Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating 8.5/10
Cast: Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas, Michelle Gomez, Anthony Calf, Ferdinand Kingsley, Richard Ashton, Adele Lynch, Glenn Spears, Ian Beatie, Bayo Gbadamosi, Ian Hughes, Lesley Ewen, Ysanne Churchman.
The road to Empire, as the American band Eagles once sang, is a bloody stupid waste, yet almost country in Europe has hand in its senselessness and shame and there are a few notable countries around the world that still would find the appetite to bring back what should be a dead and buried black mark around humanity’s history.
The road to Empire begins with a single thought of conquest and it is a subject that the writers in particular of Doctor Who have had great success with over the years, the power behind domination, behind subjugation, is always a compelling argument for many a story line. However, it usually revolved around the Earth being invaded by a monster or another race, the Daleks, The Cybermen, the Racnoss every manner of creature, or even from Earth’s own inhabitants, the very people who have perhaps shaped history for the ill but who loom large as figures once lauded in certain respects and hated by those whose ancestors who died at their hands.
In the Empress of Mars that sense of history looms very clear, it is arguably one of the more easily spotted signals to hit the series but it is one that bares thinking hard over; the use of the Victorian British army to invade Mars on the promise of gold and riches is not one that cannot be talked over without the obvious links to the rush for land grab in Africa, the battle of Rorke’s Drift a spectre of heroics needlessly attained and won very much in the mind as the viewer is treated to what amounts to a classic Mark Gatiss script.
It is not only the sense of a history that could have come out of any of the colonised areas of the world, by European hands in the 19th Century, it is the call back to a previous era in the show’s history that really grabs the day. The small gestured nod to a previous actor who played Queen Victoria was always going to be a cause for a smile, but to bring back the voice of a character not seen since the days of Jon Pertwee, the wonderful Ysanne Churchman as Alpha Centuri, was beyond anything that a fan of the programme from before the revival could have ever hoped for.
It is a shame that Mark Gatiss’ possible last story for the Doctor could actually be his best and finest one, a sense of completion though has been attained and enjoyed with the Empress of Mars, a story of Empire, a story of humanity at its worst and most redeemed, a tale in which no matter what, Michelle Gomez stole the show in the minute she was on screen completely and without hesitation.
The road to Empire may be a waste but Empress of Mars arguably stands in fulfilment.
Ian D. Hall