This week on Doctor Who the Doctor gets to go back into space, specifically, Mars: well, Mars being explored by soldiers of Victorian era England. It’s Doctor Who, so it makes sense, eventually… Anyway, back in the present NASA is using a new kind of probe to take images of Mars’s icy surface when they see a message written in rocks: “God save the Queen”. With the Doctor’s grin of delight there is no question of which mystery he, Nardole, and Bill are solving next. Next stop, Mars, 1881!
Shortly after arriving on Mars at the point when the message was written, the Doctor, Bill, and Nardole each find themselves in their own set of trouble. Bill falls down a hole in the tunnels under Mars’s surface and is found by a Victorian soldier. Nardole, in trying to find something in the TARDIS to help Bill ends up getting stuck there and sent back to earth. The Doctor? Well, in trying to find Bill, he gets ambushed by a lone indigenous Martian, an Ice Warrior. A creature which is human like in form but covered from head to toe in a green armour of thick scales. It turns out that the lone Ice Warrior is teamed up with the Victorian soldiers. So Bill and the Doctor find themselves having tea with the two leading officers who explain how they came to be mining on Mars for gold. The Doctor is wary of the deal made with the Ice Warrior as he knows their race to be one of war, though beyond the context of war they wouldn’t hurt a fly. So being stuck on Mars for the foreseeable future the Doctor tries to discover more about the real motives behind the deal.
At this point things seem to be going relatively well, the Doctor and Bill are drinking tea, the lone Ice Warrior seems all chummy with the invading humans, and everyone else seems to be getting on relatively well despite being stranded on an ice planet, but I spoke too soon. It is shortly after this conversation that the mining soldiers make a breakthrough in the wall they have been chipping at and find a cavernous tomb. My doubts are confirmed as the Doctor declares “it’s not just any tomb, this is the tomb of an Ice Queen”. From here on in the Victorian soldiers make one bad decision after another all based on greed and selfish desires, all on the claim “You don’t belong [on Mars]? We’re British, Mars is part of the Empire now”. It is this human ignorance, and the fact that (like always) no one actually listens when the Doctor speaks, that this series of bad decisions lead to the awakening of the Ice Queen herself. From there, the Queen awakens the rest of the hive and declares war on the invading humans. I, like the Doctor, cleverly anticipated this and was so frustrated with the string of idiotic decisions these soldiers had made it was almost laughable.
Despite this stupidity, ‘Empress of Mars’ has honestly been my favourite episode this series, apart from the series opener of course. As well as bringing back a Classic Who (pre-2005 series) monster, the whole plot and episode cut felt very much like I was watching an episode from before the modern era of Doctor Who, and I loved it. There were no overly complicated time jumps, or a monster with an excessively emotional backstory. All the episode really was, was just some humans on Mars poking at something with a stick and getting a clear indication they’d messed up when it was almost too late to redeem themselves. For that, I commend veteran ’90s Dr Who writer Mark Gatiss. One thing that did stick out with me is the number of mentions of the ‘sacrifice of the soldier’ which, in light of the episodes plot, may mean nothing, but I can’t help but wonder if this may play a part later in the series final. Especially with only three episodes to go, and the Doctor having been referred to as a soldier in other episodes too.
Overall this episode was entertaining and exciting, and with the nod to the classic Doctor Who episodes there wasn’t too much I could fault. Sometimes it’s nice to have a break from the time based, more confusing episodes, even if it means forty-five minutes of pure frustration at the hands of some very greedy and self-righteous characters. I can’t complain though, they fit the story perfectly, plus the Doctor, Bill, and the Ice Queen definitely put them in their place.
Plot: 3/4 – Character: 2.5/3 – Monster (‘Misunderstood Alien’) of the Week: 3/3