ASSESSING STRESS #9: “Empress of Mars”

Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

And, in what is starting to feel like a running gag, Scarves is sitting that one out. He was out at a cricket match. Little known fact: he’s actually the Fifth Doctor. I mean, he does have “celery” in his username. That’s a giveaway if ever there is one. But still! We soldiered on, and, for Queen and country (aka Michelle Gomez and the United Nations of Whozistan), we tackled the latest episode of series 10.

But eh, we have a guest! A jack-of-all-trades Who that we are only going to refer to as “Timey-Wimey” here (apparently he has a hit on his head, that’s why, don’t go and ask me, I know jack shit about it).

Spoilers follow, obviously. For both the episode and the fifth series of Game of Thrones, because of a shitty Tibère joke.


1) General Thoughts

TIBERE: That was good. Not mind-blowing, not the best thing under the sun, but a solid slice of thematically cohesive Who. As far as Gatiss goes, this is one of his better outings – there’s definitely an element of “comfort food” to it, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and sandwiched between the very experimental Monk trilogy and what looks to be a pretty dark, gripping, symbolical horror tale from Rona Munro, it works really well. Also, it’s political! I mean, it’s no “Smile” or “Oxygen”, but I really do appreciate the effort Gatiss made to fit the series’ tone and aesthetics. He didn’t pull a Whithouse and derail the series to fit his purposes.

SCRIBBLES: I enjoyed it. Gatiss’ strength has generally been to do undemanding romps with hints of something more from time to time, and what’s more, he lucks out with a lot of talent this time round. There isn’t a single moment Peter Capaldi phones in, he’s utterly throwing himself into it and elevating the perfectly decent material. Add that to Pearl Mackie’s charm, Wayne Yip’s direction, and some beautiful production design, it’s just a really nice episode to watch. There’s lovely parallels and themes to the script, which actually gets quite intricate in that way, and some delightful fanservice. But most importantly, it’s a great big lizard romp that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The Ice Warriors have never really been my thing, but what’s Doctor Who without a romp with giant lizards?

TIBERE: I mean, I get why Capaldi is that much into it. It’s basically a big gift basket for him. Ice Warriors! Vintage horror! Pertwee pastiche! I mean, is it derivative and not-too-inspired? Sure. But there’s something to be said for the pleasures of the monster runaround. And when it’s done with care and attention to the details of the script and of the directing – unlike with “Knock Knock”, it’s very enjoyable. And yeah, agreed, I was never really into the Ice Warriors (I mean, yeah, a proud warrior race, it’s not like we have twenty others in the Whoniverse …), but this episode uses them rather well, doing some nice world-building to make them feel less generic, and most of all milking them for all their aesthetic value.

TIMEYWIMEY: I feel ‘’Empress of Mars’’ was exactly what Gatiss intended it to be, a low-key Bank Holiday monday episode. He said in the DWM interview that he wanted to recreate the experience of watching ‘’Journey to the Centre of the Earth’’ in a mustard bath. Whatever that means (I wish I’d been there), I think he did that. It’s a testament to the low-key charm of this episode that at the cameo of obscure hermaphrodite hexapod Alpha Centauri closed the episode, affectionately nerdy I think. Not every episode has to be grandiose or elaborate, and after a shaky Monk trilogy, I feel this is exactly what we needed, riffing on Classic Who tropes with a distinctly Gatiss-y charm.

SCRIBBLES: I mean, Gatiss is a rather decent looking bloke, but I’m not sure I want to join him in the bath.

TIBERE: Yeah … No. Not my type. And what the hell is a mustard bath …?

TIMEYWIMEY: Hot water and mustard.

TIBERE: … English people I swear.



2) Colonialism & politics

TIBERE: It’s a bit hard to do a complex exegesis of the topic, really, because it’s all very self-explanatory. Gatiss is not trying to be subtle, or especially complex, but the bit that hit really hit.

SCRIBBLES: As is generally the case, I watched this episode with my boyfriend, and he outright gasped when he heard the British soldiers were calling the Ice Warrior Friday. I haven’t ever read Robinson Crusoe myself, but channeling that sort of dehumanization that was celebrated is a really fascinating angle to explore the Ice Warriors from.

