Doctor Who: Empress of Mars Review

Empress of Mars

The Ice Warriors return to televised Doctor Who for the first time in a few years, and bring with them a new member class of their race: The Ice Queen. A new bit of continuity to an old race, and an ending that directly connects to 70s Who… a good mix there then! But what about the story itself? Well, Victorian era British troops against Ice Warriors… it was good! Let’s take a closer look…

Official Synopsis:

The Doctor, Bill and Nardole arrive on Mars, and find themselves in an impossible conflict between Ice Warriors… and Victorian soldiers. As the Martian hive awakens around them, the Doctor faces a unique dilemma – this time the humans, not the Ice Warriors are the invaders. When Earth is invading Mars, whose side is he on?

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

Cast of Characters:

Empress of Mars 1

“No no, I’m sure Mars is fine… er, just don’t go outside…”

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) – The Doctor was far less grumpy and sarcastic here, this actually felt more like Pertwee’s Third Doctor, trying to negotiate peace between Earthlings and another race.

Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) – Bill walks around, asks questions, is a good hand in a crisis and makes pop culture references about films… so about the usual for a modern companion, then!

Nardole (Matt Lucas) – Appears somewhat briefly, as he is mysteriously transported back to Earth towards the start of the story…

The Ice Warriors – Ancient Martian race that for some reason call themselves Ice Warriors instead of Martians. Introduced here is an Ice Queen, called Iraxxa, which is interesting. All it needed was an Ice Lord redesign to complete the new Ice Warrior hierarchy…

Godsacre (Anthony Calf) – Member of the British army who actually deserted during a recent conflict, saved only by a faulty rope. He has found himself in command, through the blackmail of…

Catchlove (Ferdinand Kingsley) – Your classic super-arrogant Victorian Brit who wishes to climb the ladder and see Britain rule over the world (and Mars, I guess!)

Plus more!

The Good:

Empress of Mars 3

Now here is a screenshot that can only come from Doctor Who…

Unlike the previous Ice Warriors effort from Mr. Gatiss (Cold War back in Series 7) this was not only a really fun story, but it served the Ice Warriors well. They kept their helmets on and even introduced a new, top-of-the-chain Ice Queen to the mix. Iraxxa was a fun character, dominant but not overly cruel, like the Warriors themselves. I can image her at the top, the Ice Lords (from the old stories) as her direct underlings, and the Warriors as the army underneath. Why their weapons now turned humans into people-cubes I have no idea (or why in the future they’re back to just sonic guns…) but was a rather gruesome site, so I’ll just go with it. Let’s say as their race became less war focused they pulled back their weapons division… Works for me!

The Doctor and Bill were both on good form, as I alluded to in the bio section, the Doctor was in peace negotiation mode and so came across quite different than a lot of Capaldi’s performances. Godsacre was a great character, honestly stating that he deserted due to simple cowardice, and yet came around in the end and was accepted as an honorary Ice Warrior. Likewise Catchlove, apart from the name, was a great villain, everything you want your snobby officer class from Victorian times to be like.

I, of course, loved the continuity nod at the end, which saw the Ice Warriors get saved by Alpha Centauri from the 70s Peladon stories, showing how Martians ended up on a new planet in a different system and eventually settled into the peaceful Ice Warriors from those tales. Also the fact that Centauri was actually voiced by Ysanne Churchman, reprising her role from 40-odd years ago is one of those technically unnecessary but great little nods.

The Bad:

Empress of Mars 4

That’s the good on the left, bad on the right. Just making sure you know…

Not much was particually bad, per say. The ending, where The Doctor and Bill are saved by Nardole, who had to free Missy in order to help him with the rescue… I don’t know, I guess I’m still 100% sure that Missy hasn’t actually changed and that this is more Davros-from-last-series in its “big twist” that they haven’t turned over a new leaf. Plus after half a series of Nardole being so against the Doctor leaving the vault unguarded, he seemed to open the vault a tad bit too quickly…

The Continuity:

Empress of Mars 2

The Ice Queen steps on some Lego. We’ve all been there…

As mentioned, the Ice Warriors have appeared five times on the TV series before this, up against the Second Doctor in “The Ice Warriors” and “The Seeds of Death”, twice against the Third Doctor in “The Curse of Peladon” and “The Monster of Peladon”, and finally up against the Eleventh Doctor in “Cold War”. I’m not going to list comic, audio and book appearances, as I’d be here all day…

As mentioned in the final paragraph of the Good section, this shows how Martians came to be on another planet and involved in the Galactic Federation that also included Peladon during the two “of Peladon” stories, which, of course, also featured Alpha Centauri.

Apart from The Doctor getting annoyed that his sonic screwdriver still doesn’t work on wood, that was it for continuity… not that there was a lack of it!

Overall Thoughts:

Overall it’s one of those episodes that may not have any long-term story relevance, but are instead a really fun 45 minutes of Doctor Who. The little Peladon continuity reference that probably over 90% of the viewing audience had no idea about was great in my book, but was just a cherry on a perfectly fine cake.

4 Star Watch

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