Who is the Empress of Mars? Is she related to the Viceroy of Venus? Why are lyrics to punk songs written upon the surface of Mars? Will all be revealed or it is all a saddening bore?
This is Mark Gatiss and this story involves Ice Warriors. He likes them icy gits he does. He thinks they are champion.
Modern day Earth and things are awry at NASA. They have sent a gadget to Mars. What this gadget does is take really detailed pictures. But there is something weird. No, not the Doctor, Bill and Nardole crashing the party but the picture of the surface of Mars.
When the pictures fly through space back to NASA HQ, a picture loads up as slow as a picture would do on a 1990s computer. Yep, they literally wait hours to see what the picture is. Words appear, bit by bit…
GOD SAVE THE QUEEN
The TARDIS trio immediately run to the bust of Neil Armstrong, lift up the head to press the red button that is there. A wall slides back to reveal three fireman poles which they slide down.
If they had waited a few hours more, they would have seen the rest of the message. Which is…
GOD SAVE THE QUEEN
THE FASCIST REGIME
THEY MADE YOU A MORON
A POTENTIAL H-BOMB
And so on and so forth, etcetera etcetera…
And if they have scanned slightly to the east of the message, they would have also seen Sutekh’s pyramid, Sutekh’s patio and Sutekh’s barbecue pit with bespoke charcoal grill.
Again, so on and so forth, etcetera etcetera…
The title sequence starts. Ooh, new titles! Cartoon images of the Doctor and Bill punching Daleks, Cybermen, sentient puddles and Ice Warriors. Every time a punch lands, a weird sound effect appears in writing. ‘BOK!’ ‘KKLAK!’ ‘ECKY-THUMP!’ ‘KLOKEDA!’ ‘SPLINK!’ But the theme tune has gone downhill though. “Nananananana Doctor! Doctor! Doctor! Nananananananananananana Doctor!” Really! I ask you.
Sorry, just my small tribute to Adam West who died as I was writing this unreview.
Mars. What can I say about Mars?
Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids
In fact it’s cold as hell
And there’s no one there to raise them
If you did
~ Elton John, Rocket Man
The TARDIS vworps vworps underneath the surface of Mars. A dingy red cave system. Our heroes are wearing spacesuits, not the orange ones from previous episodes, and would have a problem in seeing where they are going if it wasn’t for the flickering fire handily lighting up the caves.
Is there life on Mars? Well, yes. What with the Séroni, Mysterons, Ice Warriors, zombifying water plus Sailor Mars and the first homosexual Martians (Marvin and the Manhunter. Yes, I just outed them!), Mars is chock-a-block with life on Mars. It is, as the great David Bowie once said, “the freakiest show”.
This fire was probably lit by one of them folks I just mentioned. Not that Bill cares, no, she is too busy falling down a hole. Typical!
Nardole pops back to the TARDIS to fetch some rope and a copy of Buckaroo. And the TARDIS, flighty mare that she is, vworp vworps itself back to St Luke’s University of Boffins. Why? No idea.
The Doctor is impatiently waiting for the bald one when he hears clomping. Could this be the clomping of the Russell Thessalonian Davies Cybermen? No. It is an Ice Warrior. A battered thing. It bears down on the Doctor like a cat bearing down upon a plate of cow entrails. It is about to give him a cuddle and a kiss, I presume, when a soldier in red calls it off. Then he points his rifle at the Doctor.
Bill, lest we forget our raven-haired companion, also encounters a soldier in red. Bit more friendly than the one Old Two Hearts met.
Meanwhile, not quite meanwhile, Nardole is banging on the doors of the Vault.
“Missy! Missy! I need your help! The darn TARDIS has stranded the Doctor and whatshername on Victorian Mars! Again! What do I do?”
“Ach, ye wee [expletive deleted]. I’ll only be tae glad tae help ye, haggis-brain. Let me [expletive deleted] oot an’ I will show ye.”
Back on Mars, the Doctor and Bill are reunited. Huzzah! He is trying to keep her spirits up with stories of how him and John Carter went on a pub crawl of Barsoom. “That Yankee sassenach ended up kissin’ a coupla Ice Lairds.”
The British soldiers are in league with the rickety Ice Warrior whose name is Friday. When asked, Captain Catchlove (Or is he Godsacre?) and the soldiers explain. In song.
“Friday the Ice Warrior packed his ship
And said goodbye to the red planet
Off he went with a zoomety-zoom
Zoom, zoom, crash!
Friday the Ice Warrior was stuck in his ship
He’d said goodbye to living
Off he went freezety-freeze
Frozen, frozen, thawed!”
“And then the blighter said that if we helped it back to Mars, he would let us mine the planet for gold, silver and precious tin. Which was nice. So we did, and here we are.”
Catchlove and Colonel Godsacre are not friends. Catchlove makes orders when it is Godsacre’s job to give the order. Has the moustached Catchy got something on his superior officer? There is certainly no love lost there.
Friday is named after a character from Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. But you already knew that.
“May I be excused, sir?”
“It is rather a delicate matter, sir.”
