If you loved Hidden Figures, then boy, do Doctor Who and Mark Gatiss have a story for you! This week’s adventure (the first in three weeks without “The Monks”) sees the Doctor, Bill, and Nardole visit the fourth rock from the sun: Mars.
The whole thing starts when poor NASA discovers (through a probe sent to Mars) that the Victorians got there first. (Who else would leave “God Save the Queen” formed out of stones?) Turns out, a troop of soldiers made their way to the Red Planet after they found an Ice Warrior spaceship — with some help from the awoken Ice Warrior, who they’ve nicknamed “Friday” in reference to Robinson Crusoe. The slightly smug chap relaying this information to the Doctor and Bill (Nardole got accidentally kidnapped by the TARDIS) is Captain Catchlove, who says all this while treating the Martian as a servant, already establishing that he’s going to be one of the villains of this hour. (Side note: What is up with the British having deadly Who villains make their tea for them? Gatiss pulled a similar move in “Victory of the Daleks,” a previous episode he’d written.)
Friday promised this expedition treasure if they helped him get home, but so far their ship has crashed, they’re stuck underground (where there’s plenty of oxygen), and they’ve built the “Gargantuan,” a big ray gun-esque blasting device. It’s only after the Doctor and Bill’s arrival that they manage to discover anything. Only it’s not what they’re looking for. As the Doctor tells everyone as they step into the large chamber, the slumbering creature is the Ice Queen (the titular “Empress of Mars”), this could be a hive, and they’d do best to be careful about disturbing anything.
Of course, since we’re dealing with humans and we tend to be an irrational lot at the best and worst of times (see: countless episodes of Doctor Who), a particularly greedy soldier named Jackdaw drugs the sergeant and helps himself to a jewel off the Queen’s sarcophagus. For that, he’s rewarded with death, thanks to her now being awake.
As the soldiers and the Queen face off against each other, the Doctor attempts to negotiate peace. She’s been asleep for 5,000 years and now most of her planet is in terrible shape. The atmosphere’s evaporated. The surface of Mars is lifeless. Iraxxa (the Queen) needs to cooperate with the humans if she and what’s left of her people are to survive. Her Empress asks Bill what she thinks, “woman to woman.” Bill confirms everything and adds that the humans saved Friday’s life. That doesn’t matter to the Queen though. They also treated him like a servant. The Ice Warrior in question even argues otherwise, saying that this was his tactical decision.
But this détente goes south quickly when the Victorian soldiers, who because of Catchlove for the dumbest of reasons have their guns up and shoot at Iraxxa. She basically declares war.
The Colonel tells his men to leave, but Catchlove — whose first name is Neville — decides to try and use the Gargantuan. Luckily Bill stops him by making it cause a cave-in instead. Now Friday and the Queen are trapped on the other side. The Captain is mad. He reveals that the Colonel had tried to desert the army and was unsuccessfully hung. He then takes over and sends the Colonel, Bill, and the Doctor to the brig to be held. Twelve rightfully calls him an “idiot.” There are more than two Ice Warriors. There’s a whole Hive. Not that he’ll listen. As a result, a lot of good men die.
The Queen has awakened many more Ice Warriors in a hive that resembles a Crystal Gem Kindergarten from Steven Universe, and they use their burrowing trick to sneak up on and kill a bunch of men, including the sergeant, Vince, who was just saving up for his wedding to Alice. Actually, in the case of the latter, Catchlove pushes the soldier in front of him before deciding to (ironically) desert his men.
(Recap continues on page 2)