YouTube: Empress of Mars: Preview – Doctor Who: Series 10 Episode 9 – BBC One

After what feels like an eternity, but was actually just three episodes, the Monks are gone. Hooray! That three-parter dragged out a tad, didn’t it? And never really excelled, did it? Guess what: ‘Empress of Mars’ is mediocre too! Woohoo!

The inconsistency that Who, Sherlock, and The League of Gentleman writer, Mark Gatiss shows with his episodes is baffling, really. Despite a largely negative response to Gatiss’ ‘Sleep No More’ from series nine, I rather enjoyed it, and his collaborations with Russell T. Davies (‘The Unquiet Dead’ in series one and ‘The Idiot’s Lantern’ in series two) were strong, so too ‘Night Terrors’ (series five), ‘The Crimson Horror’ (series seven). Equally though, Gatiss has penned some of the more dreadful episodes of the Moffat era, series five’s ‘Victory of the Daleks’ (with those ghastly ‘classic’ Daleks) and ‘Robot of Sherwood’ in series eight standing out particularly.

‘Empress of Mars’ is likely his most middle-of-the-road work. There were elements I enjoyed, there were elements I didn’t. It was all rather bland. As per every episode so far this series, Pearl Mackie shone brightest and Peter Capaldi was as excellent as one would expect. The supporting cast was strong too; Ferdinand Kingsley as Catchlove was charming but sinister and made for an effective, unexpected villain, and Queen Bee of the new-age Ice Warriors, Iraxxa (Adele Lynch), was a solid enough bad guy.

The plot was a peculiar one, though. It felt like one of those ideas that, really, could and should have been stopped rather early on in the writing process. A Victorian colony of armed soldiers on Mars, with a willing Ice Warrior servant, discovering an Ice Warrior Queen. It seems a stretch even for Doctor Who. Why not one or the other? A story set in Victorian Britain with an Earth-stranded Ice Warrior? Or a story set on Mars in which the Doctor and Bill discovering an Ice Warrior Queen? With both plots combining, the result was a rather messy, and somewhat disinteresting story, that only really got going quite late on in the episode.

When it did get going, in all fairness, it was enjoyable. The plot conclusion was pleasant, and the cameo for Who alum, Ysanne Churchman, reprising her role as Alpha Centauri, was a welcome one. The episode just fell a bit flat, especially after the standard of the series’ early stand-alone episodes.

The ending was certainly intriguing though, and I hope it’s not something we have to wait right until the end of the series finale to resolve. With Nardole (unfortunately mostly absent this week) requiring Missy’s help to fly the Tardis, her confrontation with the Doctor had curious results. With the direction giving a strange sense of dizziness, Missy enquired:

But Doctor, are you okay?

It was with that question that the episode came to a close, and fans are excitedly theorising already: might the Doctor already be regenerating? Does Missy know something we don’t? Has she done something to the Doctor that has already put his death into motion?

I expect we’ll have to wait another fortnight yet. Next week’s episode, ‘The Eaters of Light’, is the final standalone episode. This before the series-ending two-parter, ‘World Enough and Time’ and ‘The Doctor Falls’.

YouTube: The Eaters of Light: Trailer – Doctor Who: Series 10 Episode 10 – BBC One

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