Doctor Who s10 e9 – The Empress of Mars

Standalone Fun with nods to classic Who.

Mark Gatiss. A Renaissance Man of our times, one of the League of Gentleman, comedian, writer  for TV and otherwise, co-creator of BBC’s Sherlock, actor, Mycroft Holmes in Sherlock, Tycho Nestoris in Game of Thrones and huge Doctor Who fan, writer and contributor.

‘Sleep No More’ of the nine episodes that he has written for NuWho, was experimental, different and interesting using a ‘found footage’ format to tell a story in a different way. It also carried criticism from fans as it wasn’t easily accessible and thought confusing.

‘Empress of Mars’ is a delight in comparison. A romp, an episode with Victorians on Mars, led there by a servile Ice Warrior (or so it seems).

This episode played to the strengths of Capaldi and Mackie, we were drawn into the tale straightaway with no reference to the preceding mini-arc of the Monks. We have 1881, ‘God Save The Queen’ written on the Martian surface and an amusing opening in the NASA control room. 

British imperial redcoats getting to Mars finding it barren, but being used by their servant ice warrior to find his hive.

Our Queen of this story is the Ice Warrior Queen, who is woken and disturbed by a squaddie seeking loot. The most intriguing lines of the episode are when the Queen seeks Bill’s opinion as a woman.

Neville Catchlove was our Victorian antagonist. What a name. His greed and willingness to disregard his commander almost gave us Victorian Soldiers fighting the Ice Warriors, before The Queen, The Doctor and Bill diffuse the situation. Although that’s after Catchlove locks Bill and The Doctor up and that pesky sonic screwdriver still can’t deal with wood.

We also have questions of the superior tone used by the Victorians with Bill, a black woman and their treatment of the Ice Warrior that led them there as a servant.

The Doctor engages, tries to advise and tries to save the Soldiers from themselves and the revived Ice Queen and her Warriors. 

It’s not a case of The Doctor automatically being there for the humans, but he’s stuck with them after the TARDIS disappears with Nardole. Again the Twelfth Doctor won’t intervene for human stupidity, but rather for both species, which is consistent with his earlier grouchy appearances in Series Eight.

The references to classic who abound, Ice Warriors, also placed into NuWho by Gatiss on a Russian submarine. Monsters of the 60’s and 70’s most memorably with the Third Doctor on Peladon. Alpha Centuri, an alien Ambassador from well, Alpha Centuri, voiced by a 92 year old actress, Ysanne Churchman, who had played the character in the seventies. 

There’s a Queen Victoria portrait with Pauline Collins’ likeness as from Tooth and Claw in the Tenth Doctor’s adventures too. The Tardis previously went haywire around Ice Warriors in the Third Doctor’s first visit to Peladon in 1972’s Curse of Peladon. (Being a saddo and a whovian, I’ve seen that on DVD..)

It’s a standalone episode and it delivers. 8/10 from me, a return to form after the slight disappointment of Lie of the Land. 

My questions

The Tardis disappearing with Nardole and returning with Nardole and Missy. Nothing is linear, necessarily, in time and space.

Victorians on Mars in 1881. Yeah that’s a hell of a rocket, even with Ice Warrior help.

Missy? Did she save the day? Did she save Nardole? Did he seek her help with the Tardis malfunctioning? Why did the Tardis malfunction? What did Nardole and Missy do between leaving and returning to Mars?

And what of those Monks?

These may be questions resolved in the series finale episodes, I do feel the Monks will return and I have a suspicion that there’s another classic who nod in their reveal.

As for next week, Rona Munro is another writer who has written Who before. Although, it was ‘Survival’, the Seventh Doctor’s final adventure before the show was terminated by Michael Grade and the BBC’s corporate morons of the late 1980’s. Somewhat brilliantly though, we have our Doctor returning to Scotland, well Caledonia more correctly, and a tale of the missing IX legion..

I’ll look forward to ‘The Eaters of Light.’

Oh, and on reveals, we’re getting closer to the filming dates of the 2017 Christmas Special and possibly the last episode featuring Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor, there’s buzz that show insiders know who the next Who is.. we’ll see. Steven Moffat loves a misdirection if nothing else.

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