‘EMPRESS OF MARS’
Please feel free to comment on my review.
Ice Warriors and Iraxxa on Mars
So is there an episode of Series 10 in ‘Doctor Who’ so far that I would consider as one of my favourites, even if that episode is not a classic by any means? Well actually, yes there is an episode!
It’s this one: ‘Empress of Mars’ by Mark Gatiss! I honestly enjoyed this ‘Doctor Who’ episode when I saw it on TV. I watched it with my best mate Stephen when he came round to my house on that day.
This is another episode I shared with Pearl Mackie at the ‘MCM Birmingham Comic Con’ in November 2017, saying it’s one of my favourites. I have noticed flaws in this, but it is still enjoyable.
This episode features the return of the Ice Warriors! I was pleased to see the Ice Warriors again in ‘Doctor Who’. I am not a huge fan of them and neither is Steven Moffat – what a big shock that is! 😀
But I was pleased that we got to see an old-fashioned ‘Doctor Who’ monster return to the series after so long. The last time we had an Ice Warriors TV tale was ‘Cold War’ with Matt Smith back in 2013.
Mark Gatiss has written a lot of ‘Doctor Who’ TV episodes over the years including for the Russell T. Davies era and the Steven Moffat eras. In fact, he penned ‘Cold War’ to reintroduce the Ice Warriors.
It felt right to have Mark pen another Ice Warriors story in the TV series and this time with Peter Capladi’s Doctor. The Ice Warriors have grown on me over the years, especially in the new TV series.
In this episode, we get to see more Ice Warriors compared to the single Ice Warrior we saw in ‘Cold War’. I was so pleased to see more Ice Warriors featured in this new series episode of ‘Doctor Who’.
And the best thing about this story…is that we actually get to go to Mars where the Ice Warriors came from. That itself is pretty exciting compared to not seeing Ice Warriors in ‘The Waters of Mars’.
But most importantly, and this is the episode’s title, we get to meet the Empress of Mars herself called Iraxxa, played by Adele Lynch. She was pretty fearsome when I saw her revived in the episode.
There’s also the Ice Warrior called Friday, played by Richard Ashton, who revives Iraxxa from her tomb on Mars. I’m not sure it was Nicholas Briggs providing the voice for Friday the Ice Warrior though.
At least, I’m pretty sure Adele Lynch is using her own voice to play Iraxxa with Ice Warrior tones. Maybe they decided to go back to the days when the Ice Warrior actors performed all of their lines.
The episode has the Doctor, Bill and Nardole visiting Mars, after they visited NASA on Earth. They have discovered the words, ‘God save the Queen’, written on the planet surface of Mars with rocks.
It soon turns out that there are Victorian soldiers from Great Britain on the planet Mars. These soldiers have managed to conquer Mars for the British Empire. Uh, I don’t recall this documented. 😀
The concept of Victorian soldiers from Great Britain on Mars is…interesting and unusual. It sounds like an absurd idea, but it’s handled rather well by Mark Gatiss in the writing for most of the episode.
There is some back-story given on how the Victorian soldiers got to Mars in the first place after they met up with the Ice Warrior, whom they called Friday, on Earth. But there are questions raised here.
When Friday the Ice Warrior asked the Victorian soldiers to help him repair his ship, how exactly did they repair it? Considering that 19th century technology is less sophisticated to Martian technology.
Also how exactly were the Victorian soldiers able to breathe when they were on Mars in its caves? Also how did the Victorian soldiers get diving suits to be reconstructed as spacesuits on Mars itself?
ROWAN ATKINSON’S DOCTOR: “I’ll explain later!”
Yeah, of course. (Pause) By the way, Matt Lucas as Nardole gets separated from the Doctor and Bill for most of the episode. Yeah! While Bill and the Doctor are having fun, Nardole gets sent back to Earth.
This happens when Nardole goes back into the TARDIS…and the ship…somehow…goes faulty and returns to Earth…WHAT?! How did this happen? One TARDIS lever just…somehow pulled by itself!!!
ROWAN ATKINSON’S DOCTOR: “I’ll explain later!”
(protests) No, no, no, no, no! You can’t just leave it like that! How exactly did the TARDIS lever move by itself once Nardole got back into the ship?! Was this Idris from ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ playing games?
We’ll get back to what happened to Nardole later on in the review. Anyway, the Doctor and Bill find that the Victorian soldiers have made this bargain with the Ice Warrior, Friday, on Mars for treasure.
Yeah! The Victorian soldiers want some treasure that’s behind a door containing the Ice Queen’s burial chamber. They do this by using the Gargantua, which is like a massive laser drill in the episode.
