Doctor Who – Empress of Mars
By: Sharon Kurack
With sight restored and the “monk-eying” around ceased, it’s nice to settle in to a good old-fashioned Bill (Pearl Mackie) and Twelve (Peter Capaldi) excellent misadventure on another planet, specifically,the red planet Mars. We begin our new journey at NASA, where a crew is waiting on bated breath for pictures from the current probe on Mars’ ice caps. The countdown begins as the signal is sending the pictures and our jovial Time Lord joins in with Bill in tow. (Who doesn’t love a good countdown?) Etched on the surface of Mars are the words “God Save The Queen,” which prompts our motley crew to travel to Mars on this amazingly Easter egg-filled adventure. (I mean, classic Doctor Who fans rejoice at the homage of the episode’s name.) It’s business as usual, kids, and even Nardole (Matt Lucas) gives up on stopping the intergalactic fun. Dare I say he is starting to enjoy these misadventures?
There are a lot of questions about the message formed meticulously from rocks on Mars and perhaps the most important is when was it written. It turns out the TARDIS has tracked the message to the year 1881, the Victorian era, and has found life forms beneath the Martian surface. Our trio arrives, space suits (correctly) working, and stumbles across a campfire in the underground tunnels of Mars. A blazing campfire means that there is oxygen, which prompts Nardole (and eventually Bill and Twelve) to remove helmets. On the surface, apparently they are able to breathe. (Who knew?) Before you can say Martian Manhunter, Bill falls down a “rabbit hole” while exploring. The Doctor sends Nardole back to the TARDIS to fetch anything useful to help retrieve Bill, but the TARDIS has others plans. It leaves with Nardole and gives Mars its version of the Gallifreyan “bird.” Worse still, Nardole is unable to get our TARDIS to cooperate, which means that Twelve and Bill are stuck on Mars in 1881 for the time being or until Nardole can find help from another willing Time Lord (or Lady).
As they attempt to find one another again, Bill and Twelve meet some interesting allies. Bill comes across the captain of the British army, Catchlove (Ferdinand Kingsley), or Captain Hairporn. Seriously. Bill meets him as he removes his helmet and he tosses his self-thought luscious locks back as though he were an 1881 version of Justin Bieber. (No lie.) The Doctor; however, makes contact with what appears to be a Martian or more specifically an Ice Warrior named Friday (Richard Ashton) in homage to Robinson Crusoe. They all eventually reconvene to what would appear to be a British base camp, complete with tea in a beautiful porcelain tea set. (It’s the finer things in life, really.) Here we also meet Sergeant Major Peach (Glenn Speers), who currently leads the army, and learn how the Victorian British army came to Mars. These specific members were posted in South Africa where they stumbled upon an interplanetary vessel. There they discovered Friday, who had been asleep for nearly five-thousand years and near death. As payment for helping him, Friday promised the soldiers all of the riches of Mars upon his return (if they helped him get back). It was also with Friday’s help that the “Gargantua,” an extremely large sci-fi looking canon ahead of its time, was created to help mine the planet. Unfortunately, the mining has thus far proven to be unsuccessful and in addition to the troubles, the supplies are running low. Friday continues to help his allies despite their end of the bargain being fulfilled. Why?
Twelve talks more to Friday to find out that he still has yet to find the rest of the Ice Warriors (and the Ice Queen). Part of the reason the Ice Warriors are seemingly scarce is because Friday was asleep for far longer than originally meant. The soldiers helped him return to Mars, reviving the hopes to also find his Queen. It all becomes clear to the Doctor that the humans, in this case, are the invaders while the Ice Warriors could easily wipe them out. (War could be brewing on either side!) As the two continue to converse, the “miners” finally get through a tunnel with the Gargantua to reveal a tomb. (Lara Croft would call them amateurs.) Not just a tomb, mind you, but the Tomb of the Ice Queen herself. (No, not Elsa.) Seemingly dormant, the Queen lays on top of what looks like a jeweled sarcophagus. Like her warriors, she too has been hibernating for far longer than expected. The explosion uncovering her tomb isn’t what awakens her; it’s the theft of one of the jewels on her sarcophagus by one of the desperate soldiers.
Because of their hive-like minds Friday knows exactly when the Queen awakens and goes to her, with the Doctor and Bill quickly following. In a standoff, the Doctor then speaks to the Queen asking for mercy for the primitive humans (Captain “Hairporn” takes offense to this, adding more fuel to the tension in the air) and updates her on how Mars is nearly uninhabitable without their help. Turning to Bill as the only other female, she asks her opinion with a quip on “noisy males.” Of course, Bill suggests to fight for the future and not a dead past and that no one else has to die. Although on the brink of something good, it’s shattered when a trigger happy soldier shoots at the Queen. As a result, the “mercy” granted turns into a mercy killing with some of the surviving solders wanting to use the Gargantua as a weapon. While the Ice Queen starts to awaken the hive of the Ice Warriors, Captain “Hairporn” causes a mutiny against Sergeant Major Peach and throws him, along with Bill and Twelve, into the brig.
Of course, as well all know, this is where the Doctor concocts a plan (or wings it, whichever comes first, really). As they’re “planning,” the awakened Ice Warriors start attacking, emerging from the ground. Friday also emerges in the cell with Twelve and Bill, suggesting that they work together to prevent any more deaths on both sides. While the Doctor runs towards the Gargantua, Bill runs interference and chats with the Ice Queen (woman to woman) about standing together rather than alone. This buys Twelve enough time to aim the canon at Mars’ North Pole. One shot at the pole will trap the warriors under ice, like Frozen. They all must learn to live together or die together he claims. When it seems that the Ice Queen is about to “let it go” and stand down, Captain “Hairporn” comes out of nowhere, holds a knife to the Queen’s throat and uses her as leverage to get off Mars.
However, his plan fails as Sergeant Major Peach also “ninjas” his way back, shooting Catchlove (“Hairporn”), not only saving the Ice Queen, but also executing a traitor. Sergeant Major Peach then implores the Queen to not judge humans based on his or the captain’s actions, giving his life willingly to her as a sign of justice. Rather than kill him, the Ice Queen has Peach pledge his allegiance to her, in which he gladly does. With the Peace Conference concluded, Twelve fixes a transmitter, sending a signal from Mars to be recognized by Alpha Centuri. Welcome to the Universe, Mars! Before any more fun can be had, Bill, the Doctor, and Peach go to the surface of Mars and scrawl out the words “God Save The Queen” in rocks, meticulously, and large enough for a space probe or satellite to see. Ah, here we have come full circle from the beginning!
Just when you thought our time traveling, space-hopping duo would be stuck on Mars to help build it to the Golden Age, the TARDIS reappears with a flustered Nardole. He ushers Bill and Twelve back into the TARDIS, apologizing profusely. Nardole then quiets when it becomes apparent that he is not alone in the return trip. Missy (Michelle Gomez) and Twelve stare at one another anxiously before the Doctor tells her that she needs to go back into the vault after this trip. Oddly enough, Missy doesn’t fight him on that, but agrees while continuing to stare intensely for a moment longer. Finally, she asks if he is all right – twice. The first time Twelve deflects (like always). The second time he just looks at Missy before we fade out.
What is wrong with the Doctor? He hasn’t quite been himself, perhaps, since the beginning of the season. Something must be going on for Missy to quickly catch it. (Yet, she doesn’t exploit it. Why?) Does the Doctor need a doctor? Perhaps the answers will come in the last few episodes of the season. As a Time Lord, can Missy sense a regeneration?