Watched The Ice House (Ghost Stories for Christmas 1978). Not quite sure what to make of it, but it feels oddly like an RTD-era Doctor Who (minus The Doctor)

[Contact Me] | [FAQ]

[Some "Dougisms" Defined]

[About Dickens of a Blog]

[Jump to Site Links]

Summary: The Ice House is about Paul, away on a holiday, and the strange estate he is at. Seems normal and warm at first, but later, the ice house out back and the strange flowers that grow upon it start to bring a sinister edge to the whole thing.

BLOT: (11 Feb 2013 - 01:02:58 PM)

Watched The Ice House (Ghost Stories for Christmas 1978). Not quite sure what to make of it, but it feels oddly like an RTD-era Doctor Who (minus The Doctor)

Watched "The Ice House" this morning over breakfast, a 34-minute final entry in the original run of BBC's A Ghost Story for Christmas series. Not 100% on where I found it, but I picked it up a few months back and have been meaning to get around to it. The first five (six, if you include the greatly recommended "Whistle and I'll Come to You") were based off of M.R. James stories while the last three had varying authors. Dickens's "The Signalman" was the last classic, with "Stigma" and "The Ice House" being written for the screen1 and set in 1970s Britain.

I'm not quite sure what to make of it. Paul, a man near his 50s (I guess), recently left by his wife, has come to the estate run by Clovis and Jessica (brother and sister) to get away from his lonesome house. The siblings run a spa retreat with regular stints in the sauna, massage parlor, gym, and walks around the ground. Paul first hits it off with Bob, a worker who oversees the sauna and works as masseur. Then Bob goes missing, and Paul starts spending more time with the enigmatic siblings. They show him a pair of flowers growing on the side of a strangely still-in-use old ice house. Paul keeps asking, "What's in the ice house?" and they keep telling him ice, but he is afraid to look inside and see for himself. As he realizes that the other guests are acting strangely, he becomes more and more distressed, and things go to crap. He eventually does look inside the ice house, has a bad time of it, is convinced it was his own imagination, and then is given a speech about death and suffering, and [spoilers to the end of this paragraph]walks back inside of the ice house, on his own, which cuts to the credits and the understanding that he never comes back out[/spoilers end].

About the only way this counts as a ghost story (instead of semi-speculative fiction with a bit of chill in its flanks, no pun intended) is that maybe Paul is already dead, and the ice house represents him accepting this. Or maybe the other guests are already dead, and he is becoming a permanent guest. Or maybe the siblings are dead, and feeding off of the living. Just about any solution you come up with doesn't quite match the dialogue or patterns in the script, and I think you can best take it as a series of weird vignettes largely stapled around Paul's dealing with his own loneliness and wanting to reach out to someone. Possibly it is a suicide tale with the ice house being an allegorical acceptance that you can end suffering by getting it over with?

It does tap into Jamesian style with the lonely main character off on his own, facing things he does not quite understand, and coming to an indefinite end, but...

I also found it fascinating in that is much like an RTD-era Doctor Who in which the Doctor never shows up. You have an estate and strange happenings. You have a series of weird+twitchy guests. You have an amiable but strangely inhuman group of "bad guys" that could just happen to be aliens. Paul even tends to warm up quicker to the brother than the sister in a hint of not-quite-same-sex-attraction.

Had this been scripted into a Who, the cold opening would have been someone going inside the ice house and some flashing lights, maybe a scream to drive it home. Then, cut to the Tenth showing up with Martha, for a holiday. They make friends with a couple of guests, including Paul, because everyone else seems stand-offish. The story would continue much the same, though two or three of the friendlier guests would have disappeared. The siblings would have said they had checked out early. Finally, it would come down to Clovis being an alien psychiatrist who specializes in treating the fear of death by either (a) removing emotions from the patient or (b) flash freezing them so they never finish dying, or (c) somehow both. There would end up being some speech and the Doctor would unfreeze the people and talk about how important "you humans" are.2

As for the story we have, I'd give "The Ice House" a 4/8. +1 if you like mood pieces, -1 if you like cohesive stories (with possibly another -1 if you like clearcut endings over all else).


1: The writer, John Bowen, had previously done the script for the James adaptation: "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas" (1974's entry). He has a few other writing credits to his name, including books and novels.

2: In an Eighth (and possibly Eleventh) Doctor Story, Clovis would have been Cryogenic Life Overseer and Vitality Integrated System, and would be from the future where it accidentally wiped out an entire crew of space pilgrims, and is now hiding in the past, trying to figure out what went wrong with its system by testing on more primitive humans.

Horror, Doctor Who


Written by Doug Bolden

For those wishing to get in touch, you can contact me in a number of ways

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

The longer, fuller version of this text can be found on my FAQ: "Can I Use Something I Found on the Site?".

"The hidden is greater than the seen."