The TARDIS materializes on Mars in 2059 near Bowie Base One, the first human settlement on the red planet. The Doctor’s stroll across Mars is interrupted by an armed robot, which brings him back to the base at gunpoint. It’s only when the Doctor meets Captain Adelaide Brooke and her crew that he remembers how history records the fate of Bowie Base One: the base is doomed to be destroyed when Brooke activates the self-destruct mechanism. Why she did it, or will do it, is still a mystery – one in which the Doctor is reluctant to get involved. But when other members of the Bowie Base One crew stop communicating with their crewmates, it seems that the Time Lord has no choice but to play a pivotal role in the events that will transpire. The Doctor soon discovers the truth: a living form of liquid is taking over the crew one-by-one and intends to force an evacuation so it can stow away aboard the escape vehicle and begin to take over Earth. But even knowing that, the Doctor hesitates to interfere – the death of Brooke and her crew is a pivotal event that sets the stage for humanity’s eventual expansion into interstellar space, and not allowing them to die could undermine all of Earth’s future history. But does the entire crew have to die? It’s not as if anyone’s around to enforce the laws of time if the Doctor decides to save them.
written by Russell T. Davies & Phil Ford
directed by Graeme Harper
music by Murray Gold
Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), Lindsay Duncan (Adelaide Brooke), Peter O’Brien (Ed Gold), Aleksandar Mikic (Yuri Kerenski), Gemma Chan (Mia Bennett), Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Maggie Cain), Chook Sibtain (Tarak Ital), Alan Ruscoe (Andy Stone), Cosima Shaw (Steffi Sherlich), Michael Goldsmith (Roman Groom), Lily Bevan (Emily), Max Bollinger (Mikhail), Charlie De’ath (Adelaide’s Father), Rachel Fewell (young Adelaide), Anouska Strahnz (Urika Ehrlich), Zofia Strahnz (Lisette Ehrlich), Paul Kasey (Ood Sigma)
Notes: The Doctor mentions a mighty empire on Mars that may have contained and frozen the Flood; it’s likely that he’s referring to the Ice Warriors (not seen on TV since 1974’s The Monster Of Peladon starring Jon Pertwee), though other Martian societies have been portrayed in Doctor Who, including the godlike Osirans and the Ambassadors of Death. A sign that The Waters Of Mars is a true product of the DVD/download age, the many “computer screens” depicting the crews’ biographies can be read in full when paused. Waters is dedicated to Barry Letts, producer of Doctor Who from Jon Pertwee’s second adventure through the first Tom Baker story, who died shortly before this special premiered.
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: A mixture of familiar, tried-and-true elements of both Doctor Who and sci-fi horror in general, The Waters Of Mars doesn’t showthe hand that it has truly set out to play until the very end. It all seems fairly standard-issue: the trapped-in-an-isolated-base-with-the-bad-guys setup dates back to every second or third story of the Troughton era (or further still to Hartnell’s final story, The Tenth Planet). Even the disturbing image of a human body spewing forth aseemingly endless spray of water dates back to the second Doctor serial Fury From The Deep (which almost begs for a retcon explanation that the seaweed creature and its human minions in that story were a previous attempt by the Flood to gain a foothold on Earth).
And yes, even the notion that the Doctor sometimes takes his Time Lord powers too far is a familiar trope to anyone who read the early New Adventures novels, in which the seventh Doctor expertly played his companions and allies as pawns in a game of chess. In this case, however, the tenth Doctor isn’t playing out the endgame in a confrontation that’s been going for a while; his ethical dilemma is spur-of-the-moment and it plays into a theme that Russell T. Davies has been hinting at since Christopher Eccleston was the Doctor. All the way back in Dalek, the ninth Doctor was ready to render that Daleks extinct single-handedly (and let’s not forget that both the seventh and presumably the eighth Doctors had each come to a point where they thought they were wiping out the Daleks as well). The only thing stopping him was Rose. Similarly, the only thing stopping the tenth Doctor from wiping out the Racnoss with extreme malice was Donna, and the “human tenth Doctor” of Journey’s End proved himself capable of near-genocide as well (though I’d be stunned if that’s the last we’ve seen of the Daleks). Here, nothing stops the Doctor, though time does right itself at the end of the story, with tragic consequences.
Davies seems to be presenting us with an interestingly humanistic notion: what makes or made the Doctor superior to the rest of the Time Lords was only partly his own nature. What really makes him special is the fact that he travels with humans… or at least he did in the past. He’s been stubbornly refusing to accept any new companions in the 2009 specials, and the culmination of that is The Waters Of Mars, in which he truly seems to lose his way. When he clearly states that the laws of time “will obey me,” it’s telegraphed to the audience: Gallifrey has produced a host of megalomaniacal loonies, from the Master to the Rani to Borusa and, if you factor Big Finish into the proceedings, Rassilon himself. And the Doctor is no different: absolute power corrupts absolutely. The pressure valve that kept him from going off this deep end before was his human companions. Where the fourth and fifth Doctors were tempted with leadership of the Time Lords, the tenth Doctor has decided: to hell with it. They’re not here, and he is, and despite that too many people still end up suffering. Why shouldn’t he be in charge?
The absolute conviction of Lindsay Duncan does wonders to sell the whole story. This isn’t to slight the rest of the cast, but they’re busy being turned into somewhat damp zombies, or their scenes are dominated by interactions with Gadget; Duncan carries much of the story’s gravitas, and she even blows Tennant off the screen in a conversation that’s conducted entirely via viewscreen; publicity for Waters described Adelaide Brooke as the Doctor’s “most strong-willed companion yet”, but in the end, she’s such a forceful personality that the Doctor is practically her companion. There’s no way this relationship could’ve carried on beyond this episode.
It’s clear by the time that an Ood shows up as the tenth Doctor’s harbinger of doom (the fourth Doctor had a much easier time of it with a mummified figure of mystery announcing his imminent end) that Waters is simply the first part of a trilogy, setting into motion the events of The End Of Time. Waters on its own is an exceedingly traditional Doctor Who adventure – and there’s plenty that’s enjoyable about that too.