I don’t have much to say about “Empress of Mars,” except that I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. Not only is it a nice recovery from the dead weight of the Monk invasion trilogy, it has a real classic-Doctor Who feel to it. There were many episodes during the classic run that either lampooned or commented on British colonialism, although usually metaphorically in the distant future. (The 1982 Fifth Doctor serial “Kinda” is a great example of this, where the exploitative human expedition on the jungle planet of Deva Loka is very much an analog for the British in India.) Here we have actual Victorian British soldiers on Mars, which is quite a sight.
I’ll admit I rolled my eyes somewhat when “God Save the Queen” is found written on the surface of Mars at the start of the episode — that’s so painfully new-Who — but they gave it an explanation in the end that worked. Or at least an explanation I was willing to buy! I also liked the pacifist message of cooperation instead of war, which is something Doctor Who used to do a lot more often than it does these days.
But one of the things I found most enjoyable about “Empress of Mars” was the sheer amount of Doctor Who neepery on display! The image of the Ice Warriors standing in their hibernation tombs was very reminiscent of the Cybermen doing the same in 1967 Second Doctor serial “Tomb of the Cybermen.” The Doctor tells the Ice Warrior nicknamed Friday that he’s an honorary guardian of Tythonian Hive. What’s strange about this is that the only Tythonian from the classic series isn’t an Ice Warrior, but rather the glowing green blob in the widely reviled 1979 Fourth Doctor serial “The Creature from the Pit”! I appreciated that the helmet design of the Ice Queen is reminiscent of the helmets of the Ice Lords, Ice Warriors of advanced rank in the classic series. But the episode definitely saves the best for last, with the surprise cameo by Alpha Centauri, a ridiculously phallic one-eyed creature (pictured below) last seen — in the company of the Ice Warriors! — in the Third Doctor serials “The Curse of Peladon” (1972) and “The Monster of Peladon” (1974). I read that the actress who originally voiced Alpha Centauri in the 1970s, Ysanne Churchman, did the voice again for “Empress of Mars” — at the age of 92! Remarkable!
Next week, an episode written by Rona Munro, who previously wrote “Survival,” the last serial of the Seventh Doctor in 1989, and the very last serial ever of classic series!