TV Review: Doctor Who – Waters of Mars

At long last it came. The trailers had me bristling with excitement. Here be spoilers below.

The story had a strong interesting threat. The set design was good. There was realistic feel to the Bowie Base One whose naming was an act of genius The Doctor was in conflict, there was even a nod to the Ice Warriors. So what went wrong?

I think firstly anything called a special that has the Doctor saying ‘I should go’ for a substantive period of the running length has a problem. Maybe not as an armchair read of a new adventure for an audience well versed in the mythology and history of the character but as a big wham thank you ma’am special it’s a problem.

It would be like in filming ‘Diamonds are forever’ following ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ and Tracy’s death the producers decided to show us in lavish detail the moping, depression and messing up Bond does in ‘You Only Live Twice’ the novel that followed OHMSS. These are different audiences and difference mediums and while some cross medium adaptations have worked wonderfully (‘Human Nature/Family of Blood’) you can’t just take the style of one and ram it into another.

This was then flowed by having the Doctor flip in his attitude and then rescue crew members. Now so far so good but to have him show no resource for those he didn’t save previously undermines him as a hero. For an alien the humanity of the Doctor is surely his reigning trait – from the moment William Hartnell dropped the rock. I think you fiddle with that at your peril – and it didn’t work for me.

The ‘Time lord’ triumphant theme at the end of the episode has much of Who fandom all excited. It was nice to see he got things wrong and how things were righted. Again it further undermined him as a hero. Now I know that may have been the point, we may be given an insight into his fall from grace, the word ‘Valeyard’ has been mentioned by Who Fans but that’s an error on a scale with having Colin Baker strangling Perri. The doctor can be complicated, manipulative and dark but I don’t think he should ultimately be anti-heroic even for a moment.

Murray Gold has done some excellent work in the past but I wish he would just ‘calm down, calm down’ it’s frequently detracting from the action now. The same goes for the poetic speeches – the glory of these in the past be they Pertwee’s ‘daiseyest daisy’ or Baker’s ‘humanity what a species’ is that they were rare glimpses of beauty – less is more sometimes.

I will be prepared to sit in a corner with a dunces cap on but all in all I preferred ‘Planet of the Dead.’

GS Reviewer: Andrew

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One comment

  1. Counter-review.
    Spoilers.

    ‘The Waters Of Mars’ is the penultimate tale of the tenth Doctor and as such foreshadows his impending doom. This is a prevalent theme throughout the episode and is mirrored nicely in the faces of the Crew of ‘Bowie Base #1’. The Doctor takes it upon himself to save them and in doing so, in the long-term, begins preparation for the battle yet to come to save himself.

    In terms of character development, the Doctor has come to somewhat of a cross-roads by the beginning of ‘The Waters Of Mars’ and this special is an extremely well-written, though-provoking representation of this. As the penultimate episode there was always a risk that there could be a lot of ‘set-up’ ready for the finale. There is. But it all takes place within the Doctor, within his personality and hence is woven neatly into a story that really tests the Doctor on a human level.

    The Doctor undergoes three main changes in his emotional state that coincide with crucial decisions he must make along the way. Each come with a powerful set of repercussions that keep you wondering not only what could possibly happen next, but also if Russell T. Davies may have actually gotten it wrong this time (…as if).

    Side-swiped by the realisation that upon the fourth knock he will die, the Doctor begins the special much in the same vein as he generally does, although under the surface there is clearly something redundant and lacking in the Doctor. His usual cheery, manic disposition soon turns sour upon discovering that the TARDIS has brought him to a fixed point in history, the time and place of a world-wide tragedy.

    The crew of Bowie Base #1 are all doomed and the Doctor, as the last of the Time Lords cannot help; they must simply die. On the surface of Mars listening to the screams of the crew through his helmet’s intercom system, the Doctor slowly walks away as they begin the fall prey to the rising waters. Leaving them to their fate comes at a price and the redundant Doctor begins his transition, albeit at the last possible moment, to the second of his emotional states.

    Here the Doctor has a powerful and driving epiphany that he’s not simply the ‘last’ of the Time-Lords but the ‘Winner’ and the Time Lord Victorious. He relives a moving and motivational monologue that sees a dynamic call to arms from within. This draws upon all the hurt and loss we’ve followed the Doctor through as he is haunted by voices of the past and his desire to set things right.

    Believing that as the last of his kind he has the right to, the Doctor crosses a line that the Time Lords of the past had laid down to protect reality itself. This turn sees a reluctant Doctor, turned enthused Doctor finish the episode as a horrified Doctor in the third of his emotional states. Captain Brooke defies him and time itself (due to the knowledge that her death launches man into space) by committing suicide. The emotional realisation of his power and potential for ruin in human terms hits him hard as Ood Sigma calls the Doctor towards his pending doom.

    The Doctor, a wanderer outside of time, who has lost and continues to loose everyone important to him, who is nearing his own death, who has seen loss and horror spanning galaxies through all of time takes us through a roller-coaster of emotion in the claustrophobic environment presented in ‘The Water Of Mars’.

    We see a side of the Doctor unfamiliar to us and behind the large smile, abundance of energy, crazed intelligence and endless amount empathy. We see somebody here opened up and as vulnerable as any man.

    The Doctor can make mistakes, he can be lonesome, he can lead a crusade in completely the wrong direction, he can hurt, he can fail, he can worry and fear and as we will see in ‘The End of Time’, even the most popular Doctor to boot can also unfortunately die.

    ‘The Waters of Mars’ is a sublime precursor for what is to come.

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