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Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars

Doctor: 'Is this it? My death? Is it time?'

This was a real landmark episode. In terms of quality, it was head and shoulders above 'Planet of the Dead,' it was beautifully plotted, featured terrifying monsters, and was thick with complex adult themes. Tonight, the Doctor attempted to change the rules of the game. Instead of being hampered by the restrictions of being a Time Lord, he tried to change an event fixed in time, and it all went Pete Tong. People died, and despite his best intentions, the tenth Doctor moved one step closer to his own destruction.

Tonight's episode was a brooding, sometimes harrowing parable on the dangers of power. Events are spiralling out of control. The tenth Doctor has just two episodes left to live, and the haunting, all pervasive, spectre of his inevitable extinction is beginning to take its toll. He seems terrified by his own mortality. I did wonder at one point whether his metamorphosis into 'Time Lord Victorious' was all part of some grand scheme to defy his own fate. If he can successfully change a fixed moment in time without significant repercussions, then what's to stop him trying to change his own destiny? If the Time Lords are the custodians of time, and all that responsibility now rests solely upon his shoulders, then who is there to check his hand? The implications are potentially far reaching. If successful, would he be able to bring Rose back from her parallel Universe, or even save his own people from annihilation?

Yet, despite the Doctor's irresponsible defiance of time, nothing changed. Or rather nothing appeared to change. Bowie Base One still blew up—but the details changed significantly. Captain Adelaide Brooke was destined to die and she did die, but instead of dying on Mars, she instead died on Earth. The outcome was the same. The difference was, this time her death was the Doctor's fault.

But what a terrible moral dilemma to face. Would Donna, Rose or Martha (had they been there), have allowed him to just walk away? I very much doubt it. So morally he did the right thing (eventually), but realistically there was just no way he could stop the base from going nuclear. It was an event too encased in historical significance, so in the end, all he could do was appeal to his authority as Time Lord, before wrongly concluding that altering time was now firmly within his remit.

Unfortunately, it was this arrogance which precipitated disaster. The Doctor grossly overestimated his own ability to manipulate time, and ended up making an already impossible situation that much worse. One thing this episode really brought home was the Doctor's utter helplessness. He could literally do nothing to stop Bowie Base One from exploding, which forced him into breaking the very laws he'd been born to protect. The question now remains: what exactly has the Doctor done? Did Brooke die and the time line snap back into place, or have his actions caused untold damage elsewhere? Has the Doctor unwittingly contributed to reintroducing the Master back into time? Where is he now headed? What exactly was he saying 'no' to in the episode's dying seconds?

I found most of the secondary characters a touch uninspiring. Not surprising really, as they were nothing more than cannon-fodder for the cracked mouthed nasties, but Captain Adelaide Brooke was as well rounded and real as they come. I thought they wove a marvellous back story around her. The Daleks killing her parents should have tainted her views on both aliens and space exploration, but seeing that Dalek through the window—rather than fuelling a desire for revenge—inspired her. She saw beauty and hope in the universe. In the end it was Brooke who had the courage to rectify the Doctor's mistake. Afraid that history might be changed forever, she took her own life, and in the process preserved the integrity of the time stream—thus ensuring her granddaughter's place in history. She didn't see the Doctor as her saviour. She saw him as a self-appointed god, exercising powers of life and death, seemingly on a whim.

And we must surely heap praise upon Tennant's performance tonight—he was immense. He got across the Doctor's angst magnificently. For much of this episode he was impotent—a mere bystander in a nightmare over which he had absolutely no control. But his inner conflict was plain to see. Particularly poignant was his slow walk back to the TARDIS, the screams of the dying crew ringing in his ears. And his sorrow at Adelaide's suicide was tangible, as was the dawning realisation that he'd overstepped the mark, and that there would be a terrible price to pay. I teared up a little when Sigma Ood appeared. The Doctor looked so frightened, fearful that his time had come, that his mistake had somehow brought about his own end. It was chilling to see him stood alone in the TARDIS, the cloister bell ringing in the background—a sure harbinger of impending disaster.