TIBERE: It’s really that sort of riff on the “noble savage” trope that permeated heavily colonial literature. Although I think the first theoretical basis of the notion were laid down by Jean-Jacques Rousseau from my good ol’ country, so that’s something. See, civilization is beautiful and all, but there’s also a corrupting part to it, and the savages, while being primitives, have this sort of natural, deep wisdom coming from a place of simplicity and communion with the elements. It’s a lot of claptrap, of course, but it does permeate culture a lot – the figure of the foreign wise man that gives his knowledge and insight to serve a white man, for instance, your “magical negroes” (to quote Spike Lee) and native shamans and Orientalist Asian martial artists …

SCRIBBLES: What’s more, that’s a trope that has permeated Doctor Who. It can honestly be horrifying to hear the Doctor affectionately call Leela “Savage,” for example, and that’s just the most prominent example, there are many individual episodes also built on that. But here, we get a really, really great inversion of it, I think. Not only does the episode pull the inversion that “Friday” was manipulating the British the whole time to return him to his people, but by the climax, the whole power paradigm has shifted. Indeed, the climax of the episode is built on such an inversion, with Godsacre genuinely pledging himself to become the “Friday” to the Ice Warriors. And that comes with a very nice moment of exploring the mentality of a soldier, building of the themes of series 8 in an unexpected but perfect for the era way.

TIBERE: I did see a critique of the episode coming from Who essayist LM Myles, that argued that while the episode does interesting things with the military, it does still frame it under very “male” notions of honour and devotion and sacrifice and angst, and, yeah, I’m tempted to agree to a degree. The episode does start going some interesting places with the gender politics – the Empress valuing the opinion of Bill above all others, for instance, but the ending doesn’t really do much with it. I think “Death in Heaven” sort of delivered the closing statement when it comes to Who and the military, framing the service as an act of love and care. Nothing of the sort here – at the end of the day, the episode is really exploring the toxic mentality of the Victorian age, and that’s a perfectly fine thing to do, especially when you have had “Thin Ice” a few episodes before (and oh god, those two episodes are perfectly matched), but I don’t think Gatiss really offers a strong counter-argument to the Victorian morals. He doesn’t need to, mind you! But that’s sort of what makes the difference between a good episode and a great one – there’s a bit of the whole “portraying/endorsing” dichotomy at work here; and definitely, Gatiss’ love of Victorian aesthetics might prove a hindrance. He’s no Sarah Dollard, but honestly, his efforts are noted, worthy, and appreciated.

SCRIBBLES: I think it comes down to what healthy masculinity is versus toxic masculinity. Like you suggest, Danny Pink was the ultimate example of healthy masculinity and the core of that series 8 soldier arc, really, and I’ve, of course, done an article on that way back when. This episode does a bit of both, really. It’s hard to approach a warrior race with sympathy without exploring the warrior mentality, and there’s a lot of pomp and ceremony and toxicity. Iraxxa even gets in on the toxicity, her scorn for Friday when learning of his service to the humans is quite uncomfortable. But here, it also comes down to the love and care, I would say, with Godsacre standing up and apologizing for himself while requesting that his own willing sacrifice be enough to protect his soldiers. Godsacre isn’t quite as strong a character as Danny Pink, but I think he works very effectively as a core to this episode that protects it from readings like you suggest.

TIMEYWIMEY: It’s a positive message to send, seeing a man willingly give up war to help Mars’ indigenous people make their way. No grandstanding Doctor-speech, like in ‘’The Zygon Inversion’, is needed. We see the other characters broker peace and I rather like that.

TIBERE: There’s a very lovely echo at the end of the episode, where Godsacre (a symbolically charged name, I guess you could argue, since the leader of a colonialist expedition is tied to Christian rituals) goes “don’t judge the human species on his cruelty, or indeed my cowardice”. Never cruel or cowardly is the Doctor’s mantra – and I think that sums up the episode pretty well: it’s not about offering solutions, but just presenting an acknowledgement of human frailty. Why not?

SCRIBBLES: While speaking of soldiers and masculinity, too, I think it’s worth unpacking the Ice Warrior/British Empire parallels in this. Because not only does a lot of the bloodshed and chaos that comes out along the way stem from each side’s notions of honor as much as anything else, but both very masculine societies are ruled by Queen-Empresses. The lovely reveal that the message on Mars was in reference to Iraxxa really drives that home, but the whole thing makes for a very interesting and compelling angle of exploration, I think.

TIBERE: And there are the aesthetic parallels, too – all the people we see in the episode are soldiers in uniform, be it the Victorian uniforms, or the Ice Warrior battle armors (which are literally the way they stay alive, too – a nice bit of symbolism?). And of course, the whole Mummy homage at the core of the episode – Victorian England loved its archeological digs/pillages (it’s a touchy subject to say the least), and they permeated the aesthetics of the era. The tomb of Tutankhamun and all that – breach the ancient place of worship and you’ll get cursed! It’s very tongue-in-cheek, and absolutely lovely, especially when you’re into Hammer horror like me. It even goes as far as showing the Ice Warriors rising from the sands like a horde of beatles or creepy zombies – Wayne Yip obviously knows his classics, and the whole visual pastiche is delightful.

