The Good: Most of the acting is fine
The Bad: Obvious, overdone, predictable plot, No real character development, No truly big performance moments
The Basics: "Empress Of Mars" shifts direction for a random Mars episode that illustrates that Mark Gatiss truly has no new ideas to contribute to Doctor Who.
When Missy was definitively revealed to be the occupant of The Doctor's Vault in "The Lie Of The Land," the pressure was put on the writers and executive producers of Doctor Who to pay off that character's return in an way that made Missy vital and interesting again. Missy is a fan-favorite villain in Steven Moffat's tenure of Doctor Who, but her return had her in a markedly different role than in her prior appearances. Isolated for centuries, visited only by The Doctor and Nardole, Missy reappeared without any of her spark and wit from her prior appearances. So, as "Empress Of Mars" begins, Doctor Who has a momentum of intrigue to it to make Missy's return worthwhile.
And yet, "Empress Of Mars" does not do that. Instead, it's random bottle episode time and the truth is, "Empress Of Mars" has little to distinguish it from a vast number of other episodes that have virtually identical plots.
"Empress Of Mars" picks up after "The Lie Of The Land" (reviewed here!) and it diverges pretty radically from the prior episodes and does not use Missy in an integral way. Instead, Doctor Who takes a left turn and returns the Martians to the narrative. It's almost like, as Moffat's tenure was winding down he shepherded episodes that used Doctor Who aliens he wanted to revisit before he left the show. The Martians in Doctor Who are an ancient race of Ice Warriors and outside "Cold War," they have been absent from the revived Doctor Who.
The Doctor, Nardole, and Bill visit NASA when the U.S. is standing by for a transmission from Mars. The imaging system that NASA is using reconstructs a message on Mars: "God Save The Queen." So, The Doctor, Bill and Nardole take the TARDIS to Mars, 1881 where they believe the message on Mars originated. While Bill and The Doctor investigate an area underneath the martian surface where there is atmosphere, Nardole disappears with the TARDIS.
Under Mars, The Doctor and Bill discover the Ice Warrior, Friday, along with a small squad of British soldiers. The leader of the soldiers informs The Doctor that they found the Ice Warrior on Earth and were lured to Mars with the promise of gemstones. The British are mining Mars for Friday, but have not found any gems thus far. Shortly after The Doctor's arrival, the British uncover a sarcophagus with Iraxxa, the Martian Queen. When one of the officers attacks Iraxxa, she awakens many of the Ice Warriors and prepares to wipe out the British on Mars.
"Empress Of Mars" is the same episode Doctor Who viewers have seen many, many, many times before. This is the "someone awakens an ancient evil" plotline and it progresses exactly as viewers might expect. The Doctor and his Companion encounter a hapless group of people who have no real attachment to anyone or anything else in Doctor Who, something is awakened and they have to convince the awakened population not to wipe out Earth and/or the people who woke them up.
"Empress Of Mars" seems to take ridiculously long to get to waking up Iraxxa and the set-up feels particularly lacking in consequences. The British on Mars is a fairly absurd premise and there is an additional wrinkle in that the leader of the military force escaped death and . . . who cares? The British officers in "Empress Of Mars" are generally indistinct and it is hard to care whether or not the Ice Warriors let them live or wipe them out entirely.
Ultimately, "Empress Of Mars" is a low-stakes episode that is worthwhile truly only for the final scene which has potential but is entirely disconnected from the rest of the episode.
For other works with Ian Beattie, please check out my reviews of:
Game Of Thrones - Season 1
Game Of Thrones - Season 2
Game Of Thrones - Season 3
Game Of Thrones - Season 4
Game Of Thrones - Season 5
For other television episode and season reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page!
© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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