What I thought of the Waters of Mars

First, isn’t it a joy to have some really meaty new Who to meta about?

That’s actually the first episode that’s impressed me since Stolen Earth. The first two specials, though fun at times, felt to me as if an awful lot was being throttled back. You just knew something huge was building up and you wanted it to explode and be over and done with – instead we got an increasingly unsympathetic and unconvincing character going through the motions. The lights were on but nobody was home.

But this…wow. It was Shakespearian in its intensity and execution. We’re looking at big, big stuff here. That, however, didn’t detract for a moment from all the smaller details being scrupulously attended to. Wonderful characterisation and acting all round – you really cared about every person at Bowie Base after five minutes. It reminded me of TIP, but taken up a level. Then the background – wonderful, believable realisation, almost up to Hollywood standard. And what an opener – the colour contrast of the TARDIS blue on the red rocks of Mars.

I wasn’t all that surprised by the storyline. I’ve been expecting Dark Doctor ever since Family of Blood and never understood how he avoided sliding into that particular pit after a year with the Master. He seemed to teeter on the edge at the end of VOTD. And it’s been there from the start, hasn’t it? Ten has never been nice. Not deep down. You could see it as far back as TCI – the arrogance, the sheer pleasure of scaring people just because you can, and most of all the pointless cruelty of his attack on Harriet Jones.

Here, we start to see a lot of those early threads coming together, delivering and maturing. In fact, what hasn’t worked for me about everything since TSE is that I couldn’t believe in a Doctor that wouldn’t snap like this. He’s seen his daughter die in his arms, been tortured by the Master, lost the love of his life and his best friend in a day and been destroyed by Davros, just for starters. Of course he’d snap. What amazed me was the quality of DT’s acting – yet again. Remember the moment in Utopia where Derek Jacobi turned round and you just knew someone had flipped the Good/Evil switch that second you looked into his eyes? It was that calibre of acting, but more sustained.

Because the awesome thing about it was there was nothing in Tennant’s performance tonight that didn’t build on what had gone before. It went further but never too far to be believable. Quite the reverse, it was the chatty good-timer spouting cliches in POTD that I couldn’t believe in. Going back to that edgy bonhomie, that you just know is going to far, that’s Ten out of control and it’s even more frightening than blowing up your own space station. And the arrogance, the way he spoke to the three survivors, that’s not come out of nowhere either.

He couldn’t have done it alone though. LD was amazing, too. The way she made that difficult, subtle dramatic journey from mistrust to belief back to mistrust again, yet retained all her nobility and dignity. And the way all three of them reacted with fear of him at the end was very chilling.

But now what? Where do the Ood fit in – are they Time Lords in disguise? If the Time Lords really are out there still, somewhere, why didn’t they intervene when the Master released the paradox that killed millions of people? I was hoping for a jaw-dropping glimpse of the Castellan or something but I’m well satisfied with what we got. It felt real and, dark though it was, it was honest and left me filled with optimism. I can forgive this show most things so long as it’s being honest.

It’s late and I could go on, I’ m sure I will have much more to say – but finally, why does Ten seem so sure he will die and not regenerate? The level of fear that goes with this particular death seems to be unique in his lifetime. He’s faced death many times but hasn’t felt this way about it, so what does that tell us? The Time Lords had the ability to punish their own kind by taking away their future regenerations. If he is condemned to death for this, what does that mean for the other Ten and indeed for Donna – maybe he will be allowed a period of grace to save them? It’s difficult to think what else would compel him to go back to Wilf and Donna when he knows it could kill her.

And why is this particular timeline so important? Even a Dalek respected it. (Though I did wonder, if the whole scenario got that bleak, how come first contact seemed such a novelty in CoE). I even wondered, at one point, whether it was connected with the Dalek invasion of Earth back in the Hartnell days, the one that resulted in Susan leaving the TARDIS? Maybe something happened then that changed the Time War?

Or could it be that Ten feels that, since he now has nothing to lose, he’ll bring his people back to judge him? There was a fascinating little hint RTD let drop in the latest DW Mag, that we get to see Ten in a very different costume in the Xmas episode. I do hope there’s a tiny bit of humour, though. The thought of sitting though dark Who and then Hamlet is rather challenging for Xmas day..

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14 thoughts on “What I thought of the Waters of Mars

  1. This, all of it, has been coming since Ten came into existence. It’s all there, spelt out for us in School Reunion – the Lonely God with too much power.
    And maybe, just maybe, he let go the person responsible (Rose) because he knew that he would turn into this even then, and didn’t want her to bear the guilt of it?
    Because he loves her still; of that at least I am convinced completely.

