Monday, November 16, 2009

Review: "The Waters of Mars"

Given all I had heard about the latest "Doctor Who" special, "The Waters of Mars," I thought I would be prepared for just how dark this claustrophobic adventure tale would be. But, ah, nope, it still packed a hell of a punch, and I love it even more for that.

From the moment the Doctor first steps out of the Tardis onto the Martian landscape, keen on finding a bit of fun, the story grabbed me and never let go. Without giving too much away, the plot revolves around a water-based invader that begins to attack the human researchers of Bowie Base One, the first human colony on Mars and the culmination of humankind's first tentative steps toward long-range space travel.

The Doctor arrives on what seems like a perfectly ordinary day, interested in exploring the red planet and doing his usual "aren't humans amazing" bit upon meeting the researchers. Suffice is to say, things go down hill quickly when mere drops of water prove deadly, and the Doctor is forced to make a decision that will be felt well beyond Bowie Base One.

Despite the explosions and running and the usual pulse-pounding action, to me this seemed like one of the most intimate "Doctor Who" episodes in quite a while. In fact, it reminded me of "Boom Town," a quiet sleeper episode from season one in which, again, the Doctor is asked to face a very difficult decision. The most effective scenes in "Waters of Mars" are those between Tennant and Lindsey Duncan as Adelaide, the base's leader. The push-pull of their moments together is fascinating and wrenching, worthy of some of the best in recent "Who" history.

Tennant is wonderful as his Doctor fights against the prediction of his impending demise made at the end of "Planet of the Dead." You can feel his panic and anger, and the direction this takes is surprising but at the same time feels inevitable. What transpires makes me wish we had more episodes in which to explore the Doctor in this state of mind.

Sadly, though, "The Waters of Mars" reminds us without question that this doctor's journey is coming to a close. And it has set the stage quite well, ramping us up for what promises to be an amazing closing act. I've already prepared my hankies. I have a feeling I'll be needing a lot of them.

For American audiences, "The Waters of Mars" airs on BBC America on Dec. 19.

For UK folks and others who may have used some sort of magic to view it, what did you guys think of the episode? Try to be as spoiler-free as possible in your comments. My husband is waiting to watch it in HD and will cry sad yet manly tears if he gets spoiled.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

I loved it too. For me though it was the first time that the Doctor scared me. He seemed out of control and drunk on power while he was making his decision. It was like the 'knowing' of his soon to be oblivion made him mad for a spell, like he was teetering on the edge of insanity. That short glimpse of 'Crazy Who' was so well acted, I cannot wait to see what Christmas brings.
That's what made him scary. It's the first time it really hit home that he will be leaving soon and the effect of that knowledge on his charachter.

Michele said...

Ten's been heading this way since 'The Christmas Invasion' - the only wonder is that Power!Mad!Ten didn't emerge sooner. He told Jack, back in 'Utopia', that taking the power of the Time Vortex into himself would make a Time Lord into a vengeful god, and Ten's teetered back and forth on the cusp of that regularly. Basically, saving Rose's life made him insane - he's just been hiding it for the most part...

Christina M. said...

Can't. Wait.

Sonya said...

I found the episode so scary for how Tennant's Doctor was darkening. It was like a shadow over the whole episode and I agree with you, I wish they had a few more episodes to flesh out what's going on in The Doctor's noodle.

DameRuth said...

I loved it -- there were plot holes, but RTD managed to pull his trick of fuelling an episode with airtight emotional logic even if the rational details occasionally fell by the wayside. Tennant and Duncan were superb (well, hell, all the acting was spot on), and you're right about some of the similarities to "Boom Town," another fave NuWho ep of mine. Those tight, one-on-one character moments a e great.

I also wish we'd have a little longer to see the Doctor in this mode (if nothing else because Tennant is so good at playing it!), but it's shaping up to be a hell of a finale.

Wonderinglost said...

I thought the ending was a bit too rushed, but otherwise loved it. Also I may have been distracted from the plot by the amazingness of the hair at one point.

cl said...

I really enjoyed it. I was so underwhelmed by the boring bus special I was a little worried.

