Spoilers on ice
Doctor Who: “Empress of Mars”
So a few weeks back, we weren’t allowed a reference to Harry Sullivan, companion for Tom Baker’s first season and the opening of the second, as well as appearing in a later serial, because no one would remember him.
That sound you hear is Ian Marter turning in his grave, since we do apparently remember Alpha Centauri from two of Pertwee’s outings. (Pause to note that it was just as well David Archer sat out the final Monks episode, as having him meet Grace Archer would have caused a rift in the space-time continuum and Pru Forrest would have walked again.)
But it’s ok for Mark Gatiss to play around with other people’s sandboxes; is it too cruel to wonder if he can do anything else? Yes, but he reaches for pastiche too easily. He made somewhat of a fuss about there being a black soldier in the dramatis personae, if the papers are to be believe, and evidently Moffat didn’t toss the “history is whitewashed” line at him. He also throws in references to Star Wars (“I have a bad feeling about this”) and, via Bill, The Terminator (although she presumably has the sequels in mind) and The Thing (which is clever, because if James Chapman is to be believed, Christian Nyby inspired The Ice Warriors with its frozen carrot.)
Here we have a steampunkish Ice Warrior episode, as Victorian soldiers (possibly from First Men in the Moon) have found an Ice Warrior on Earth and helped him back to Mars, in search of gold and other resources. They call him Friday, yanno, after Robinson Crusoe, but corners of the internet seem to have misheard this as Faraday. Friday is using them, to get back to his Queen — the first appearance of a female Ice Warrior, apparently, and sharing a silhouette with the Predator. But the collision of a nineteenth-century British army can’t end well.
So, then, hands up those who know why Ice Warriors speak English?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, the TARDIS telepathic circuits, but the humans were speaking to Friday back on Earth (was the TARDIS just around the corner? How many people doesn’t it work for?) and the TARDIS vanishes off when Margot returns to it in order to pick up rope and climbing gear to rescue Bill. Very odd.
Bill has fallen prey to an old Doctor Who standby: the fall. Firstly, there’s the general sense of what the BBFC has taken to calling “Mild Peril” — she is separated from the safest place in the world, next to the Doctor, and it potentially gives us a second story strand. It also allows us to discover a second set of characters. Gatiss, with only forty something minutes and not four episodes to fill, blows it and has them reunited.
The Doctor, Bill and Margot have arrived investigating a mysterious message from Mars that they unearthed, um, observed on a visit to NASA. We know it’s NASA, because there’s the opportunity to have the NASA logo all over the place, jus in we confused it with, I don’t know, CERN. I’m giving NASA guy the benefit of the doubt and calling him patronising for suggesting they are using a different spectrum to scan. I’m not convinced the teaser added anything.
The Ice Warriors, as in The Monster and The Curse of Peladon, are a sophisticated race, Martian vikings — although Malcolm Hulke perhaps had the edge over Brian Hayles when it came to creating misunderstood reptilian aliens. As with The Thing there’s a kind of Cold War allegory to be unpicked, but it is a little late in the day. It’s not the first time this series we’ve seen loads of a species waking up, of course. There is some nice stuff about bravery and cowardice and duty, but it feels a little skated over.
Margot vanishing off in the TARDIS means that the Doctor and Bill are stranded on Mars — note the frequent need to avoid the escape route — but they barely have need to escape. Mainly it is, I think, so that we can jumpstart the STORY ARC and have Margot ask Missy for help. In doing so, he should have been the tough Margot he presented to Bill in the Vatican library, rather than the comic relief Piglet he defaults to, but there you go.
All in all, a step up on the trilogy, but it was an episode crowded with noisy men and a cliché Ice queen.