BBC One – 7:35pm – Saturday 10th June 2017
Written by: Mark Gatiss
Directed by: Wayne Yip
THE WAY OF THE WARRIOR
“Sod this for a game of soldiers!”
My overdue run of current series Doctor Who reviews rattles on with this historical military altercation – set in the caverns beneath the surface of the Red Planet! “Empress of Mars” is the first episode in a month not to feature the audience-dividing alien Monks (my opinions on which can be read by clicking 10.6, 10.7 and 10.8), and it sees a sharp step backwards in assimilating gormless assistant Nardole (Matt Lucas) into the main body of the story.
“This could either go very well, or very badly…”
The NASA probe Valkyrie has photographic proof of a message from 1881 proclaiming GOD SAVE THE QUEEN under the ice caps of the fourth planet from the sun. Investigating this anachronism, the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and his sidekick duo fly the TARDIS to Victorian-era Mars, only to encounter a contingent of British soldiers using alien technology to drill the planet for treasure. We learn that the human officers saved a Martian Ice Warrior – who they dubbed Friday (Richard Ashton) in a nod to Robinson Crusoe – from his Earth-crashed spacecraft, only for them to become marooned on the uninhabitable planet once they had returned Friday home.
Friday, the last of his kind, is perfectly obliging to his saviours – until their drilling unearths the hibernation tomb of Ice Queen, Iraxxa (Adele Lynch), who is far more willing to wipe out the inferior species who treat her commander like a “pet.” Can the Doctor and Bill (Pearl Mackie) teach the alien leader about mercy, or will subordination amongst the ranks of the “pink things” give this conflict an early, ugly conclusion?
“By the moons, I honour thee.”
“Empress of Mars” marked screenwriter, novelist and actor Mark Sherlock Gatiss’ ninth contribution to the new Who cannon. The Ice Warriors have existed as antagonists for the regenerative Time Lord to quell since 1967, having last been seen in 2013’s “Cold War”, another period piece pitting them against human armed forces, also written by Gatiss. In my opinion, it’s rather curious that an accomplished writer with such a diverse portfolio here repeats so many of the same strokes from his previous story – he’s not a man who should be constrained by perimeters or forced to trade on former glories.
As I alluded to earlier, Nardole’s inclusion this week was infuriatingly fleeting; the story reason for his absence being that while returning to the TARDIS for equipment, the Police Box-shaped craft malfunctions and returns him to the University. He then requests the help of vault-lingering Missy (Michelle Gomez) to return him to Mars to pick up his cohorts. Previous weeks had made a real effort of integrating Nardole both into the story and into the team, and while you wouldn’t want every episode overcomplicated with a squad full of players, if you have nothing of worth for him to do, why reintroduce him?
Mind you, the same could accusation could also be levelled at Bill this week, who now more than ever simply felt like she was along for the ride. Aside from contributing some pop culture movie references for the Doctor to shrug at (The Terminator? “You’ll like that one!”), her biggest influence upon the narrative resolution was in providing the trigger-happy Martian Queen with a female’s perspective regarding whether or not to turn all the stranded cavalrymen into balls of their own clothes!!
CR@B’s Claw Score: