DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 10 EPISODE 09
EMPRESS OF MARS
WRITTEN BY MARK GATISS
DIRECTED BY WAYNE YIP
The Monks trilogy is over and we’re closing in on the end of the season and the final episodes of Peter Capaldi. Mark Gatiss returns and he is a Doctor Who writer with a hit or miss track record so let’s see what’s he got tonight.
We open on a NASA control room as a group of techs wait for a transmission from their probe, Valkyrie. As the countdown nears an end we see that the Doctor, Nardole, and Bill are there, asking questions and making a nuisance of themselves. They ask about Valkyrie, which is probing the Martian ice caps. The transmission comes through the shows that beneath the Martian ice caps, written into the rock in huge letters are the words: GOD SAVE THE QUEEN.
After the credits, the TARDIS lands on Mars. The TARDIS computer tells them that the message they saw was made in 1881 so that’s when they’ve arrived. Bedecked in spacesuits they traverse tunnels beneath the planet’s surface. They round a corner and find a campfire burning away, indicating oxygen. They remove their helmets. While they’re puzzling out the existence of fire and oxygen on Mars Bill falls down a hole. The Doctor sends Nardole back to the TARDIS to get ropes, lifting gear, anything that will help them extract Bill from the hole. Nardole gets back into the TARDIS and it turns itself on and vanishes.
The Doctor hears the TARDIS and runs to investigate, finding the TARDIS gone and hearing the sound of marching feet. An Ice Warrior appears at the end of the tunnel. The Ice Warrior marches at the Doctor with purpose. The Doctor raises his hand and shouts “Halt!” and the Ice Warrior complies.
In the hole, Bill finds a door. It opens revealing someone in a steampunk spacesuit. The spaceman removes his helmet revealing a smiling human.
In the TARDIS, Nardole tries to regain control of the TARDIS but it’s having one of it.
The Doctor asks the Warrior its name but before it can answer a soldier in a red coat appears with a rifle. He shoots at the Doctor and asks the Warrior, Friday, if it’s okay. The Warrior nods and I think we’re entering the colonialism is bad portion of Doctor Woke. The Daily Mail will be furious and that is always a good thing.
The Doctor asks the soldier how he got there and holds up the psychic paper.
The TARDIS has landed in the Doctor’s office and refuses to leave. Nardole runs down the Vault. He talks to Missy through the door and asks her to tell him how to get the TARDIS to cooperate. Missy tells him she’s happy to help though it would be easier if she could just show him how.
The Doctor and Bill are sat in the soldiers’ encampment drinking tea. The colonel explains how when he was stationed in South Africa he came upon a crashed spaceship containing Friday. They named him Friday after Man Friday from Robinson Crusoe, something that rightfully distresses Bill. The psychic paper has told the soldiers that the Doctor and Bill were stowaways on Friday’s ship the entire time. The colonel continues to explain that they woke Friday up and he asked for their help repairing the ship and getting home. The Doctor asks what they wanted in exchange and we see that they’ve managed to get themselves some futuristic Martian mining equipment in the form of a giant laser called Gargantua. They’ve helped the Martian get home so they can mine Mars and claim it in the name of Queen Victoria. However, Mars doesn’t have the gold and silver promised and their ship crashed upon landing, stranding them there. Friday clears their plates and the soldiers explain that he had slept for too long on his ship and that the Ice Warriors are now extinct.
Later, the Doctor gets Friday along and asks him why he came back to Mars. Friday replies that he’s old, tired, and spent. Then the planet shakes and a plate falls off the table. Friday moves faster than an old, tired, and spent creature should and catches the plate.
The other soldiers continue firing Gargantua into the rock, revealing nothing. As the morale begins to collapse the laser fires again and light emanates from the hole it has blown in the wall.
In the chamber they’ve opened they find a gold sarcophagus that looks like an Ice Warrior lying on a bed. The Doctor identifies it as the tomb of an Ice Queen and tells them that he has a bad feeling about this. Against the protests of one of the soldiers, Catchlove who wants him removed, the Doctor warns that the tomb may be the entrance to an Ice Warrior hive.
The colonel puts guards in place and bans anyone from approaching the tomb until the morning.
The Doctor tries to explain to Catchlove and Colonel Godsacre that it’s clear that Friday deceived them. He blinded them with talk of riches when really he just wanted them to help him get to the Ice Queen’s tomb. Catchlove tells him that Mars is part of the British Empire so they won’t be leaving anytime soon.
Jackdaw approaches the soldiers guarding the door and drugs the ranking officer with a cup of tea. The officer collapses and Jackdaw explains to Fitz, the other guard, that Catchlove is further on with his repairs than he is letting on and once Jackdaw has got his fill of gold he’s getting his ass off of Mars.
Jackdaw leaves Fitz guarding the entrance and heads into the chamber. He pries the diamonds out of the sarcophagus and the gold covering on the Ice Queen begin to dissolve. As he gets back to prying a hand clamps around his neck.
Someone is approaching the chamber so Fitz runs inside to warn Jackdaw. He finds a pith helmet, no one lying on the tomb, and the Ice Queen. Another soldier runs in and shoots at the Queen who returns fire more effectively.
