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November 20, 2009

Dr. Who - The Waters of Mars

Watched the latest Dr. Who special last night, "The Waters of Mars."  This is the last special before the 2-part special that comes out at Christmas time that will mark the end of David Tennant as the Doctor.  Once again it was a great hour of television, though it wasn't without its faults.

First, I have to say that I have been a huge fan of Tennant as the Doctor since he took the part three seasons ago.  While he's occasionally guilty of going over the top, and his manic energy sometimes goes a bit too far, he does bring a power to the role, whether in his zany moments or his intense ones.  I will be very sad to see him leave at the end of all this (though I am looking forward to seeing what Matt Smith can do).

Now how about this episode?  The Doctor, who has been traveling alone since what happened to his companion Donna in "Journey's End," lands on Mars in the year 2059.  He stumbles upon a human base there, is taken prisoner and brought to the captain, Adelaide Brooke (Lindsey Duncan).  Upon discovering just what this base is, and what the date is (November 21, 2059), he realizes that he shouldn't be here.  Some points in time are simply fixed, and meddling in them like the Doctor is wont to do will cause great harm to the fabric of the time stream itself, not to mention the universe.  This is one of those times.  But, the Doctor being the Doctor, he can't help but get involved.  An infection of something in the water-ice of the glacier the base was built on is causing the crew to turn into horrible monsters that create water, leaking it out of their clothes, mouths, and skin, even able to shoot it in a stream at times.

What happens to the base, and its crew?  And will the Doctor, whose own journey is coming to an end, meddle past the point where even a Time Lord is immune to the consequences?

The story is well-written by outgoing series producer Russell T. Davies, but there are a few niggling details that marred my enjoyment somewhat.  While the contagion being in the water is explained, there's never any explanation of just what it is.  It's obvious this is more than a contagion, as one of the crew members expresses the hunger to go to Earth (wanting to go to a world with all that water), and the Doctor makes a couple of cool references to the Ice Warriors (which are rumored to be coming back next season), but no information on exactly what these things are.

Secondly, the episode is a bit of a runaround, with the Doctor and Adelaide running back and forth down the various branches of the base multiple times (ok, I did like the Doctor continually commenting on how *bikes* would have been a good idea).  Finally, the crew is rather faceless, with not much personality other than the first officer.  Sure, we get to see a "message from home" for a couple of the others, but it isn't much.

However, Tennant is simply superb yet again (with a couple of over the top moments, as is usual).  He adds a special gravitas to the ending as he realizes exactly what he has done and what it may lead to.  Especially effective is the montage as he is walking away from the base, listening to the horror of the crew as the water creatures continue to assault the base.  Tennant's performance, even through a pressure suit's helmet, is magnificent.

I loved Lindsay Duncan too.  Her performance as Brooke, her horror when she realizes both what is supposed to happen and then when she discovers how things have changed is very well done.  She has a great rapport with Tennant, and while I don't think I'd want to see her as a companion, I wasn't averse to the idea when I thought that might be the direction they were going.  She's a harsh taskmaster but allows herself a small smile occasionally.  I don't think she put a wrong foot forward, and was a perfect complement to Tennant's personality.

The production values were quite high, even compared to the current series.  The monsters were extraordinary!  They didn't look silly when they were on screen, and they had some rather long close-ups that required water to be coming out of their mouths and their clothes in streams.  The direction and set design was great (Graeme Harper is known for his ability to direct kinetic episodes, and this was certainly one of them).  No complaints on this end.

Ultimately, "The Waters of Mars" did what it's supposed to do.  Tell an interesting story, with a fascinating monster (one that there's no way they could have done on the original series), and leave you hungering for the upcoming final specials.  I know this Who fan is salivating.  It's going to be a long month.


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