Doctor Who 4.16: The Waters of Mars review


The Waters of MarsThe Waters of Mars review

The Doctor: For a long time I thought I was just a survivor but I’m not, I’m a winner, that’s who I am.

Episode star rating:***** (out of a possible five)

It begins cheerily enough, with a beaming Doctor walking out of the TARDIS sporting a spacesuit onto “The Red Planet!” Next, a “funny robot” (of the type found in films such as Silent Running or The Black Hole. Films which don’t end cheerily.) The robot brings the Doctor to Bowie Base One and the rest of the cast.

In certain types of DW story, everyone dies at the end. In this one, it’s in the first ten minutes – it’s spelled out that everyone will die at the end of the story. A logical extension of the Sci-Fi trope of (in certain situations) “You can’t change the past” – everything is the “past” to a Lord of Time. Adelaide Brooke is in the mould of the Classic Season 5 Base-Under-Siege commander – stubborn and authoritative. As the Base is Sieged by the water-monsters, the monsters provide a plot and some excellent scenes, but the real drama features Adelaide and the Doctor.

One completely unexpected scene is when the frothy The Stolen Earth is brought into this grim tale – with the poetic image of the Dalek gazing at Adelaide then sailing into space. As the Doctor recounts why history must happen, he describes this as a “consolation” to Adelaide. She doesn’t accept history’s path. “Everything I do just makes it happen” – the Doctor reflects on his recent adventures such as Pompeii. There are so many extraordinary scenes and turnarounds in the plot – stunning scenes as the Doctor walks glumly away, the shuttle explodes…The Waters of Mars review

The plot backflips as the Doctor returns to the base raging “It’s taken me all these years to realise: the laws of time are mine – and they will obey me” (surely an intended echo by the writers of a certain other Time Lord saying “…and you will obey me!”) More extraordinary scenes: Adelaide actively fights against the Doctor’s new plan setting off a nuclear countdown, the robot facilitates a spectacular escape from a mushroom cloud on Mars.

So to the final scenes, as he tells Adelaide “I’ve done this sort of thing before, in small ways, saved some little people, but never someone as important as you, oh, I’m good”. Tennant’s delivery of those last few words not cheekily boastful this time, rather with a cold aloofness. Adelaide questions whether this “Time Lord Victorious” is right. “That’s for me to decide.” (Plot threads about the character of the Doctor started in The Runaway Bride picked up again. He needs a companion to stop him sometimes.) Tennant’s chilling exchange with Adelaide ends with his cheery demeanour raised up again over the cold steel, and the sonic screwdriver of all things is used to underscore his arrogance. “Is there nothing you can’t do?” “Not anymore.” picpic

As Adelaide tries to right the path of history behind closed doors, the Doctor sees the gunflash and realises what he has done. Then, the most extraordinary scene. “I’ve gone too far”. Like Banquo’s Ghost at the feast, an Ood appears in the distance to haunt the Doctor – and Tennant gets to exercise his Shakespeare acting skills. “Is this it? My death? Is it TIME?” The Ood vanishes (reminiscent of the Watcher in Logopolis). As the Cloister Bell sounds (again, like Logopolis), the Doctor starts up the TARDIS and mouths one word – “No”.

An astonishing story.


(The Waters of Mars iplayer)


2 Responses to “Doctor Who 4.16: The Waters of Mars review”

  1. Observer Says:

    Mmm Tenant and Duncan were genuinely great but even 10 can’t really look serious on a turbo-Segway, let alone the back of WALL-E. I was less impressed by the body of the episode (the final 10 minutes were interesting). The listing of the base crew was overlong and repetitive. Every time ‘The Flood’ were mentioned I thought of the game ‘Halo’ – it was like another series/genre trying to use the word ‘Cyberman’ to mean something other than the Dr Who enemy. There was a scene that was such a straight lift from ’28 Days Later’ it felt like plagiarism. My biggest concern, though is that, between them, RTD/SM might think that they have a ‘formula for scariness’ which is to take some mundane/natural habit and ‘load it with fright’. It worked brilliantly in ‘Blink’, was a little tired when counting shadows in ‘Silence in the Library’ and, truly, felt rather stale, particularly in the compressed single episode by the time we were told not to touch a single drop of water in ‘Waters of Mars’. Christmas afternoon could be spent with a twist on the ‘Who’s Line is it Anyway’ game ‘Party Quirks’ where the Doctor would guess the alien threat from guests’ behaviour (we could imagine ‘Don’t move’, ‘Don’t Speak’ and the devastatingly recursive ,,, ‘Don’t watch BBC Sci Fi’ …

  2. John Nor Says:

    “WALL-E” was something in the story for the youngest part of the audience I think, to balance the bleakness.

    I don’t think the scares were that formulaic, and the drama between the commander and Doctor was the main part anyway. Interesting comments about the Xmas game!

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