With the triad arc of previous episodes finally over, BBC’s Doctor Who can finally get on with the timey-wimey adventures again. This week see’s the improbably story of Victorian age explorers ended up marooned on Mars. Don’t worry, if the premise sounds silly – it only gets more so as the episode moves along. Welcome to the Empress of Mars, something of a mess.
As NASA scientists begin probing the polar ice caps of Mars, they uncover a message reading “God Save the Queen”. Naturally The Doctor and company can’t help but get involved, throwing themselves back 1888 – the date the message was written. Within minutes of arriving though, the entire plan goes to heck. Bill ends up down a hole, Nardole gets dragged into the Tardis and taken away while The Doctor came face to face with an old friend.
If Season 10 of Doctor Who has been a tour-de-force for Peter Capaldi, then this episode was the harrowing valley. A dull slog that awkwardly never got out of second gear, despite suggesting otherwise.
From the moment we meet the Victorian explorers, we know exactly where things are heading. Heck, even The Doctor forewarns them about being led into danger; none of the characters take much notice. It leads to a bizarre disconnect where the audience feels next to nothing when things go bad. None of this is helped by the basic attempts to flesh out the characters; leading to some insanely two-dimensional offerings. Chief among these include a villain that might as well have been written by a three-year old. From defying orders to doing dumb things; he’s easily the worst part of the episode.
Even the introduction of the Ice Queen only serves to disappoint. She gets woken up by one idiotic act, then seemingly broods over ever decision. From talking to the humans, through to killing them, she barely does anything of interest throughout. The problem when you try to make us feel sorry for aliens is you have to make the effort, and the plot never really bothers to do that. It’s a problem that afflicts the human characters too – robbing the story of its emotional core and leading to nothing more than a cheap nostalgic trip.
Not that this is helped by a B-plot that basically disappeared off the face of the episode. Nardole ran to Missy for assistance, a great idea on paper as it presents a huge conflict. But much like everything else in this episode; it led to nothing. Other than a brief encounter at the end of the episode, Missy agrees to head back into the vault and the audience is left with frustration. I assume this is leading somewhere, but it really didn’t serve the episode well at all.
Still, there were some positives throughout that saved the episode. The decision to throw in some casual geek culture references helped to flesh out conversation. We found out The Doctor hasn’t seen The Terminator or The Thing; amusing given his time travelling status. He also threw in an amusing nod to Frozen that made me giggle.
Sadly despite this, I just didn’t feel this episode. I’m not saying I need heavy action in my Doctor Who outings – but the teasing has to lead somewhere. There seems to be a lot of ideas in this episode hiding beneath the surface, which never get the chance to come out. Instead the execution is dull and incredibly lacking; leading to an episode I suspect many will forget about quickly.
Certainly, this visit to Mars doesn’t match up with more memorable outings on the Red Planet. Arguably the most dull outing of Season 10 thus far