Tonight’s Doctor Who took us to Mars for a bizarre crossover between Victorian England and the Ice Warriors themselves. There were moustaches, stiff upper lips, and some very weird connections to oldschool Who, but for now, let’s talk sssssssspoilerssss, Ice Warrior style, in our weekly discussion thread!
Unfortunately, “The Empress of Mars” was more about conflict on the human side of the cast than it was the titular empress or her Ice Warriors, with the bitter rivalry between Colonel Godsacre and Captain Catchlove (which are, frankly, incredible names) and the contingent of soldiers trapped on the red planet taking the spotlight. Which is a shame, because it seems like the story of how a proud and war-driven culture like the Ice Warriors being forced to face the fact their ways have brought their world to barren ruin and how that impacts on their sense of honor seems like it would’ve been a bit more interesting than the tale we got of humans and Ice Warriors alike being assholes, save for a select few characters who help sort it out in the end. It’s the sort of bog standard fun episode of Doctor Who that does nothing more, nothing less.
Speaking of which, the only really remarkable thing about “The Empress of Mars” might have been its ending—the revelation that it’s actually an early prequel to a 45-year-0ld story. Really! If that bit at the end where the Doctor called up a hilariously squeaky cyclops alien named Alpha Centauri to help the surviving Ice Warriors off their barren world and into a wider universe completely threw you at first, that’s actually because it’s a reference to the John Pertwee story called “The Curse of Peladon.” By the time of that story, the Ice Warriors were members of a Galactic Federation, an interstellar council of beings that formed a peaceful alliance alongside Earth, many other planets, and yes, Alpha Centauri itself—who, before this episode, was infamous for looking... well, rather phallic. Here it is back in 1974's “The Monster of Peladon”, for reference:
Yup. A giant penis alien was probably the most surprising thing about this episode, and that says a lot.
At least we got another big tease of what’s going on with Missy and The Doctor at the very end, even if the contrived setup of Nardole needing her help to direct the TARDIS back to Mars felt like a bit much. The interesting part of it wasn’t simply Missy’s presence outside of the vault... it’s what she noticed. There’s always been a strange link between the Doctor and the Master, even more than there usually is between Time Lords, and it seems like Missy could sense that something was deeply, dangerously wrong with the Doctor. Is this the slow start to the final exit of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor? It seems like it could be, given all the talk we’ve had of the show wanting to play a longer game with this regeneration than usual.
We’ll have more thoughts on “The Empress of Mars” in our recap on Monday, but for now, share your thoughts on the episode in the comments below!