Jon Hall / BBC

Again With The Colonialist Themes On Doctor Who?

And more questions sparked by 'The Empress Of Mars'!

This week's Doctor Who starts out with the kind of impossible spectacle that's become almost standard for the show's cold opens: a message on the surface of Mars, spelled out in boulders, reading: "GOD SAVE THE QUEEN." In English, no less. As the Doctor and his friends watch the images come in from NASA's Mars lander Valkyrie, they do what anyone would do in this situation: gloat insufferably. And we go into the credits having set up the central question of the episode: since when does Mission Control operate out of the Vehicle Assembly Building in Cape Canaveral?

But seriously, folks, it's clear that we're soon going to be following our heroes to some place on Mars, at some point in its past. And indeed, we are not disappointed. Well, at least not in that particular expectation.

But this is not to say that this episode constructs a narrative as airtight as the caverns far beneath the red surface. A few points may have left some of us wondering a bit. Feel free to add your own, because I'm sure I didn't catch all of them.

How many different styles of spacesuits is the TARDIS equipped with, anyway?

It seems like every time the Doctor and friends venture out into the vacuum, they're sporting a completely different look. And the variety extends to tailoring as well; it's not as if the Doctor and Nardole are ever going to put on each other's suits by accident. I know the TARDIS has unlimited resources and even more unlimited wardrobes, but spacesuits are among the most expensive garments on earth. Seems a bit much to be swapping them out more often than Starfleet swaps out its uniforms. Especially when there's always some story reason for everybody to take off their helmets in the first five minutes anyway.

Again with the colonialist themes?

Just saying. I'm sure the British officers, or at least Catchlove, think it was quite hilarious to name their Ice Warrior host after Friday from Robinson Crusoe (which is, of course, a deeply colonialist work in its own right). In fact, they've got it backwards. The Ice Warrior was the castaway from the more warlike, more "advanced" society, which would make the British soldiers his Friday. But it would be interesting to see a reboot of Defoe's novel in which Friday gets Crusoe back to England, finds everyone there dead, and makes him his bitch.

Is Mark Gatiss Trolling Me?

This episode's writer, Mark Gatiss, also wrote last season's stinker "Sleep No More." On the other hand, there's another Steven Moffat series on which Gatiss plays a modern version of one of my favorite characters in British literature, Mycroft Holmes. So I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt this week -- forgive and forget, as it were. But then, in a climactic moment, the Ice Warrior queen Iraxxa is exhorting her hibernating hordes to rouse themselves for battle. "Sleep no more" she cries/hisses. "Sleep no mooooore!" Which is roughly equivalent to me striding into a WWE arena, raising a microphone to my lips, and triumphantly crowing at the madly cheering throng about the time I forgot my glasses on the roof of my car.

So a deserter found redemption by...deserting?

Normally one of the Doctor's obstacles in a new situation is some narrow-minded, autocratic commanding officer. So Colonel Godsacre is actually quite refreshing, with his willingness to listen and reluctance toward violence. Especially in comparison to the callow embodiment of manifest destiny douchebaggery, Captain Catchlove. Too bad Godsacre's tragic flaw is a haunted past that allows Catchlove to relieve him of command and take over the all-too-familiar role of narrow-minded, autocratic commanding officer. Tortured by his own actions, Godsacre nonetheless finds a way to make up for them: by killing one of his officers in cold blood (asshole though he was) and then swearing his allegiance to the alien queen who has just killed any number of his other men. It's as if Godsacre is saying, "You think I'm a deserter? You ain't seen nothing yet!" Think it through, Gatiss.

What's with the combat barricades in a mining operation?How cool is the new Ice Warrior weapon?

Ice Warriors of old were armed with wrist-mounted sonic cannons -- very Popular Mechanics. But now they've got this nifty deal that compresses its victims into roughly cubic bundles of fabric and flesh. One of Who's best visual effects, I'd say. Plus I'm guessing it serves a practical purpose. Constructing a pyramid of skulls presents special engineering challenges because the things are so unstable in large numbers. But converting enemies into WALL-E-style garbage blocks allows for modular stacking and much more efficient use of space, which I'm sure is at a premium in an underground environment.

Does anybody have any kind of consistent in-universe timeline for the Ice Warriors?

Because I sure don't. In our world, they date all the way back to the Patrick Troughton era in the late '60s, showed up a couple of times during the Pertwee years, and then disappeared until the early Eleven/Clara episode "Cold War," set in the 1980s. I suppose that if we're going to keep visiting Mars, it's probably best if we ignore everything prior to the reboot. That way lies a legion of discontinuities temporal paradoxes.

Does Doctor Who really have to get in on the trend of making old-school characters a current plot twist?

On the other hand, there's a minor character reveal near the end that unmistakably ties this week's Ice Warriors back to those of the early '70s. "The Curse Of Peladon" (1972) and "The Monster Of Peladon" (1974) chronicle the Doctor's adventures on the quasi-medieval world of, you guessed it, Peladon. Both serials feature Jon Pertwee, Ice Warriors, and an eponymous delegate from Alpha Centauri. I'm sure this staticky glimpse of the monocular, squeaky-voiced hexapod was a treat for viewers who are so old they need to have their grandkids turn on their TVs for them. And it was sweet that the same actor (now ninety-two years of age) provides the voice, forty-some years later. But Star Trek: Into Darkness and SPECTRE have put me off stunts like this for a good long while.

Is the TARDIS trying to patch things up between the Doctor and Missy?

Kind of weird how the TARDIS all but abducts Nardole and packs him off back to present-day Earth at a critical moment, yeah? And then strands him here -- in Bristol, no less -- so that the only thing he can think to do is ask for Missy's help? Meaning Nardole would have no choice but to spring her from the vault? It's almost like one parent deciding unilaterally that the kid's time-out is over early, except in this case the kid wiped out a third of the universe that one time. But I suppose she must have known what she was doing somehow. She usually does. And by "she," I don't mean Missy.

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