The Queen points her laser at Fitz but before she can fire, Friday walks in. Fitz does a runner while Friday pledges his allegiance. The Queen, Iraxxa, thanks him for resurrecting her. He tells her that they slept for 5000 years longer than planned and she is less than pleased.
The soldiers mass in the chamber and find a dead soldier and the two Ice Warriors. Catchlove wants to start shooting but Godsacre, the commanding officer, lets the Doctor have a chance to talk to the Martians. He respectfully asks for mercy to be given to the humans and explains that Mars is dead and the Ice Warriors cannot survive without help. Friday agrees with the Doctor. Iraxxa asks for Bill’s opinion, wanting another female perspective.
Bill tells her that the Doctor and Friday aren’t lying. The human saved Friday and they need to cooperate. Iraxxa is furious that Friday had to serve the humans, even though Friday tells her it was a tactical decision to survive. The soldiers raise their guns as the Doctor tells Iraxxa that she needs to not fight if she wants to have a future. One of the soldiers accidentally fires his gun, striking Iraxxa’s helmet.
She tells the Doctor she will be merciful to the humans…by giving them quick deaths. She opens fire on the troops. The soldiers retreat and Catchlove arms Gargantua. Bill tries to stop him but he fires on the chamber and caves in the entrance, trapping the two Ice Warriors inside.
In the chamber, Iraxxa presses a button on the tomb while outside Catchlove takes command of the troops. Godsacre is taken to the brig along with the Doctor and Bill.
Iraxxa has awoken six Ice Warriors with others still reviving.
The soldiers wait at the entrance to the chamber, guns ready. An Ice Warrior hand bursts through the soil followed by the rest of the Martian. And then another one. and another.
They kill one of the soldiers and the other troops open fire. A firefight begins.
In the brig, a hand bursts through the soil and in the chamber Iraxxa wakes up dozens more Ice Warriors.
The soldiers fail to repel the Ice Warriors and, to escape, Catchlove pushes Fitz into the line of fire.
The Ice Warrior in the brig turns out to be Friday. He tells the Doctor they need to work together and busts them out of the brig.
The Doctor tells Bill he needs to distraction and runs off. Bill walks over to Iraxxa and tells her they need to talk. Bill tries to convince her they can work together but Iraxxa tells her that Mars is strong and needs no allies. She raises her laser to shoot and Friday steps in front of Bill.
The Doctor makes his presence known as he has commandeered Gargantua and is pointing it at the roof of the tunnels. If he blasts it the ice and snow of Mars’ north pole will flood in and freeze everyone.
Iraxxa tells him he’s bluffing but he explains that if they can’t live together they’ll die together. Before Iraxxa can respond Catchlove appears behind her and puts a knife to her throat. He needs help fixing the ship so he can escape and who better to ask? Iraxxa tells her Martians to lower their weapons. Catchlove drags Iraxxa to the lifts which he intends to destroy in order to stop anyone from following him.
He opens the lift doors and finds Godsacre, who shoots him. The Ice Queen tells Godsacre that the act will get him no mercy and he tells her he wants none. He tells her how he had deserted from the army in cowardice and was hanged but survived. He asks the Ice Queen to finish the job. She is happy to oblige. Godsacre asks for a request and explains that Catchlove was not a good representative of humanity. He asks her to spare humanity and his men. She tells him that she will consider the request and that he will die with honour. But not today. She tells him a warrior should die in battle and she would happily have him join her army. He pledges his service to her. And there is peace.
Later, the Doctor has rigged up a device to send out a distress call of sorts looking for a new planet for the Martians. A voice comes through, answering the call. A giant eye appears and the voice introduces itself as Alpha Centauri and welcomes the Martians to the Universe.
On the surface, the Doctor, Bill, and Godsacre build a message for Alpha Centauri to see out of rocks. A message that reads: GOD SAVE THE QUEEN.
In the tunnels, the TARDIS arrives. Nardole lets them in and Missy is inside at the console. The Doctor tells her he’ll have to put her back in the Vault because this was not part of the arrangement. She agrees but asks him quite pointedly if he is alright and moves to stand very close to him.
I’m a big fan of Mark Gatiss’s old fashioned stories and he has a great ear for dialogue and characters. As I said in the introduction his Doctor Who stories have always been hit and miss, but I would say tonight was more of a hit than a miss. I think the main thing might have been that this episode felt a little bit like filler. The Monks trilogy felt very much building up to something huge so to have two standard monster of the week episodes before the two-part finale is tough to handle.
If you remove those expectations though, Empress of Mars is a great little adventure episode with some interesting ideas and a big middle finger up at British colonialism. Gatiss’s writing has always been influenced by the Gothic and also 70s horror, so there was something very cool about having these red coats trapped in the tunnels with a monster whose laser basically turned them into bouncy meat cubes.
In the end, this was entertaining but I think I needed something more. Maybe it was more Missy, or maybe as a two-parter, they could have really given this concept some more space to move around in.
Oh, and the big eye thing was a reference to the Third Doctor’s adventure The Monster of Peladon.
Body count: 7
Best line: All of Bill’s movie talk. She’s got great taste.
Prediction for Next Week: More of the drive towards the fireworks factory with some hints towards the big finale.
Featured Image: BBC