Empress of Mars
Episode / June 11, 2017

Aired 11 June 2017 SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW The Ice Warriors are indisputably one of Doctor Who’s most iconic and enduring races, but their five televised appearances have only hinted at the rich and deep culture at the heart of individuals’ actions. Along with the fascinating visual of Victorian soldiers on the surface of Mars, Mark Gatiss for the first time takes the television series to the Ice Warriors’ native planet of Mars to help fill in their backstory by looking to their past while sending them into the future. Doctor Who so often sees humans threatened and under attack that it’s quite shocking to actually see humans on the offensive at the expense of other species and worlds. The means by which the Victorian soldiers end up on Mars is relatively straightforward and sets the scene well enough, but the inherent conflict of the Doctor having to decide between his favoured species and the native species is unfortunately one that ‘Empress of Mars’ simply chooses to sidestep, the moral conundrum it initially draws attention to ultimately forgotten and doing nothing to challenge the Doctor’s usual mode of operation. Indeed, because the humans are so anachronistic, they pose no true threat…

Pyramids of Mars
Episode / December 3, 2016

Aired 25 October – 15 November 1975 ‘Pyramids of Mars’ is widely regarded as a truly classic serial, combining two leads on absolutely top form, a credible alien menace threatening to destroy the entire world, an underlying sense of horror and intrigue, and use of the BBC’s strong period set design. Perhaps more impressive than its lasting legacy, though, is the fact that it had to undergo several rewrites to finally become what eventually aired, writer Robert Holmes deftly stepping in when needed to fix what was deemed a broken script. ‘Pyramids of Mars’ opens up and explores several plot developments during its running time, certainly avoiding the classic padding pitfall of many Doctor Who adventures by doing so in the process. Thus, as events unfold about the house of Lord Scarman, the introduction and subsequent deaths of cultist Narmin and Doctor Warlock as well as the introduction of the force field around the property provide interesting avenues for the plot without necessarily delivering maximum impact, but they certainly keep events from becoming stale. This is perhaps most apparent in the final episode when, with Sutekh admittedly trapped on Mars, the Doctor inexplicably gets wrapped up in a series of…

Key 2 Time – The Judgement of Isskar
Audio / August 3, 2016

Released January 2009 The start of 2009 sees Big Finish attempt something new with its release format, offering three-story mini seasons that feature the same Doctor and an overlying plot thread. The first of these seasons is Key 2 Time which sees the Fifth Doctor and a new companion scour the universe for the segments of the Key to Time just as the Fourth Doctor and Romana did in the televised season sixteen. The first installment of the trilogy is ‘The Judgement of Isskar,’ unenviably tasked with setting up the entire premise as well as telling an engaging story in its own right. Perhaps wisely, however, writer Simon Guerrier doesn’t spend too much time introducing the Key to Time and all that it entails, relying on listeners’ previous knowledge. Still, he does offer further insight into its creation by the Grace and posits an intriguing suggestion that the Fourth Doctor’s use of the synthetic segment in ‘The Armageddon Factor’ has caused another imbalance that needs correcting. All the more interesting is the new companion for the trilogy, Amy played by Ciara Johnson. Guerrier does a wonderful job subtly portraying the development of this living segment tracer, a complete blank at…

The Waters of Mars
Episode / June 9, 2016

Aired 15 November 2009 Publicity for Doctor Who often touts an upcoming episode as being the scariest yet, or at the very least one of the scariest yet, and while scary is a subjective term to use depending on the target audience, ‘The Waters of Mars’ certainly lives up to its hype as one of the most chilling and unsettling stories in the programme’s long run and without question lives up to the expectations that an episode billed as a special carries with it. ‘The Waters of Mars’ also directly confronts the Doctor’s morality, showing how absolutely terrifying and powerful he can be and suggesting that perhaps it truly is time for this particular incarnation to leave. These are issues that have been casually flirted with in several episodes since the programme relaunched in 2005, but they take centre stage here, showcasing the heroic man who makes lives better as a force of nature full of hubris who will let nothing get in his way to get what he wants. ‘The waters of Mars’ takes away any and all ambiguity regarding the Doctor’s darker side, showing just how truly terrifying he can become when hurt and left alone. Yet, and…

Red Dawn
Audio / February 21, 2016

Released May 2000 For the second consecutive release, Big Finish revives one of the Doctor’s classic foes, this time switching focus to the Ice Warriors. Featuring an underused lead pairing in the Fifth Doctor and Peri and written by the proven Justin Richards, all of the pieces are in place for a fantastic tale. Unfortunately, ‘Red Dawn’ fails to live up to expectations and marks a definite misfire for a range that has generally been growing in confidence and overall quality. The reintroduction of the Ice Warriors is handled very well, and their unerring sense of morality and their code of honour comes across very well in the audio medium. Still, it’s apparent that this meeting between humans and Martians is not going to be a cakewalk as Zzaal attributes a human’s death to a misunderstanding, creating an inescapable sense that one mistake could prove fatal to everyone involved. Paul Webster’s agenda independent of the mission controller’s threatens matters even further and leads Zzaal to attack the NASA Mars module, putting- amongst others- Peri in peril. Ultimately, it is down to the Doctor’s understanding of the Ice Warriors’ code of honour and then willingness to show mercy when he has…