Doctor Who series 10: Empress Of Mars nerdy spots and Easter eggs

Spoilers! We dig into the references and extra details in Doctor Who series 10 episode 9, Empress Of Mars...

This article contains spoilers – pretty much all of them – for Empress Of Mars.

The Ice Warriors’ tombs have melted, and so have our hearts. As the Doctor gives Missy a good telling-off for helping to save the day, we turn our attention to the references, callbacks and generally interesting things about tonight’s episode. If we’ve missed something, you know where the comments section is…

Alpha CentaurSQUEE

Usually I take these things roughly in order, but let’s take a moment to let out what the cool kids call a big ‘squee’, or a Russell T Davies-style ‘Hooray!’ for the return, after 43 years, of actress Ysanne Churchman as the Doctor’s old friend and ally Alpha Centauri. Described by the third Doctor as a ‘hermaphrodite hexapod’, Alpha Centauri – or to be more accurate about it, Alpha Centauri, the Alpha Centaurian delegate from the planet Alpha Centauri – was an alien ambassador working for the Galactic Federation on the Doctor’s two visits to the planet Peladon – in 1972’s The Curse Of Peladon and 1974’s The Monster Of Peladon. And as well as Alpha Centauri and TV and radio jobs dating back to 1938’s Children’s Hour and including The Archers, Churchman also voiced an Eight Legs in 1974’s Planet Of The Spiders.

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Of course, the Peladon stories (this was nearly one – Mark Gatiss revealed to Doctor Who Magazine that he originally wanted to set the tale on Peladon) also featured this episode’s antagonists, the Ice Warriors. One of the few monsters from the classic series other than the Daleks and Cybermen to warrant multiple appearances, the Ice Warriors first appeared in the 1967 tale of the same name, where the second Doctor, Jamie and Victoria encountered crashed Ice Warriors on an isolated base during Earth’s next Ice Age as they awoke and set about trying to conquer the planet. They retained villain status for their second appearance in 1969’s The Seeds Of Death, when their plan was to use a fungus to terraform 21st-century Earth and make it more habitable for them – obviously they failed.

When they returned in The Curse Of Peladon, the Ice Warriors were set up for the viewers to think them the villains – the third Doctor is naturally suspicious of them for most of the story – but by this point they had evolved into a neutral race more reminiscent of Star Trek’s Klingons, with a keen sense of honour and a feudal system. On this occasion they allied themselves with the Doctor, but were more villainous on their return two years later when they worked with Galaxy 5 to take control of Peladon’s mining operation.

Finally, the Ice Warriors made their return in 2013’s Cold War – also written by Mark Gatiss – in which the eleventh Doctor mediated a tense situation with a lone Ice Warrior aboard a Soviet submarine. On that occasion the TARDIS also dematerialised without intervention from a pilot, with the Doctor later explaining that he’d been tinkering with the HADS (Hostile action displacement system, obviously).

The Empress Of Mars is the title of a 2003 novella by Kage Baker, which won the 2004 Theodore Sturgeon Award and was nominated for a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award. The novella tells the story of a woman who runs the only bar on a colonised Mars.

Countdown to Destruction

The eleventh Doctor previously visited NASA as part of his plan to scupper the Silence in 2011’s Day Of The Moon, and his claim that he loves a countdown is another similarity between himself and the Master, who confessed that he ‘never could resist a ticking clock’ in 2007’s Last Of The Time Lords. In 2015’s Heaven Sent, the Doctor claimed that his entire life was a countdown.

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In terms of Doctor Who appearances (televised Doctor Who, at least), Neil Armstrong actually was the first man on the moon, though the series was visiting the moon some time before Apollo 11 launched: the second Doctor, Jamie, Ben and Polly landed on the moon in The Moonbase which, while set in the far-flung year of 2070, aired in 1967 – two full years before Armstrong’s mission.

This is the second Doctor Who story to be set in the year 1881 – the first was The Gunfighters back in 1966, which saw the first Doctor, Steven and Dodo visit the OK Corral in search of a dentist. It’s also the third of writer Mark Gatiss’s Doctor Who stories to be set in Victorian England, after 2005’s The Unquiet Dead and 2013’s The Crimson Horror. Gatiss is a big fan of the era, having once built a Victorian laboratory in his house.