SCRIBBLES: Oh, absolutely. The aesthetics of the Empress’ sarcophagus were not subtle in any way, and that was part of the delight of it. Lot of Egyptian imagery were getting this year, what with the pyramids the last couple weeks. I think it’s a nice beat that the awakening of Iraxxa comes from one soldier being selfish, wanting to pillage for himself rather than the Empire, and accidentally awakening her. Feels like every Tomb Raider or Indiana Jones story ever, but with less style and coolness to the pillaging. Indeed, he isn’t very good at it, those gems really didn’t want to come off! The soldier accidentally awakens Ice Warrior beat isn’t a new one, but it gains a pleasant weight here in a way that, say, cracking open ice hoping for a mammoth doesn’t really achieve. It’s an act of fatal, selfish, stupidity, but one understandable in character logic and tied to the core themes of the episode.

TIBERE: Oh, if we’re doing the comparison with “Cold War”, this is definitely a huge, huge lot better – “Cold War” threw a lot of concepts around trying to tie the Ice Warriors to the era it wanted to tackle, but I don’t think it ever gelled into cohesive beats, even if I don’t hate the episode. This feels much more motivated, down to the delightfully obvious logic of associating Mars and Egyptian stuff. I mean, it’s something Who has done before. I’ll say this – this episode would have been improved by Gabriel Woolfe being in it. Then again, he improves most things. Oh, and while we’re in the casting department, Stupid Thief Dude is played by Ian Beattie, who portrayed Meryn Trant, also known as Childabuse McRapington, in “Game of Thrones”. He really has a gift for past-era villany, doesn’t he? Sadly, he didn’t get to be stabbed by Maisie Williams here, which is a shame, because you can’t have enough of Me.

TIMEYWIMEY: It’s not heavily political but Gatiss has always been too wary of approaching politics and I admire him for at least approaching the topic. The fact he broaches politics allows the episode to fit nicely with the rest of Series 10, although I’m sure Gatiss definitely has more fun writing hexapods, Ice Warriors, and film references. I love the ‘Take back control’ reference to Brexit. It feels very in-keeping with Catchlove’s character, an awful person entitled by the Victorian values of his time. The Victorian era seems to one many seem to want a return to, some romanticised idea of Imperial Britain. I suppose Gatiss has had a romanticised idea of Britain with ‘’The Idiot’s Lantern’ affectionately exploring the Queen’s coronation and ‘Victory of the Daleks’ painting Churchill as a quaint British hero, but here he has a enough of a jab at that mentality. The Victorian-era British soldiers are the invaders, and with their plummy accents and ‘tally-ho’, ‘spiffing’ dialogue, they’re sort of ridiculous and daft. The first scene in Wells’ ‘First Men on The Moon’ has  NASA astronauts landing on the moon only to find that the British had beat them there by a century. However, in that it was the efforts of an eccentric Doctor-y inventor whereas in ‘Empress of Mars’  it’s militaristic colonial invaders. It feels like a subversion of Gatiss’ usual treatment of Britain as some sort of defiant sweet little place that stands up for proper values. Here our values are skewered.

SCRIBBLES: I’m glad you mentioned Brexit, because I do think an element of that hangs over this episode, too. The final beat, of course, hinges around this society being elevated by joining a union. It’s like the anti-Brexit. If there was ever a good time politically for homage to the Peladon series and its United Nations-loaded subtext, it’s now, in a time where Britain is pursuing isolation. And who can say no to Alpha Centauri being the welcoming figure? Not only is Alpha Centauri wonderful, but it’s a lovely moment of an alien “other” figure, even more bizarre in appearance than the very humanoid Ice Warriors, which also rather pushes against xenophobia and forces like that which inspired Brexit in the first place. Hell, the Ice Warriors even accept an alien into their society with Godsacre. It may not be the most political episode ever, at least on a surface level, but it’s tremendously loaded with meaning and relevance.

