This review may contain spoilers.
“It is completely child-safe,” said Russell T. Davies, who insisted that “The Waters Of Mars” would deal in psychological fear instead of grotesquely dark themes. Well, he wasn’t kidding : the episode is completely safe. And, not only that, it also lacks the levels of tension and peril that “Doctor Who” normally revels in.
After arriving on the red planet and encountering the intrepid crew of the Mars mission, we are subjected to a series of flash sequences outlining bios of the crew. Headlining these little nuggets is a date of death, the year 2059, which also happens to match the current date the Doctor (David Tennant) finds himself in.
Although they were intended as a way of establishing the stakes and outlining the dire nature of the events, these flash sequences are something that could quite easily have been delivered in a single headline, but instead the drama is flatted by the repeated cut sequences. After the third flash you can’t help but stifle a sigh.
And, sadly, it doesn’t get much better from there. Instead of being a welcome reprieve from a Doctorless year, “The Waters Of Mars” is nothing more than a prelude of what is to come.
The majority of the episode spends its time focusing on characters on the run because they simply dont want to get wet, drizzled with meaningless dialogue.
It is only in the final fifteen minutes that “The Waters Of Mars” even encroaches the “Doctor Who” standard of drama-filled goodness and it does so with some incredibly dark themes; the stories of Adelaide Brooke (Lindsay Duncan) as she recounts the death of her mother at the hands of the Daleks in “The Stolen Earth” was touching, and helps create an aura of mystery to the character. Despite the tragedy of her life, her story is one of hope, exploration and nobility.
The problem? It comes far too late in the game to be of any real significance to the events of the episode. The exchanges between The Doctor and Brooke were the single gem in the episode – harsh, touching and expertly delivered, every exchange between the two comes as a genuine goose bump moment that helps usher in a level of darkness that is normally better suited to “Torchwood.”
It’s been a long time since we heard the familiar groans of the Tardis materializing, and as David Tennant steps out and looks upon the red planet, you can’t help but feel a pang of regret that this is the beginning of his final days as a Time Lord.
Unlike previous adventures, “The Waters Of Mars” provides a much different side to the Doctor – we see him give up and back away from the human race. This is an event in history that The Doctor knows he cannot change – these people were destined to die and there is nothing he can do to help – and he must live on with that knowledge. It is a lesson of conscious versus obligation.
But, in true “Doctor Who” fashion, he is overcome with the need to help in the final moments :and his efforts prove in vain. The foretold deaths of the guest cast may occur differently to how they were remembered in history but they do paint a different picture to the Doctor’s travels; they are wrong.
Also to its credit, the banter is brilliant and ever so slightly tinted with sarcasm. The best example of all is The Doctor’s response to stating his name, rank and intensions; “The Doctor, Doctor : fun.”
Plus, there was a fantastic speech in which the Doctor declares himself the Lord of Time : and the laws of time will obey him.
What Didn’t Work
The Doctor stands looking at the Gustaf crater, commenting on the sheer beauty of it all, wow. Next, a gun jabs him in the back and an unrecognizable voice simply commands, “Rotate,” shock. Then, we are introduced to Gadget, a not-so funny and not-so memorable robot that sounds like a reject from “The Phantom Menace.” All that was missing is a “Roger, roger.”
The design of the space station was a mash-up of grand open spaces and claustrophobic chambers reminiscent of the classic series interiors and the villain was simply a pillar of water.
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
“Doctor Who” stars David Tennant and Lindsay Duncan. “The Waters Of Mars” was written by Russell T. Davies and Phil Ford.
“Doctor Who” returns to BBC One on Christmas Day. “The Waters Of Mars” reaches BBC America on Dec. 19.