THE WATERS OF MARS
You will find me if you want me in the Garden
Unless it's pouring down with rain
You will find me waiting for Spring and Summer
You will find me waiting for the Fall
You will find me waiting for the apples to ripen
You will find me waiting for them to fall
You will find me waiting by the banks of all four rivers
You will find me waiting at the Spring of Consciousness
This is a definite first for me. Thanks to the corrupted files being offered out across the net, this makes the first NuWho episode I have had to listen to rather than watch. Rather like the Troughton base under siege stories that are the clear inspiration for the tale. By odd or maybe creepy coincidence, a large part of the story is borderline narrated as characters verbally update each other on the visuals ("She's turned into a zombie!" "What's she doing now?" "Just standing there... looking a tad creepy...") and with the info I've gained from the various trailers, I'm pretty sure I know what was going on. Only some wierd moments which - I assume - are the Doctor having LSD flashbacks prove much difficultly.
The Waters of Mars is probably unique in that it gave me a nightmare before I'd seen it - it was the usual fractured narrative, but about a rainstorm that turned people into the cracked-face water ghouls. Mind you, seeing *rec on Monday night wouldn't have helped on that score. But I have to say that the pre-title sequence didn't raise my hopes. Unlike some others I'd only get depressed if I'd name, it's not actually bad (in fact, all concerned it's rather good) but it feels like it's previewing a story from Season 16. A bunch of astronauts larking about and bitching at each other, and the Doctor being kidnapped by the most pathetic and annoying so-obvious-merchandise-tie-in robot ever. Thankfully once the credits are over, he rips the piss out of this unimaginative Wall-E tie in.
So... the Doctor's landed on Mars. We never actually find out why he went there, and the way he bounces out of the TARDIS in a spacesuit really suggests this isn't a mere "Oh, I've landed on Mars, fancy that" type random tour. Presumably there's some deleted scene to explain why he wanted to go to the red planet but the one thing that's immediately obvious, it wasn't to check out Bowie Base One, the first human biosphere on Mars.
(Incidentally, it's suggested the astronauts here are the first humans to ever go to Mars which I assume is just a translation goof. Even if we accept all the other stories about Mars missions are de-canonized, it means that humanity set up a colony on Mars without letting anyone visit the surface. So we'll just assume these pioneers are pioneers for LIVING there...)
Anyway, the Doctor's worrying amount of knowledge about the crew and his general demeanour - comparable of, "This is the World Trade Centre! It's 11th of September 2001 and I AM STUCK IN THE LIFT?!?" - make it blindingly obvious that we are getting that most elusive of plots: the future historical. Apart from The Final Sanction and maybe Genesis of the Daleks I don't think it's been done before. As the Martian team are all more famous than Big Brother contestants, they are not surprised the Doctor knows all about them, and as he's an intruder, they're not surprised he wants to leave right away. It has to be a first to say he's actually descended from Richard Branson, though.
But who are the crew? Bearing in mind I've only heard them...
- Adelaide Brooks. The intense, gun-totting blonde from the trailer. She's pretty much a hardass bitch with a heart of gold yet no interest in showing it. The kind of woman who seems to have have surgery to remove humor, ram a stick up her ass, and then get up on the wrong side of bed. You know she'd save you from a burning building, but you really wouldn't want to spend any time with her socially.Despite finding it mentally hard to disentangle this lot from the characters in Life's a Zoo, I still managed to cope at the frenetic pace and some interesting rock tracks as Murray Gold avoids predictability. In fact, all this, plus the relative sparseness of the plot, makes it seem to be more of a romp than you'd expect. It's certainly a better bet for "ideal average Who episode" than Planet of the Dead.
- Ed, the Aussie bloke. Basically Arnold Rimmer, a neurotic regulation dude who never sees the funny side
- Mr. Grantham from The Sarah Jane Adventures. Seems to be the resident stoner.
- Mia, the cute Asian chick
- the annoying American guy who might be classed as Odious Comic Relief if he was in any way funny, who has the robot mascot Gadget and basically is only there because Mia needs a boyfriend
- the serious Russian chick, though she's not the ice queen Mad Larry expected. Well, not in comparison to Adelaide anyway
- friendly Russian doctor who is gay, comrade, and likes practical jokes
- Andy and Maggie, the sarcastic Aldo-and-Royce-space-gofers
Also, it appears that RTD's blood contract with the Nation Estate has bitten him in the arse once more. Despite the output of Dalek stories this year (four comics, five Big Finishes, three stageplays and a full-length novel and audio adaption), it still isn't enough and they HAVE to be on TV. RTD manages to work around this, giving them a five-second cameo which just emphasizes the strangely puny way they attacked humanity in The Stolen Earth was cause that whacky Dalek Kaan was ensuring they did as little damage as possible - and it explains why that convenient Dalek happened to be passing when the Doctor needed a regeneration triggered...
