‘Doctor Who’ Regeneration Review: ‘The Empress Of Mars’ Helps Bill Stand Out From All The Men

News & Culture Writer
06.10.17

BBC America

The Doctor Who Regeneration Review is a weekly column cataloging all the times Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor nearly regenerates, or dies, in the latest episode of BBC America’s popular science fiction show. Since this is the Scottish “cross” character’s final season — a fact the showrunners have enjoyed teasing in the promos — we decided to tease back. Most items are serious, some silly, and all measured with the Doctor’s 💕.

Toward the end of Matt Smith’s final season as the 11th Doctor, writer Mark Gatiss reintroduced Doctor Who fans to a classic villain whose presence hadn’t made itself known for decades. An Ice Warrior aboard a Cold War-era submarine in the aptly named “Cold War” paid homage to the Martian reptilian species’ somewhat corny appearance, but not at the expense of the warmongering race’s penchant for violence. The well-armored killing machine didn’t disappoint despite Smith’s repeated attempts to intervene, and considering the episode’s popularity, the baddie’s presence was sure to garner a sequel of sorts.

Sure enough, the Gatiss-written “The Empress of Mars” (which, like “Cold War,” is its season’s ninth episode) transports the 12th Doctor, Bill (Pearl Mackie) and Nardole (Matt Lucas) to the Ice Warriors’ home planet during the Victorian era. “Victorian,” of course, because a quick visit to what appears to be NASA in the modern day reveals the phrase “GOD SAVE THE QUEEN” scrawled across the surface of Mars in really big rocks — prompting an immediate T.A.R.D.I.S. trip and investigation. After the Doctor’s trusty ship unexpectedly absconds with Nardole back to earth, however, the Doctor and Bill find themselves at the mercy of a British regimen of soldiers and a somewhat dilapidated Ice Warrior nicknamed “Friday” (Richard Ashton).

With a fearsome antagonist like the Ice Warriors, “The Empress of Mars” is rife with plenty of near-death experiences for the Doctor. Yet what Gatiss and director Wayne Yip, who helmed last week’s “The Lie of the Land,” accomplish here is more than just regurgitating an older part of the Doctor Who rogues gallery. As the writer notes, “there’s a new kind of Ice Warrior,” the Ice Warrior Queen Iraxxa (Adele Lynch). What’s more, a stirring moment between her and Bill amends the previous episodes’ somewhat flippant use (or lack thereof) of the Doctor’s human companion in a manner not unlike “Oxygen” and, to a lesser extent, “Thin Ice.”

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