“Oh. Oh! Go on but don’t be long.”
Friday, what with him being thousands of years old, has a weak bladder. Poor sod.
The Doctor doesn’t believe that Friday’s bladder is as weak as it seems. “That Ice Laird is up tae som’thin’ bad. I reckon he is planning’ on findin’ his hive. We’re doomed. Doomed I tell ye!”
This confuses Bill as she wasn’t aware that there was such a thing as Martian bumblebees.
No sooner has she thought this than the drill, the one that Friday built, cracks through into a tomb. A tomb belonging to an Ice Lady. Or rather the Empress of Malacandra, Iraxxa Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. The Doctor warns them not to enter. “See that writin’ up there? It says ‘A curse for you and you and you if you enter.'”
Catchlove: Right, men. Guard the tomb. You and you, hop to it.
Godsacre: Excuse me, “Do you think that’s wise? I am the superior here. Would you kindly allow me to give the orders?
Catchlove: *glowers, falls over and adjusts askew spectacles*
Godsacre: You are most gracious. Now you and you, Vincey, guard the tomb.
Vincey: I’ll tell mum on you, Uncle Frank
So young Vincey and an older soldier guard the tomb. Vincey is worried. I blame all those war stories that he has read. The older soldier reassures him, “Them Greeny Weenies don’t like the cold steel of our British bayonets, Vincey. No, they don’t like it up ’em!”
Vincey smiles but is not persuaded. He just tightens his Aston Villa scarf. He thinks that a Martian mummy will grab him by the goolies and tear him apart. If only mumsy was there, she’d protect him.
Jackdaw, one of the more, erm, older soldiers, approaches the guards with a nice cup of rosy lee (that is tea to you American readers [hah, like they are plural, pft!]). Vincey gets none because as his fellow guard says, “Rank has its privilege.”
Rank also has privileged Mickey Finns. The tea was drugged. All part of Jackdaw’s plan which is this: steal gems from tomb, steal spaceship back to Blighty, enjoy living it large. This plan simply cannot fail. He has roped in Vincey because, well, he needs a stooge.
“Are you sure we should be doing this? Uncle Frank won’t like it.”
“Nah, it will be fine,” Jackdaw says, taking a drag on his cigarette.
“But the Doctor said the tomb was cursed!”
“Don’t listen to Taffy, Vincey. We can sell the gems on the black market, mate.”
“My mum says you are a spiv.”
“Hey, I prefer to be called a wholesales supplier, thank you very much. Now keep an eye out, eh?”
Jackdaw enters. Indiana Jones he ain’t. Dakota Smith, maybe. He looks to the left, he looks to the right,, and proceeds to the tomb. No poisoned darts fly from the walls, none of the flagstones drop down into a bottomless chasm but a stone ball does drop down but given thousands of years of erosion it is now just a pebble.
Jackdaw prises a carbuncle from the side of the tomb which is actually a cryogenic doohickey. The Ice Lady revives. Iraxxa awakens. And boy is she grumpy. Clearly not a morning person. She challenges Jackdaw to explain why he is there but all he can say is “Blimey” before she turns him into a round ball of drycleaned clothing.
Vincey screams. This brings all the boys to the yard and before somebody can make a reference to Kelis’ Milkshake, there is trouble between the pinkies and the greenies.
In the corner of the hive room, Friday wakes up. “I must have dropped off,” he says. “I was dreaming about the jam my sisters used to make thousands of years ago…” and he goes on to explain to Iraxxa Warrior Princess that she and the rest of their race have been asleep for five thousand years.
Iraxxa is aghast. She left the tap running downstairs. Then she remembers that rank has its privileges and makes a mental note to get Friday to pay the water bill.
The risk of war, a war of the worlds if you will, is close to breaking out. The Doctor asks Iraxxa to show mercy but she doesn’t know what mercy is. The Doctor show her his dictionary and tells her that the Ice Warriors can’t survive on Mars’ surface. Not with every Tom, Dick and Martian Manhunter gobbling up the real estate.
Iraxxa does something unexpected. She asks Bill for her opinion. Bill gives her consent to relent and all seems well but you know peace won’t last, not with twenty minutes to go until the show finishes.
Godsacre introduces himself and his men but Iraxxa wants him to surrender. Which is not good of her. Godsacre says no.
Iraxxa: I am making notes, Colonel Godsacre, and your name will go on the list; and when we win, you will be brought to account.
Godsacre: You can write what you like, You’re not going to beat us!
Iraxxa: Oh yes we are.
Godsacre: Oh no you’re not.
Iraxxa: Oh yes we are!
Vincey: [Singing] Whistle while you work, Iraxxa is a twerp, she’s half-barmy, so’s her army, whistle while you work!
Iraxxa: Your name will also go on the list, fleshbag! What is it?
Godsacre: Don’t tell him, Vincey!
Then the shooting starts. The British Army is hopelessly outmatched. So they make a quick exit.
