And then there was one, the last, lone survivor on my lineup. It was… well, good, as in, not bad, but really felt a little lackluster. They can’t seem to make up their minds about whatever goes into the quality of these episodes this season. I’m actually kind of wanting the season to end already.
10.08 “The Empress of Mars”
NASA. The very heart of America’s continuing exploration of space. The association that put the West into space, that put man on the moon, that pushes outwards, always outwards, to the stars, including our near neighbor, Mars. It is a very somber, powerful moment they are having right now, with the latest satellite scanning the planet’s surface, seeing straight through the ice, and transmitting images back to Mars. It is a momentous day, complete with a countdown.
…so, of course, the Doctor crashes the party, with Bill and Nardole in tow.
If the staff at NASA weren’t surprised and confused enough already by these three strange interlopers suddenly popping in, the first images from Mars contain the real bombshell of the day: a formation of rocks piled together to spell out, “God save the queen.”
No way the Doctor doesn’t investigate this!
So, the trio zoom off in the Tardis, which approximates when the stones were laid, so they can see what’s up. The venture out into caverns of red stone, and find a small fire burning. So, obviously, there’s oxygen, and off come the helmets. Just in time for Bill to fall through a hole, quickly followed by Nardole running for the Tardis for anything that could help, like rope or something, only for the Tardis to spontaneously leave as if of its own accord, whisking him back to the present, and leaving Bill and the Doctor stranded.
So, escape is quite literally not an option.
Bill meets a man in a primitive space suit.
The Doctor meets an ice warrior.
We’ve sort of seen an ice warrior once before. It was one of Clara’s first adventures, and they were on a submarine, and we didn’t see much of the intelligent lizard, but certainly saw how dangerous it was even without its armor.
This one has its armor.
The man Bill meets is a British soldier, a Captain of the Victorian age, which makes sense since they’ve gone back to the Victorian age. Victorian soldiers, on Mars, and entire company of them. It turns out, their colonel met the ice warrior, whom they dubbed Friday, in South Africa. He stumbled on Friday’s ship and woke him up from a long slumber. In exchange for helping Friday get home, they were given a futuristic laser cannon and were promised the riches of Mars.
Unfortunately, it’s all barren, useless rocks, and Friday has returned to find his home lifeless, his people gone.
The soldiers, of course, hail from a time when the Brits walked too proudly on the Earth (bonus points if you get that reference), and they’ve brought that pride to Mars with them. They blithely lay claim to an entire planet, even when it’s supposed to have people on it. And the one Martian…
…it just occurred to me: the ice warriors are upright lizards in large armor… meaning they’re little green men from mars…
…anyway, the one Martian they know, and whom they now believe to be utterly alone without his people, they do not hesitate to make him their servant. A proud and mighty ice warrior, reduced to taking men’s dishes away for them. Oh, not cool, that. Not cool.
Anyway, it looks like no one is going to get what they want out of Mars.
Until they find the tomb of the Empress.
Which is also her stasis chamber, as one soldier finds out the hard way, as she comes awake while he’s trying to loot the place. And we see that ice warrior weaponry apparently folds a person into tight knots. Not a pleasant way to go, and one can only hope that death is as swift as it looks.
So, this definitely qualifies as a most tense introduction between species.
Fortunately, while the Captain may have been far too eager to fight, and far too confident in their victory, the Colonel is more level-headed. He listens to the Doctor, and lets the Doctor do the talking.
The Doctor recognizes the Empress’ authority, and appeals to the need for survival. The ice warriors have slept for five thousand years, and in that time, the world above has become lifeless. If the ice warriors awaken, and he is wise to guess that there are more, the cannot survive long on Mars without help. For the sake of necessity, the Doctor pleads with her to cooperate.
But he’s up against the pride not only of the Brits, but also of the Empress of the Ice Warriors. That’s two peoples possessing great pride and strength, and one has given offense while the other is quick to take it.
The situation spirals ever more out of control as the two sides come to blows. The Captain, arrogant, upstart weasel that he is, takes command of the company by revealing to the soldiers that the Colonel once deserted and merely survived the ensuing hanging. With that, he takes the soldiers and locks up the Colonel, Bill, and the Doctor. And he keeps posturing about how inevitable their victory is, because there are only two ice warriors, and they’re trapped behind fallen rubble with only the one way out, which they have their guns, including their laser cannon, pointed at.
Except that the ice warriors are waking up, and they outnumber the Brits, and they can move underground to come up behind them. It quickly becomes a slaughter, one the Captain flees, hoping to escape back to Earth and leaving his men behind. He’s the real coward, not the Colonel.
Friday rescues the Doctor, Bill, and the Colonel, hoping to stop the slaughter and save his people by changing the Empress’ mind. Bill tries talking to her, distracting her long enough for the Doctor to get hold of the laser cannon, pointing it up, where one good shot could bring the ice down on them all. The Captain interrupts, thinking to take the Empress hostage so she can fly the ship back to Earth. But the Colonel block the path of his retreat and executes him, taking back his command.
It is an act which impresses the Empress, as does the Colonel’s willingness to die. Most of all, his final request: that she please not judge humanity based on the flaws of a few men, either the Captain’s cruelty or the Colonel’s past cowardice, to let his men go home, and to spare his world. In his final moments, the Colonel regains his sacred honor, and his courage, and the assurance that his death is in service to those he swore to protect.
…and then he is given more time.
The Empress holds his life, and refuses to kill him. Warriors should die in battle, and if he swears his loyalty to her, which he does, she will see he gets the opportunity.
So the crisis is ended, the soldiers go home, and the ice warriors call for help. They are answered by Alpha Centauri, who are happy to come and help them, though they recommend a land marker to help guide them in. This, the Doctor realizes, is the beginning of their golden age.
Which, considering how the Alpha Centauri ice warriors came to collect the commander we met way back with Clara, means that the future Doctor created the circumstances which saved the previous Doctor. …wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, am I right?
We know what the marker is: the pile of rocks at the beginning of the episode.
Everything turns out well, except… Nardole wasn’t able to get the Tardis working right. He needed help, went to Missy, who helped, but did so by being let out.
The Doctor says she has to got back into the Vault, and she doesn’t protest. She just asks if he’s all right.
…something very strange there. We’ve seen Missy be insane, but is this a new brand of it? Or is she becoming more sane instead? Or… I don’t know, she’s crazy and dangerous and going through something very tricky and unstable, so who knows what’s going through her head?