The Waters of Mars ★★★★★

Lindsay Duncan and water monsters make this Martian adventure a very special special

92

Story 201
Autumn special

Advertisement

“Don’t drink the water. Don’t even touch it. Not one drop” – Adelaide Brooke

Story
Bowie Base One, Mars, 21 November 2059. The Doctor meets the first group of humans to have settled on the Red Planet, led by Captain Adelaide Brooke. From history records, the Time Lord knows that today is the day they all die – if not how. The crew become infected by a fast-acting, waterborne, water-producing virus that transforms them into aggressive monsters. Not one drop of this contamination can be allowed to reach Earth, so Adelaide ultimately decides to destroy the base. The day’s events are a fixed point in time, crucial in mankind’s journey to the stars. But the Doctor decides to intercede and save Adelaide. Has he gone too far this time…?

First UK transmission
Sunday 15 November 2009

Production
Filming: February/March 2009
Locations: The National Botanic Garden of Wales, Carmarthenshire; Victoria Place, Newport

Cast
The Doctor – David Tennant
Captain Adelaide Brooke – Lindsay Duncan
Ed Gold – Peter O’Brien
Yuri Kerenski – Aleksandar Mikic
Mia Bennett – Gemma Chan
Maggie Cain – Sharon Duncan-Brewster
Tarak Ital – Chook Sibtain
Andy Stone – Alan Ruscoe
Steffi Ehrlich – Cosima Shaw
Roman Groom – Michael Goldsmith
Emily – Lily Bevan
Mikhail – Max Bollinger
Adelaide’s father – Charlie De’Ath
Young Adelaide – Rachel Fewell
Ulrika Ehrlich – Anouska Strahnz
Lisette Erhlich – Zofia Strahnz
Ood Sigma – Paul Kasey

Crew
Writers – Russell T Davies, Phil Ford
Incidental music – Murray Gold
Script editor – Gary Russell
Executive producers – Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner
Producer – Nikki Wilson
Director – Graeme Harper

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
(filed in November 2009)

He’s visited the Moon four times, often talks of Venus and has even been to Pluto, but until now the Time Lord’s presence on Mars has been limited to the inside of a pyramid in – you’ve guessed it – Pyramids of Mars (1975).

Of course, the Red Planet has loomed large in Doctor Who mythology since the 1960s. Former inhabitants the Ice Warriors – those “cruel Martian invaders” who plagued Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee in days of yore – receive two namechecks here, which will gratify fans.

And there are echoes of other episodes. The Impossible Planet (2006) showed us a similar isolated base and crew. Our first sight of the settlers’ biodomes and rocket recalls Colony in Space (1971), while the “Gadget Gadget” arguably pays homage to that story’s laughable IMC robot. And the unquantifiable alien threat and its insidious effect remind me of the tenebrous creatures from Silence in the Library (2008).

While it’s fun to spot such connections, that is not to say The Waters of Mars isn’t innovative and tremendously exciting. The production is both gorgeous and flawless. Location shots in Taff’s Well quarry merge seamlessly with the Mill’s CGI to form stunning reddened vistas. The interiors – some are intricate sets, others were filmed at night in the National Botanic Garden of Wales – achieve a series best.

The “water monsters” or “Flood zombies” maintain the Doctor Who tradition of creating something simultaneously ridiculous and nightmarish. The transformation scenes are disturbing but all occur out-of-focus in the background, which cleverly halves the CGI bill but doubles the shudders.

As is the norm with such fast-paced episodes, the supporting characters are lightly sketched, but each actor gets their moment to personalise. More important to us – and to the Doctor and the future of mankind – is Captain Adelaide Brooke, and of course Lindsay Duncan is luminous.

Every role she touches turns to platinum, but here she pulls off physically demanding action (58 at time of filming, she’s got plenty of puff) as well as grave philosophical duologues with David Tennant. We really do believe that if any Earthling could take us to the stars it would be Lindsay Duncan.

Tennant starts out with his customary gabbling enthusiasm and gaping-gob, try-to-catch-a-fly shtick, but soon settles into something far more contemplative and sombre. Writers Russell T Davies and Phil Ford take the tenth Doctor into uncharted waters: reluctance, desolation, arrogance and, ultimately, mortal fear – all of which Tennant conveys with consummate precision.

Right from day one in 1963, the Doctor has occupied his own moral universe. We’ve been challenged by what he will or will not do. How much can he change the past – or, in this case, the future? In The Fires of Pompeii (2008), he established there were certain fixed points in time that must be respected. So how will the Lord of Time deal with his latest dilemma?

That is the crux of The Waters of Mars – a long-awaited special that, far from treading water, opens the floodgates. The image of the “Time Lord Victorious” unnerves viewers, especially younger ones. History is altered, but after Adelaide takes her own life, the Doctor realises: “I’ve gone too far… Is this it? My death? Is it time?”

The ghostly materialisation of Ood Sigma and the tolling of the Tardis cloister bell are direct references to Logopolis, Tom Baker’s final opus (1981). These portents of doom chill Doctor Ten(nant) to his core. Whatever can he do to escape his fate?

Advertisement

The trailer for The End of Time leaves us salivating, while a final tribute to Barry Letts – the 70s Who guru who created the Master and “regeneration” – brings a lump to the throat.