As the most Earthlike planet in the solar system and home of such a huge target of science fiction, Mars is of course very important in “Doctor Who”. It’s the home of the Ice Warriors (“The Ice Warriors”, “The Seeds of Death”, “The Curse of Peladon”, “The Monster of Peladon”, “Cold War”), the destination of the missing astronauts in “The Ambassadors of Death”, the location of the Osiran control beam keeping Sutekh imprisoned in “Pyramids of Mars”, and the setting for David Tennant’s tragic penultimate story, “The Waters of Mars”.
The Ice Warriors are a warrior race who wear biological armor literally all the time; they seem to consider it a point of honor to never appear out of uniform. They use sonic weapons and can be quite ruthless when they feel threatened. However, they are honorable and generally will not attack otherwise. In their first outing, a Martian spacecraft had been trapped in a glacier on Earth tens of thousands of years ago; the ship’s captain is defrosted by an overzealous scientist seeking the find of a lifetime, and the Ice Warrior immediately concludes that the humans’ glacier-melting technology is a threat. Simultaneously, the humans conclude the Ice Warriors to be a threat, but they could both help one another . . . except this becomes impossible fairly quickly. On their second outing, a group of Ice Warriors lead by an Ice Lord, their ruling elite class, attempts to turn Earth into another Mars (aresforming, perhaps, rather than terraforming?). The Ice Warriors aren’t seen again until the two Third Doctor serial set on Peladon, “The Curse of Peladon” and “The Monster of Peladon”, where they are part of an ensemble cast of aliens. They don’t reappear again until 2013’s “Cold War”, where a single Ice Warrior is defrosted from the ice by a mid-80s Soviet nuclear sub crew, nearly triggering World War III, although they do get a mention in “The Waters of Mars” (see below).
The Ambassadors of Death
A group of British astronauts were sent to the planet Mars. They vanished, and now have mysteriously returned — or have they? There’s somebody in those spacesuits, but it’s not the astronauts. It’s a group of alien ambassadors who have been sent to establish a treaty with Earth, but it all goes wrong almost immediately. It’s up to the Doctor to sort out the mess. It’s never made entirely clear where the aliens are actually from; the astronauts met them in orbit around Mars, but they’re clearly not Ice Warriors.
Pyramids of Mars
An Egyptologist makes the find of the century, but doesn’t live to tell the tale — he’s found the tomb of an actual Egyptian god. Sutekh wasn’t just a myth, it turns out, but is the sole surviving member of the Osiran race. Imprisoned beneath a blind pyramid in Egypt by his brother Horus, Sutekh uses mental control of the dead Egyptologist’s body and a number of mummy-shaped servitor robots to assemble an Osiran war rocket — he’s being held prisoner by a beam emitted from under the Pyramids of Mars, and destroying the pyramid would free him. When the Doctor foils that plan, he takes control of the Doctor’s mind and uses the TARDIS to send his servants directly to Mars to destroy the beam in person.
The Waters of Mars
The first human colony on Mars is thriving — until one of them tastes the first vegetables grown with Martian water rather than the colony’s recycled Earth water. Turns out, there’s a reason the Ice Warriors never exploited the water under this particular ice field; it’s infested with a parasite that takes complete control of a person. And once it learns of the vast oceans on Earth, it wants to go there. It seems like a straightforward problem, but there’s an extra catch: the Doctor knows about the colony already, though he’s never visited it before — they’re famous as the first people to *die* on Mars, and he doesn’t dare interfere in that.
Mars in Your Backyard
As one of the nearest planets to Earth (Venus gets somewhat closer at its nearest), Mars is very easy to spot in the night sky. The ancients all noticed it, and noticed that it wanders through the sky — a “planet”, to the Greeks. It’s also unusual for being distinctly ruddy in color. A few “fixed” stars share this property, such as Betelgeuse and Antares, but Mars gets brighter, and as it moves around in the sky, it gives itself away with only a few nights’ careful observation.
Because of its color and brightness, Mars is a rewarding target for the naked eye alone, but a small telescope will reveal its disk, and when conditions are very good, perhaps even some areas of light and dark. With a large amateur telescope, its ice caps may be visible, along with patches of dark and light — albedo features, which means things distinguished only by how bright or dark they are. Mars also experiences occasional planet-wide duststorms, and if you observe and sketch Mars regularly, you may even be able to detect these yourself, as the albedo features will disappear into the uniform smear of airborne sand. The One-Minute Astronomer has some great tips on viewing Mars, and here’s a video of Mars seen through a 5″ telescope:
Of course, you can also check Mars out vicariously, thanks to all the spacecraft that have visited it. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory maintains the Planetary Photojournal, an archive of all press release images from all missions. It’s well worth a visit; here’s the page for Mars. Use the dropdowns to refine your search by target, spacecraft, and instrument.
Resources for generating starmaps:
Your Sky, by John Walker
Heavens Above Sky Chart
Sky & Telescope’s Interactive Sky Map
Using a Naked-Eye Sky Map, from Sky & Telescope
There are also apps for your tablet or smartphone that will give you star maps, and some even tie into your compass and GPS, such as Google Sky.
For more information about Mars, check out Nine Planets: Mars.