Doctor Who 10.9 – Empress of Mars

Normally, I keep future events in Doctor Who a secret from the kid, but every so often, I can’t resist. The kid likes the Ice Warriors, so we watched the “next time” trailer a couple of days ago, and then I pulled up episode four of “The Monster of Peladon” to remind him of the Ice Warriors’ weapons.

It was the sort of thing that, once upon a time, the novelizations and the comic strips explained with more color and detail. The Martians use these sonic cannons that cause huge crushes that contort their victims. Back in 1974, they realized this with a simple, but memorable, effect. The image of the actors was reflected in a thin mirrored panel which technicians folded together. These days, special effects tech has moved on, and now… now it just looks ridiculous. It’s grisly and morbid seeing a human being crushed into a sphere about the size of a basketball, but I think unless you’re familiar with old novelizations and comic strips, the actual image is so thunderously silly that it takes you out of the experience.

And it’s just like me being a picky old fanboy to get hung up on that and let it be the most memorable thing about this episode, because there’s just too darn much here to like. It’s the final script – for now – for the series from Mark Gatiss, who debuted back in the first series of the revival with “The Unquiet Dead” and has been a reliable hand throughout the show’s run… and he has a second acting appearance coming up as well before he bows out. I think it’s terrific, and our son enjoyed the daylights out of it. It’s got British soldiers on the moon in 1881, an old music hall song, a criminal with the perfect name of Jackdaw, Nardole making a deal with the devil, and the most delightfully surprising cameo almost at the end.

Speaking of being a picky old fanboy, the list-making teenager that I was in the eighties would like to note that while the Ice Warriors occasionally picked fights with Cybermen and Draconians in the old comics, this is the first story I’ve ever seen that has both the Warriors and the Master in it. On the other hand, Missy doesn’t actually share any screen time here with them. Ah, well!

Maybe Gatiss has told all the Who tales that he really wants to tell, and maybe after being a regular and reliable scriptwriter and – I suspect – sounding board for thirteen years (!), he might well be done. But I enjoyed most of his stories very much, and I probably liked “Sleep No More” more than anybody else did, so I’d be thrilled to see him return. I am writing this, after all, just the day after the BBC announced that Russell T. Davies is coming back to take the show over again in 2023. Stranger things have definitely happened.

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