WARNING: This review is based on the UK broadcast of Doctor Who : Waters of Mars and contains a few spoilers. The episode will air on BBC America on December 19th, and SPACE in Canada at an unannounced time. If you do not wish to be spoiled, please do not click through.
Bowie Base One. 21st November 2059. A certain timelord decides to take a little sightseeing trip on Mars. Leaving his TARDIS to take in the beautiful red hued vistas. Upon leaving the TARDIS he views a station, and suddenly feels a weapon in his back. A robot, GADGET (pictured left with The Doctor and Adelaide Brooke), who takes him to the base.
And lo, Doctor Who is back after a seven month break in proceedings, and he’s darker than he has been for quite a while…
Captain Adelaide Brooke leads her team of International Scientists on humanity’s first base on another planet. The Doctor is brought into the base, and soon realises who these people are, what they are doing there, and that he has to leave.
So begins the catastrophic events of The Waters of Mars, with Maggie, under the part influence of the infection revealing that their goal is the water rich Earth, and the Doctor cannot help. This is a fixed point in time, something that cannot change, and he has to leave because he cannot interfere.
As the Doctor himself exclaims, water is patient, and will get through anything eventually. Sure enough it does, slowly pushing the crew further and further around the base as they try and escape the virus infected humans. The Doctor and Adelaide end up discussing the situation, including how Adelaide’s eventual death influences her Granddaughter’s own travels into the stars in the future. Adelaide tells the story of her loss of her parents, to the Dalek’s during the time when The Earth was moved (from the Season 4 finale), explaining that whilst hiding in her attic room, a Dalek saw her through the window, it stared, before leaving without attacking her, in one particularly well handled moment using Dalek’s without having to overuse them, or turning them into overly clown-like characters, as seen in the Season 4 finale “Journey’s End”
Adelaide defiantly tries to evacuate her and her crew anyway, regardless of the Doctor’s warning via the Ship connected to the base, with the Doctor leaving via the airlock to take the long walk back to the TARDIS.
As he leaves, over the intercom he hears the chaos unfolding in the base. With more infections, including the infection of Adelaide’s number two Ed in the ship, who explodes the rocket after he is infected, stopping the virus from ever being able to reach Earth. As the rocket explodes, it knocks the Doctor off his feet. He stands up to watch the carnage of the explosion, which seems to enrage the Doctor into action, realising his is the last of his kind and understanding what kind of power he is now solely in control of. The Doctor letting the power he has go to his head. The kind of power that has him looking for companions to stop him from becoming the man he doesn’t want to be.
He rushes back to help Adelaide and the remaining survivors, eventually using the souped up GADGET to go to the TARDIS and bring it to him, just in time to evacuate Adelaide and two of her crew.
Adelaide and her two remaining crew are returned back to Earth. She discusses with the Doctor what he has done. Telling him that he shouldn’t wield his power in the way he did. She was supposed to die, and should never have been saved by him. The Doctor consumed by the darker side of him, the side that committed the destruction in the Time War, and his near genocide of the Racnoss. He exclaims that he is the Time Lord Victorious, the one man who survived, and now can do anything. Adelaide, disgusted at his behaviour tells him that no man should wield this power and goes into her home, brandishing her gun. Just as the Doctor turns to enter the TARDIS, he hears her weapon fire. Adelaide killed herself, making sure the future could still happen in the way it intended. The Doctor is in complete panic, realising not only what is becoming, but that indeed his time is over, seeing a vision of Ood Sigma in the distance, recalling the prophecy that the Ood gave to the Doctor last time they met.
As the Doctor stands in the TARDIS, contemplating his actions the cloister bell, which signals to the Doctor an impending doom, tolls. As it rings he exclaims that he won’t let the 4 knocks prophecy occur, and the episode runs to titles.
Russell T. Davies and Phil Ford wrote this episode. At times, it shows that Russell was involved, in particular with the slightly ridiculous voice and characterisation of GADGET, who like all robotic Doctor Who characters seems to want to repeat the same phrase over and over. We now have “GADGET! GADGET!” to add to “EXTERMINATE!” and “DELETE!”. It is also not all that far removed in its basic essence from episodes like The Satan Pit, with the basic Doctor and people in a remote location trying to escape something terrifying in place. Its nothing totally original, both influenced by its own previous episodes, and obvious references to modern zombie productions like the “28 Days/Weeks Later” movies. The episode also channels classic Who themes of inevitability, helplessness and hope, not that these themes are poorly handled at all, quite the contrary.
However, the story itself is almost superfluous to the underlying tale of The Doctor’s descent into his darker, more dangerous and reckless side and the incredibly well thought out and beautifully poised flashback scene featuring young Adelaide with its very short Dalek cameo, showing just how good a writer Russell can be when the reigns are in place (perhaps due to Phil Ford’s influence). Tennant channeling The Doctor’s darker side showed him at his best at an actor, not hamming up the scenes as he has in the past with both the Doctor and his most famous role before The Doctor as Barty Crouch Jr in the Harry Potter films. The ever dependable Lindsay Duncan provides a great foil for Tennant, with both parading their pedigree as stage actors on the small screen with aplomb. They are directed by Doctor Who favourite Graeme Harper with a far more gentle, deft hand than seen by him in previous episodes. Tennant certainly isn’t the Doctor that has been criticised for gurning and slap stick in the past. The supporting cast, whilst ultimately mostly forgettable are also strong, never dragging behind in the episode or leaving you feeling as if they weren’t as carefully picked as the leads.
It is a far stronger episode than the previous Easter Special “Planet of the Dead”, with the darker tone of the show giving us a tantalising hint of what might be to come with new showrunner Steven Moffat. Whatever the situation, we can see just how Russell T. Davies made this show into the spectacular success it has become, by deftly being able to blend more adult themes into a family show, and appealing on multiple levels to multiple people. The enemy this time will scare the living wits out of the kids, whilst the deeper and darker story enthrals the older viewer.
“The Waters of Mars” is one of the best episodes in Who for a long time, certainly not since the June 2008 episode “Midnight” have I enjoyed Doctor Who as much as this. At the end of the episode we were given a glance towards the final episodes “The End of Time”. I won’t mention what happens, or who we see, but lets just say this; We all know Russell T. Davies is at his strongest as a writer when the end of a season begins to roll in, we saw this with episodes such as “Utopia” from Season 3 and the previously mentioned “Midnight” and “Turn Left” from Season 4. What he’ll be able to bring to the table on Christmas Day and New Year, is anyone’s guess.
Just don’t do something akin to spinning the Dalek’s around in circles in order to defeat them last time you had a crescendo like this, and avoid evil characters, no matter how unhinged dancing around to the sound of the Scissor Sisters, OK Russell?