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.
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!)
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.