But of course it all turns out Friday wanted to have his Ice Warrior Empress, Iraxxa, as well as other Ice Warriors in their sarcophagi revived. But Friday’s agenda for revival doesn’t go according to plan.
Aside from some hiccups in the episode, I found the character development in the episode very good. This is especially in the conflict between the British soldiers and the Ice Warriors once revived.
Anthony Calf guest stars as Colonel Godsacre and Ferdinand Kingsley, who is the son of Sir Ben Kingsley apparently, guest stars as Captain Catchlove. The development of these two is really good.
It was interesting to discover that Colonel Godsacre was branded for cowardice after Catchlove exposes the mark of hanging on his neck. Godsacre goes on this journey to overcome his cowardice.
Captain Catchlove is a rather trigger-happy sort of fellow and pretty proud of being a part of the British Empire. Catchlove wants to shoot Ice Warriors once he takes command of the British soldiers.
The episode also features Glenn Speers as Sergeant-Major Peach; Ian Beattie as Jackdaw and Bayo Gbadamosi as Vincey who are also in the British army. Some of these chaps don’t survive in the tale.
It was also interesting to see how Iraxxa gets developed as a character from seemingly blood-thirsty to becoming honourable. I did like how Iraxxa’s verdict on Godsacre got handled at the end.
It was a shock to see how the Victorian soldiers got killed by Ice Warriors when they use sonic blasters to turn them into flesh bags (I think). It didn’t match ‘The Seeds of Death’, but it’s effective.
I wish there was more time to see the Ice Warriors, especially when there seemed to be hundreds waking up from their ice chambers on Mars. And here’s me not much of an Ice Warriors fan here! 😀
And as a ‘Doctor Who’ fan, it would be remiss of me not to mention a moment in the episode that made so happy to see. I wasn’t expecting to see this when I saw it on TV and I was very gobsmacked.
This episode featured the return guest appearance of…Alpha Centauri, voiced by Ysanne Churchman. Alpha Centuari was in the two Peladon stories of ‘Doctor Who’ from Jon Pertwee’s era.
I’m pretty sure this episode occurs many years after ‘Lords of the Red Planet’, which is essentially the origins story for the Ice Warriors. Mind you, I do not believe Earth and Martian history correlate.
Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie were very good as the Doctor and Bill in the episode. It was argued that Peter Capaldi’s Doctor was sidelined again for Pearl Mackie’s Bill, which I can appreciate in this.
But honestly, I thought Peter Capaldi fared very well in the episode. The things that stood out for me with the Doctor was him telling the Victorian soldiers not to shoot any Ice Warriors during the story.
I also believe the Doctor was one who started the beginning of alliances between the Ice Warriors and Alpha Centuari at the episode’s end. He seemed to know a lot on what was going on in the tale.
The Doctor and Bill also worked together to cause a distraction to stop the Ice Warriors and the Victorian soldiers fighting each other. Bill provided the distraction; the Doctor reasoned with Iraxxa.
I gained the impression the Doctor was the negotiator in the episode, just as he was when trying to make peace between Silurians and Sea Devils with humans during Jon Pertwee’s era. It’s reasonable.
Upon re-watch, I did enjoy it when Bill made references to movies like ‘The Terminator’ and ‘The Thing’ in the episode. My favourite was when the Doctor referenced ‘Frozen’. I’ve seen that film! 😀
Anyway back to Nardole. The TARDIS thankfully returns with Nardole inside when he comes to pick up the Doctor and Bill. Nardole got help from…Missy of all people…to pilot the TARDIS back to Mars.
This means of course another guest appearance of Michelle Gomez as Missy from the series. I’m not sure Nardole should have done that in the episode. It was a worry with Missy at the TARDIS console.
The Doctor also seems worried as he wonders why Missy would be willing to pilot the TARDIS to pick him up. Missy even expressed concern regarding his well-being at the story’s end. Quite disturbing!
On the whole, ‘Empress of Mars’ was a welcome ‘Doctor Who’ episode for me from Series 10. The episode is not a classic by any means, but Mark Gatiss’ writing has been well-done for the most part.
I enjoyed seeing the Ice Warriors as well as the special Ice Warrior Empress in Iraxxa. This episode presented an interesting new take on the Ice Warriors in the new series and it felt pretty impressive.
The DVD special features on this episode are as follows. On Disc 1 of ‘Series 10 – Part 2’ of ‘Doctor Who’, there’s the ‘Empress of Mars’ – Inside Look’ featurette.
On Disc 4 of ‘The Complete Series 10’ of ‘Doctor Who’, the ‘Empress of Mars’ – Inside Look’ featurette can also be found on there. On Disc 6, there’s the ‘Doctor Who: The Fan Show – The Aftershow’ edition for this episode.
‘Empress of Mars’ rating – 8/10
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