Yet for a fleeting moment he shone. In full-on Time Lord mode he took control control of the situation, and his brilliance and daring-do saved them all. He embraced his destiny. He took on the responsibility of being the last existing Lord of Time, and for one glorious moment it even seemed possible that he could stave off his own demise. He was a veritable force of nature. But in the final analysis, all he did was bring about Adelaide's death and start the countdown to his own regeneration. In Doctor Who Confidential (which followed immediately after this episode), Tennant made the comment that 'The Waters of Mars' was a story which could only be told once. The reason why is obvious. There can only be one ending—and we're just two episodes away from seeing it.

Other Thoughts:

—This episode was dedicated to the memory of long time Classic Who producer, Barry Letts (1925-2009).

—The Ice Warriors appeared several times during the Troughton/Pertwee era.

—Would things burn on the surface of Mars?

—Gadget reminded me of Johnny 5 from the movie Short Circuit. Except Gadget was as charmless as his operator, Roman Groom.

—The TARDIS' cloister bell can be heard ringing in the dying moments of this episode. The cloister bell rings when the TARDIS and its inhabitants are in grave danger—usually as the result of a time paradox or the clashing of alternate realities. It can be heard in 'Time Crash', 'The Sound of Drums', 'Turn Left', 'Logopolis', 'Castrovalva' and 'Resurrection of the Daleks'.

—This story was originally entitled 'Red Christmas' and was supposed to be a Christmas Special, hence the snow and residual festive references.

—They totally gypped us in the trailer for this episode. There were four knocks in the trailer. In the episode itself there were only three.

—Was the Doctor wearing the same red space suit he wore in 'The Satan Pit'?


Doctor: "The laws of time are mine, and they will obey me."

Adelaide: “Is there anything you can't do?”
Doctor: “Not any more.”

Doctor: “For a long time now I used to think I was just a survivor. But I'm not. I'm a winner. That's who I am. The Time Lord victorious.”
Adelaide: “And there's no one to stop you?”
Doctor: “No.”

Doctor: “I've gone too far.”
Also posted at The Time Meddler.


  1. Great review, Paul

    knew this was going to be better than Planet Of The Dead (which I liked) but even I was bowled over with how good this turned out to be.

    Fixed points in time. There's a reason why they shouldn't be messed with and the Doctor's confounded arrogance nailed that point home beautifully.

    Adelaide went from not wanting to die to realising that her death would have a future positive impact on her family. Someone had to take the Doctor down a peg or two. I'm glad it was her.

    I hated seeing the Doctor taking the route where he felt it was his place to decide who lived and who died. He's had warnings in the past that that kind of control can only end badly. Ood Sigma appearing at the end only emphasised it all the more.

    I knew as soon as Adelaide talked about her encounter with a Dalek that we'd actually see one. That wasn't a bad thing as such. I just wonder if that's the last time an RTD script will do one. After all, we've got two more to go.

    The other crew members in this episode were likeable and Roman's movements when the Doctor upgraded Gadget was the only laugh out loud moment of the episode.

    The Flood certainly worked fast and took out nearly the crew with efficiency. At least Mia and Yuri made it out alive. Too bad that Adelaide had to kill herself in order to right the Doctor's wrong.

    Christmas cannot come fast enough, 10/10.

    Review ...http://shawnlunn2002.blogspot.com/2009/11/my-review-of-doctor-whos-4x16-waters-of.html

  2. Hey Paul, great review

    Much as I think it’s time Russell T. Davis left for good after the shambles of last series finale when he really tries and ignores that silly voice in his head that keeps saying ‘farting Slitheen’ he can still pull out a really great story.

    I was pleasantly surprised to see him subvert his own cliché by actually killing someone at the end after earlier promising they would die. Although I think it would be more traumatizing than inspirational for Adelaide’s family to wake up one morning and find her dead by her own hand in the living room. Forget heading into the cosmos, her granddaughter will be heading straight for the therapist’s couch.

    Seeing the Doctor go from a powerless observer to driven man of action to the terrifying ‘Time Lord Victorious’ and finally a quivering wreck was fantastic to watch as we never get to see the Doctor go through this sort of emotional journey. David Tennant’s performance was amazing throughout. Shame we’re going to have to say goodbye to him at Christmas. Would’ve loved to have seen what the Tenth Doctor might’ve been like under The Grand Moff.

