Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The Waters of Mars

doctor who the waters of mars russell t davies phil ford graeme harper review

For a long time now, I thought I was just a survivor, but I’m not. I’m the winner. That’s who I am. A Time Lord Victorious.

See, the thing I just don’t believe about this is that it aired on a Sunday. I know, technically, that’s true – ten years ago, 15th November was a Sunday, sure, and it’s on Wikipedia, so I can hardly argue with that. But I don’t remember it at all! That really feels like the sort of thing that would’ve stuck – a massive disruption of everything I knew to be correct and right in the world!

Apparently not, though, because I have no recollection of that at all. Maybe I was more relaxed about that sort of thing as a child. Actually, thinking back, the only thing I remember about this one from the time is being a bit confused by Ood Sigma, and feeling very validated that the Master was in the next time trailer, because I’d been going on about that to anyone who’d listen for ages. (I haven’t changed.)

Anyway, The Waters of Mars. We’re starting to get towards the end of these now, which is strange to think – I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it when I end up watching The End of Time (characteristically, though, it’s unlikely to be of any particular insight), but it was quite striking watching this and starting to feel like Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor is starting to wrap up. I’ve been doing these things, on and off, for about six years now – essentially the entire time I’ve been writing. A lot has changed in that time. Started out because I figured it’d be a good way to get some tumblr notes and grow the brand a bit; now, it’s a little side thing I post chiefly out of stubborn refusal to miss an anniversary, even when I have essentially nothing to say about an episode. Easy to feel a bit reflective about that. If I’d spent more time on this, maybe I’d have tried to construct some clever parallel between, like, Adelaide’s legacy, and fixed points in time, and blah blah blah. It wouldn’t have been all that clever, I suppose.

Still, no need for any of that now. That isn’t important! I’ll get to that in a few weeks time, when things actually do finally wrap up for good. For the moment, we’ll stick with The Waters of Mars.

doctor who the waters of mars adelaide brooke lindsay duncan david tennant tenth doctor

The Waters of Mars is another one of those episodes I’ve seen relatively few times over the years – as much as I’ve always had a relatively positive opinion on it, I’ve never been inclined to rewatch it. I always assumed, I think, that it’d be a fairly grim one to go back to – exactly the sort of serious, ‘gun’ story I’ve never quite liked as much as I might want to.

What was nice, though – and what’s always nice about going back and rewatching different episodes as part of these reviews – is actually just how pleasant it is to go back and rediscover all the little things I’d forgotten. Like, wow, Gemma Chan is in this! The latest in a long line of actors who’ll go on to do genuinely really cool stuff, in a pretty thankless role here. (Base under siege characters always are, but almost particularly so here – you’d have thought, given the ending, they might at least have been at the level of their Sanctuary Base 6 or Penhaligon counterparts, but, no, these poor explorers were even more flat than their predecessors.) Or, hey, aren’t the cutting-edge-for-2009 CGI models really cute, actually? As is Gadget – naff, sure, especially the go go Gadget superspeed bit, but hey, it’s fun.

Admittedly, I do often find myself in the position where I just don’t particularly have a lot to say about these episodes. They’ve been covered so much, by so many, that I rarely feel like I’ve got anything in particular to add – especially while I keep trying to fit to this basic format. I just went back to look at the Planet of the Dead review, because I remembered it being a bit lightweight – but no, actually, that’s a solidly okay criticism of that story’s aristocracy fetish. Not quite the same here. I would recommend watching The Waters of Mars! It is a pretty well put together episode of Doctor Who, and I had a lot of fun watching it, and indeed rediscovering it. Lindsay Duncan is great, David Tennant is great, the water aliens are a pretty fun idea, it’s all good! (Well, no. The score is borderline oppressive at points, that isn’t so good. But outside of that: fun!)

doctor who the waters of mars time lord victorious david tennant tenth doctor

Coming so close to the end of the Tenth Doctor era, I think it’s a necessary story – the hubris that comes to the fore here had been bubbling away in the background for quite a long time, so it’s worth examining it again.

