Doctor Who Review: “Empress of Mars”

Fresh out of the monk trilogy, and a mere 3 episodes away from the end; Episode 9 brought back the Ice Warriors… this time of their own turf.

spoilers ahead, sweetie…

A Brief Overview of What Happened.

The Doctor has taken Bill and Nardole on a trip to NASA to witness the satellite images of the north pole of Mars, only to be shocked when they find the message “God Save The Queen” written across the surface in stones. The message dates back to Victorian times, so the Doctor travels back into Mars’ past to find out how on Earth (or rather on Mars, badumtsst) there were ever Victorians on Mars.

A team of British soldiers found the ship of an Ice Warrior – known as Friday – back on Earth and saved him. In return for that and also helping him to get back to his own planet, Friday offered them the riches that Mars had to offer. Of course, the current state of Mars is very different to the one that Friday used to know, having been asleep for 5,000 years. The Victorians haven’t found any riches, and Friday hasn’t found any of his kind. That is until the troops uncover the tomb of an Ice Queen while continuing their search of riches.

The Doctor, knowing that this tomb could simply be another stasis chamber and the entrance to an Ice Warrior hive, tries to convince the Victorians to leave the tomb alone and continue working on fixing their ship – which crashed upon landing – and get back to Earth. I ought to mention that the TARDIS decided to abandon the Doctor and Bill, but take Nardole with her. Thus making any escape mission via the TARDIS impossible.

Some meddling with the tomb thanks to a rogue troop awakens the Ice Queen, which we also discover to be the Empress of Mars. Friday explains to her what has happened, along with some backing up from both the Doctor and Bill. Mars is dead, and the Ice Warriors won’t survive without help, and the Doctor tries to convince her to work with the humans. However, the accidental firing of a gun from another troop sends all of that to pot and it’s not long before we see the Empress awakening the rest of her army and declaring war of the Victorians. On the side of the Victorians a mutiny takes place, with the Colonel being exposed as being a coward whose execution simply failed. Both him, the Doctor and Bill are locked up until Friday comes to their rescue, hoping to stop the bloodshed from going any further. The Colonel, however, appears to dessert his post once again and runs off to god knows where.

It’s then the Doctor gives the Empress and ultimatum; call a cease fire or he’ll shoot at ground above them and bury them all in snow and ice. They either must live together or die together. But before any of that can happen before Captain Catchlove himself goes rogue, abandoning the soldiers he’d stolen command of, and holding the Empress hostage in order to get the ship back into working order to make his retreat. It turns out, however, that the Colonel didn’t dessert his post and blocks the path of Catchlove before shooting him. He then asks to be executed by the Empress so long as his soldiers and the Earth is spared. The Empress, however, admires his bravery and asks him to serve alongside the Ice Warriors. The colonel accepts.

To help them get back on their feet the Doctor sends out a signal to any nearby ships. It’s intercepted by Alpha Centauri (a quick nod to Classic Who) who offer to help them. The Doctor even suggests it’s the beginning of Mars’ Golden Age.

And just in the nick of time Nardole returns back with the TARDIS to take them all home. Oh no wait… Nardole actually got Missy to pilot the TARDIS back to Mars. We’re left on a sort of weird cliff-hanger as the Doctor tells her he has to put her back in The Vault and Missy accepts the fact before asking if he’s alright. Very odd but chilling.

So Many Questions. Not Enough Of The Word Count.

Before I get too deep into my review, I just want to say how nice it is to be back with the standalone episodes. While I’ve never minded the odd two-parter here and there and understand that sometimes it’s needed to tell a story properly, I was never keen on how season 9 was full of them. And we all know I wasn’t all that keen on Moffat’s go at a three-parter this season. I just much prefer it when we have these adventures in a single episode.

This episode was good. It kept my full attention throughout its entirety. We had the Doctor stuck in a situation that he often find himself in, but one that never becomes easier; When the humans might just be the bad guys.

Yep, I’m going to say it now. Aside from the Colonel, I did not feel sorry the humans in this episode. The Empress had such a stern face the whole time, it was hard to see what she was thinking. But there were times there where I honestly think the Doctor had almost convinced her, and then they went and ruined it. The arrogance of humans – or Victorian humans – where they’ve claimed things for the Empire so easily before that they are sent into shock when they come across someone who’s not going to be so easy to beat. And to be honest, I think the Doctor took the side of the Ice Warriors too, even though he was he wasn’t taking sides. Surely he knew before reaching Mars that they would have a Golden Age. Maybe he figured that wouldn’t be possible with the humans, so was purely trying to keep the humans alive and get them to work together for that benefit?

But while this episode was good, it has a few faults. One of them is Bill. Since that lovely woman came onto our screens, we’ve seen her personality shine week upon week. But this episode there was something that just didn’t feel right. Her personality just seemed a little bit… off. Not to mention she barely had any involvement in the episode anyway. I just found that a little bit sad.

This could be two points, but for they tie together so I’m going to make them one. Nardole and the TARDIS. Every week we’ve seen Nardole’s displeasure about the Doctor abandoning his duty to guard Missy in the fault. No one can deny he’s been very vocal about it. And now suddenly, he’s okay with it? Even going on these trips with him? It’s such a sudden change in attitude that we’ve been given no real explanation for. And then he actually lets Missy out of the vault to help him with the TARDIS. It’s all just crazy. Why did the TARDIS even fly off anyway? We weren’t really given a proper reason for that either. It just happened. Was it because she saw the fixed point regarding the Golden Age of Mars, and that if she stayed there the Doctor would have simply used the TARDIS to get the Victorians off Mars? That’s a possibility. But given it was never explained, it’s up for speculation.

It is probably worth noting, though, that Empress of Mars was written before Matt Lucas was signed on to return as Nardole. It was probably a lot easier for him to be written into the book ends of the episode, rather than be written into the whole thing. So the whole TARDIS leaving may have just been a simple fix for that. However, there’s no denying it could have been done better. Just have the Doctor sneak off and then come back to one of Nardole’s classic lectures about going off world. That would be a lot more fitting with what we’ve seen in previous episodes.

Also what did Missy mean when he asked the Doctor if he’s alright? Does she know something we don’t? I’ve seen speculation that the Doctor’s actually already dying, and that’s why she’s asking. Man that ending creeped me out.

Until next week, guys!

Johanna an avid writer and lifelong Doctor Who fan living in the UK. By day she is a student, studying Media and Film Production, and by night she fangirls about all things TV/Film related on Twitter and writes posts for a variety of blogs as well as her own lifestyle blog.