- Series Title: Doctor Who
- Story Title: The Waters of Mars
- Story #: Season 4.5 Story #3
- Episodes: Movie Length
- Discs: 1 (Part of “The Specials Collection” – 5 discs total)
- Network: BBC
- Original Air Dates: 11/15/2009
- Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), Lindsay Duncan (Adelaide)
- Format: Widescreen, Color, DVD, NTSC
- Originally Published on my Live Journal 4/02/2010, now hosted on Dreamwidth
The previous Doctor Who special, Planet of the Dead was a typical fun, adventure type Doctor Who episode, with the exception of the hints about the Doctor’s fate. The Waters of Mars is more of a more typical horror Doctor Who episode, with a slightly claustrophobic feel and eventual hints of the Doctor’s coming fate. One interesting thing about the episode is that it is very similar, at least at the start, to “The Fires of Pompeii”. Like Pompeii, the Doctor has arrived at a fixed point in time, which means he can’t do anything about what’s going to happen. To make things interesting – this time he’s fifty years in the future. But, from the Doctor’s pov, it’s the same as Pompeii – he can’t save anyone, and he can’t alter what’s going to happen.
Despite his instincts telling him to just leave, of course, the Doctor stays on Mars, and we discover what the mysterious disaster was – an invasion of water creatures called The Flood. Any water infected by The Flood can infect a person – causing them to become deadly drones of The Flood. Before long, the Doctor and the crew of the base are trying to stop The Flood and escape. However, because this is a fixed point in time – the Doctor, and the audience, know that no one can escape. Or, rather, they shouldn’t. The Doctor should not be interfering – at all, he could cause more damage than he could fix.
Eventually, as he sees Bowie Base 1 exploding the Doctor makes a fateful decision and goes back to help. Normally, in Doctor Who, this is what we want the Doctor to do, to help people in desperate situations. However, in this case, there’s a sense that to actually interfere and even attempt to save the good people of Bowie Base 1 would have serious consequences for history, and possibly even prevent the launch of the first lightship mission into the galaxy, to be captained by Adelaide’s grand-daughter. Yet, the Doctor defies the Laws of Time anyway, saving Yuri, Mia, and Adelaide. He returns the three to Earth (all had originally died on Mars) and becomes extremely arrogant and condescending towards them. Adelaide challenges the new “Time Lord Victorious” who has decided to shape the Laws of Time to his own purposes.
“There were laws, there were Laws of Time, and once upon a time, there were people in charge of those laws but they died, they all died. Do you know who that leaves? Me! It’s taken me all these years to realize the Laws of Time are mine. And they will obey me!” – The Doctor (David Tennant), The Waters of Mars, BBC
The Doctor has never been so close to becoming The Master in all his lives. He even uses The Master’s catch-phrase from the Pertwee years (“You will obey me!” – Roger Delgado’s Master). Adelaide, terrified by this new Doctor, and realising that only her death would “fix” time, kills herself. The Doctor, seeing this off-screen death, freaks, and realises he’s gone too far – then he sees an Ood in the distance, not good. Just to top things off, he goes into the TARDIS, and the Cloister Bell is ringing – never a good sign. The Cloister Bell last heard in “The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End”, and before that in “Logopolis”, always spells absolute disaster – usually something the Doctor cannot control or stop completely. In “Logopolis”, it also heralded the Doctor’s Regeneration.
There are a few things I didn’t really care for in “The Waters of Mars”, – first, they are on Mars, now granted, it’s a base (like a space station), but still – it’s Mars, Why no space suits? The first thing the crew should have done when confronted with water – was to have everyone get into their space suits. This would have saved three of them at least – until the base exploded. Second, OK, the Doctor manages to save three people and returns them to Earth?! On the same day? How are they going to explain surviving and that they aren’t on Mars? You’d think all that would do would start conspiracy theory groups that believed the entire Mars mission was faked (kinda’ like the lunatics who think the US never landed on the Moon. Idiots!) And Adelaide, poor, sweet, strong Adelaide, kills herself because she thinks this will set history right? Only if the Doctor moves her body to Mars! I really didn’t think the end of the story made any sense whatsoever.
That the Doctor has gone beyond the pale and started to abuse his power as a Time Lord is something RTD has played with before. He seems to think there isn’t much of a difference between the Doctor and the Master, for example. And, it some sense, we do know from the entire run of Doctor Who that Time Lords have so much power they do tend to corrupt. (What’s that saying – power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely? Time Lords tend to be perfect examples of this philosophy). However, the Doctor has always been a voice in the wilderness arguing against the abuses of power in his own Time Lord society:
“In all my travelings throughout the universe, I have battled against evil, against power-mad conspirators. I should have stayed here. The oldest civilisation… Decadent, degenerate, and rotten to the core… Power-mad conspirators, Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen – they’re still in the nursery compared to us. Ten million years of absolute power – that’s what it takes to be really corrupt!” – The Doctor (Colin Baker), “Trial of a Time Lord”
And the Doctor’s been just as harsh when arguing against human, Dalek, Cybermen, or other evil empires of corruption and power. I realise RTD wanted to make the Doctor more human and vulnerable, but The Waters of Mars doesn’t quite work to establish that much of a change so quickly. Overall, three out of five stars.
The Waters of Mars DVD also includes the full-length “The Waters of Mars” episode of Doctor Who Confidential. It’s very nice to see the full-length version of Confidential.