I’ve been accused (and perhaps fairly so) of reading too much into Doctor Who’s recent episodes, seeing social commentary where I wanted to. As such, I hesitate to share my views on “The Empress of Mars” since it struck me as having a slight Brexit feel to it. It’s not as overtly about anything current as “Lie of the Land’s” sci-fi dramatization of the plague of fake news, but there was a real cry for unity, holding up Victorian-era Brits as mindless colonizers and The Ice Warriors as honorable defenders of their sovereign land. A charismatic little shit leads the Brits astray, and an incensed Ice Warrior queen wages war until Bill and The Doctor again have to ask of humanity (and, in this, aliens as well), “Why can’t we all just get along? Why must we go this alone? We are better together!” It’s not so much about Brexit, but it seemed influenced by it, particularly down to the choice of using Brits as the bad guys when literally anything else was on the table for them to use in a story about the Ice Warriors of Mars.
But regardless of that level of commentary (or how much you want to read into it), did “The Empress of Mars” actually work as an episode? Well, it was back to classic Who with scary (depending on your age), but misunderstood monsters, corridors to be run down and an ultimate plea for peace and understanding in chaotic times. Plus, it was goofy and bonkers as all get out with steampunk-suit-adorned Victorian soldiers attempting to claim Mars in the name of the English empire, and a no-doubt Shakespearean-trained English actress as the Ice Warrior queen buried under make-up and prosthetics and dialing the camp meter up to 11 to compensate.
Here are a couple of things I liked and didn’t like about the episode:
What I Liked
–The play on convention. Nice twist: the Doctor thinking he is standing up for the Ice Warrior only to realize the colonist is actually trying to protect the Ice Warrior from him.
–The Ice Warrior recognizes Bill Potts. It’s so adorable that before the fighting they would all stand in the Queen’s chambers and take turns talking, engaging in civilized debate even if a trigger-happy soldier or two couldn’t help themselves.
–The easter egg. Hello again, Queen Victoria. Nice to see that your post-Doctor activities didn’t end with simply creating Torchwood.
What I Didn’t Like
–The runner about similarities to other movies and TV shows. This isn’t a make or break kind of deal. The episode was neither ruined nor made by this series of jokes, depending on your viewpoint, but while I initially enjoyed the Bill’s reference to Terminator I found the continued pop culture references (first The Thing then Vikings then Frozen) to be oddly out of character and counterproductive to the dramatic stakes of the story. That being said, season 10 has been more pop culturally aware than ever before, outright quoting Star Trek, referencing Grand Theft Auto, etc. To be fair, I did like energy between the Doctor and Bill during their back-and-forth on this topic in “Empress,” and if we were in Bill’s position we probably would only have movies and TV shows as our frame of reference for the increasingly bizarre situations and creates you’d encounter with The Doctor. “Empress” just didn’t necessarily need it.
–The easy resolution. Twas honor that prevented the impending war. I liked the concept, not the abruptness, but at this point I might be nitpicking.
–Did the token black guy really have to die? Self-explanatory.
What about you? What did you think of “Empress of Mars”? Let me know in the comments.