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Life on Mars

An account of Martian history in Doctor Who

By Peter Adamson

The alien worlds Gallifrey, Skaro, Mondas, Telos and Peladon all play a significant role in the Doctor Who universe. Invariably these fictitious planets get more coverage than their handful of real counterparts. The only exceptions are Earth and to a much lesser extent Mars. What follows is a tentative Martian History constructed from facts from both within and without the programme.


As old as Earth, Mars is half the size of our world but having cooled sooner it has a longer history. It is a freeze-dried world rendered inhospitable to terrestrial life by a weak atmosphere of carbon dioxide. Yet it may not have always been so. Current theories have estimated that at some point in prehistory Mars was not unlike Earth in its capacity for life. The planet has a geologically active past. Three thousand million years ago chaotic stages of volcanic activity could have caused a greenhouse-like effect, warming the planet and trapping pockets of oxygen. An axial deviation could have melted the polar caps, flooding the entire world (hence the 'canals' - water-eroded channels in the Martian surface).

Over perhaps 100,000 years, life could have begun in the warm seas of the planet, creating primitive marine organisms. As the planet cooled once more, this life adapted to the cold and eventually was forced onto the land as the waters evaporated into the thinning atmosphere.

Basic plant, insect and reptile life evolved. Over millions of years as Mars underwent further changes, its living creatures adapted, struggling in increasingly harsh conditions and savage inter-special competition, culminating maybe some five million years before present in the birth of the world's dominant intelligent life form - the Mars Reptiles, forerunning ancestors of the Ice Warriors of Mars.

The Ice Warriors

The Mars Reptiles' own technological/feudal society most likely developed under urgent means; the deterioration of the Martian atmosphere drove the stronger individuals underground. By far the greatest majority settled in the northern pole; flatter terrain with less of the geological disturbance characteristic of the lower hemisphere. There, under a kilometre of permafrost, the survivors underwent further changes in diet and metabolism, thriving in the frigid, arid climate. Within the subterranean catacombs the Ice Warrior society formed into a feudal, military stratified caste system. Physically the Martians developed a water retention system and adapted to an oxygen-weakened atmosphere artificially maintained within their dwellings.

Periodic episodes of conflict fuelled remarkable technological progress. Suspended animation, bioengineering, sonic manipulation, and ultimately interplanetary and interstellar travel were reached by 10,000 BC or so, bringing about the exploration of other planets and the inevitable Martian exodus.

These aboriginal Martians left behind them a wealth of progressive technology rivaling that of the CyberTelosians. On the surface, Mars stayed a lifeless, inhospitable planet seemingly devoid of potential - a reputation belied by the Ice Warriors' destiny as they abandoned their devastated home.

The Fendahl Visits Mars

During Earth's Pliocene Era, the Fifth Planet of the solar system was time-looped by the Time Lords and its sole survivor - the Fendahl - fled the catastrophe, escaping first to Mars then to Earth where it directed the evolution of homo-sapiens towards its own ends.

Why did the Fendahl not remain on Mars? Jean-Marc Lofficier suggests it was driven away by the Ice Warriors, but this seems unlikely - at such an early stage their technology ought to have been too much in its infancy to successfully repel the entity. Perhaps the Ice Warriors were not even fully sentient by this stage.

It is conceivable that the Fendahl tested its life-draining habits on Mars. This would have accelerated the deterioration of the planet's biosphere. With Mars' ecological balance reaching crisis-point, the Ice Warriors abandoned their home, shunning a now too-temperate Earth, and left the solar system in an enormous race exodus. Ultimately, Mars became a sterile, dead planet; devoid of a sustainable water table and breathable atmosphere. This was Mars' first death.

The Martian Exodus

When Varga's team was freed from the ice in 3000 AD, one of their objectives was to return to Mars, mistakenly believing it to be still populated. This would suggest that when the expedition left Mars, there was good deal of time left before the exodus became necessary.

Pinpointing an exact date for this event brings in an interesting parallel. At the time of the Martian expedition, Earth is part of a 'binary planet' system with Mondas, and is visited by its twin's population. That both the Mondasian explorers and Martian Warriors would imprint their image upon future generations of humans is significant enough, but can we find more? In Cybermen, David Banks estimates Mondas's departure to be somewhere between 20,000 and 10, 000 BC. The Paleolithic Era spanned approximately the same timeline, with the last Ice Age ending around 8000 BC. It is hard to resist the notion that at some time during this era the tracks of the two cultures at least came excruciatingly close to meeting, if not visiting each others worlds.

As tempting as it seems, we should avoid labelling both cultures as contemporaries and their respective departures as inclusive of the same event. Instead, we could place a gap of perhaps 2000 years between the two, with Mondas' eccentric drift away from Earth taking place first, followed by the Martians. It is disappointing that such a meeting seems never to have taken place, perhaps some hypotheses are in order: we could assume that the Mondasians were unable to make the trip, Mars being simply too far or that there was no interest in that planet, exploratory groups overlooking the underground Martian cities. Perhaps Mondas did not endure an Ice Age contemporary to Earth's and so was inhospitably temperate for visiting Martians - or maybe a similar fate befell such visitors as that of Varga's team. Ultimately, the departure of these populations leaves homo-sapiens the lone masters of the solar system, provoking the chagrin and resentment of both cultures upon their return.

