Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars Review

Posted: November 16, 2009 in Uncategorized
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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?


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.


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

  1. Alex says:

    Well I agree on some levels and not on others.

    I think that the degree of psychological insight and emotional voracity for which I enjoyed the Doctor Who eps of, oh lets say seasons 1-3 shall we?, was present here more than in any of the season 4 eps or POTD, I enjoyed the skittish Doctor not wanting to break the rules of time and the subtlety of reminding us that without a companion to ground him in a morality framework – Rose’s compassion, Martha’s resolution and Donna’s irritating presumption, the Doctor has so much experience and so much stuff going on inside him hes directionless and conflicted.

    His slow emotional torment has driven him steadily more morose over the last few seasons and his rebellion against the rules and laws of time, his one remaining link to his civilization, had the hallmarks of a cry for help more than a liberation or victory. It was nicely played. It was destructive and the shock on his face when his latest, and oldest companion blew her brains out, was well scripted and well done – showing DT’s ability to play vulnerability very well.

    The Time Lord Victorious was an excellent portrayal of the balanced DT Doctor, whose compassion is backed up with ruthlessness, sliding out of balance and into a dark road. Then stepping back from the abyss when the brains whitewash the walls.

    The only part I found irritating was the ood turning up. I have heard it was a symbolic manifestation of the connection to all life, but I think its a flag for the next episode.

    The shot of the Master in the next episode with his semi transparent nature – harkening back to the horrendously inappropriate way the death of the actor who played the master was handled by the bbc in the 1970s (they decided to bring the master back as a grotesque walking corpse shortly after the actor’s death, without informing the actor’s family) – is interesting.

    Although Donna is back in the next episode, giving us the loathsome prospect of some more “Oi! SPACEMAN!” “fun”.

    In all the decision to make the doctor have an arc that goes from tortured pretender (eccleston), to gobby maniacal intellectual superman, to morose maniacal intellectual superman (both DT) could work if it is tightly executed in the finale as of now it has a truthfulness to it which I was not really expecting after the POTD fiasco.

    Agreed 3 stars.

  2. ad4m22 says:

    Agreed, sir. The dark side of the Doctor is a welcome peek beneath the madness, where the only difference between he and the Master is that the Doctor felt sorrow for causing the death of an innocent woman.

    And the suicide twist was sweet. Felt it could have ended on more of a cliffhanger – what if a hand knocked four times on the Tardis door?

    Here’s hoping Donna dies horribly in the next episode. Go away, Tate. Nobody wanted you in this.

  3. Alex says:

    That would be epic if Donna was…run over by the Tardis with DT popping his head out the door after hes landed on Donna and smeared her 20 yards down the road and doing his “what? What? WHAT?!” – the police turn up, “excuse me sir where you intending to drag that corpse any further with your, ahem, vehicle.” Ahhh marvellous.

    But it wont happen because C. Tate is a beloved television personality, it says so in magazines, so who are you to disagree? Who am I?

    To be honest I wanted another trial of the doctor, with a vast CGI gallery of every race in the universe baying for his blood, judged by the Shadow Proclamation with the doctor submitting to execution/regeneration but some crap with the master will do.

    ….The only difference? The only difference between him and the master? It did seem like the desire authority was the dividing line to me in the 2 season finale, the master wanted authority but not the responsibility, (disliked bureaucracy whilst loving power) the doctor was an authority with responsibility but only to the extent to which he could define for himself and therefore could comfortably handle (whilst avoiding most of it) the conative goals of the characters were different – the Master wanted other people’s power, the Doctor wants to be free to influence and experience other people’s lives and environs through his power.

    When he went dark as I say I felt more of a cry for help from and disillusioned and heartbroken man than anything else but liked the repositioning of the character. Remember he is meant to go evil in his later incarnations this was always hinted at in the pre RTD Who canon.
    It would be nice to enjoy an episode of Doctor Who like in Seasons 1-3 again before DT goes. Of course hes not really going because they cloned him and put him in another dimension enabling him to come back whenever he feels like it.

    Also if the Doctor dies next episode when does he meet River Song? Not important I know but still.

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