    And it was nice to see the Ice Warriors get a few mentions after all these years. Love to see them make a comeback sometime in the future. Wishful thinking I know but what the hell.

  3. Wow, you guys liked this? Seriously? Okay, maybe I was in a bad mood when watching Waters of Mars or something, but it didn't work for me at all. All the emotional stuff was incredibly heavy handed. Now I know that "subtle" isn't something Russel T. Davies does particularly well, he always seems more at home in bombastic episodes, with the whole world (or worlds) in peril, monumental special effects, heroic sacrifices, etc. But it didn't use to be this bad, I'm pretty sure that there were some character moments in both Doctor Who and Torchwood which didn't feel either trivial or completely fake. But the Doctor's progression from "OH NO, I MUST LET THEM DIE!" (like that never happened in his 900+ years) to "I'M THE RULER OF TIME ITSELF! (MUHAHAHAHA!!)" to "OH NO, WHAT HAVE I DONE!?" all in the space of five minutes... I can't remember when I've seen something less convincing. Not that I blame David Tennant, I'm sure he did what he could.

    Plus even the more action-centric scenes, which are usually Davies' strong suit, were rather weak. They got all this super dramatic music and what scenes does it accompany? Running down hallways! Did they run out of budget just when they were about to film all the exciting scenes?

    And what was even the point of captain Brooke's suicide? The time was already broken - she survived the Bowie Base destruction. And I have trouble believing that having a grandmother who blew her brains out in her own house would be the same kind of inspiration for the granddaughter as having a grandmother who died heroically and mysteriously why advancing the frontier of the human race's acomplishments. I know you can't enjoy Doctor Who without suspending disbelief, but this doesn't make any sense whatsoever.

    I'll probably be in a minority but for me this was one of the few Doctor Who episodes where I kept looking at the watch to see when will it be over. Which is a shame, because I can see what Davies was going for and the idea is rather neat but, from my point of view, he missed the mark by miles.

  4. Hi Michal,

    I have to say, I sympathize with what you say about the "running down the hallway" scenes. Why do they do it? It's gotten so bad that they even take the piss out of the phenomenon in the scripts themselves. These really don't serve any purpose at all. Like having snow in the Christmas episodes... running around for no reason seems absolutely mandatory these days.

  5. I've seen this twice now and the end is both the strongest part and the weakest. The Doctor's journey has been drawing to a close and this was a great advancement in that direction. Yet I was troubled by the suicide.

    As others have stated when her family found her body the next morning it couldn't have been a great motivator for her grand-daughter. Yet from the news blurbs it wasn't the suicide that re-adjusted the time line it was the two other survivors coming clean about her sacrifice that did.

    I'm not sure how well that would work for me personally, but having answers can be a major influence on dealing with grief. The grand-daughter would suddenly have a tragic and heroic figure in her grand-mother instead of her mysterious corpse on the floor of their living room.

  6. Ok so I forgot a couple of things with my last post. I believe that my above idea was essentially the idea that the producers were trying to convey. But I think they didn't expound upon it very well.

    Also I wanted to say that this was a very good review Paul, you brought up a lot of points that made me think about the episode critically. Thanks for your effort!

  7. Terrific review, Paul. And a terrific episode. And I'm so glad I didn't have to wait many months for it.

  8. I'm so glad I didn't have to wait many months for it. I meant the episode, not the review. :)

  9. Great review Paul. Intense episode - great acting and very strong writing. I can't help but think that if Rose were with him, the Doctor would have solved the problem a different way. I think it shows that the Doctor *needs* a companion to balance him. he's not perfect (although the wide eyed young girls think he might be...)

    Very strong story and I can't wait for the two parter next....

  10. Unlike the previous episode, this one is almost universally praised. I didn't find it as good as that general consensus although I didn't hate it either. Adelaide was far and away my favorite character here, and I do love how she defied the Doctor when he decided to play god in this one.

    And again, while I'll never cast shade on Tennant's acting skills, I found the Doctor in this one more annoying than anything else. Tennant can be excellent as the Doctor, but I really found this version of the Doctor to grow more and more irritating, especially in these final specials, to the point where I couldn't wait for him to regenerate already.

    The tension was good at many points in this one, but I find it odd that this 'water' was on Mars while so are the Ice Warriors, and never heard of any cross-references.


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