The episode The Ice Warriors from the Patrick Troughton era is particularly interesting to watch today, because it is set in a time in Earth’s future when humanity faces a crisis as a result of anthropogenic climate change. In this case, developments in both food production and population led humans to reduce the amount of plant life growing in the wild to a bare minimum, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, triggering a new ice age. The action takes place in Britain, threatened by a glacier that is moving steadily to engulf them.
The sort of climate change occurring is opposite to what we now face, but it still seems timely to listen to an episode of Doctor Who from the 1960s that was aware of how human activities could affect the climate on the planet.
As scientists work to prepare an ionizer that they hope will melt the glacier, Ice Warriors from Mars who had been trapped in the ice during the previous ice age now resurface and are freed. Their effort to accomplish their own survival and dominance becomes intertwined with that of humanity.The human scientists have become dependent on a computer to make hard decisions for them. At times, they speak of its role with reverence, as a wise guide who can lead them. The Doctor, on the other hand, is adamant that computers are not to be trusted above human minds. Ultimately, when the computer is left flummoxed by the seemingly insoluble problem the situation presents (using the ionizer could trigger a catastrophic explosion from the Ice Warriors’ spacecraft’s reactors, while not using it will mean being pulvized by the glacier), only the human (and Gallifreyan) ability to act on the basis of emotion, to take risks, can provide the answer.
The episode thus brings to the fore the ambiguous view of science in science fiction. Technology can provide salvation – but only when it remains a tool for good used wisely but also courageously by human minds and wills. If we become subjected to our technological creations, the message seems to be, their cold and calculating rule over us will not save us, but rather may well prevent us from saving ourselves.