warriors.
Summary: One of the best things science fiction can do well is to examine thorny real-life issues from the relative safety of slimy green monsters. Take District 9 (along with motion sickness pills) for example – it's a SF thriller that also addresses human rights, equality, and corporate greed. If an alien stands in for a human, the issue(s) can be discussed with less prejudice at the start. That being said, for the trick to work there has to be something to say, something beneath the SF surface to tap into the human issues at hand. Otherwise it's just surface. This is the core problem with Cold-Blooded War, the latest Doctor Who one-shot.
The Doctor and Donna stumble onto planet Draconia, a society on the brink of civil war. The cause of this strife is that a female Draconian has ascended to the emperor's throne. This is a problem because the Draconian society is patriarchal. So male-dominated is Draconian society that the women of the species have to wear clothing that Donna accurately describes as Burqas (get it?).
The premise has potential, but the story never delves below the surface of those alien Burqas. Several characters state the situation before being blown up, making threats or doing nothing in particular. But aside from one panel of the Draconian woman in the Burqa, there is little else to back the statements up. Starkings gets bogged down in characters proclaiming loudly their position and the thinnest sheen of political maneuvering. The sexism that is supposedly the heart of the problem could just as easily be any other political detail and thus carries no thematic weight.
Donna, the mouthpiece for the feminist argument (kinda), makes a few decent points but it comes off as shrill and preachy. This is incongruent with the compassion and no-nonsense attitude that was the most endearing trait of the Donna character. In fact she insults the Ice Warriors that are keeping the peace, which falls flat if meant to be a joke. In a previous Doctor Who one-shot, Autopia, Donna solves the main problem in a way that only she could, remaining true to her character. Here Donna serves little purpose except to remind people that The Doctor has been kidnapped and to scold everyone.
The main antagonist, an insurgent named Fusek Kljuco, is a deposed military leader who harbors resentment for losing his position. He is outraged that a woman could kick him to the curb. In truth, though, he's such a bad leader that his own men mistake The Doctor for a human adjudicator… even though Fusek had the Adjudicator assassinated at the beginning of the story. His men don't even have the sense to search the Doctor and take his sonic screwdriver, a mistake a lot of the Doctor's enemies seem to make. Squandering time and resources, or rank incompetence, could be a better reason for Fusek 's dismissal.
Another problem with the story is that the sluggish plot suffers from cliché and the most transparent need to get The Doctor from point A to B to C with little regard for internal logic or character. As soon as you meet Agita, the imprisoned daughter of Fusek, you pretty much know what her fate is going to be. And when she dies accidentally at Fusek's hands (big surprise, right…) it's hard to believe that he, after killing his wife in front of his daughter, would see the error of his ways. Even less believable is that Agita's death brings a swift end to the civil unrest supposedly caused by centuries of male hegemony.
Finally Cold-Blooded War loses points for being straight-up deceptive. The title makes little sense in context of the story. But when you look at the cover, The Doctor and Donna caught between two different lizard species, you are basically led to believe that there is a war between the Ice Warriors and The Draconians. Just a tad snarky don't ya think?
The art is OK, suggesting settings and characters more than illustrating them. It is a bit of a shame to see the Ice Warriors back in action but resembling Lego Minifigs at best, angry asparagus at worst. The pacing is choppy but I lay that more at the door of the writing in truth. Still, great art can cover a weak story - and this isn't great art.
Final Word: As metaphor Cold-Blooded War fails. As a decent story the one-shot falls painfully short also. I'll call it a misstep - even good titles have clunkers every once in awhile. Lord knows the Doctor Who TV shows has had its share of stinkers in its decades-long run. The one-shot's biggest sin (aside from making you think it's one thing then delivers something else) is that it could have been a lot more interesting and lived up to the promise of what great science fiction does – hold a mirror up to our current world. Sadly though, there is no reflection on its surface.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!