Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"The Waters of Mars"

Where were the Ice Warriors? Why would you set an episode of Doctor Who on Mars and not feature the Ice Warriors? I mean sure, they're referenced in one throwaway line, but in Doctor Who lore if you go to Mars you're gonna encounter the Ice Warriors. And the Doctor says the glacier has been buried in the past by the "ancient and proud" race of Ice Warriors. Has he forgotten Peladon? That was the future and the Ice Warriors were hale and hearty as part of the alliance. What the hell RTD?
Anyway in all seriousness this episode isn't too bad but like all of these specials it feels like a 45 minute episode with padding. The plot drags a bit and there's a good deal of time spent on long shots and wearisomely plodding conversations. An amusing thing to do while watching this episode is to treat the Doctor's hubris as an allegory for RTD's own descent into madness and the Doctor's belief that he can do anything as RTD saying he can get any script made into an episode no matter how dull, stupid or artistically bankrupt it is. That being said you can tell a lot of effort was put into this episode. The sets are nice, they've managed to assemble a multigender and multiethnic cast of all nations as the colony crew of the future, and the threat is certainly presented in a novel way even if it is another reiteration of the classic zombie trope so it's not really one of RTD's abominations. That's still yet to come.
I wish it to be known however that contrary to the Doctor's rather pointless claim upon arrival Mars isn't actually red; that's a common misconception and it's actually more of a dull beige colour. Unfortunately in real life space isn't quite as uniformly bright and weird as it's depicted occasionally in this show. Speaking of bright, the base seems awfully large, bright, spacious and gravitically normal for an installation only fifty years in the future housing a mere nine people and a robot. The Doctor's right, that robot is annoying, but it's kind of unimaginative to have the American as the weird creepy dude with the thousand yard stare. I also don't understand how a twiddle with the sonic screwdriver spontaneously gives Gadget the robot a pair of rocket boosters like it's the Batmobile or something.
I know the Doctor gets to make some not very funny jokes about bicycles due to this but do the corridors need to be so long? In some of the shots of them running these connecting tunnels between the main parts of the base seem to be absurdly long, stretching off into oblivion at either end. Wouldn't that be a colossal waste of resources, air and the energy of the people onboard? Unfortunately the whole possession aspect and rocket escape and so on make it all feel a little too reminiscent of "The Impossible Planet" and to a lesser extent "42" in many important respects, and the greenhouse happens to seems to evoke "The Doctor's Daughter" so some parts feel a bit copy-pasted from other episodes.
There's also the bit where the Doctor stands around telling Adelaide her future. Now we know they're all meant to die but would he really stand there and gasbag about the future, in itself generally an inadvisable proposition, while there are water zombies on the loose? The whole segment with her being inspired by the Dalek and it knew she was a fixed point in time and stuff suggests that the Daleks back in "Journey's End" knew the Reality bomb was going to fail, too. All this 'knowing the future' stuff raises questions and it's not especially well dealt with, as is the notion of fixed points in time. Why does Adelaide trust the Doctor anyway? Implausibly she lets him run around with her from the get go and when he starts telling the future she just sits there and listens to him waffling on about all this stuff which would sound like madness to a twenty-first century person.
But I suppose all of this, and indeed the entire plot, is made secondary lead-up to the big finale. The Tenth Doctor's gone wrong in his mind tank and he fulfils the suggestions I made way back at "New Earth" by trying to be a fully-fledged Nietzschean √úbermensch, considering himself the ultimate authority and the arbitrator of what's right and what's wrong even insofar as these concepts apply to himself. I don't mind the Doctor taking this 'dark' route because it seems like the ultimate manifestation of all the annoying and dickish parts of the Tenth Doctor which I have been noting and it's good to see him go too far and then feel like a bit of a silly twat. Of course if you had that kind of power you'd be at risk of being tempted to use it, and you'd probably regret it almost instantly. It's nicely performed by David Tennant except when he's a bit too shouty, and there  are some annoying bits in the escape from the base where all the dialogue is drowned out by Murray Gold's overpowering score. All the shots of the headlines changing is a bit too "Back to the Future" as well, although they were overdone at the beginning anyway when he was meeting the crew in another very obvious piece of padding where every time he meets another one of them it juts with a big noise to a shot of their obituary. Nonetheless it's a powerful touch that Adelaide kills herself in an effort to repair the timeline. You have to think, though, would it have the same effect back on Earth? Wouldn't there be a huge investigation about how they got back there and what happened?
Adelaide is pretty well performed but kind of boring and most of the other crew members aren't really developed enough. It's a decent episode and satisfying to see the Tenth Doctor take a fall but it's not exactly the most gripping television.

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