RECAP & REVIEW: Doctor Who – ‘Empress of Mars’ (Series 10, Episode 9)

So what happened?

In the present day, a group of baffled NASA scientists see images of the words ‘God Save the Queen’ spelled out in rocks buried under the ice cap on Mars beamed back to them. Crashing the party are The Doctor, Bill and Nardole, who also witness the strange discovery and set off to investigate. Travelling back to 1881 and landing on the red planet, they discover the place is inexplicably occupied by Victorian soldiers. Trying to retrieve Bill after she takes a tumble down a hole, Twelve instructs Nardole to get back in the TARDIS and fly it down to help her, but the time machine has ideas of its own and heads back to the university in the present day. Desperate to get back, The Doctor’s petrified assistant goes to Missy to ask for help.

Friday ep 9 DW
Friday (Richard Ashton) is essentially serving as butler to the soldiers during their expedition to Mars.

In the meantime, Twelve and his companion establish that the soldiers have befriended Friday, an Ice Warrior whose spaceship crash landed in Africa and who, in reparation for their help, allowed them to utilise elements of his alien technology to travel to Mars, create a pocket of oxygen within a cavern and mine for materials there. Sceptical that the Ice Warrior is acting entirely altruistically, his concerns are dismissed as Friday continues to act as little more than a glorified butler for the men. As they continue to zap away at the cavern walls, however, they unearth the tomb of who The Doctor identifies as the Ice Empress. Listening to Twelve’s warning that they need to be wary of the find, Godsacre instructs his men to leave it alone, but Jackdaw is too tempted by the riches on offer and inadvertently awakens the Empress after prising one of the jewels off the side of her resting place.

After dealing with Jackdaw, the Empress, known as Iraxx, confronts the humans on her planet and Friday explains to her that she’s been sleeping for 5000 years, and the surface of their planet has now become uninhabitable. With The Doctor urging her to seek a peaceful agreement with the humans, who may be able to her, Iraxxa is far more interested in seeking out the opinion of the only other female in the vicinity. Bill encourages her to peacefully talk with the humans, and she tentatively agrees until a stray bullet from one of the soldier’s guns accidentally hits her helm. With Bill’s good work undone, the alien Empress returns fire and Catchlove uses the chaos to undermine Godsacre, outing him as a deserter, and then take over command. Once in charge he manages to isolate Iraxxa and Friday in the tomb, and locks his former superior in a cell along with Twelve and Bill.

Catchlove
Catchlove (Ferdinand Kingsley) after seizing control of the men from Godsacre.

During the subsequent calm before the storm, Iraxxa is quietly reviving hundreds of her Ice Warrior soldiers, just as The Doctor warned she might if her tomb was disturbed. Burrowing under the red earth, they manage to take the British soldiers by surprise, but Friday allies himself with the Time Lord and his companion and helps them take control of the mining device he helped the soldiers to create. Giving them the ultimatum that either they cease the violence, or he’ll shoot the ice cap and bury them all underneath it, Catchlove once again takes matters into his own hands and sneaks up behind Iraxxa, putting a knife to her throat. He won’t harm her if she agrees to help him pilot a ship back to Earth. Godsacre intervenes though, killing Catchlove and then offers his life to Iraxxa if she agrees not to hurt anybody else. She consents to his request on the proviso that he pledges his allegiance to the Ice Warriors.

After things have been resolved, The Doctor contacts Alpha Centauri and asks them to help the Ice Warriors out, before heading onto the planet’s surface with Godsacre to mark out the words that the NASA scientists will find well over a hundred years later. Soon after, Nardole arrives back on Mars and a shocked Twelve realises he released Missy from her captivity to pilot the TARDIS, whilst she seems concerned about ‘her friend’s’ well-being.

Monster of the Week

Marieke: Old foes, the Ice Warriors, have been dusted off, or defrosted, to star again in this new Who series. Not being familiar with old episodes, I see a race who do not fit their name. I am thinking about creatures made out of ice or shooting ice, but that might be too Marvel influenced. Instead we have reptiles who hibernate until they are activated again. Friday shows that the Ice Warriors have the intelligence to con humans by pretending to serve them. More than that, the race as a whole shows there are ways to negotiate with them. They surely shoot when in danger, but aren’t as trigger happy as say, the Daleks. By having a motive, defending their planet, they already have more depth than the Monks from the previous episodes. The interactions with the Doctor and Bill show they are also willing to listen, although some persistence is needed. The conversation between the Queen and Bill was especially priceless. Who needs the opinion of all those useless males anyway? But as in so many Who episodes, especially this series, it is man who actually are the (invading) monsters, especially Catchlove, who showed his true, evil human colours.

Danielle: *Rubs hands together* Oh, I do like the Ice Warriors! They essentially look like tin can lizards, but that didn’t really detract from anything here. In fact, I liked the contrast with those wholly ridiculous, and completely out of place Victorian soldiers. Marieke hit the nail on the head when she said the humans were the real ‘monsters’ here, yet again this series. Once more, British imperial ambitions have a lot to answer for as well.

Irraxxa Friday vs soldiers DW ep 9
Iraxxa and her loyal soldier, Friday, may have intimidated the British Army, but the tropey nature of her actions stopped her from being outright scary.
Creep Factor

Marieke: It was obvious Friday was not just a servant, so we waited until he showed his true face. An Ice Warrior hive is also pretty creepy, but I cannot blame the Ice Warriors for attacking the Victorian soldiers. They were just defending their home planet. Bill and the Doctor being stuck was nowhere near as creepy as Nardole having to ask Missy for help. Her face at the end, whilst hiding in the TARDIS, was the creepiest thing this episode.

