It started innocently enough. A NASA countdown, a mysterious message laid out on Mars in rocks saying “God Save The Queen.” It felt like the start to one of David Tennant’s adventures. Unfortunately that’s where the fun ended. Oh it still felt like an earlier Who … a bad one. Victorian British soldiers and a classic Doctor Who alien, the ice warriors of Mars, on paper this sounds like a silly but super fun outing for The Doctor. Sadly though, what we got instead was boring and mostly predictable, though the one big twist is so poorly set up that it feels forced and unjustified.
After that funny and very enjoyable opening scene at NASA, The Doctor tells Bill that they tracked the message to the 1800s … through science and stuff, and says he’s taking her to that time, or maybe just a bit earlier. Hmm …
Okay, so within the first five minutes we are hit over the head with the fact that they won’t be there to investigate the message but will obviously be instrumental in its placement. Forgiving the time loop chicken and egg scenario, this immediately turned me off.
Going from there, Doctor, Bill and Nardole arrive in caves beneath Mars, all suited up for space. Upon finding a fire, Bill concludes it must be safe to breathe cause fire = oxygen, right? Oh so clever girl / writers! You must be so proud of yourselves. But I can only think of one of my favorite scenes from Galaxy Quest. Guy Fleegman, played by the wonderful Sam Rockwell, criticizes the crew for breathing an alien atmosphere. Yes, they did establish there is oxygen because the fire needs it to burn, but does that exclude there being other elements in the air? Ammonia, poisons, any number of dangerous things could be there, right alongside the oxygen.
Alright, so while that’s dumb we’ll give it a pass as well. We also get some random movie references that felt out of place. None of these characters have shown a big obsession with films before. This is more like Community’s Dan Harmon took a swing at a few lines of dialog. Of course we separate Nardole and the TARDIS, giving them cause to be trapped and him reason to free Missy later. Argh! Everything about this episode is so manufactured, so artificial. It also happens to take place in one location primarily with a small group of actors. Anyone else smell a bottle episode?
Maybe it was to save money or maybe just cool things down before ramping up to the finale, but digging out an old adversary and having some odd and out of place political statements about women in power just do not make an episode good on their own.
Oh yes, it gets on its high horse. Finding a Queen in control of the Ice Warrior “Friday,” a “clever” pun on his man Friday (one they literally have to explain in the scene), Bill is once again given power over the situation since she is the only human female there. Then later, Bill argues with a soldier when he scoffs at her being in law enforcement, which she isn’t and is lying about. She even has to remind herself he has such old fashioned views because he is from the past. Not smart, not timely, and not making a real statement, this whole element is pandering in its laziest form, and I know that the intelligent strong female viewership wouldn’t fall for it. (See? Now that’s pandering!)
So the soldiers are fooled into unearthing the Queen’s hibernation pod for the gold and jewels it is made of. Of course there is a double cross, she raises her army from slumber, blah blah blah. Then the big stupid twist is revealed. The top two officers had been arguing and generally had some weird dynamic the whole episode and it is revealed the Colonel had been a deserter and hanged but survived, his first officer finding this out has been blackmailing him.
Wait what?! Why was the colonel left in command of his men then? I understand, though don’t believe, that he escaped execution because of circumstances. But letting him live and letting him keep his rank and command are very different things.
The whole thing turns into the disgraced Colonel being usurped by his blackmailer and having to be brave and redeem himself to save the day, offering his life to save his men and murdering the first officer to save the Ice Warrior queen. She ends up agreeing to not only let his men go but take him on as one of her soldiers as they forge a new society. Contacting another planet for pickup, and needing a way to mark where to pick them up, they place the rock message from the opening.
Wow, what a stinker! For one thing, the episode is entitled “Empress of Mars”. They literally never call her empress, only queen. While meaning the same thing why not just call it Queen of Mars? Or have someone address her as Empress? The whole thing is just flat, emotionless drivel.
This season started amazing and has just become a slog. The past four weeks have been increasingly less fun to where this week I was finding any excuse to put off watching. That’s not a good sign. While normally one of my favorite series to watch, cheese and all, it has just become a chore as of late but the odd look from Missy to The Doctor at the end has me interested. They better do something good and fast.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Share your thoughts in the comments section!