The Osirians

Following the Fendahl, the next alien visitors to Mars were the Osirians. Most notable was Horus, who imprisoned his evil brother Sutekh on Earth from Mars using the 'Eye of Horus'. The Osirians dwelt in Egypt during the Neolithic Period (6000 to 2000 BC).

Again, as no mention of a meeting of cultures is made, it seems that by this time Mars has been abandoned. Apart from being the site of Horus' device, Mars is marginal to the plot of Pyramids of Mars. In fact, it is puzzling why Horus would choose this location other than the romantic and somewhat misinformed notion that as a 'desert planet' Mars would be vaguely reminiscent of the Egyptian or Osirian landscape. Surely Horus's device would have been better placed on the moon? Perhaps this satellite was still within Sutekh's reach, while Pluto (the next solid planet out) was too far away.

As an interesting aside, the most celebrated geoforms of Mars in recent years have been the so-called 'face' and 'pyramid', located on the Cydonian Plains just south of the Northern Polar regions. While the pyramid is five-sided, and therefore unlike our terrestrial constructs, it provides an intriguing footnote to the story, while the 'Cydonian Face' is said by some to have a sphinx-like countenance.

The Alien Ambassadors

Further into the twentieth century, the western world has its 'first' official encounter with extraterrestrials, contacted by the crews of Mars Probe and Recovery Seven. As with the Osirians, the Aliens' choice of Mars is an unusual and unexplained one. Perhaps at an early stage Mars appealed to them as a likely base. As the Martian soil is roughly as radioactive as our own and the planet was uninhabited, the planet could have been rendered more suitable for long-staying Aliens. Even if such ideas were entertained, following the fiasco on Earth the Aliens left the solar system never to return. As intergalactic exchanges go, Earth got off to a bad start.

The Return of the Ice Warriors

The 21st to 32nd centuries saw resurgence in Ice Warrior activity around Earth both militaristically and politically. A squadron led by Lord Slaar circa 2000 AD attempted to commandeer T-MAT and 'Mars-form' Earth using the seeds of death. In 3000 AD, during the second Ice Age, Varga threatened Earth. By the next century, the Ice Warriors ceased to entertain any thoughts of conquering Earth or a return to their ancestral home and instead rebuilt a peaceful and diplomatic empire. As members of the newly-formed Federation they earned themselves a more respectable reputation through the likes of Izlyr on Peladon, despite the residual treachery of others like Azaxyr. As fully-fledged residents of the galaxy the Ice Warriors discarded their earlier roles as the feudal rulers of Mars and reinstated their culture on a higher and less aggressive level.

Mars as New Earth

Some time later Mars was colonized, terraformed, and ultimately became the home of the refugee population of a dying Earth. Just when these events occurred is at best sketchy. There was perhaps 2000 years between the first manned expedition to Mars and the first references of a colony there. This interim period seems excessive; given the development of Earth technology at the end of the 20th century; such a colony should have been established within a hundred years. What discouraged such developments?

Perhaps a clue lies in the spate of attacks on the Moonbase and T-MAT systems established before 2120. From 2160 to 2167 Earth was under Dalek rule - surely considerable widespread social and technological trauma would have resulted from this, coupled with a considerable decline in activity inside and outside Earth's scientific communities. The 25th century saw the Cyberwars and Voga's arrival in our solar system, followed a century later by conflict between Earth and Draconia. But were these distant events enough to affect Earth's local expansion? Certainly, if Mars had been colonised by the 30th century, some attempts should have been made to safeguard both planets from the threat of solar flares.

Despite this there still seems to be an ample amount of time before Bret Vyon was born on Mars Colony 16 in the 40th century. On Pluto the Usurians' company collector claimed that his kind had terraformed Mars by the 52nd century, following the overpopulation and pollution of Earth. He made no mention of the colonies already there. Assuming the Collector was telling the truth, this suggests that over the intervening millennia the original colonies were abandoned or superceded by earlier terraforming projects. Perhaps they somehow became part of the "resources" the Usurians exploited. When these resources were inevitably exhausted, human kind moved to Pluto. Mars, as desperate and intolerant of life as it was centuries before, died its second death.

Quatermass Martians

One document remains which may be added into Doctor Who history, if only through pure speculation; mention is made in Remembrance of the Daleks of Professor Bernard Quatermass. If we presume that Quatermass exists in the Doctor Who universe, then we might also include the dead insectoid Martians found in Quatermass and the Pit, (outlined in TSV 33). Like the Fendahl, these are an example of an ancient evil arriving on Earth from Mars, directly affecting and influencing human evolution.

The Quatermass Martians were apparently five million years old in Earth time. The remnants of an older civilisation who travelled to Earth, they experimented on early Neanderthals, installing 'race memories' of the aliens violent race purges and ritualistic behaviour. Unearthing an alien capsule triggered these memories resulting in similar behaviour manifesting itself in certain sections of London's population.

So where can these Martians fit into the timeline? There is ample time between the Ice Warriors' activities on Earth and the Fendahl's Mars visitation. Perhaps these were the prehistoric Martians who deterred the Fendahl? The Fendahl's influence may have brought about the insectoid civilisation's death five million years before the present day, clearing the way for the reign of the Ice Warriors, the natural inheritors of Mars.

The final scenes of The Underwater Menace saw the Second Doctor setting the TARDIS co-ordinates for Mars. Let's hope he makes it there in the not too distant future.

This item appeared in TSV 39 (May 1994).