Doctor Who: November 2009 Special: The Waters of Mars Review


David Tennant

In brief: Woah!


I think I just witnessed a Timelord break down.

I’ll tackle the story beats first.

Perfect Ten arrives on Mars, wanderlust still in full flow and he is, once again, companionless.

It doesn’t take long before he encounters a small group of human colonists living on the planet in regulated facilities and bio-domes. Their reaction is, to put it mildly, suspicious. And the commander of the base, Captain Adelaide Brooke, will not be taken lightly.

“State your name, rank and intention.”

“The Doctor. Doctor. Fun.”

It isn’t long after his arrival that in one of the bio-domes, away from the goings on in the central command module, one of the colonists, Andy, revels over the freshly grown carrots on this planet. Which he then washes in water from a tap, takes a small bite from, and promptly falls to his knees, shaking uncontrollably. When he faces the camera in response to his colleague Maggie’s questions, he is undeniably now host to some other alien life form.

When the Doctor discovers the identities, the name of the base (Bowie Base One. Brilliant), and the date, he immediately starts insisting that he must leave, that he can’t stay and that he is”¦

“”¦ sorry. I’m so sorry. With all my hearts.”

And from this point on the story crashes headlong first into a ramping pace as the Doctor must battle both the “Flood” as he calls them, and his own deeply held instincts and beliefs.

This is where the story really twists and turns because, it’s often been said that the series, especially in nuWho, as much as it is about the Doctor, it’s also about the companions. They are our window into the Doctor’s life.

But without a full time companion, this story becomes about the Doctor and since we all know that David Tennant will soon be departing the TARDIS, it’s about the journey to get there. I think it’s fair to say that given the internet and today’s media orientated culture, this television show, and this incarnation of the character is achieving a great deal of attention than previous years.

The regeneration from Perfect Ten to brand new Eleven will be an event.

And this story leads us nicely into it.

It thunders along very nicely introducing us gently to all the major story elements within the first 10 minutes, and then it runs and slows down and thunders back along again but without ever breaking the tension.

For example, when Perfect Ten finally manages to force himself to take his leave of the Bowie Base One inhabitants he proceeds to an airlock, dressed in his Sanctuary Base 6 spacesuit, and presses the exit button. Except it refuses to unlock. He turns, reluctantly, to one of the screens in the airlock, and a camera behind it.

Watching him is Captain Adelaide Brooke who insist that he tells her what’s going to happen. Why must he leave? What does he know that he won’t tell them?

Perfect Ten struggles but relents as he delves out the truth. Everyone on that base is supposed to die. Today.

It’s a brilliantly acted scene between David Tennant and Lindsey Duncan. The desperation between both of them is palpable and for us as the audience we have already been made aware of this information but we still struggle to understand it. To comprehend it.

He’s the Doctor. He can do anything.

And it’s on this thought that the rest of the episode hinges around.

The last 20 minutes become startling as the surviving colonists find themselves cornered with no hope of escape. And then the Doctor enters the fray, he takes command and rages and rages that he can save them. That he will save them.

“We’re not just fighting the Flood. We’re fighting Time itself!”

Adelaide is left stunned and confused. She’s already aware of what must now happen so what is this man doing? He already said that these events had to take place, that people had to die”¦ why is he interfering if the laws say this must be so?

And I think the answer is that, Perfect Ten, has snapped.

So used to the loss of life, the damage that surrounds him wherever he goes, he has reached a point where he feels that enough is enough. If he has the power to change things he will change them. But this is unsettling”¦

Heck, I even found it disturbing.

This is a side to the Doctor we haven’t seen before. Circumstances have twisted around him and he has decided that because he is here, because he is the last one left”¦

I can’t bring myself to spoil it. It’s too much. It’s too good. It’s too delicious.

Suffice it to say, Perfect Ten manages to save the day. For a few.

But the way those few respond, the way Adelaide challenges him on what he has done and how he has done it, that tells us exactly why the Doctor needs a companion. Without one he has nothing to help him ground himself, and when he finds himself caught up in events such as these he may very well end being capable of justifying anything. Hence the aforementioned possibility of a Timelord breaddown. I’m not sure if that is what RTD or Phil Ford were trying to suggest, but it’s certainly one of the thoughts that raced through my mind on seeing Perfect Ten turn back to fight against a fixed moment in time and change the outcome. But it’s his justification that worries me…

And that is exactly why it might almost be time for this incarnation to die.

The production design on this episode was once again, awesome. The sets were futuristic yet believable and the concepts were grounded and well executed. The CGI was some of the most consistent I’ve seen in this series, and I loved the nod to the Ice Warriors of classic Doctor Who.

Heck more than a few nods. I loved the possibility that the Doctor floated out there that the Flood were on Mars before the Ice Warriors, and that it was the Warriors themselves who sealed them away.

The performances were, fantastic. I can’t think of a single weak link amongst any of the cast. Massive props must of course go to David Tennant and Lindsey Duncan though, if only because of the way the two interacted, you could see two actors upping their respective games.

And I have to say, on behalf of the character of Adelaide Brooke, how absolutely fantastic she was. RTD promised a character that would be the most strong-minded companion yet and he fulfilled that. She measures up to the Doctor time and again through the episode, the Doctor even stands a little bit in awe of her and what she represents to him, but by episodes end”¦ she knows that she is out of her depth with this man. He terrifies her in one respect. But she does something that makes him understand that, whatever else he may be, and whatever he may have discovered about himself and exactly how far he is prepared to go, he must never lose sight of the line.

He must never.

I’m giving this one 4 GADGETS racing across Mars landscapes out of 5. The story being woven here, of the Doctors eventual regeneration, and his refusal to accept it and the rules that have so far governed his existence, is building up nicely towards the final two specials at Christmas.

In fact, given the return of the Master for the final two specials, I would say that his arrival might be just in time to remind the Doctor how far a Timelord, completely uncontrolled by rules and a certain type of personal morality, can go.

I fear for you, Perfect Ten. And in this episode, I feared for what you could do.

Bring on The End of Time.

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