By Lee Travis
Empress of Mars
In my limit experiences with Doctor Who, no episode until this point had felt like a classic episode, one that could hold its own in any viewing. An episode that isn't restricted by outside contextual plots or characters. "Empress of Mars" is an interesting departure for this series. A standalone episode that comes as possible to encapsulate the essence of Doctor Who in one neatly wrapped story.
Removing the Doctor and Bill from the earth and stranding them on Mars contributes to the sense of whimsy and otherworld fantasy that series tenth series has been lacking. The idea of Victorian soldiers trying to colonize Mars is comically bad (in all the good ways) yet reveals so much about humanities desires and ambitions. Through their interactions with the Ice Warrior Friday, the Doctor, and Bill see how demoralizing British imperialism was, or is in this case, to the locals. There is even reference to Friday being the last of his people, yet he is treated like a butler.
Moral ambiguity strikes at the center of the episode, ramping up after the Ice Queen and the remaining Ice Warriors are awakened from their sleep. The Victorian troops, knowing nothing more than their goal to conquer Mars in the name of the Queen, try their hardest to suppress the natives, but fail miserably. On the one hand, these soldiers are just doing what they are told to by their commanding officer. The Doctor and Bill (along with the audience) know that following orders so blindly doesn't work in the twenty-first century. But who's to blame the frontline pawn who's fighting Ice Warriors under the surface of Mars?
Ultimately, humanities inner good is shown in a moving standoff. The same Victorian principles that damned the British in the first place save them in the end. The high wire act that "Empress of Mars" shows how a self-contained Doctor Who episode can work. I had a strong feeling of watching a Star Trek: The Original Series episode the entire time. There was something so familiar and comforting about watching the conflict between imperialistic soldiers and these Ice Warriors. I was just far enough removed to feel sympathy for both, yet recognize the blind nobility of tasteless subjugation of the Ice Warriors.
“Empress of Mars” felt like a pulp 70's episode brought to life in the modern era of Doctor Who. I welcome a clean standalone episode that evokes a nostalgic feeling rather than reflecting too much on the current state of the world while staying provocative and timely. As always, Bill was a highlight of the episode. She has fully embraced her role as a time and space cop. As have I.
Leave a comment below or hit me up on Twitter @lostthenumbers and tell me what you thought of this week’s adventure to Mars.