Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars

Rating 3¼

Written by Russell T Davies and Phil Ford

Directed by Graeme Harper

Starring David Tennant (The Doctor), Lindsay Duncan (Adelaide Brooke), Peter O’Brien (Ed Gold), Aleksander Mikic (Yuri Kerenski), Gemme Chan (Mia Bennett), Sharon Duncan Brewster (Maggie Cain), Chook Sibtain (Tarak Ital), Alan Ruscoe (Andy Stone), Cosima Shaw (Steffi Ehrich) and Michael Goldsmith (Roman Groom)

The TARDIS materialises on the planet Mars. The Doctor seems to have no particular reason for being there, but is apprehended when he stumbles across a research base. When he realises that this is Bowie Base One, the first human outpost on Mars, and that the date is 21 November 2059, the day on which the base was deliberately destroyed by a nuclear device detonated by its commander Adelaide Brooke, he identifies this as a fixed point in history that he must not interfere with, but can he just walk away and allow the inhabitants of the base to perish?

David Tennant is now nearing the end of his time playing the Doctor and will hand over the reigns to Matt Smith (the eleventh Doctor) after ‘The End of Time’, the Christmas 2009 special. That will also be the last Doctor Who episode written by Russell T Davies before he steps down and makes way for Steven Moffat to take over as the head writer and executive producer. The last full season of the show ended in July 2008 and ‘The Waters of Mars’ is the third of the four “specials” that take the show into the new era.

Although I enjoyed ‘The Next Doctor’, broadcast during Christmas 2008, and ‘Planet of the Dead’, in April 2009, I did feel that they were both a notch or two below the revived show at its very best and that the format established by Russell T Davies was starting to feel a little tired and a little too familiar. For the first twenty-five minutes or so of ‘The Waters of Mars’ I was beginning to suspect that this episode would go the same way, but then it just seemed to step up a gear. One thing Russell T Davies is particularly good at is pouring on the emotional melodrama and there is lashings of it here. The sense of dark despondency and hopelessness that was present just beneath the surface during the brief incarnation of the ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and the first season with David Tennant returns with a bang, setting the scene perfectly for the all-important Christmas special.

There are all kinds of nice touches, not least the clever use of the name Bowie Base One. I also like the water-based alien life-forms, which I think are very effective, although I have come across a few opinions to the contrary. The Doctor’s sudden outpouring of arrogance and borderline megalomania in this episode put me in mind of Colin’s Baker’s Doctor. If I have a criticism it is that we never really get to know enough about any of the inhabitants of the base (apart from Lindsay Duncan’s character), which slightly defuses the emotional impact. This is a story that could easily have been stretched a lot further than its 60-minute running time.

I have been getting impatient for the arrival of the new era, but with ‘The Waters of Mars’ (coming after the extraordinary Torchwood series ‘Children of Earth’), Russell T Davies has shown us once again just what we will be losing when he is gone.

Review posted on 16 November 2009

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