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.