Catchlove seizes control by stripping Godsacre so that everyone can see the wounds from the hanging that he survived. “See? He is a coward. Hung for it he was. But he wasn’t well hung, he survived. Yellow coward that he is. Don’t follow him, follow me. I have a better moustache.”
Catchlove uses the mining laser to collapse the entrance to the hive. Then he has the Doctor, Bill and the Cowardly Lion locked up in the brig. Brig being military speak for prison.
I have a question, why would they have built a brig? Did Godsacre expect trouble amongst the rank ranks? Or it simply there so they can escape from it later? Spoilers: they escape from it later.
Iraxxa doesn’t bother brushing her teeth after 5,000 years of slumber. No, she is a busy girl. With a flick of her Predatoresque dreadlocks, she revives more Ice Warriors from the hive. This is less impressive than it sounds since she is just placing a Mickey Mouse alarm clock next to their kipping heads.
I like the Ice Warriors but I also like the Victorian British Army. But which is better? Only one way to find out. FIIIIIGGGHHHHTTT!!!!!
Mars attacks (see what I did there?) from below in an attack which reminded me of the way the Silurians kidnapped people in The Hungry Earth.
Vincey is killed! I liked him. He is turned into a ball of clothing, freshly laundered. Not that Catchlove cares. He just looks at the remains of Vincey and mutters, “Stupid boy.”
Friday pops up through the ground into the brig. An alliance is made between him, the Doctor and Bill. Godsacre wants none of this because of his cowardice, see?
Friday and Bill distract Iraxxa while the Doctor takes control of the mining laser.
“Step back, ye Martian sassenachs! That’s gies dooble for ye soldier boys, aye? Noo, I will use this laser tae bury ye all under the ice of Mars’ north pole. Ye knows what that’ll mean.”
“Permission to speak, sir! But won’t all that ice kill us and the greenie weenies. None of us wants cold ice up us.”
“Nae! Not the ice! Nae presents from the Martian Father Christmas!”
This threat stops the fighting but it does rather allow Catchlove to hold Iraxxa at knifepoint. “Right, I think not. You can all bally well stay here. My moustache and I require this girly to pilot us back to Blighty where I will grow rich on the proceeds of exhibiting her in a freakshow. Now I would continue to tell you my plans but something seems rum…”
Catchlove falls to the ground. Dead. Godsacre, who got some courage from the Wizard of Oz, has killed him.
Iraxxa? That don’t impress her much. So Godsacre begs her to kill him. He explains about his cowardice, his hanging, and.. Hold on! Would someone, who was sentenced to be killed, allowed to continue active service in the British Army?
In any case, Iraxxa decides that she will call off the attack if Godsacre will pledge allegiance to the Ice Warriors. He accepts.
All that is left is for the Doctor to send an email and for a certain character to reappear after decades. Alpha Centauri! Cyclops in penile form! Loved this cameo and it is even played by the original actress, Ysanne Churchman. Which nicely sets up the Ice Warriors for their rols in the Peladon stories of the Pertwee era. Good old Mark Gatiss.
The Doctor and Bill help leave the message that NASA will find. And before you can say, deus ex machina, Nardole appears with the TARDIS. And Missy.
Missy, meek and mild, simply says she will go back into the Vault and then she asks about the Doctor’s health. Which is weird.
As they vworp away, the Ice Warriors sing their National Anthem…
God save the queen
She’s not a human being
and There’s a good future
And Mars’ awakening!
And that is it. There is no more. Nothing to see here, sir, please move on to some scathing critiques of the actors and other parts of the show.
Did anyone else note that the portrait of Queen Victoria showed Pauline Collins who has played her in Tooth and Claw. Very good nod to the past. As was the Ysanne Churchman cameo at which I punched the air. And Iraxxa’s command to “sleep no more”? Cheeky reference to the previous story that Mark Gatiss wrote for the show.
This is what the Greybeard Whovians would call a traditional episode, I guess. As such, the acting requires no frills. The acting is largely great but there are no real emotional scenes. Although Anthony Calf’s Godsacre deserves a special mention for the sheer quality of his performance.
Peter Capaldi is good. He always is. But I think that any Doctor could have been used in this story to no ill effect. The Doctor is written as generic Doctor. Good but, well, generic. Capaldi does his best and he does a wonderful job.
Pearl Mackie has less to do here than she has done in previous episodes. But this is all to the good. You always want to leave the audience wanting more. And I want more. Mischief managed, eh?
Matt Lucas is here and then gone and then here again. His only real role is to get Missy into the TARDIS and to have that odd confrontation with the Doctor. Again, mischief managed.
Michelle Gomez is… She was… She plays Missy as being almost humane. You wouldn’t know her to be the Master if you were unaware of her character’s history. I can’t wait to see how Missy will get her evil back.
A mention to Ferdinand Kingsley who is an utter git in this. Also, that moustache! I should like one like that.
Is Empress of Mars a great story. Um, not great but exceedingly good. If the Doctor had been a bit less generic than it would be a classic. In my eyes.
Should you watch it? Yes. It has Ice Warriors and a phallus with a huge eyeball. What more do you want? Dancing flamingos?