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Doctor Who XXX[4].16: The Waters of Mars

November 16th, 2009 (12:26 am)

When Doctor Who has managed possession, it does so rather well. The Waters of Mars was no exception. Establishing Bowie Base One as a setting was achieved with alacrity, so we were only a few minutes in when Andy (sympathetically portrayed in his few unpossessed scenes by Alan Ruscoe) was infected and became the first representative of the Flood. The delayed transformation of Maggie was well-achieved, though I had expected her to continue to be a spokesperson for the Flood; her covetous little speech about the Caspian Sea became an odd exception to the rule that the Flood is implacable and impossible to interrogate. (As I am about to post this I've just learned her later speeches were cut, in one of which she would have named the infection as the Flood - it's not just a spontaneous naming by the Doctor). Steffi's convulsions in front of the recorded message from her children, and her possessed self's turning impassively away from the screen to pursue the remaining humans, with the children's voices still playing out in the background, was simple, effective and for this viewer disturbing.

The evolution of Doctor Who has depended more upon improvisation than upon planning. There has been a tension in David Tennant's performance as the Doctor from the beginning, between his fun-loving jovialness and his sometimes coldly calculating, overburdening sense of responsibility; this has contributed towards his Doctor coming across as unbearably smug, particularly in his first season when Billie Piper's Rose threatened to turn into a mirror for his apparent self-love. Now the smugness sank into delusion, but one which the audience have been invited to share on occasion in the last four years. I expected Adelaide to shoot the Doctor from her window, either instead of or in addition to shooting herself; when the previews spoke of Adelaide as the Doctor's most strong-minded companion yet, it was probably her suicide which was being hyped. The Doctor is now face to face with his psychological imbalance; the survivor guilt which seemed purged at the end of The Parting of the Ways was instead repressed and has been gnawing away at this Doctor from the inside. How much of The End of Time will be in the Doctor's reality, and how much hallucination? Or will there indeed be very much difference?

I'm still not sure how far The Waters of Mars left me numb with shock, or simply underwhelmed. The threat from the Flood seemed to lose focus; the infected humans were dismissed too easily. Luckily the Doctor's conviction that he could and had the absolute unquestionable right to save Adelaide, Yuri and Mia was taken just far enough beyond previous limits to undermine this viewer's confidence: the Doctor had to lose his Mother Hen qualities (as Elisabeth Sladen has termed Jon Pertwee's performance) and become, for a few minutes, someone very dangerous. Adelaide had to die to show the Doctor the error of his ways; he is left holding on to life and sanity and the programme hopes we are holding him too. This was just about managed; but the closing two-parter will have to have been made with care indeed.


Posted by: Alice Dryden (huskyteer)
Posted at: November 16th, 2009 10:51 am (UTC)

I love the classic horror device of an enclosed group and SOMETHING getting in among them, but it was done better in 'Silence in the Library'.

I felt the Doctor suffered from a lack of companion; he had to have his change of heart in soliloquy and flashback, while it might have been more effective as a dialogue.

It would have been nice if he'd come to that realisation half an hour earlier and saved more of the crew, too.

Edited at 2009-11-16 10:51 am (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 17th, 2009 12:04 am (UTC)

I thought that the infiltration was managed in a different but equally effective way to the Vashta Nerada, really; this was louder, perhaps because the episode needed the Doctor's dilemma to be a greater threat to the series' status quo than the Flood itself.

Interestingly, I think RTD agrees with you that the Doctor should have reached his moment of terrible realisation earlier, having listened to the commentary.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: November 16th, 2009 04:31 pm (UTC)
Doctor Who

I expected Adelaide to shoot the Doctor from her window

Ah, so I wasn't alone in expecting that.

Posted by: wrong but wromantic (sally_maria)
Posted at: November 16th, 2009 07:31 pm (UTC)

I was expecting it before she went into the house, though the suicide was an almost complete surprise - I twigged it just before it happened.

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: November 17th, 2009 04:40 pm (UTC)

No, I did, too. Part of me was hoping she would...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 20th, 2009 02:39 am (UTC)

I'd wondered, from the publicity, whether the fatal blow would somehow be struck in this story and the Doctor left in a sort of limbo for two episodes; evidently not.

Posted by: wrong but wromantic (sally_maria)
Posted at: November 16th, 2009 07:49 pm (UTC)
Doctor Ten

I was generally pretty impressed - like you I found Steffi's transformation to be particularly striking.

It was good to see that this Doctor's megalomaniacal side is actually being recognised and addressed, rather than seeming to be treated as perfectly normal behaviour.

Dramatic stuff, but I do hope that the next Doctor is a little more easy going.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 16th, 2009 10:23 pm (UTC)

The word on the street is that the final Tennant two-parter will purge the Doctor of his survivor guilt, as it's something Steven Moffat thinks has run its course.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: November 16th, 2009 11:14 pm (UTC)
Doctor Who

I do hope so. I thought it was resolved neatly in Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways; since then it has been over-kill, especially in season four and the specials.

Posted by: Amanda (neohippie)
Posted at: November 17th, 2009 04:48 pm (UTC)
K9 Geek

I completely agree. I thought the ninth Doctor's story arc dealt with the survivor's guilt and then tied it up quite neatly. Ever since then it's had a beating-a-dead-horse quality to it.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 20th, 2009 02:07 pm (UTC)

Unfortunately the survivor guilt angle seems to be the one which makes the programme interesting for RTD to write. The 2005 season often feels like a complete work in itself to me; the succeeding seasons have largely enlarged upon and repeated various themes.

