Archive for November 16, 2009

Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars Review

After the soul-crushing disappointment of ‘Planet of the Dead’, Russell T Davis has his work cut out for him. Can he deliver just a few more hours of on-form Doctor Who before David Tennant steps out of the Time Lord’s shoes?

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Well, actually, yes. There’s a hell of a lot to like in this latest one-off episode and, for once, it’s an episode built on ideas instead of stupid one-note weird images (see also: London bus in a desert.)

After being warned last time by a psychic that his death was approaching and will be heralded with ‘four knocks’, the Doctor heads off to Mars for a think. Unfortunately, he arrives at the first Mars human colony on November 21st 2059 – the exact date the base was destroyed with no survivors. This sees the Doctor facing his most agonising decision yet: will he interfere with history even knowing that the colonist’s deaths are the reason the human race made its push out into the wider universe?

From the off, there’s very little slack in what could have been an incredibly dreary and tedious episode. Within five minutes the Monsters of the Week (this time it’s water that infects people, causing their eyes and mouths to go all weird and water to start leaking from their mouths) have been introduced and the body count begins to rise. The quick pace is kept up throughout, with Tennant’s Doctor coming across, for once, as genuinely defeated for the first 45 minutes, while the CGI is both impressive and kept to a minimum. Even the episode’s superbly dark ending is well handled and believable – possibly a first since the third series ended.

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It’s not perfect and there are a few problems. Firstly, there is – as always – far too much running up and down blank corridors and the music is unnecessarily overly dramatic in the early parts of the episode. While the enemies are suitably creepy, the idea that they can squirt water from their wrists and mouths does more to lessen them than anything else and the shuddering as the virus takes over its victims is just plain silly. The Doctor’s final decision seems to come in far too late to be of any good and when it does he instantly reverts back to that oh-so-annoying insane gurning buffoon, which, after the preceding ten minutes, is a very strange change of pace indeed. Moreover, the episode rips off wholesale Aliens, Event Horizon and 28 Days Later without really adding much of its own and the less said about the ‘comedy’ sidekick robot the better. One for the kids there, perhaps.

That said, the Doctor’s turn to the dark side is both wonderful and believable – if only they didn’t spend the last minute of screen time undoing that, this would be truly excellent. As it stands, it’s a welcome return to form and a huge sigh of relief as we head into Tennant’s final farewell. Just don’t bring Catherine Tate back to – oh. Jesus, no.

3 stars