TIBERE: Plus, there’s something quite lovely in the big “GOD SAVE THE QUEEN” message being used in the explicit purpose of joining a democratic federation. I don’t know nearly enough about English politics to try and dig for symbolism there, but still, it’s a lovely beat. One missed opportunity, though, is that black Victorian soldier that accompanies the rest of the crew. The beginning of the episode almost seemed to drew a parallel between him and Friday, as sort of the two “token minorities” of the crew, and I kept expected some pay-off, which never came. He just gets killed off unceremoniously. I think he could have been tied in the resolution of the script quite neatly – maybe taking Godsacre’s place in the last stretch? I don’t know.

SCRIBBLES: If the recent tabloid is to be trusted, presumably the character was scripted as white, which would account for the somewhat unsatisfactory arc paralleling him. But still, I very much enjoyed his arc, and I do think we got payoff on that. His death was of exploitation by a selfish white man as a literal human shield, that’s tremendously loaded still. It doesn’t tie into the resolution, but I do think it is a nice subtle moment of condemning Victorian racism in the final product. Because Catchlove was an utterly loathsome imperialist git, and that is the awful kind of horror of that society. Exploitation for selfish means.

TIMEYWIMEY: Slightly off-point, but Gatiss said that he protested the casting of a black person as a Victorian soldier because they had just been fighting the Zulus and there weren’t any black Victorian soldiers, but he researched the issue and discovered that there was a Sudanese boy called Jimmy Durham who was rescued from the River Nile in 1886 and brought up by soldiers of the Durham Light Infantry and later married a white woman. If this character is intended to parallel that, it makes it even more horrifying that he ends up being used as a human body-shield. There’s a dark undertone if you want one.

TIBERE: Although that does showcase the difference between Gatiss and Moffat very well. Moffat is on record as saying it’s good to “tell an historical lie” for the sake of representation, and I agree with him, whereas Gatiss’ insistence on only putting black people in places where it would be historically accurate is … Well, it doesn’t necessarily reflect too well on him. But, in other areas –  I almost feel like there’s some kind of parallel intended between Catchlove and Lord Sutcliffe from “Thin Ice”. Maybe it’s just the over-the-top, loathsome performances, but they do feel like two faces of the same imperialist coin. Of course, the Empire had been thing way before the nineteenth century, but it’s only after the industrial revolution that people like Sutcliffe contributed to that it really took gargantuan proportions – “Empress of Mars” is set at that time where England was colonizing Africa left and right and some other directions too to secure a strong network of colonies there (and to prevent other people, including, of course, my country, to get there). The peak of the Empire was a decade and a bit later – Victoria’s Jubilee in 1899 is generally the date historians keep in mind.

SCRIBBLES: Really, that illustrates how tight the thematic concerns of series 10 have been, on the whole. This is, at its best, a series that has been about unfair power imbalances and exploitation by such social forces, with a black queer woman at its core transcending that. And I thinkEmpress of Mars gets at this core of series 10 very nicely. Though a far less ambitious and demanding episode than the Monk trilogy was, it is great to see Doctor Who re-establish its roots after that and comfortably engage with these themes. It’s sort of the Thin Ice of the back half of series 10, a vital moment to re-familiarize viewers with what normal Doctor Who looks like this year and to build from for the final three episodes to come.


3) Character dynamics

SCRIBBLES: If there’s one big problem in this episode, I think, it’s that Bill and the Doctor aren’t really that prominent. I mean, I imagine the thought was that after the big character moments The Lie of the Land pursued, something less demanding with them would be more effective. But The Lie of the Land didn’t quite hit all its marks, I think, and a part of me still feels like I’m owed more Bill exploration.

TIBERE: Definitely. I mean, I think the Doctor works well enough in that context – as the sort of peace broker, the intermediary that swoops in to oversee talks of peace. It has been done countless times before – to quote two, “Cold Blood” (this episode does feel very “Cold Blood” in places, I must say) and “The Zygon Inversion” -, and Capaldi, I think, really manages to sell that well. But as far as Bill is concerned, it is a little bit disappointing – she really doesn’t get much material at all this week. I mean, I do appreciate Gatiss playing up her geekiness, and I love myself a movie reference (especially when it’s ideologically motivated – “Vikings” is after all about a noble savage; and “The Thing” makes the alien into the ultimate “other”, the shape-shifting danger from beyond that might claim your life at any moment), but it feels a bit empty, which is a shame. There would have been, as mentioned before, ways to tie her more into the episode’s climax, playing on themes of femininity with the Empress, and all that.

TIMEYWIMEY: I agree that Bill wasn’t quite explored enough, but I feel that her character has been established as such an open book (she doesn’t conceal much and wears her heart on her sleeve) that she can be placed in the context of quite a straightforward Classic Who runaround elevate it. Would the episode have worked as well with Clara or Amy? Bill seems to fit the more traditional Doctor Who template than recent companions I think. Or maybe I’m talking rubbish, I don’t know.

