Reviews of programmes are pretty rare on this site, so it takes something special to get me to write on it.
I’ve been a ‘fan’ of Dr. Who since the late 80’s and early 90’s. My initial encounter was watching some of the later Sylvester McCoy episodes which I came across during ad breaks while my mother was watching Coronation Street. There wasn’t much at the time that grabbed my interest. I may have mentioned my knack of getting into things a bit late. So by the time I’d got engrossed with some of the history and novelised stories the series was off the television. Thus my connection to the programme is not as an avid viewer of anything Dr. Who and a devoted viewer from the old series, it’s more by proxy through reading about the character and programme in its development.
Having said that, when I did get involved in it I enjoyed reading stuff about the programme. I developed my own taste and preference for the character, favourite Doctor, understanding of what the character was all about, favoured periods in the show’s history and that kind of thing. When the latest re-launch of the series began with Christopher Eccleston in 2005 I was very interested to see what they would do with him, but after the first episode, it wasn’t as if I watched every episode. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t religious viewing for me. I chipped in from time to time in significant points like the regeneration from Eccleston to Tennant. Then of course I got more involved with the wonders of YouTube and the blessing of BBC iPlayer which allowed me to catch up with any episode I didn’t see.
I’m glad the series still has the interest and large number of viewers and people evidently enjoy watching the Doctor and it appeals to a whole new generation. I’m not too keen on aspects of the characterisation and I think some of the focus on the companions has been … errr … not to my liking shall we say. Still, overall I’ve enjoyed watching the Doctor and it is a sign of its popularity that even my wife has been interested in watching episodes. When you see my wife get into something you know you’re onto a winner.
All that provides a bit of background into the review for the latest in the series of specials that the powers that be have decided would be the Doctor diet for what should have been a fourth season of Tennant in the main role. I’m not sure what the thinking was behind doing the spaced out specials over the year. Don’t particularly care either, it’s a brave strategy, but if we’re at this point and people are still interested in the character then it’s not too bad and from what I saw on Twitter and Facebook last night people were still keen to see what was going on with the Doctor.
I didn’t think you needed to know all that much about the Doctor before watching this episode. If you had an idea of this particular Doctor and had seen the various seasons then this would definitely add something to what you’re learning about him. If you didn’t know anything about him and this was your first encounter with the Doctor then I think you would have still enjoyed and got what was going on to some degree.
So The Waters of Mars and the first thing to mention is the scary factor. Historically the series has tended to go as far as possible in the scary stakes from time to time and there’s the stereotypical view of the old series of the Doctor which was about scary monsters getting the ‘kids’ to hide behind the sofa. This was a worthwhile addition to that whole ‘scary, scary, very scary’ thing. The ‘water monsters’ were definitely scary and watching Dr. Who Confidential afterwards and hearing the producer saying afterwards that they didn’t want to do anything that would make children have nightmares when they went to bed was funny. I’m sure a number of the ‘little ‘uns’ who watched that would definitely have a few scary dreams. As well as that there’s also the whole connection with water, I mean I’m not sure how readily people would have had a shower after watching that episode – it really worked on the scary stuff in my humble opinion.
One note of light humour though was the role of Gadget-Gadget. I liked the robot, personally. It reminded me of Twiki from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. I liked the repartee between the Doctor and the robot and its eventual use in the Doctor’s ill-fated rescue mission. Here’s hoping it gets a spin-off like virtually anything that could be spun off from this new series. Hey maybe it can fit with Sarah Jane Smith’s assortment of electronic gizmos.
Writing a story then has to have something to hang on and if you were in it for the scary factor then you would have been satisfied. What made this episode really solid was how the most scary aspect wasn’t so much the monsters, but how the Doctor himself appears to change. I was tweeting throughout whilst watching the episode and I was saying again and again ‘he really should leave’, so I laughed later when Capt. Adelaide told him ‘you should have left us’. That aspect of it was clever. For someone with an idea of the character like meself it was good to see a different spin on this.