Does it work? For the most part, yes, although I must admit I have a few qualms. Genuinely clever though it is to do a fixed points story about a fixed point in the future, I’m still not actually all that convinced these stories ever properly work – and, again, there’s a lot of ‘Great Man of History’ stuff going on that I don’t particularly like, and never do. Plus, I am also not all that convinced that Adelaide’s decision in the end is wholly justified – an absolutely huge moment, and a necessary one, absolutely the right narrative choice for the story, but the moment is undercut slightly because of how quickly it happens. I’m not sure what the fix would be – excise two of the crew members to make a bit more space for Adelaide? – but it’s hard not to wish there was just a little more to it.

But, hey, look at what does work – that’s a genuinely effective monstering of the Doctor, all those positive traits cast in a completely different light. Even “it’s bigger on the inside” becomes a note of horror and confusion, rather than the usual awe and wonderment. It’s also a pretty neat pay off to everything RTD has been writing, in the background, about religion, and gods, and the gods we make. Nice to have got that in there at the end.

I liked this! I liked it a lot. I have also just had a much better idea for this review. I wouldn’t normally do this, but, hey, it is a time travel episode.

Hold on…



Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

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The Sarah Jane Adventures, and the importance of good children’s television

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At times there’s an inclination to see The Sarah Jane Adventures as trivial or unimportant – when considered alongside Doctor Who or Torchwood, the perception of The Sarah Jane Adventures is that it’s the third show. The one that matters least, by virtue of the fact that it could be summed up as “Doctor Who for children”.

But that’s very much a case of approaching it from the wrong angle; the value of The Sarah Jane Adventures comes not from its association with Doctor Who, but rather the fact that it was genuinely fantastic television for children.

It’s not hard to see why good children’s television is, broadly speaking, a good thing – if we’re shaped by the culture we engage with, then the quality of the earliest media we’re exposed to is important. It matters that children watch something of substance, rather than vacuous schlock – from that perspective, there’s a weight of importance attached to children’s television beyond much of the rest of media in general.

Two weeks ago now (to the day, actually) I wrote this article for the tenth anniversary of The Sarah Jane Adventures. It’s a programme I’m quite attached to, not only for nostalgia reasons, but because it was actually very good indeed.

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Doctor Who Review: Into the Dalek

doctor who into the dalek review phil ford steven moffat rusty ben wheatley zawe ashton peter capaldi jenna coleman nick briggs

All those years ago, when I began, I was just running. I called myself the Doctor, but it was just a name. But then I went to Skaro. And then I met you lot. And I understood who I was. The Doctor was not the Daleks.

Daleks are pretty amazing really, aren’t they?

They’re one of the most enduring concepts in fiction of the 20th Century – there aren’t a great many things which could claim to have had such an impact upon the zeitgeist, or such an impact to their presence. They started out as Nazi metaphors, but they’ve outlived that. They have a new relevance. Daleks are creatures of hatred; they’re twisted mirrors which show our own propensity for cruelty and evil. Daleks are far more than just another Doctor Who monster. They’re the perennial threat, there since the start, all those years ago, when it began. To use them simply as monsters shooting and killing, whilst a lot of fun, is something of a waste. They can be a lot more – they are a lot more.

Into the Dalek is a lot more.

At its heart, Into the Dalek has a fascinating, complex moral dimension to it. It’s the question of whether or not you can have a good Dalek; whether it can overcome what is it’s basic nature. The Doctor is, of course, dubious. Why wouldn’t he be? Same goes for the audience. Everyone knows how a Dalek works, everyone knows what a Dalek is. And it’s not like we haven’t seen the idea of a good Dalek before; similar ground has been covered, though not quite dealing with the same aspects.

The episode deliberately plays off parts of the Dalek iconography from across fifty years, to really cement the idea that we don’t have a good Dalek. There’s some subtle symbolism, like the parallels to Dalekand there’s proper, classic scenes – “This door won’t hold forever, but I’ll be damned if I make it easy for them!”. It’s Daleks 101, all serving to reinforce the idea that there isn’t a good Dalek. Everyone expects the inevitable turn around – and there it was. It was even earlier than I expected actually, by a good 5 minutes or so – there isn’t a good Dalek.