Danielle: There wasn’t really a creep factor this week, was there? Even that moment where Jackdaw sealed his own fate by stealing riches from the tomb was too ‘tropey’ to be considered genuinely scary. To be honest, the Ice Warriors turning their enemies into bouncing balls is an endless source of fun to me.

Mystery

Marieke: Missy knows there is something up with the Doctor. Does she know he is dying? Can she feel his regeneration coming? Maybe she is right there with him, keeping that spoiler in mind? And what does the TARDIS know about all this? She did lead Nardole to Missy…

Danielle: I’m actually curious if a third party was involved in the TARDIS’ mysterious disappearing act. Yes, we know the ship can take off on her own accord at times, but it was very convenient that it meant Nardole would have to ask Missy for help and free her from the vault. Very convenient. I still can’t decide if her concern for The Doctor was genuine there, either.

Familiar Face

Once again honing his leadership skills here by ordering Victorian troops around as Godsacre, Anthony Calf has previous experience as the boss in long-running police drama, New Tricks. Ian Beattie also seems to have found his niche as a baddie, but Jackdaw is nowhere near as villainous as Game of Thrones‘ Meryn Trant!

Twelve and his Companion(s)

Marieke: It was a shame the TARDIS took off with Nardole, making him a minor character again. We know he is scared of Missy, so nothing new there. It feels like he has been sidelined a little too often. Bill and The Doctor bounced off each other terrifically again though. Bill’s knowledge about films was hilarious, mentioning movies with scenarios which the Doctor could’ve lived through, basically. The icing on the cake was that the only film he has seen is Frozen. You just know he’s memorised the words to ‘Let It Go’. It really will be a shame if Bill only stays on for a single season, as is still heavily rumoured. On the other hand, it is hard to recreate the chemistry she has with Twelve. Twelve was a more likeable Twelve this episode, and it felt like a return to the first half of this series.

Danielle: It is quite strange that Nardole seems to be jettisoned at every available opportunity. Maybe Matt Lucas wanted some down time? More likely though, I think it stems from a deliberate push to allow The Doctor some alone time with his companion. (Wait!… That sounded much pervier than I intended.) Come to think of it, Amy used to bound off alone with Eleven quite often, leaving poor Rory to his own devices. That makes me think they’re simply giving the two main players more screen time, which I guess is fair enough. Still, as much as I love Bill’s dynamic with Twelve when they’re flying solo, I do think there’s something quite unique about the interactions between the three of them, chiefly because they are such different characters. I hope we see more of the whole gang together before Capaldi goes out in, what I hope, is a blaze of glory.

The Verdict?

Marieke: Leaving the horrible Monks behind, we encountered a proper, and even somewhat likeable, enemy this episode. However, it did not feel like a return to form. The episode seemed to lack the freshness, which finally started to lure me towards the Twelve camp. There was plenty to enjoy, such as the film references, the female perspective and Godsacre’s redemption arc. For the true Whovians, there was even a small cameo to make them throw their sonic screwdrivers into the air out of sheer joy. However, all this did not change the fact the episode went exactly by the book. Friday siding with our heroes and the Queen enlisting Godsacre did not exactly come as a surprise. It was a little too much paint by numbers without added glitter to make the picture really stand out. With only a few episodes left I hope we will reach the heights of the start of this series again. Gatiss has not convinced me to look forward to any of his episodes in the future, but I do give him credit for handling the Ice Warriors well. My expectations were low and the episode was a little better than that, but not good enough to get rid of the bad taste the Monks’ episodes left. Onwards and upwards though, hopefully Missy will get the show rolling again.

Twelve ep 9 DW
Twelve (Peter Capaldi) regarding the Ice Warriors: Was this adventure simply too run of the mill?

Danielle: Yes, ‘Empress of Mars’ was an improvement on last week’s offering. You could even go so far as to say it was fifty minutes of ridiculous fun, which it was. That does nothing, nevertheless, to lessen the fact that this episode was essentially filler. I guess that’s to be expected at this stage in proceedings with Gatiss’ outing as writer being sandwiched between a problematic trilogy, and those all too important last few episodes of Capaldi’s tenure. It’s fatal flaw was how run of the mill it was, how prescriptive and how downright predictably it flowed. If I was trying to explain to an alien what happens in your average Doctor Who episode, as you do, this is what I’d point to as a reference. That isn’t necessarily the compliment you think it might be at first glance. In short, it didn’t blow me away.

That’s not to say there wasn’t merit to it. As Marieke has already highlighted, it was nice to see that the Ice Warriors had a real, believable motivation to fight back against their human counterparts, in stark contrast to last week’s aliens. It’s always great to see badass, female extra-terrestrials  as well, and Iraxxa didn’t disappoint. I too found it hilarious when she insisted that Bill’s voice was heard over those ‘noisy’ male voices. Perhaps there’s something to her being the ‘voice of reason’ after it was literally her recorded words in the episode before that kept everybody sane, as they attempted to infiltrate The Monks’ pyramid? Will Twelve’s downfall come as a result of him not listening to her? We’re going to find out sooner, rather than later.

And Finally…
  • Gatiss did not like a black actor being cast as a soldier until it had been proven to him that there actually was a single, black soldier in Queen Victoria’s army. Because the rest is so incredibly realistic, right? (M)
  • I can’t help but feel that mining device was overkill. It was sort of Wylie Coyote-esque. (D)
  •  Friday should join The Doctor in the TARDIS for a few episodes. Could be a laugh… (M)

 

Our Fezzy Score: rsz_fuzzy_fezrsz_fuzzy_fezrsz_fuzzy_fez

So what did you think of the episode? Let us know in the know in the comments…

 

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