TIBERE: I can see it working with Clara, I think. Although it would be much shorter, because solving that kind of problems is just what she does. And she would definitely snog the Ice Queen. Speaking of, I’m very disappointed at the lack of romantic interactions between Bill and her.

SCRIBBLES: Bill snogging Iraxxa was my number one hope for this episode. I am disappointed in that regard.

TIBERE: Same, same, same. No lesbian lizards and no vore. Sad times.

SCRIBBLES: No vore is happy times. Though while this episode was not Bill’s biggest moment, I think it did very nicely with its handful of scenes with Nardole. I almost wish that b-plot was bigger, it’d have been fascinating to see Nardole being coaxed by Missy into letting her out cut throughout the episode, particularly if Gatiss could have found any thematic overlap between it and the Mars incidents. But as it is, it was still quite a good note. I like seeing Nardole put on his back foot, and look forward to further arc development on why the TARDIS did what it did and, more importantly, what this might mean for the dynamic between all four going forward.

TIBERE: Oh, you’re definitely right there. The whole negotiation, trusting people angle? And of course, we’re talking about two female forces of havoc and destruction imprisoned in  a secret Tomb or Vault …

SCRIBBLES: Yeah, that certainly would have made for an excellent subplot, the one main way I can think of that would really significantly improve it, I think. But as is, I still very much enjoyed Nardole and Missy’s material. Just a shame we haven’t got any close Bill and Missy interaction, yet. I wonder if that’s being saved for the finale.

TIMEYWIMEY: The Doctor was great in this episode. I love that he knew how the conversation between the Empress and Godsacre would play out. The way Capaldi acted it suggests that The Doctor is more willing to admit his role as warrior than he was in Series 8.

SCRIBBLES: It’s not fun to think that we’re near the end of the Capaldi era, but it does feel like he’s reaching the apex of his development as a character. This felt like a fully formed Twelfth Doctor built on an extensive platform of nearly three series of development, connecting back to themes from his very beginning and showcasing his growth. I’m not glad that he will be leaving the show, but I am glad that he’s going just as his character arc is coming to a suitable closing point, I think. This episode is the romp before the end draws in, like, say,Planet of the Dead,” but it does have a sense of the end hanging over it.

TIBERE: That final scene is very ominous, yeah. But it does feel very balanced, doesn’t it? His arc has been handled with superb care, and I think that looking back on it, it will be absolutely great. Sure, there might have been room for a few more stories (2016 specials, you should have been a thing), but on the whole I’m not complaining.



4) A Classic Homage

SCRIBBLES: Mark Gatiss mentioned in an interview that, iconic as the Ice Warriors are, they really haven’t had many outings, and, indeed, he’s now written a third of their televised stories. He notes how that’s exciting because it means there’s so much more room to explore with them, and while Cold War didn’t really convince me, there was some good stuff here. He’s clearly enjoying the freedom to expand on an underdeveloped iconic thing, and I loved some of the takes he’s now offering, though they still could feel more lived-in as an alien society. Connecting the history to Peladon was a touch designed for the fans to tie history together, and while I’m normally totally uninterested by that sort of thing, it was a cute note here. And on a more minor note, there were some touches of bodily horror he used them for here that were delicious. The shots we see of Friday’s broken helmet were delightfully uncomfortable, and the new method of murder by body folding was at once both camp and horrific. It reminded me a bit of the film “Under the Skin,” in a brilliantly grotesque but bloodless way with the bodies just folding in.

TIBERE: The Scarlett Johansson as an alien flick? Interesting one. Anyway –  I think a big part of what made the Ice Warriors popular, much like the Zygons (they had one Classic story! one!) is their design, really, above anything else. And yeah, it’s a good, memorable design, but really, there’s not much to them – they’re a bit of a blank canvas ready to receive new, original takes. Problem is Gatiss is a little bit too concerned by his love for the Classics to truly do that – I mean, I don’t think very highly of Harness’ Zygon two-parter, but re-framing the Zygons as a bunch of political refugees/a different culture having to integrate on Earth was a pretty brilliant move. Gatiss hasn’t found that sort of magic key that “solves” the problem of the integration of the Ice Warriors to the New Series, and I’m not sure he has really tried, but still, he expands on them in compelling ways and he might be laying the groundwork for a truly spectacular Ice Warrior story. I don’t think he will write it, mind you, but still.

