The return of the Ice Warriors back in Season 7 was an awesome moment in modern Doctor Who. Bringing them back in Season 10, and expanding on their mythology, is a dream come true. Long live the Empress of Mars!
We’ve Seen Ice Warriors Before, But Never The Empress Of Mars
The Doctor, Bill, and Nardole discover a strange message on the surface of Mars. The British Empire seems to have visited the red planet in the 1800s, which they really shouldn’t have. A whole regiment of the Queen’s Finest found an Ice Warrior spaceship, with a lone, injured occupant. They agree to bring the sole survivor home in exchange for a chance to claim Mars in the name of Queen Victoria. It’s very British affair with tea, biscuits, Queen, and Country. Then the TARDIS team arrives.
While mining Martian caves the British believe the Ice Warrior they rescued is the only one left on his planet. The Doctor doesn’t believe that to be the case. When the mining effort finally uncovers something, the Doctor knows there’s going to be trouble. The Doctor is more than familiar with the Ice Warriors. When they stumble on the tomb of the Ice Queen, the Doctor fears it’s time for The Empress of Mars to rise again.
Humans Out Of Time, Figuratively And Literally
Some of Doctor Who’s best stories happen when people are taken out of their time, and thrown into danger. Pitting British Imperialist soldiers against desperate Ice Warriors is a great mash-up of mighty armies going head to head. I wish we could have seen a full-scale battle between the two empires, but the skirmish did not disappoint.
Not being British, it isn’t easy to identify with the idea of having to accept the inevitable end of Imperialism. Believing the whole world was their’s for the taking must have been an empowering driving force for the British psyche. The Empress of Mars is a great bit of introspection that asks a military force thinking itself righteous, to accept coming up against a superior foe.
The Ice Warriors have slumbered for thousands of years, and are technically outnumbered by the invading British. At first. But that won’t change the Empress’ mind. The Doctor tries to plead with the Empress of Mars to accept her tactical disadvantage, but in true royal fashion, she cannot accept the truth. Neither can the British. War is inevitable.
While The Battle Rages, A Rogue Element Is Introduced
The Empress of Mars is a warrior’s tale. Honor, duty, and battle, are the code a warrior lives by. The episode’s resolution is not only surprising, but opens up the future for a returning classic threat. Speaking of Classic Who, the return of Alpha Centauri was a major surprise, and basically completes Revival Who coming full circle with the Classic series. This episode felt Classic in all the ways that make Doctor Who great. It continued the trend of making modern Doctor Who feel a lot like the original, and I think it was a huge success.
Empress of Mars was loads of fun, however, a major season-long sub-plot finally takes center stage. Soon after the TARDIS trio arrived on Mars, before the battle of Empires, the real trouble started. Nardole returned to the TARDIS to retrieve supplies, but as soon as he was on bard the TARDIS de-materializes. In order to get back to the Doctor, and Bill, Nardole had no choice but to get help. His only option… Missy. The Doctor, and Bill return from Mars to find the most dangerous Time Lord ever at the controls of the TARDIS. It looks like she’s going to play a major part in the rest of this season. It’s only fitting that the Master is involved in the Doctor’s regeneration. Their eternal dance of friendship, and death, will be an amazing piece of Doctor Who history.