doctor who empress of mars

After the emotional roller-coaster of the recent three-part multi-episode arc that encompassed ‘Extremis,’ ‘The Pyramid at the End of the World,’ and ‘Lie of the Land,’ we get a one-off episode — and boy, is it an enjoyable one!  Smacking of “classic Who” and featuring the return of old-school villains The Ice Warriors of Mars, it’s an episode that makes you feel right at home – so let’s jump in and talk all about it!

WARNING: Spoilers for this episode of ‘Doctor Who’ lie ahead, obviously.  If you haven’t seen the episode and don’t wish for any of its content to be spoiled for you, the time to turn back is NOW!

RECAP: The episode opens at NASA, where a transmission from the probe “Valkyrie” is about to give the scientific team their first look at what lies beneath the polar ice caps of Mars.  Imagine the NASA folk’s surprise, then, when the Doctor, Bill, and Nardole pop up to view the transmission as well!  Citing his love for “a good countdown,” the Doctor gets to see the image along with everyone else in the control room — a picture of a grouping of rocks that spells out “God Save the Queen.”  A joyously self-referential British start to the episode, and off into the opening credits we go!

Naturally, the Doctor wishes to investigate this seeming anachronism, so whisking off to Mars in the TARDIS, he and his mates soon discover that, remarkably, there’s a garrison of Victorian-era British troops living under the surface of the Red Planet.  How did they get up there, you ask?  Well, it seems they discovered the downed vessel of an Ice Warrior scout on Earth a short while back; in exchange for helping the alien return to Mars, they were granted the right to come with and mine the planet for precious jewels and minerals.  They haven’t found any just quite yet, but they’ve got Gargantua, a giant mining laser that the Ice Warrior helped them create, doing some heavy mining in search of the treasure.  Seems to be an awfully nice guy, that Ice Warrior…

A little too “nice,” it turns out, at least not for the reasons on the surface: the Ice Warrior was secretly hoping that the troops would dig far enough to uncover the long-hidden tomb of the Ice Queen Iraxxa – and they do!  Once awoken, Iraxxa begins to raise her army of frozen Ice Warriors, and it’s up to the Doctor to not only overcome the zealous British Lieutenant who wants nothing more than to destroy the lot of “upright crocodiles” but also to work to broker a peace with Iraxxa.  Fortunately, with a little help from the only other female on the planet (his trusty companion, Bill), the disgraced-but-redemption-worthy former leader of the British garrison, and a cameo from another retro-fabulous ‘Doctor Who’ character, the Doctor does indeed work with Iraxxa to ensure that the Ice Warriors can work to reclaim their planet without killing all the humans in order to do so.

The final scene is a taut one, however: Missy (who had to help Nardole get the TARDIS back to Mars after a bit of unexplained technical difficulty stuck him in the “present” near the vault) senses something is wrong with the Doctor, asking him if he’s all right.  The answer to that begging question, however, gets to wait until next week’s episode…


  • First and foremost, in what was probably the “geeky” highlight of the episode, we welcome back Alpha Centauri, after a 40-some-odd year absence from the show!  Appearing in the early 1970s with the Third Doctor, Alpha Centauri is an alien from the Alpha Centaurian race hailing on, you guessed it, Alpha Centauri.  Actress Ysanne Churchman actually does the voicework for Alpha in this episode, reprising the role she originated on the show.  So cool!
  • As much as the final scene pretty clearly indicates that something is wrong with the Doctor – we do, of course, know that a regeneration is heading our way soon – this episode also seems to show us that something might be up with the TARDIS as well.  Rarely will she take off without a pilot, and this episode we have not only that but her apparent refusal to allow Nardole to return to Mars without Missy.  Interestingly, the last time the TARDIS dematerialized without a pilot (I believe) was “Cold War,” a 2013 episode from the Eleventh Doctor’s run – also written by this week’s episode’s scribe, Mark Gatiss.
  • Did the Gargantua drill remind anyone else vaguely of the Death Star weapon from the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy films?  Perhaps it’s just me – or perhaps it was further hammered home when the Doctor uttered the infamous line from every ‘Star Wars’ film: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this…”

CLOSING THOUGHTS: Next week’s episode, “The Eaters of the Light,” is the third-to-last episode of this season, heralding the way for the climactic two-part episode “World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls” (eventually followed in 5 months by the Christmas Special as well).  In another odd twist of randomness-or-maybe-fate, “The Eaters of the Light” is written by Roma Munro, who has only one other ‘Doctor Who’ TV writing credit to her name: 1989’s “Survival,” the very last episode of the “original run” of the show.  Munro is clearly a harbinger of drastic change!

Want one more “random” connection”?  Munro’s “Survival” story arc was also the last episode to feature Anthony Ainley as the Master.  Although three other actors portrayed the Master on-screen before him, Ainley was the only one to play the Master in a recurring fashion, doing so at least once a season for almost a decade.  So, Munro has experience writing the Master… and clearly Missy is becoming more and more a part of the plot of this season… and we know that John Simms is returning as the Master at some point this season… this all makes for a very intriguing mix for, well, who knows for what we’ll get in next week’s episode!


Peter Capaldi as the Doctor
Bill Mackie as Pearl
Matt Lucas as Nardole
Michelle Gomez as Missy

New episodes of ‘Doctor Who’ air on Saturday nights on BBC America.

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Tony Schaab wonders which a courteous zombie would prefer most: if you gave him a hand, played it by ear, got something off your chest, kept your chin up, stuck your neck out, or just gave him something off the top of your head?  A lover of most things sci-fi and horror, Tony is an author by day and a DJ by night. Come hang out with Tony on Twitter or follow him on Facebook to hear him spew semi-funny nonsense and get your opportunity to finally put him in his place.