SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who, Empress of Mars

Empress of Mars felt like an old style Doctor Who story which pays homage to both classic Doctor Who and modern movies. Mark Gatiss does’t know if he will be invited back to write for Doctor Who after Steven Moffat leaves, and had requested this opportunity to write one more story about the Ice Warriors.

The story began with a quick visit to NASA in the near future when Americans land on Mars with everyone surprised to see the message, “God Save The Queen” written in stone on the surface of Mars. The Doctor, along with Bill and Nardole, went back in time to find the origin of this on Mars, which involved Victorian soldiers and Ice Warriors. The episode was written before Nardole became a companion, and he was quickly written out of the story by having the TARDIS disappear with him for no good reason other than to take him out of the story. There was no explanation of the change in his attitude to be willing to leave Missy unguarded in the vault.

The story questioned the wisdom of war, which is a common topic of stories on Doctor Who. There were the type of scenes which we have become accustomed to on Doctor Who, such as an Ice Warrior serving Victorian soldiers. This is no stranger than seeing the Daleks serve tea to the British during World War II in a past episode.

Bill raised her usual science fiction references, such as to The Terminator and The Thing. Once again it is clear that Bill travels with the Doctor because she is a sci-fi nerd. Bill is also a woman, which raised issues for the older soldiers. This led to one of the best lines of the episode: “I’m going to make allowances for your Victorian attitude…because you actually are Victorian.”

The episode has additional girl power as the Empress recognized Bill as another woman, and asked for her advice. “What do you say? I would value your opinion. We are both surrounded by noisy males.”

The twist in this episode is that the British soldiers were the invaders, claiming Mars for the British empire. They failed to see the threat from a couple of  “upright crocodiles,” unaware that others were about to awaken. There was also a side story about one soldier having almost been executed for cowardice, and alliances crossed species lines.

The Ice Warriors are like the Klingons of the Doctor Who universe, not necessarily good or bad, but concerned about honor in battle. This played well into the side story mentioned above, giving a satisfying ending for the soldier mentioned.

The Doctor forced an end to the conflict by pointing out that firing their weapon would lead to them all being trapped under the ice, like Frozen, which he pointed out is a movie. He was not going to let Bill be the only one to drop movie references. Beyond the movie reference, his message was that we all live together or die together.

The episode contains a lot of Doctor Who history, from the sonic screwdriver still being unable to work on wood to references to the Peladon stories of the third Doctor from the 1970’s. It also fills in a gap in the history of Mars, or as the Doctor said, “This may be the beginning of the Martian Golden Age.”

Nardole returned at the end and had done something even more surprising than to agree to travel with the Doctor off earth. He turned to Missy for assistance, and she was piloting the TARDIS. It appears she is trying to uphold her promise to learn to be good–at least for now. She did possibly foreshadow the end of the season  and upcoming regeneration by repeatedly asking the Doctor if he was okay.

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Due to traveling this weekend I am limiting this week’s SciFi Weekend to the review of Doctor Who, and will have to hold off on other major subjects such as the return of Orphan Black and Dark Matter.  I also have a post on last week’s finale of The Leftovers partially written, but I want to do that fantastic episode justice and not rush the post. Depending upon how much free time I have this week, I will either post a second science fiction installment, or hold these topics for the future.

I also have to at least mention in passing the death of Adam West, best known for playing Batman not long after Doctor Who began.

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