Queen Victoria herself previously appeared in Doctor Who in 2006’s Tooth And Claw, where she was played by actress Pauline Collins – it is Collins who appears in the portrait of Victoria seen in this episode. That was the actress’s second appearance in the series, having played Samantha Briggs in second Doctor tale The Faceless Ones, during which she turned down the invitation to become a regular companion, paving the way for Deborah Watling’s Victoria instead.

Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe was first published in 1719 and told the tale of a man who spends nearly thirty years marooned on a desert island. Friday is an escaped cannibal prisoner whose life Crusoe helps save and then decides to employ him as his personal servant.

The effect of the Gargantua weapon (Gargantua being the name of one of the giants in Francois Rabelais’ novels, as well as the massive black hole in 2014 film Interstellar) is similar to that of the main Death Star weapon in Star Wars. The Doctor says “I have a bad feeling about this,” which is a line originated by Luke Skywalker in the first Star Wars film (as “I have a very bad feeling about this”) and subsequently used in every Star Wars film after, including last year’s spinoff/prequel Rogue One.

The whole plot of this story, with the Doctor and friends encountering a group of unlikeable humans as they hope to raid the alien ‘tombs’ where an army slumbers, is rather reminiscent of 1967’s The Tomb Of The Cybermen, whose scenes of the Cybermen breaking out of their chambers on Telos remain one of the most enduring images of the series’ black-and-white era.

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There is also a thematic similarity with 1970’s Doctor Who And The Silurians (and also 2010’s The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood), which saw the awakening of a hive of Silurians, creatures who had gone into suspended animation during the time of the dinosaurs and then woke to find the Earth’s surface crawling with humans and wanted to reassert their dominance.

Referencing has its privileges

RHIP is a popular army phrase which previously appeared in 1972’s Day Of The Daleks, as UNIT captain Mike Yates uses it to take some wine and cheese from companion Jo at the expense of Sergeant Benton.

The soldier sings lines from She Was Poor But She Was Honest, which seems to be an anachronism – an internet search dates it back to Billy Bennett in 1930, and indeed Bennett wasn’t actually born at the time of this story…

The Doctor once again laments the sonic screwdriver’s lack of a ‘wood setting’. It was first explicitly stated that the sonic doesn’t work on wood in 2008’s Silence In The Library, much to Donna’s disbelief. In 2011’s Night Terrors the eleventh Doctor told George’s dad “I’ve got to invent a setting for wood!”.

Iraxxa awakens her warriors with cries of “Sleep no more!” – a direct reference to Gatiss’s previous fan-favourite episode.

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“War is hell” was previously uttered by Ratcliffe in 1988’s Remembrance Of The Daleks, after being told by the Dalek controller that there would be many deaths as a result of their collaboration.

“The way of the warrior is to die in battle” is a reference to Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s Hagakure, or In The Shadow Of Leaves. The work was a commentary on bushido – the way of the samurai. ‘The way of the warrior is death’ is one of its various modern translations.

The Doctor’s difficulty thinking like a warrior was a big problem for his eighth incarnation during the Time War; he refused to be a part of the war until he crashed on Karn in 2013’s The Night Of The Doctor, when he was offered a choice of personalities for his next regeneration – reasoning that there was no need for a doctor anymore, he chose to become a warrior. This led to the so-called ‘War Doctor’ played by John Hurt in The Name Of The Doctor and The Day Of The Doctor.

This episode brings about the Ice Warriors’ ‘Golden Age’ (Which presumably involves them jjoining the Galactic Federation and being a part of the Peladon stories). Hopefully it fares better than the UK’s Golden Age, which was created by prime minister Harriet Jones – who the tenth Doctor then decided to topple because of her actions in 2005’s The Christmas Invasion. This paved the way for Harold Saxon – aka the Master – to stand for election two years later…

Finally, the Doctor and his friends reference 1984 film The Terminator, 1982’s The Thing and Disney’s bane of parents everywhere Frozen. But if you didn’t spot those, you really need to pay closer attention.

Pete is the co-writer and presenter of The Mostly Made-Up Doctor Who Episode Guide, a comedy podcast chronicling the Doctor’s adventures that is almost as well-researched as this article. You can find it on iTunes or at

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