Doctor Who Recap: The Empress Of Mars Brings Back A Classic Who Character

The steampunk colonization of space is at the centre of this week’s episode of Doctor Who, sparked by NASA’s current-day discovery that Victorian-era Brits made it all the way to Mars (with a little help from an alien friend with an ulterior motive).

Lured to the Red Planet by the promise of gold and glory, the British Army aids a stranded Ice Warrior—a reptilian species of battle-hardened fighters indigenous to Mars—in his mission to return home. Feigning complete docility, he fetches them tea and teaches them how to build a super powerful boring tool (that’s boring as in drilling, not boring as in dull), encouraging them to keep digging into the planet’s core until they hit treasure.

The treasure, though, is his. The Gargantua serves its purpose when it drills down into the tomb of the Ice Warrior Queen, and while the sound of rocks being pulverized just outside the room she’s been asleep in for 5,000 years doesn’t wake her, one greedy Brit prying a gemstone the size of an iPhone off of her sarcophagus does. This means war (because for an Ice Warrior, being awake means war).

The Doctor and Bill attempt to intercede, aiming for peace and cooperation between the two races. Mars, once a thriving ecosystem, is now the way we know it: dry and dusty and lifeless. The Ice Warriors would do better to work with the humans. And humanity would do better not to start a fight they have no chance of winning. Both sides are too proud, too set in their ways, and (in humanity’s case) too boneheaded to back down. Shots are fired, Brits die. The Doctor and Bill, along with a deserter Colonel, are thrown in the brig.

But an Ice Warrior busts them out of jail and the three form an alliance while the Colonel steps in to save the Queen by shooting one of his own men (he had it coming). When he then offers to sacrifice his own life in exchange for the safety of his remaining soldiers, his bravery is rewarded with a stay of execution. The Ice Warriors (along with fans of the classic Who series) are rewarded with a message from Alpha Centauri welcoming them to the universe and offering them rescue, a way off of their dead planet. To guide the rescue ship to Mars, the Doctor, Bill, and the Colonel head to the surface to make a marker: GOD SAVE THE QUEEN, the very message that NASA discovered more than a century later.

It’s Nardole that rescues Bill and the Doctor. Sort of. The TARDIS developed a mind of its own at the top of the episode, taking him back to the university. In order to find Mars again, he had to ask for help. From Missy. This can’t be good.

5 Questions About This Week’s Episode

1. The Doctor looks pretty freaked out to see Missy at the controls of the TARDIS, telling her “This can’t happen. This is not what we agreed to.” When he he says he has to put her back the vault, she agrees, without putting up a fight. That’s not like her. Why is she being so cooperative?

2. Is there any chance at all that Missy could actually change? Really?

3. When she sees him, Missy asks the Doctor if he’s alright. Twice. Does she know something about how close he is to regeneration? Or does this have to do with the terms of their agreement?

4. Why did the TARDIS head for Earth (and the vault) without the Doctor inside? Has Missy tampered with it somehow or is it just a deus ex machina device for guiding the Doctor to his destiny?

5. Would those steampunk space suits actually hold up on Mars?