But Into the Dalek is smarter than that. “Good” isn’t a matter of what side you’re on, it’s who you are. A Dalek isn’t something that kills and hates the good guys, it’s a thing that kills and hates. The big point of the Dalek is hatred. And they couldn’t take that away. They tried so hard but they couldn’t. The Dalek was still full of hatred – it was pointed in a different direction, sure, but it was still a Dalek. Everything else? It’s as Dalek as they come.

It’s the hatred that makes a Dalek, it’s the hatred that makes something evil. And it’s whether you rise above it that counts.

doctor who into the dalek review dalek ben wheatley peter capaldi twelfth doctor steven moffat jenna coleman clara oswald journey blue

Which brings us quite neatly onto the Doctor. Is he a good man? I don’t know. But I do know that Peter Capaldi is one hell of a Doctor.

I’m on the record as having said that my favourite Doctor is the Sixth. He’s still the Doctor, he’s still compassionate, he’s still a hero – but he’s an alien hero. He’s different, and he’s not all that easy to understand. Sometimes it won’t be clear what he’s doing or why, but he will always come through. Yes, he might be abrasive, but he’s saving your life. If your feelings get a little hurt, well, better sad than dead. And that applies very much to Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. (6 x 2 = 12, after all.)

Peter Capaldi acts this fantastically. He is very, very good. I’d give a standout scene, but frankly I’d just end up listing them. The opening, where he forces Journey Blue to put down her gun, stop threatening him, and say please. All the brilliant one liners, the pithy humour, the sarcasm.

But he’s more than just that. There’s some real poignant and introspective moments here, which really make the story worth its salt.

“You are a good Dalek.”

Peter Capaldi really, really sells this part of the plot. The sheer contempt in his voice when talking about the “Good Dalek”, which begins hope and wonder when he thinks it’s possible… and the quiet, introspective sadness and revulsion when a Dalek looks into his soul and sees hatred.

That’s how you do a new and interesting take on the Daleks. By looking at them, and looking at what they mean. That’s when you find ways to make them continually relevant. And that gives us brilliant, brilliant stories like Into the Dalek.

doctor who into the dalek review peter capaldi twelfth doctor you are a good dalek greenscreen universe mind filled with hate

Clara is continuing to soar to new heights as well. When I first watched Jenna Coleman in the role (in another Dalek episode, no less) I thought that she might eventually become my favourite companion of the new series. In series 7B, however, Clara didn’t really get the focus she deserved, for one reason or another, which was something of a shame.

But that’s very clearly changing now. The writing is really concentrating on her now; it’s focusing on character traits she already had, but changing the way they look at them, and making them more central to her. She feels a lot more distinctive now, and it’s really encouraging. Seeing her hold her own with the Doctor, and making him re-evaluate his decisions and what he knows in a way that’s unique to her as a character? That’s brilliant.

Plus, Clara is a lot more fun to watch now. That sequence at the start with Danny Pink? Wonderful stuff, and very funny too. Samuel Anderson played the part really well, and there’s a lot of promise to the character, I’m interested to see where it goes. Loved his lines about the reading. I feel a kindred spirit.

Finally, the direction. It was really wonderful here. I loved the way they’d intercut scenes with flashbacks – it made Clara and Danny’s conversation a lot funnier, and gave quite a bit of impact to the Doctor meeting the Dalek by holding it off a little longer. The whole thing looked amazing throughout. Spaceship battles at the start? Fantastic. Inside of a Dalek? Brilliant. Exploding Daleks? Wonderful. It was probably the best set of Dalek fight scenes across the past ten years.

As you can tell, I really, really enjoyed this episode. Bar the 50th, it’s probably the best Doctor Who episode since 2012. Now, it wasn’t perfect, no – the scene with Missy in the middle jars a little, for example – but it’s pretty bloody good.

I’m going to give it a 9/10. In part, that’s because I’m saving the 10 – I’m confident that this series is going to keep getting better…


Doctor Who series 8 reviews

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