I really like it when the companion is a more mature woman. I loved Barbara (First Doctor) and enjoy companions who aren't overawed by the Doctor. I know the next companion is very young, but so is Matt Smith so that's understandable.

Did not watch the trailer for the next special. I know a couple of things, vaguely, but I try to remain unspoiled.

Sareberry said...

I would never say I didn't like an episode, but this one was far from my favorite. There were moments that seemed to me like nothing quite so much as a rehash of Runaway Bride. I think I actually turned to my sister at one point and said, " I wish Donna would show up and give him a smack upside the head about now."

Nancy said...

I loved it. And I really appreciate the journey that this Doctor is taking. He's gone from the joyous self-discovery of "The Christmas Invasion" to giddiness, loss, a rebound relationship, regret, true friendship, and again loss. Now that he's into his final days, I think hubris was somewhat inevitable, if only because a certain Mr. Davies knows that a certain Mr. Tennant is really good at portraying it.

Although I already know I'll need an entire box of tissues come the holidays, I can't wait to see how his song ends.

Addie said...

Oh good grief, this episode was difficult to watch. The emotional darkness (especially in the last few minutes) gave me chills, and the Doctor's loss of all moral direction and reason for being made me terribly sad. It really shows how much he needs a companion to ground him and to keep him going. Darn Tennant and his ability to make me laugh one minute and sob the next. I think I might need to book a therapist now for my post-finale trauma.

Rachel said...

I didn't think that Doctor Who could be more tragic or heart wrenching than the end of Season 2...then the end of Season 4...seeing the 10th Doctor's face at the end of The Waters of Mars...well, I have a feeling The End of Time is going to make me weep like a little girl! (as opposed to a grown one!) And I can't wait!

sayssara said...

I found this episode disappointing. I do think that the episodes following the final series have lacked soul - or it might be because Donna was such an outstanding foil for the doctor, her departure has left a big hole.

I think the doctor was somewhat out of character. I can't help feeling the Xmas episodes are going to be a big disappointment. Are they really going to be able to live up to the hype?

Michele said...

I'd have to disagree with you sayssara. The Seventh Doctor's easily as manipulative as Ten was being in this, the difference was, he had the Time Lords around to stop him if he went too far.

And even Ten's teetered back and forth on the cusp of that vengeful god thing regularly (The Christmas Invasion - see Ten's reaction to Harriet Jones giving the order to blow up the Sycorax ship; School Reunion - see Ten's reaction to Mr Finch's offer; Human Nature/The Family of Blood - see Ten's punishments of the Family, etc.). Basically, saving Rose's life made the Doctor insane - he's just been hiding it reasonably well for the most part...

Lou said...

It's as if Russel T Davies knows just how to tear my heart out and beat it with a meat tenderizer! Oh how I will miss DT!

agent57 said...

Michele, I hadn't thought of the "crazy all this time" explanation... but I kind of like it!

My only beef about this episode was the one scene that was so completely stolen from 28 Days Later. "One drop" Effective, yes, but it in combination with the bus special having such a Pitch Black feel kind of disappoints me. I really enjoyed the darkness, though.

And the trailer! Granted, I pretty much guessed based on teasers and stuff, but I would lie if I said I weren't really excited. (I won't spoil though, for those who didn't watch)

Michele said...

agent57 - I think it explains an awful lot about Ten, to be honest...

agent57 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
agent57 said...

The only evidence I can find to refute that theory is that the show hasn't been hitting us over the head with it the entire time... is RTD still capable of that level of subtlety? But yes, it explains a lot, and may become my personal explanation, even if it doesn't end up as canon.

Michele said...

No, Rusty's not capable of subtlety - but he IS perfectly capabale of coming up with a 'theme', then forgetting about it until it suddenly suits him to use it - or of shoehorning things in to make a point.

Cf the whole of S3 and the 'unrequited love' thing between Ten and Martha. The majority of S3 writers forgot that Martha was supposed to be suffering from unrequited love, and wrote them as good friends, then Rusty would come along with his Shoehorn and shove something random into the story to remind us.