  2. I agree with you: the Doctor snapping like this is something that’s been coming for a very long time. (Someone else on my flist describes it as completely out of character, which I can’t see at all. For all the reasons you describe, this was inevitable).
    Lovely analysis, but what you didn’t mention, and what occurred to and I immediately, is how prescient your fic is! When Ood Sigma appeared to him like that at the end, the first thing I thought of was A New Man.
    Loved the episode; am now terrified for Ten. Had to write a drabble, too…

  3. *squeeeeeee* I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE THIS EPISODE!!!!! 🙂
    ETA: I saw it. Thank goodness for YouTube.
    What IS up with the Ood? How do they play into it?
    Or could it be that Ten feels that, since he now has nothing to lose, he’ll bring his people back to judge him?
    Interesting you say this — I heard that RTD said to rewatch The Runaway Bride and The Fires of Pompeii and so the other day I watched Pompeii episode (which they directly refer to in WOM), and the Doctor has this whole speech about how he’d like to go back to Gallifrey and save his people, but he can’t. So, maybe he can’t, maybe he’s not supposed to, because it’s a fixed point in time or whatever, but maybe he does.
    And what’s up with skull!Master? What’s that about?

  4. that sort of a man
    Ten has never been nice.
    No, he never has. I’m honestly baffled by the idea that the Lonely God storyline started after he lost Rose—I spent the whole second season waiting to see Ten get his comeuppance.
    You could see it as far back as TCI—the arrogance, the sheer pleasure of scaring people just because you can, and most of all the pointless cruelty of his attack on Harriet Jones.
    Thank you. Sometimes I forget that I’m not the only one who feels that way about what he did to Harriet. It’s the first thing I thought of, when I started reading reviews of this episode. (But then, I started with “The Christmas Invasion.” I don’t think I’ve ever trusted the Doctor.)

  5. That wasn’t completely my own work. I’d seen leaked set photos that brought in the Ood in a similar way. I didn’t tell anybody that because I didn’t want to spoil them. But I do believe RTD might go there in some way.
    What I personally dread is that they’ll take the old route mentioned in SJA, that somehow he’ll be shown the life he could have had – that is, babies and Rose. Did all that in FoB and there’d be nothing to add by repeating it, methinks.

  6. Re: that sort of a man
    Oh no, you certainly aren’t the only one. And one thing that interested me was the way that things from key past episodes were magnified in this. Adelaide was very much in the same mould as Harriet Jones, but her choices had even more dramatic consequences. She was a marvellous character study and one thing I absolutely didn’t see coming was that she’d accept her own fate and then defy the Doctor. I’d expected her to pull a gun on him and force him to change the timeline, but not that she’d be the nobler character.

  7. going through the motions. The lights were on but nobody was home.
    As you know, that’s exactly how I felt about PoTD – not that the Doctor was unsympathetic, exactly, more that he was running-on-empty. The cheery babble, which was classic Ten-speak except that somehow I knew his heart wasn’t in it. (Same in opening of Next Doctor, when all the rambling about Victorian Christmases felt so bleak because no-one was there to listen.)
    Whereas this… the scenes of the Doctor just standing, silent, in the middle of the base while everyone else ran around shouting and trying to save the world, and then the terrible, almost snuff-movie effect of him walking out of the base in his suit listening to them all dying one by one…
    felt real and, dark though it was, it was honest
    .. exactly. And you could just tell by the way DT handled those scenes that it was utterly real and convincing to him – I agree with everything you say about that darkness having always been there in Ten. In his first few episodes it took me a while to see it, (until School Reunion in fact) because he was such a cheery motormouth on the surface compared with Nine, but once you realise the blabber is all front…
    Oh, I can’t wait for the finales now!

  8. That wasn’t completely my own work. I’d seen leaked set photos that brought in the Ood in a similar way.
    And there was I convinced that you were psychic, or had started channelling Russell T Davies…

  9. The thought of sitting though dark Who and then Hamlet is rather challenging for Xmas day..
    Does it strike you that Ten is rather turning into Hamlet?… driven to the edge of madness by existential angst and the agony of trying to decide whether people should live or die?
    I love it, but I grant you that on the face of it it doesn’t look terribly Christmassy. Mind you, by the time we’ve shoehorned the kids into bed on Christmas Day I shall be more than ready for an antidote to jollity and cuteness…

  10. Oh, don’t get me started. Seriously, I’m thinking about proposing celebrity casting in Shakespeare as my dissertation topic. Having just been to a pretty but uninspired RSC “Twelfth Night” where I wondered if the audience were paying to see Victor Meldrew or Malvolio.
    I remember looking at DT playing the rejection of Ophelia, and to me he was just completely “Don’t love me, I’m toxic” Tenth Doctor – I had to ask myself, who are you watching here? Maybe Tennant just is like that. It’s such an interesting question.

  11. I think at the time I sympathised with his argument that from his point of view shooting them in the back as they were leaving was pretty much unforgiveable (though I could see why Harriet didn’t feel that way).
    And by the time we really see the consequences of that action, and the election of Harold Saxon, the Doctor himself is getting well and truly punished for it. It’s only on later reflection that it strikes me, as you say, how vindictive it looks with hindsight…

  12. Seriously, I’m thinking about proposing celebrity casting in Shakespeare as my dissertation topic
    Well, that would be different 🙂 and you could make it a lot more meaty than a supervisor initially faced with the topic might think! Presumably it could link all the way back to Shakespeare’s own castings, eg the way Kempe always had to have his song ‘n’ dance slot because he was a big public draw?…

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