TIMEYWIMEY: One new aspect he introduced wasn’t wholly original, that they’re creatures who hibernate for too long like the Silurians in ‘The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood’. It’s been a long time since that story, I suppose, but I did slightly sigh when Gatiss repeated that plot beat. The stories are both very Pertwee-esque (Phil Sandifer called this episode a ‘quaintly stagey morality play in a cave’, which is brilliant), but ‘Empress of Mars’ is a lot more fun, if only because it suffers from none of its pacing problems, and also, it has Victorians on Mars. And I can’t argue with that.

SCRIBBLES: Has Ice Warrior hibernation really never been portrayed onscreen? It feels to me like such a staple of how they’ve been presented, audio stories like “Frozen Time springing to mind.

TIBERE: I was thinking “Deimos”/”The Resurrection of Mars” myself. It’s not very good, and you can skip the EDAs, generally speaking. Yes, I’m bitter.

SCRIBBLES: The basic trope of the Ice Warriors, really, is them oversleeping their own end. The main image has always been them sleeping frozen in the ice, waiting for someone to unearth them. That really dominates most of their stories, one of two main approaches the species get. There’s the ones who have overslept and learn their race is dead, and the ones from after that, with the New Mars society they have since built. Interestingly, both Gatiss stories try to have it both ways. They luxuriate in the tension and desperation of the former approach, but then embrace the hope of the Martian future in the resolution, with Skaldak’s people coming back for him and, of course, the Centauri beat. I suppose that’s always the fan impulse, to smooth over the divide and make something cohesive out of the past. “Empress of Mars” is absolutely the sort of episode you get out of fan impulses. But while that could so easily be a weakness, here it’s a strength. For my money, this is the most compelling Ice Warrior story yet, and I’ve seen and listened to quite a few.

TIBERE: To be honest – I do like that story, quite a bit for the record! – I’m not sure that’s really saying good thing as far as their Who Monster Cred goes …

SCRIBBLES: Oh, I never cared for the Ice Warriors much, at least not beyond the rather excellent costume design. But Gatiss’ love for them shines through, and here, I almost get what’s worth loving.



5) Final Thoughts

TIMEYWIMEY: If that’s the last episode Gatiss will ever write, I think he’s ended on a high. The whole episode feels like a culmination of everything he has intended to bring to the show, (sometimes for worse, but in this case for better) and that’s making Modern Doctor Who feel like Classic Who. That sounds like a rather damning indictment, but I think there’s a place for this kind of storytelling, and here Gatiss brings so much affection and charm to the formula that ‘Empress of Mars’ feels both like a story taken straight out of the Pertwee-era and something only he could write.  I had a lot of fun with this one and now all I want to do is watch it in a mustard bath.

TIBERE: I agree. It’s not the best Gatiss script (“The Crimson Horror” is just the best thing, and I do love “The Unquiet Dead” a lot, on the virtue of being a really strong character piece), but it really showcases his strengths well. Having him just after Whithouse’s episode, which also was revealing, albeit in a more negative way makes it all the clearer. Really, Gatiss, even though no one will every say that he’s the greatest of Who writers, is a positive presence for the show, I think – he has a way to inject life and character into low-scale, low-budget episodes that is really, well, maybe not needed, but at least useful when you have to make twelve stories a year. I think the biggest problem with him is the sheer number of stories he’s written – and the fatigue it might have caused in some people. But at the end of the day, there’s much enjoyment you can get out of his stuff, and it’s really nice that he ended with an episode that caters to his strengths and channels this enjoyment into a compelling tale that fits into the aesthetics of the series. If that’s a farewell, Mark, I think I’ll miss you.

SCRIBBLES: There is a seemingly endless supply of Mark Gatiss Doctor Who material out there. I don’t think anyone will ever really be done with his stuff, particularly when you factor in the likes of the BBV audios and P.R.O.B.E. and such, least of all him. But if he were to ever have a closing note, I do think this works nicely. A thematically rich fanservice love letter channeling homage to various existing stories, both in and out of Doctor Who, that’s hard to top as a final say for what his vision of the show is. And here, we get to see it at something near its most compelling. Mark Gatiss doesn’t have the best reputation of Doctor Who writers, and some of that is earned, but there’s also a reason he’s come so far, and I think this showcases why.

One thought on “ASSESSING STRESS #9: “Empress of Mars”

  1. Pingback: ASSESSING STRESS #12: “The Doctor Falls” and series 10 wrap-up | DoWntime

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