The Good: Wonderful character development for The Doctor, Generally decent performances.
The Bad: Very formulaic Doctor Who plot, Occasionally overbearing soundtrack, Wonky science
The Basics: "The Waters Of Mars" has a truly great pair of scenes, but is otherwise painfully average Doctor Who.
Whenever I encounter something, I do my best to take it as it is; review it for what it is, not what it could be. As a result, sometimes I find something that is mediocre on its own, but when put in context, it feels much worse than its inherently average nature. The Doctor Who episode "The Waters Of Mars" is one such episode. "The Waters Of Mars" is not inherently bad, but it shows a very different side of The Doctor and before it can be adequately explored . . . David Tennant's tenure as The Doctor comes to an end.
"The Waters Of Mars" creates an interesting character and develops The Doctor, but then does not give the writers and producers the chance to explore the new Doctor. Seeing The Doctor experiencing something akin to hero worship is pretty wonderful. In fact, the only real mark against The Doctor's character in "The Waters Of Mars" is that The Doctor seems very enamored with the leader of the first Mars colony, Captain Adelaide Brooke, but does not recognize her immediately.
Opening with a transmission being sent to Mars, Adelaide Brooke is miffed to lose the transmission from her daughter. While the team on Mars places more technology on the surface, The Doctor arrives in the TARDIS and is taken prisoner (without his resistance!) by their robot. The human occupants of the Mars station are surprised at the sudden appearance of what appears to be a human. In the hydroponics bay, one of the gardeners eats a carrot and is suddenly transformed into something else. The Doctor, learning that he is on Bowie Base One, comes to understand exactly when and where he is and he knows that the entire crew is going to die that very day. After attempting to leave the colony, the Doctor is compelled to join the team searching for the two crewmembers who are not present when The Doctor arrived.
The crew finds Maggie, who appears wounded. While The Doctor and Brooke search for Andy, Maggie awakens in the medical bay and seems to be fine. Soon thereafter, though, she begins to forcibly dehydrate and appears possessed (talking about Earth as if she were an alien). When another member of the crew succumbs and The Doctor becomes more determined to leave Mars. The Doctor is aware of what is going to happen, but when it looks like the crew will abandon the outpost, he finds himself embroiled in the events.
"The Waters Of Mars" is an exceptionally typical Doctor Who possession story. The Doctor is stuck somewhere where there is an outbreak and he does what he can to try to save as many people as possible. The Doctor sees the events on Mars as a fixed point in time that he cannot directly influence and the attempt to contain the entities that have possessed the crewmembers is complicated by an unknown date of contagion (others may already be infected and just not yet "turned") and an adversary that The Doctor declares eternally patient (if the colony is there to come back to, any future rescue workers might well be possessed).
The Doctor is forced to deal with some of the consequences of his prior actions in "The Waters Of Mars" and that is very well-executed. Adelaide Brooke survived "The Stolen Earth" (reviewed here!) and that had a profound effect on her. The Doctor and Brooke bond and it pushes The Doctor in a brilliant new direction. That direction is manic and tragic, without any time for it to be reflected upon. Brooke is a cool character and if "The Waters Of Mars" did not follow such a predictable basic plot, she would have been an amazing Companion for The Doctor.
David Tennant and Lindsay Duncan (Brooke) play off one another masterfully. Duncan is an amazing actress and she and Tennant have great banter throughout the episode. Director Graeme Harper does a magnificent job of capturing the performers' wonderful physical performances. Tennant's expressive eyes, Duncan's determined frown, Harper catches every nuance incredibly well.
"The Waters Of Mars" features some of the wonkiest science of the entire series; the sheer volume of water seen blasting out of the infected people borders on the comical. The action scenes feature one of the most overbearing soundtracks of the series as well.
Ultimately, "The Waters Of Mars" features some of the very best and very worst moments of all Doctor Who in a single episode, making for an erratic episode that holds up better for non-fans of Doctor Who than those who truly love the franchise.
For other works with Lindsay Duncan, please check out my reviews of:
Alice Through The Looking Glass
Alice In Wonderland
Under The Tuscan Sun
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the final season of David Tennant as The Doctor here!
For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!
© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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