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: November 17th, 2009 04:41 pm (UTC)

found Steffi's transformation to be particularly striking.

Mind you, I wish they'd found a kid that could speak German. The accent was so bad it almost ruined the moment for me.

Posted by: wrong but wromantic (sally_maria)
Posted at: November 17th, 2009 07:05 pm (UTC)

Yes, I can see how that wouldn't help. My German isn't good enough to make that distinction.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: November 19th, 2009 07:32 pm (UTC)

Yes, that distracted me too.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 20th, 2009 02:08 pm (UTC)

I wondered what they were speaking, as it didn't sound like German to me at first. Perhaps they were reading off cards, phonetically.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: November 21st, 2009 04:40 pm (UTC)

I've listened to it again, and I now think they were actually unpractised native speakers (where perhaps the parents speak to them in German, and they answer back in English, learning German pronunciation more slowly).
Theis surname is odd, but could be German.

They got some sounds perfectly, although they are slightly different from English (e.g. the a in Papi), but struggled with the ones that are physically more difficult to produce (eg umlauted u) and children typically learn later.
And the syntactic anglicism at the start is something I'd be quite capable of producing myself!

I have heard bilingual kids in England speak with a noticable accent, although not as strong. Of course the producers, being told the kids know German, wouldn't notice.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: November 17th, 2009 01:46 pm (UTC)

I kind of saw the suicide coming when she took out her gun. I briefly thought she'd shoot the Doctor, but then a little metatextual voice in my head pointed out he still had one story to go. Once the door was shut, there was no further surprise...

I agree about the loss of focus - it was quite gripping early on, but the very presence of the metatextual little voice shows that I was no longer fully wrapped up in the story by then. When Dumbledore died, I went on to finish the book before that part of my brain switched itself on!

What I do not understand is why the Doctor did not drop them of in some place and time where they would be inconspicuous, and their stories, if told, would not be believed - that should have solved the history problem! When they touched down in the snow I fully believed is was any time *but* 2059!

From the evidence of this conclusion, I am a bit worried, too, that they are aiming too high for End of Time. As for the megalomania angle, this may well be setting the scene for his coming encounter with the Master. Could be interesting...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 20th, 2009 02:34 pm (UTC)

I'd expected beforehand, knowing that there was a scene shot where the Doctor returned Adelaide and two others home - that the Doctor would forbid Adelaide to see her daughter and granddaughter again, but as the episode unfolded it was clear that this wasn't the trajectory along which the episode was travelling. At one point I thought that the return scene would turn out to be a hallucination by a depressed and deluded Doctor.

I suspect that at the start of The End of Time the Doctor will be on the run from his 'Time Lord victorious' side, and deeply repentant if still troubled by a sense of his own righteousness. Given Russell's obsession with the idea of the Doctor as god-as-man, the Master will presumably go in for some tempting in the wilderness.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: November 20th, 2009 09:31 pm (UTC)

I was wondering whether RTD is setting up scenario with somewhat blurred boundaries between what the Doctor and the Master are supposed to stand for.
Although we have seen some repentance already, of course, so may be not...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 20th, 2009 09:52 pm (UTC)

I'd be surprised if RTD didn't take advantage of that scenario somehow - the Doctor seemed on the run from his fate this evening on Children in Need.

Posted by: Amanda (neohippie)
Posted at: November 17th, 2009 04:46 pm (UTC)
K9 Geek

I'm still left wondering what good the suicide was supposed to have done. I mean, committing suicide, just to spite the Doctor, was supposed to be strong-minded? Huh? And that was somehow just as good as her dying heroically on Mars, or at least better than her surviving?

I just don't understand the logic behind the assumption that her death, in and of itself, was so important that even the circumatances of her death didn't matter as much as the fact that she died somehow.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 20th, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC)
Hartnell words

I mean, committing suicide, just to spite the Doctor, was supposed to be strong-minded?

I do think that the script viewed Adelaide's suicide as a statement of her strength, and in the context of modern Doctor Who it's a rejection of part of the lead character's main function, which is to rescue people. She understood the web of time when the Doctor had forgotten it. I did wonder, though, that her suicide, rather than mysterious death on Mars, would have the same effect on her reputation - perhaps Mia and Yuri's tales were the basis of it, hence the emphasis on their survival in the news website pages.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: November 26th, 2009 02:26 pm (UTC)

"I mean, committing suicide, just to spite the Doctor, was supposed to be strong-minded?"

I think this is only a problem so long as you expect Russell T Davies to script in any kind of morally comprehensible manner. But previous experience would discourage this: RTD shows every sign of applying an entirely off-the-cuff moral universe to the doctor, every sign that he is unaware that it's off-the-cuff, and every sign that he expects to speak for a majority.

I refer here to the occasion when the UK shoots down a fleeing alien spaceship that has attempted to enslave earth: despite these more than somewhat extenuating circs (the ship, left unhindered, may well return, or may well only go on to repeat the exercise and enslave another civilisation) the doctor is made unhesitatingly to curse the PM who gave the order and pass judgement. There's no hint anywhere that RTD doesn't expect us to concur with this view.

Frankly, he's a mess on this kind of issue. It does spoil things. And I think people who know better are apt to give him too much rope, attribute too much brilliance and wisdom to him, read things into his scripts that just aren't there.