Dear Steven Moffat: Empress of Mars

Dear Steven,

We don’t have many episodes left together, so it was a matter of some regret that with just four episodes remaining, you followed the recent trilogy with yet another disposable three quarters of an hour. “Empress of Mars” has Mark Gatiss’s slapped on it, and assuming this was his final contribution to the show, nothing became his legacy like this fun but frivolous slice of genre mashing Victoriana.

The concept of Flashman versus the Ice Warriors was fine, but like other brundle-episodes, Gatiss’s “Robot of Sherwood” claws at the mind, there was nothing more to the story than its one sentence pitch. I enjoyed the setup; an imperial garrison, imagining they’ve conquered Mars for the Empire and enslaved its only remaining native, unwittingly help said colonial free his combative dormant species. But what I suppose I missed was the moral dimension that might have made this thing about something. You can say that’s Star Trek’s domain and you’d be right, but morality plays induce reflection and therefore tend to live longer in the memory that episodes that don’t test the character’s assumptions and sunny optimism.

Sure, you could argue the Doctor got to extol the virtues of peaceful co-existence and all that shit, but honestly, who cared? The Colonel got his honour restored, not that it mattered in the grand scheme of things, and the Ice Warriors took their place in the Galactic League, or whatever, having been reconciled to leaving their now barren homeworld. Super. But you’re aware that Peter Capaldi doesn’t have much screen time left, right? Shouldn’t this precious chunk of temporal real estate have been used for the start of his run in – I mean, more than the last 30 seconds? Perhaps others were too busy enjoying their nostalgia to feel cheated but I did, Steven. I did.

The only real point of interest offered by “Empress of Mars” was further insight into the Doctor’s pop cultural knowledge. Initially I was cheered by the news that this 2,000 year-old alien genius, invested with knowledge of countless planets and civilisations, hadn’t seen The Terminator. It’s a great movie, but I just couldn’t picture our hero sitting down to watch a fictionalised story of time travel, killer robots and apocalypse. The constituent elements constituted a child-like view of the day job. And having barely survived the Time War, one imagines the last fucking thing he’d want to enjoy as entertainment was a story about a scorched planet overrun by machines. So, a big thumbs up there, but then I remembered this was the same man who had seen Ghostbusters and knew the theme. A fact he reminded us of in one of the series’ worst ever moments.

No, the Doctor hadn’t seen James Cameron’s movie or John Carpenter’s The Thing – again, one imagines for obvious reasons. But he had seen Disney’s Frozen and once again, for the benefit of a throwaway gag, we were left wondering when our favourite Time Lord found the time to watch a fairy tale aimed at Earth children and what compelled him to watch it in the first place.

During your time as showrunner you’ve never managed this problem, despite the damage it does to the unreality of the show. The Doctor should be divorced from all the transient crap that preoccupies us, because he’s an alien and that being the case, there should be some distance between him and the audience. Let us aspire to be him, rather than relate to him on a personal level. We got through the entire classic run, 26 seasons, without the Doctor referring to his movie collection, favourite pop hits or top 3 computer games. I’d like to believe Chris Chibnall will reinstate the Doctor’s dignified silence on this front…but he won’t, obviously.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: Missy’s out then. So I suppose the meat of the series, Capaldi’s goodbye, begins next week. I’ll be sure to set my crotch watch.

The Old Man’s Last Stand

Christmas 2016:

Christmas 2015:

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

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