Usually with the Doctor he ends up in the middle of something from which he really should leave but his insatiable curiosity gets the better of him and it’s often for the good of the episode. It most certainly is not the case in this episode and to see the character slowly but surely be overwhelmed not by the curiosity but the culmination of so many losses he’s suffered getting the better of him, was great storytelling.
Tennant is a good actor and a good Doctor and plays the agonised, yet transformed Doctor very well. It is almost as though he becomes like Superman in that one where he goes all bad and does some wrong stuff thinking he’s doing the world a favour. (You remember the one, it had Richard Pryor in it, I think it was Superman IV … not hold on it’s Superman III – see wiki ain’t that bad.) Time Lords Victorious was a brilliant line and highlighted just how alien this character can get.
Some have argued that this is out of character for the Doctor, but in the context of what the brother has endured especially in his treatment since he’s returned to the screens, it’s not that unusual. Especially with the rabidly morbid interest this series has with death. Dude, there’s so much death in the series from Eccleston onwards, you almost think that it’s sponsored by undertakers and funeral directors. It’s worked to an extent, but I really hope they don’t persist with the theme with the new Doctor.
Indeed I hope the new production team, the new TARDIS, the new Doctor and the new Doctor will mark and new direction for the series. That can’t be that straightforward especially when you’re departing from what has appeared to be a winning formula with this guy, but therein lies the fun of regenerating the character. It’s the first real test for the Doctor, because with the Eccleston period being so brief, Tennant didn’t have as much difficulty establishing his Doctor. Matt Smith faces the same challenge that Peter Davison had in following Tom Baker, because to most people when they think of the Doctor they will have Tennant in mind. I’m of course willing to give them the benefit of the doubt at least for the first season so they can make the transition between what this Doctor is and what the next one will become.
Back on this episode, though, and there is so much positive about it. The story works in establishing the underlying problem which isn’t about the characters on the Mars expedition (I wonder if they had a bar there, that pun would have been awesome). This is all about the last Time Lord and what happens when circumstances pushes him over the edge. It’s good stuff all round. The whole thing of watching crew member by crew member succumb to the power of the ever ‘patient’ water was good narrative as well.
It was not the greatest Doctor episode ever recorded. I wasn’t convinced by Lesley Duncan’s portrayal of Dr. Adelaide, she was a bit too stiff for my liking. I get the whole thing of her being in charge of the expedition and the almost military upbringing and all that stuff, but it was still a bit stiff for my liking. I also felt for the Peter O’Brien character who was a bit two-dimensional, which is fair because at the end of the day it’s not about him is it. (I’m glad I finally found out that the brother played Shane Ramsey in Neighbours all those yesterdays ago.) I did enjoy the bit though when he got wet, it was like a hulk-out thing going on when his eyes go off and he struggles to use the remaining parts of his human consciousness to detonate the rocket.
A criticism I’ve had about some of the recent series of Doctor Who is their determination to make sure the finale is bigger and better than anything before. That’s understandable from the view that it keeps the punters waiting to see how they can top it. I feel, however, it places unnecessary pressure on the series. Sure, there has to be the element of finishing something significantly, but if you’re looking for the next big after the next big thing and especially if you set things up as though the end will be bigger and better than ever you run the very real risk of anti-climax. That’s what happened to an extent with the end of the last series where the tease of whether the Tennant Doctor would regenerate didn’t really pay off in the end.
Then there is the deal that says we need someone/something big – regeneration in season 1, Daleks vs. Cybermen and Rose’s leaving in season 2, return of the Master and Martha leaving in season 3 followed by season 4’s big tease on the regeneration and bringing together of virtually everyone from the Whoniverse to save the world as well as the replica Doctor and of course the departure of yet another companion in Donna. It wasn’t notably the way things were done in the old series and succumbing to that pressure to leave on a bigger bang after a bigger bang puts too much unnecessary pressure on the series. Good for the viewers, but not so good if it blows up in your face.
For all that’s been hinted at in this episode it sets up a lot of excitement and intrigue in what they will do to pull it off in the final two-part specials at the end of the year. I hope the stores live up to that momentum. If it does it will be arguably one of the greatest accomplishments in the series’ history both old and new and a great way to finish the tenure of a really good Doctor.