For those of you who might be drowning in snow this winter, just remember it could be worse – you could live on a whole planet made of ice. And your home wouldn’t even have walls! At least you could take pride in your spaceship, one of the best space sets LEGO ever designed.
That’s right, we’re returning to Ice Planet 2002 to review set 6973: the Deep Freeze Defender. This ship has a well-deserved reputation among space fans because it combines just about everything you could want in a single package: a huge footprint, cool design, detachable mini ships, sliding doors, hidden rockets, magnets, and of course those neon orange chainsaws!
I really enjoy snow and ice themed LEGO. It’s the perfect marketing idea: buy a set for Christmas, and your child can play with it outside that day. That probably leads to lost pieces, but the idea has always appealed to me. When I was a child I played with my LEGO submarines in the bathtub and with my Adventurers sets in the woods – there’s something more exciting about a LEGO set in its “natural” setting. That’s why I chose to carry my Deep Freeze Defender back to Wisconsin to photograph last winter. I think it looks much better out in the freezing weather rather than sitting on a shelf.
This spaceship has always appealed to me, even though I was much too young to own it back in 1993. I can say this with certainty because I pored over old LEGO catalogs to a rather embarrassing degree as a child. Those pages captivated me in large part because all the sets had been retired for years — inaccessible until I discovered Bricklink. Now that I have my own Ice Planet sets 20 years later, I can finally see what I was missing.
Design and features: The most interesting thing about this ship, aside from the size, is its ability to split apart into modular sections. This allows the twin forward cabins to separate into small fighter or scout craft. Not only that, but you can recombine the modules in several different ways, conceivably creating two or three ships for more variety.
Each of the segments has its own surprises. The central section is mostly composed of wings, but a central module opens up to store a rocket and satellite. This fits with the loose goal of the Ice Planeteers, which has something to do with satellite surveillance or mapping. Almost all the sets come with either a rocket or a satellite receiver to communicate with machines in orbit. The rockets are a clear holdover from the early days of Classic Space, but I always wondered why these futuristic explorers are still relying on 20th century rockets when they clearly have streamlined spaceships that have no trouble flying through an atmosphere.
The back of the ship holds a miniature ship that can emerge from a sliding panel door. The mechanism is set up so that pulling the door back will pop the ship out from the interior, ready to blast off. It’s a simple but ingenious way of adding a little more interest to what could have been a fairly boring hangar bay. The little ship is the commander’s personal craft, and it can also attach to the rocket with magnets. Of course, the rocket is basically one big engine, while the tiny ship has no visible propulsion. When the commander’s craft attaches, who is controlling who? Maybe the rocket is a gigantic booster engine, or maybe he’s meant to maneuver the rocket into position and detach before it ignites.
The Ice Planeteers are a peaceful bunch – you won’t find any guns or missiles here. I find that refreshing, since almost all the more recent sets have been packed with weapons and conflict-oriented storylines. Perhaps the most extreme example is the 2008 Mars Mission flagship, 7644 MX–81 Hypersonic Operations Aircraft, which boasts at least 21 guns. The [Galaxy Squad]http://brickset.com/sets/theme-Space/subtheme-Galaxy-Squad) sets are similarly well-armed. In comparison, the early ’90s sets were almost too afraid to portray violence. The villainous Blacktron was reworked to a less threatening color scheme, Space Police lost almost all their firepower, and M:Tron never used weapons in their job as engineers and merchants. Ice Planet 2002 was definitely part of this period of galactic de-escalation, filling the role of scientists and explorers. Nevertheless, they could take care of themselves if necessary, using the harsh environment to their advantage.
Minifigs: Any starship needs a crew, and the Deep Freeze Defender includes three minifigs. The Ice Planet figs are typical of the classic 90s style. Probably because I grew up in this era, this sort of figure is my favorite. Plenty of detail and color in the printing, yet still retaining a cartoonish charm. Not the sparse space figs of the 80s nor overly complex like some modern figures. No leg, arm, back, or reverse head printing here. You can see that the uniforms are lined with practical fur and have some sort of tubing system which probably supplies heat. There’s Commander Cold, the leader of the Ice Planet faction, along with a white-blond younger man and a red-haired woman — the first woman in LEGO Space, given the unfortunate name of Ice Babe. For all its modern issues with the Friends sets, let’s be glad that LEGO can no longer get away with one lone woman in 15 years of space sets. (Or maybe they can…) The accessories are some of the best ever made for a Space set. The neon orange skis and chainsaws are iconic, and I really like the vizors as well. It’s too bad that this mold is so little utilized. The one problem is the lack of chainsaw handles – instead the common “space gun” pieces act as hand holds.
Downsides: There are no serious problems with this set, but I would have preferred to see a larger internal space that can hold a couple crew members. This is a common problem due to LEGO’s scale, remedied lately by a large cockpit and hidden compartment in Benny’s Spaceship, Spaceship, SPACESHIP but not in the Galaxy Squad sets. LEGO Space is a lonely place, where you’re lucky to have an enclosed canopy at all, much less a shared one.
The other main drawback is a function of the color and age of this set. Old white bricks have a tendency to yellow, and mine have done so with a vengeance. When this set arrived from a Bricklink seller, all pieces were pure white as advertised. I carefully stored it in a closet, knowing that UV in sunlight triggers the yellowing process. Unfortunately, the yellowing can occur retroactively, and nearly every brick had a jaundiced hue when I pulled the set out again. This is caused by a brominated flame retardant in the plastic, and practically unavoidable with old bricks. The good news is the process is reversible, at least temporarily. Soaking the parts in Retr0bright, composed of easy-to-obtain chemicals like hydrogen peroxide and OxiClean, will restore them to their former white. It does not damage printing, so the process is mostly harmless. However, the yellowing is free to begin anew once the treatment is finished. Unfortunately Retr0bright is not for sale and must be mixed yourself, and repeated treatments are rumored to weaken the plastic. I am loath to try it myself, but I’ll probably give it a shot at some point.
This set is unquestionably a classic, possibly the best spaceship LEGO has ever made. The twin-cockpit modular design, bright orange and blue color scheme, and fun play features set it apart. The part count is nowhere near a modern set, but the size more than makes up for it. The build is hardly easy either, thanks to the old instructions. There were no part callouts back then, so you have to be careful building a set this size. It’s quite easy to miss a piece here and there! I’m happy I bought it, and Ice Planet 2002 remains one of my favorite Space themes. In fact, another set just arrived in the mail. I’ll have to return next winter for more icy adventures!