“The Waters of Mars” – Review: Redux

The Doctor “Yes, because there are laws. There are laws of time. Once upon a time there were people in charge of those laws but they died. They all died. Do you know who that leaves? Me! It’s taken me all these years to realise that the laws of time are mine. And they will obey me!”

Waters of Mars

Okay, two bits of housekeeping to start with. Firstly, I appear to have had this blog post scheduled to be published in the middle of the afternoon today, which WordPress duly did faultlessly. However, I had only had my placeholder ready rather than any review or anything worth reading. To those who clicked through to their undoubted bemusement, I apologise. Secondly, what a day to be a Doctor Who blogger, or indeed a fan of the show! News has been bubbling around for the last few months about a find of lost episodes. I am deliriously happy right now at the rumours and news that I am hearing. This 50 episode blog will be interrupted with a special update very soon indeed. For now though, on with the show.

How was “The Waters of Mars” for you? Best RTD script so far? Possibly, although I still reckon “Midnight” might hold the crown. If there is such a thing as an ‘instant classic’, and, after all, “Blink” proved to us that there is, then this may just be another. It was as close to faultless Doctor Who as I can imagine with an atmosphere that oozed foreboding, brilliant acting from the two leads, and a script and plot that fizzed along for a marvellous hour of television. At it’s heart was, and I use this term in full knowledge that every other review will include it too, a ‘base-under-siege’ tale where the Doctor stumbles in to a situation that sees any routes of easy escape being closed off and something unpleasant beginning to happen, trapping the inhabitants inside. The clever twist here was a progression of one of the ideas developed in earlier episodes, notably “Father’s Day” and “The Fires of Pompeii”, that some points in time are fixed and unalterable while others remain in flux. It was a creative cheat to explain away innumerable examples of situations where the somewhat ill-defined Laws of Time state that a policy of non-interference in events should always be in play, a law which seems completely at odds with concept of the show that sees the Doctor turn up and interfere to his hearts’ content every Saturday night. May be they should put him on trial if he keeps breaking the laws.

So, this time the companion-less Doctor arrives at a base on Mars where Earth’s very first colonists have set up camp. He soon realises both where and when he is and also that this is very definitely one of those pesky fixed points in time, so he tries to walk away, in full knowledge that the day is going to end with a shattering nuclear explosion. However, a combination of his insatiable curiosity and the leadership of Adelaide Brook keeps him involved for longer than perhaps he should. The peril comes in the form of the Flood, a water-based life-form that infects humans upon contact turning them into rather effective zombies, who perform the Flood’s bidding. As one-by-one, the colonists begin to get converted (afterwards you can almost hear the children viewing at home refusing to wash before bedtime) the situation falls further out of control. It is then, as Ten takes his opportunity to leave the Bowie Base One to its inevitable fate, that we see one of the most powerful and disturbing turn of events certainly since the programme’s return in 2005, or perhaps in its entire history.

David Tennant and Lindsay Duncan present a lesson in fine acting as their roles become intriguingly reversed. The Doctor, without a companion to rein in his alien excesses and without the Time Lords to look after things anymore, concludes that laws of time are his to control and that the lives of those people on the base are his to save. The implications of this could be immense and the premise that absolute power corrupts absolutely might never have been more stark as in the final ten minutes of Waters of Mars. The demeanour and manner of the Doctor when he brings the three colonists back to Earth, is not the man that we know. The arrogance and swagger and dismissive talk of “the little people” represents a scary shift in persona that certainly brought to my mind thoughts of how Time Lords like the Master might’ve originally been turned. Meanwhile, Adelaide who had spent the episode doing everything in her power to save the lives of her crew comes to realise that the inevitability of their deaths will serve a greater purpose for the future of humanity. After the Doctor has seemingly succeeded in rescuing her, Adelaide’s suicide apparently snaps the Doctor out of his temporary megalomania. A vision of Ood Sigma, who I think was the first character to talk about the demise of Tennant’s Doctor back in “Planet of the Ood” (“Your song is ending”), then motivates the Doctor on to his last adventure. Roll credits and let the countdown to Christmas commence.

It’s hard to find any fault in the programme at all. Graeme Harper directs with his usual aplomb and capability for all the action stuff but also shifts down a gear when needed, as can be seen during Adelaide’s recollection of her encounter with a Dalek during the events of “The Stolen Earth”. The fans got their little amuse bouche served up thanks to some nice Ice Warrior mentions and the kids were probably well entertained by the comedy robot. Perhaps we are now just starting to see the big picture of RTD’s tenure as Executive Producer. 58 out of the 60 episodes that he will have overseen have taken us on a journey with the Doctor that has seen him change from guilt-ridden survivor of the Time War, through three different companions each of whose travels ended in bittersweet fashion to lonely traveller struggling again with inner demons. Quality drama.

Highlight: Tennant’s acting prowess as he turns Time Lord Victorious

Lowlight: Gadget Gadget

Talking Point: Is there a future in the Bad Doctor? [We might found out in the 50th Anniversary Special too, I guess]

Demon’s Run Rating: 19 out of 20

Original BBC1 Broadcast: 15th November 2009 (a 46th Anniversary Special, perhaps)

Marathon Status: 58 down, 44 to go

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