With “The Empress of Mars”, ‘Doctor Who’ is still clinging to its mid-season slump
Series Ten, Episode Nine — “The Empress of Mars”
By Brandy Dykhuizen. We’ve seen The Doctor and his companions defend Earth from countless alien invaders, but in “The Empress of Mars,” writer Mark Gatiss turns that old story on its head.
The British have colonized Mars and are proving themselves a bit of a nuisance once Empress Iraxxa wakes up from her 5,000-year nap. The last thing Iraxxa wants to deal with is a gaggle of noisy men, slinging guns and spouting militaristic arrogance. Straight out of the British Empire’s heyday, the colonists believe they have every right to persist in pointing lasers at tunnel walls in their largely unsuccessful mining operation, because, you know, the sun never sets.
Somehow the symbolism felt like less to do with English imperialism and more to do with human arrogance and greed, which elevated the episode slightly from “alternate universe period piece” to “slightly relevant social commentary.” (When, oh when will expansionism cease to be relevant on our planet?)
All in all, “The Empress of Mars” was a pleasant enough yet unremarkable story tucked between two particularly random bookends. It was not the worst Doctor Who episode this season, but it definitely didn’t try too hard to crawl out of that mid-season slump.
Speaking of those bookends – the episode opened with The Doctor, Bill and Nardole crashing NASA HQ. Aside from providing a few moments of humorous surprise, the opening added little to the story, as NASA’s involvement was never revisited.
Even stranger to me were the last few minutes, in which Missy convinces Nardole that the best way for her to help him get back to Mars would be to let her drive the TARDIS. Now we all know Missy’s unparalleled eloquence can be quite convincing, but shouldn’t it have taken a lot more for Nardole to roll over? He’s been harping on The Doctor about the dangers of letting her out of the vault in almost every episode so far. Having Nardole cave so quickly really felt like the easy way out.
But who cares, right? As long as we have Missy back in full view, we’ll forgive the setup. It’s a shame we couldn’t have been privy to the conversations in the TARDIS between Nardole and Missy, as we’ve been looking forward to their interactions all season. And there’s only three more episodes to go!
“It’s probably easier if I just show you.” – Missy.
“We are surrounded by noisy men. I want to hear your opinion.” – Empress, to Bill.
“Always been my problem: thinking like a warrior.” – The Doctor,
BEST MOMENT: Missy peeking out, ever so coyly, from behind the TARDIS console. We’ve been teased by her fleeting presence off and on for the last few weeks, but she looks like she’s made herself comfortable in the TARDIS. The Doctor looked rightfully worried seeing her perched there.
EPISODE’S MVP: Peter Capaldi probably gave the best performance, but this was no episode of stand-outs. The usual suspects impressed us with their talents, and the supporting cast were above adequate. Perhaps Ysanne Churchman’s Alpha Centauri was the most exciting to see, resurrecting a character that hasn’t been seen since Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor.
– Catchlove is played by Ferdinand Kingsley, who is, yes, Sir Ben Kingsley’s son.
– I do hope we get more explanation of how/why the TARDIS flew itself out…
– The Doctor and Bill are rocking some pretty snazzy spacesuits. That was quite a sharp bit of costuming.
– The Ice Warriors might have one of my favorite pieces of armament – a bracelet that shoots lasers that crumple foes up into little balls (a bit reminiscent of how Amahl Farouk handled unwanted guests in Legion).
6 out of 10
Next: “The Eaters of Light”, in one week.
Before: “The Lie of the Land”, here.