Sunday, 11 June 2017

Doctor Who: Empress of Mars

"We're British! Mars is part of the Empire now!"

You can always rely on Mark Gatiss to bring a good bit of fanwank, but this time round he does a splendid tale of post-colonialism in the format of a mummy film (shades of Tomb of the Cybermen crossed with Zulu) which has things to say about the colonial Victorian mindset, war, and more about the Ice Warriors than we've ever seen. We even get Alpha bleeding Centauri back, played by your actual Ysanne Churchman. And, just to rub in that this is written by an uber-fan, we get a delightfully gratuitous rehash of Mike Yates' "RHIP" line from Day of the Daleks.

It's so delightfully steampunk, so very Space:1889, for a bunch of Victorian soldiers from the First Boer War in 1881 to come across a Martian spaceship and be taken to Mars by an Ice Warrior whom they nickname "Friday". There's plenty of room for some fun with the tally-ho Victorian attitudes contrasted with the Martian martial attitude. The happy ending for the dishonoured colonel is positively heartwarming.

The Doctor and Bill continue t have excellent chemistry too, and I can't believe they have so little time together. I loved Bill's referencing of both The Terminator and The Thing (she's one of us) while the Doctor, in a move my two year old daughter would approve, instead chooses Frozen as his obligatory pop culture reference. But the dialogue sparkles and the chemistry between the two of them is a joy to behold.

But, for this old fan, the real meat of this episode is that, however much they may have appeared five times before, we've never before seen the Ice Warriors in their natural habitat, on Mars, or had any real reference to their history or culture. But this time we meet an Ice Queen, learning of how the whole race has slept for 5,000 years (linking nicely with The Ice Warriors), and how the oxygen is now escaping and the planet will soon be lifeless. It's a splendidly fanwanky moment as Alpha Centauri, last seen in, er, 1974 in Monster of Peladon, who welcomes the entire population of Mars into the Galactic Federation, a "New Golden Age", and presumably a New Mars.

But the end, with Nardole having to enlist Missy's help to pilot the TARDIS back to Mars, ends with a hint of sexual tension between the Doctor and a reformed/reforming Missy. What's happening here...?

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