Doctor Who: The Empress of Mars Review (or “Generic But Better Than Expected”)

June 11, 2017

I consider myself a fair-minded person.

So despite Mark Gatiss routinely delivering episodes at the poorer end of the spectrum – which would make you wonder why he keeps getting asked back to write more until you remember that he’s Steven Moffat’s bezzie mate and nepotism is rife in the world of TV writing – I sat down to watch The Empress of Mars with an open mind.

It might be good.

Maybe…

Doctor Who: The Empress of Mars Review – What’s This One About?

Like a lot of Mark Gatiss’s episodes – seven out of his nine episodes actually, which makes you wonder how much imagination he has – it puts aliens in a period setting.

Well…if we’re being fair it puts period humans in an alien setting, so I guess he probably though he was being clever.

Thoughts – Better Than Expected But Very Generic

Right, I’ll get this out of the way now; I liked The Empress of Mars. I know, I’m as surprised as you.

Classic Series fans around the country lose their shit at Alpha Centauri showing up voiced by the same woman…

As a standalone episode watched in isolation on a Saturday night, this did the job fine.

It had a good setting, identifiable characters and a simple plot to follow.

But – and I expect you knew there’d be a but – it still had its issues.

If I was to be overly critical I’d say that this was an episode written in the most generic of terms.

While Knock, Knock felt like it was written for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor and while many of the earlier episodes of this season were penned with Bill in mind, The Empress of Mars appears to fit any Doctor and any female companion.

Hell, it could even have worked with any group of humans and any alien.

And that’s not good.

It sums up the Gatiss style. He’s good at coming up with the setting, but his characterisation is lacking.

That being said, I will repeat that I did enjoy it overall.

The Vault

I’m at the point now where I take issue with The Vault.

In the early episodes of this season when we didn’t know who or what was inside it, the writing was that Nardole did not like the idea of the Doctor leaving Earth in the TARDIS because if he went away for a while

Meanwhile the younger viewers share Bill’s expression of “It’s just an eye”.

then the planet would be in danger from its contents.

That’s fallen by the wayside.

Now that we as viewers know what’s in it, that’s been forgotten about.

Now not only do they all go off on their travels together without fear of Missy doing anything, but Nardole is happy to take her off on a jaunt in time and space.

That’s poor. It’s like when a good-natured character has shockingly been revealed to the viewer – and only the viewer – as being evil, then they start acting evil all the time. It annoys me.

But then that’s probably Moffat’s fault rather than Gatiss’s.

Random Observations

  • I imagine classic series Doctor Who fans around the world lost their shit when Alpha Centauri showed up, voice-acted by the same woman as in the Peladon stories from the Pertwee era. I thought that was kinda cool too.
  • Do you get the feeling that – much like some early episodes in this season – it was written without Nardole in mind?
  • Going back to what I was saying about it being generic, I don’t think the way Bill reacted to being in a war zone – seeing men being killed in front of her and not even raising an eyebrow – was in keeping with her established character.
  • I’m not doubting that this wasn’t researched and therefore wasn’t possible, but how could a guy who was hung for desertion be reinstated as the leader of a platoon of men? At the very most, surely if it didn’t work they’d have just sent him home?
  • Catchlove was probably the most one-note boo-hiss panto villain seen in the show for a while.
  • Certain parts of this episode felt very convenient. For example, beyond giving them a reason to go to Mars and to marry up the beginning and end of the episode, why were the Doctor and his chums in that NASA control room at the start? And why – beyond engineering a situation where Nardole wasn’t in it and Missy got out of the vault – did the TARDIS suddenly leave?
  • The timeline of the Ice Warriors really doesn’t make sense to me, but I think that’s another article for another day.
  • Also, why is there never any continuity with the Ice Warriors’ guns? Either from the 1960s would do me fine. But now they seem to have ones that disintegrate humans and tie up their clothes in a neat bundle for washing.
  • The Ice Warriors weren’t voiced by Nicholas Briggs again. I bet he’s fuming.

Doctor Who: The Empress of Mars Review – Final Thoughts

When you sit down to watch a Mark Gatiss-penned episode of Doctor Who, you expect a few things.

  1. A period piece
  2. A decent idea in principle
  3. A story written for almost any Doctor or companion
  4. Paper thin characterisation
  5. For it to be shite

We hit four of the five today, but thankfully the one we didn’t was number five.

This was actually decent enough.

So I’m as happy as I think I have any right to be.

More Doctor Who Reviews

Remember that you can read a select amount of my Doctor Who reviews on this blog and all of them in my two ebooks, available here from Amazon