Well that was a surprise. I actually kinda enjoyed that. I’ve said before on numerous occasions that Gatiss isn’t my cup of tea on Who every time. For every Crimson Horror, there is a Victory of the Daleks and I’m never sure from season to season what I’m going to get from him.
What happened this week? The Doctor and Bill end up on Mars and improbably find themselves with some Victorians and a lone ice warrior. Nardole gets trapped in a rebounding TARDIS and asks Missy for help (take note kids: This is never a good idea). The lone ice warrior is trying to awaken his Queen and a clash of civilisations happens on Mars.
“God save the Queen”
NASA uncover God save the Queen written on the surface of Mars in a nifty flashback to the series 2 Ten episode featuring Queen Victoria and Torchwood (Queen Vic even gets a photo reference when the camera pans to a picture of s2 Vic on the wall of a cavern in Mars). The Doctor, Bill and Nardole, immediately need to hop into the TARDIS to investigate.
Ah, and there we have it, a welcome return to the anti-neoliberal theme of earlier s10. The Victorians see Mars as theirs to obtain. Because they are Victorians and they have ‘discovered’ this new planet, it and its resources are theirs. I quite liked the characterisation of the cowardly Victorian soldier who saw through the hubris for what it was and elected to try to make peace with the Ice Warriors and their Queen.
The Ice Warriors
Though their Queen is a little hissy, I liked that she looked to Bill for an opinion on what she should do and how she should assess the Victorians and The Doctor’s request for peace. I also liked that the lone ice warrior who had joined forces with the Victorians acted as a mirror to the cowardly soldier. I liked that the actor playing the Ice Warrior sounded grave and sad and wise, even underneath all of the costume and makeup. The reference to Alpha Centauri was confusing for my partner and I, as we’d never seen the original classic episode Alpha came from before, but once we’d looked it up, we both conceded it was a nice nod back to the past.
Nardole managed to get back to Bill and The Doctor, but not without help from an unexpected and dangerous quarter. I am fast running out of superlatives to describe the multi faceted character study that is Michelle Gomez as Missy. Her reply to Nardole as he begs for her help through the box that constrains her is chilling because it is delivered in such an understated fashion. And I loved the visuals and Gold’s music working together with Gomez when The Doctor looks horrified as he sees Missy’s reflection in the TARDIS console and Missy’s Theme plays. Then dreadful silence followed by, ‘are you alright?’ Absolutely terrifying.
The Empress of Mars: 6/10 inky stars