So, Mark Gatiss turned out an entertaining if slightly quirky story in Empress of Mars. I liked it as a piece of entertainment, despite some odd bits. Looking around I find many people found it a bit flawed but OK. There was even a treat for the old-school fans. Did I mention Ice Warriors? Yep, Ice Warriors.
Space, 1881. A year that started with the First Boer War in full flight. A troop of regular British soldiers, with their own histories and foibles helps an Ice Warrior repair its ship, and journey to Mars to seek wealth and fame in the name of the Queen (and yes a picture will show the Doctor Who queen Pauline Collins). The lone Ice Warrior, Friday is scheming to free his Empress so she can revive her people and then… Well, sadly a lot of years have passed.
Meanwhile the Doctor appears via NASA (he and the crew just watched a Mars probe find a message under the Martian Ice. Nardole goes to the TARDIS, the ship leaves of its own accord, he has to get Missy to help rescue the Doctor!
On Mars the soldiers meet the Doctor and Bill, they find the Empress, there’s some fighting, a prison cell (of course) and some great performances from the great Anthony Calf as the nominal leader Godsacre and his deputy (who wants more) Catchlove (the nasty Ferdinand Kingsley). We have some anti-colonialism, some gender commentary when the Empress (Adele Lynch) treats Bill as a peer and some mad blasting from a steampunk superweapon.
It ends with some noble sacrifice, but not until some betrayal and plenty of Ice Warrior armour sonic (as it used to be) turning soldiers into twisted cubes. All ends well. the Doctor sends a message of help, Alpha Centauri answers (and yes, played still by Ysanne Churchman) and they build the God Save the Queen message for themselves to find.
A bit mad, a bit rushed for character development, some superb sets, models, armour and post-production. The NASA bit was unnecessary, the Missy piece made no sense (but isn’t Missy scary when she’s nice?), what was the TARDIS doing, and please explain the Ice Warrior weapons. Please can we have more episodes like this in future?!