Sunday, June 11, 2017

Doctor Who, Season Ten, Episode Nine: Empress of Mars

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After what I would deem a failing three arc story, this week the Doctor returns to being the great negotiator between humanity and aliens.  The episode begins with a little trip to NASA by the Doctor, Bill and of course Nardole to look at the images NASA is capturing of the infamous Red Planet. Everyone is shocked wht the words, "God Save the Queen" appear on the surface. How is that even possible, if man is just getting to the point of examining Mars? This is naturally a case for the Doctor.

When the Doctor, Bill and Nardole arrive on Mars, they are seperated when Bill falls down a hole. Nardole rushes back to the Tardis, only to have the Tardis decide to start up and return home.  It's not long before the Doctor and Bill run into a group of English soldiers from 1881. It seems that the soldiers found the vessel of an ice warrior who has been asleep for 5,000 years. In exchange for helping the ice warrior return home, the soldiers negotiated for mining rights on Mars. They decide to name the ice warrior Friday, in reference to the novel Robinson Crusoe

I know that there are some who will see this episode as heavy handed because Gatiss invested heavily in showing the predatory nature of the British Empire. It's an interesting twist in that this time, the invaders are absolutely not the superior force and are only too stupid to realise this.  Despite being on another planet, the soldiers don't see themselves as invaders and have decided that they have the right to everything they see in the name of the Queen.  Even though they clearly have evidence that the Martians have superior technology, the soldiers have so been indoctrinated in their own inherent superiority and right of conquest that they cannot conceive of the fact that they are outmatched and don't belong. So intent are they on colonising everything, that even the fact that they are running out of supplies seems hardly to be a concern.   The Doctor sets out to save them from their folly. 

When the soldiers come across the Queen’s sarcophagus, the Doctor warns them off but of course, so dazzled by the jewels and the gold, one soldier decides to make himself rich.  It is meant to remind the viewer of British archaeologists plundering the tombs of Egypt and carting everything away as though such an act isn't blatant theft.  Even today, there are several countries petitioning to have artifacts and precious gem stones returned. Glory to the Queen often means plunder and though it's dressed up with fancy accents and posh manners, it's violent and has long lasting consequences.  

Sure enough, the Queen awakens and she absolutely doesn't recognise the supposed superiority of the British. The Doctor is quick to point out that they've been asleep for 5,000 years, that the atmosphere is quickly dissipating, and that the surface of Mars is now lifeless. Rather than listen to the men, Iraxxa turns to Bill to get her take on the situation.  This is a really great moment. Bill of course backs the Doctor up and adds that the soldier's saved Friday's life. Iraxxa however sees this as a tactical decision on the part of the invaders and points out that they treated the ice warrior like a servant.  I love that their treatment of Friday came back to bite them in the ass as well it should.  Treating people like savages and servants because of difference is exactly what the empire did, all the while claiming to be helping the indigenous people of the areas they conquered. For the British, this was about establishing hierarchy and elevating themselves. The situation further escalates when for some brilliant reason, a soldier decides to fire at Iraxxa, thereby declaring war. 

The Colonel is quick to call a retreat but Catchlove is determined to carry on with the battle, using the Gargantuan - the mining tool Friday helped them build. Fortunately, Bill is there to throw off his aim and rather than killing a Martian, Catchlove's actions cause a cave in, separating the British soldiers from the Martians. Catchlove starts to foam at the mouth and reveals to the soldiers that the Colonel tried to desert and was unsuccessfully hung. This revelation is enough for Catchlove to take control and so he orders the Colonel, Bill and the Doctor taken to the brig. 

The Queen decides that now is the time to awaken the rest of the Ice Warriors. Now that the Queen has an army, it's time to go on the offensive. The Ice Warriors burrow underground and emerge on the same side of the wall as the British. Sergeant Vince is killed when Catchlove throws him in front of blast before deserting.  I've got to pause to point out that Sergeant Vince is the only character of colour this episode with the exception of Bill and the reason he was there was to save up money to marry his white fiance. It's amazing how Doctor Who can tell a damming tale about the evils of colonisation and then still manage to kill off the one person of colour extra so callously. 

While the Queen is busy engaging in a war (read: slaughter), Friday breaks into the brig intent on finding another solution. Once freed, the Colonel turns coward again and flees, leaving Bill and the Doctor to deal with the situation. Bill creates a distraction by asking Iraxxa to chat while the Doctor climbs onto the gargantuan. The Doctor then threatens to blast the ceiling and bury them all alive. This is enough for Iraxxa to decide to resume peace talks. Of course, this is when  Catchlove decides to show up and take Iraxxa hostage. Catchlove's big plan is to use Iraxxa as a shield and make his way back to the ship which is partially working.  Catchlove is foiled by the Colonel, who has finally found his courage. 

Iraxxa is impressed that the Colonel would sacrifice one of his own men and so the Colonel decides to press his advantage by trying to negotiate for the freedom of his men. The Colonel offers up his life and asks that Iraxxa not judge all of humanity by the actions of Catchlove. Bill tries to intervene but the Doctor tells her to wait.  The Colonel pledges his loyalty to Iraxxa and rather than taking his life, Iraxxa agrees to spare it because an honourable warrior should die in battle. 

The Doctor sends out a distress signal which is picked up by the Alpha Centauri, causing the Doctor to wonder if this is the start of the Martian Golden Age. Bill and the Doctor help the Colonel spell out, "God Save the Queen" in rocks on the surface of Mars, so that the Alpha Centauri will know where to land. 

The Tardis finally shows up. The Doctor and Bill enter to discover that it's Missy who brought the Tardis back and not Nardole. Unable to get the Tardis working, Nardole made his way down to the vault and asked Missy for help. The Doctor makes it clear to Missy that this isn't what they agreed to and her being outside of the vault simply cannot happen. Shockingly, Missy actually agrees with the Doctor.