Nevertheless, without Briggsy's voice, it took me a HELL of a long time to realize the Daleks were actually in it... that's the trouble with sight gags, I suppose. Thankfully the references to K9's adventures in the 21st century were easier to spot in one of a couple of SJA gags. Am I the only one who noticed "Zap those drones?"
So... just as the Doctor is on the verge of sweet-talking his way out, the bad shit happens. It turns out that Bowie Base One is built over an underground glacier that they've been using for their water supplies - except, since they couldn't read Martian, none of the astronauts noticed the "POISONOUS ANTI-LIFE! DO NOT DRINK HERE!" notices the Ice Warriors left. I'm impressed at the banality on show, if I'm honest. Everyone was expecting some kind of unstoppable Borg-like alien menace that would destroy the universe, but it turns out the Ice Warriors froze it with the emotional effort of Indiana Jones shooting that samurai dude. In fact, this menace from beyond space was, even when defrosted, thoroughly bollocked by the human filtration systems. Only a broken tap allowed the alien water to sneak out, and it literally happens the moment the Doctor arrives.
Given all the trailers bigging up how epic the threat it, for once the letdown works - it's the Doctor that's mildly disappointed when he finds out how open and shut everything is. His big speech about water being evil and how it could possess any human is undermined when it turns out it actually hasn't had a chance to, and all the panic is unnecessary. Of course, this actually makes it harder to take of course: Bowie Base One and its crew being destroyed to prevent a zombie outbreak is a tragedy we might be able to shrug off, but it turns out that their destiny of doom is unfair. It's just bad luck.
This is thus the straw that breaks the Doctor's back.
It definitely stuffs all the spin-off media, which have been portraying the post-Journey's End Doctor as his usual self albeit occasionally a bit wistful, but his TV appearances and Tennant's performance have clearly being showing a Doctor at his wit's bloody end. The cracks in his resolve show too easily, as Jackson Lake was horrified to realize. The idea that the Doctor would turn down Christina because he can't cope with responsibility any more now seems justified. It didn't work, but I can see the logic behind it now. And the idea of having a happy funtime romp at Easter. Failed epically, but I would have tried for a similar feelgood tale.
Course, while the water-belching, wordless unknowable killer zombies are reasonably scary, they were never going to be the one that makes The Waters of Mars a story that will rival the Kid In The Gas Mask or the Giant Maggots. It's quite clear the Martian zombie stuff was done by Phil Ford with his usual competence, but RTD had a much bigger, badder idea.
In The Waters of Mars, the Doctor Goes Bad.
And not some piffle like getting possessed by the water or something like that. That'd be like the Sixth Doctor strangling Peri - the guy's not responsible for his actions. The trouble is he acted like a complete bastard when he wasn't quite obviously freaking out. But no, this time, the Doctor with full malice of forethought, decides to go over to the dark side, with a spring in his step and a smile on his lips.
I suppose this has been a long time coming. The Ninth Doctor's regeneration pretty much makes clear the deal of regeneration: he died. He really did. Totally, genuinely. His body turned into David Tennant, but it wasn't Eccleston on the inside. It was a new guy, with full recall of Eccleston's life, but not the same consciousness. (This is obviously something everyone has suspected - why else would the Fourth Doctor be so morose if he was simply facing a few minutes of broken bones and then having get a new outfit? He died at Pharos and someone else got to deal with Tegan, Nyssa and Adric...).
RTD makes this disturbingly clear. In The Christmas Invasion, the Doctor out and out says his new mind is unformed and has no idea what sort of man he is, even though he has perfect recall of the Ninth Doctor's life. But it's like watching, say, Casualties for War on DVD. It's a nasty, sad tale, but it's fundamentally different to actually BEING a Vietnam vet forced to watch as native girls are brutally raped then executed before your very eyes. No wonder the Tenth Doctor isn't so fussed by the Time War. It never happened to him.
And so, we've seen the Tenth Doctor's emotional journey. After a brilliant first day on the job, he and Rose get stuck into a feedback loop as they marvel at how great they are, and then in Doomsday he finally trips: he loses Rose. Hell, he loses. Is it any wonder he finds it hard to cope? That the loneliness starts to get at him? But thanks to Donna he sucks it up and manages to begin a difficult adolescence in his second season. And then in Journey's End he's abandoned by pretty much everyone. At the end of The Next Doctor, he finally admits he's not coping. He's lost everyone, including someone from his own future, and he was given a moral dressing down by the insane fuck who created the Daleks of all people.
And then he starts getting told by random strangers he's gonna die!
And so in The Waters of Mars the Doctor finally cracks. In the ultimate "fuck you, universe!" moment he decides to dive into the fray and change history. All of history. His own history. Everything.
And it works.
And that rampant ego of his breaks loose. In New Earth he was claiming to be the highest authority of everything, but this time... he believes it. And then gets worse.
By the end of the story, he's just frightening. He's not even justifying his actions, and it's becoming clear that he doesn't actually truly give a fuck about Adelaide or her soggy pals. He's just doing this because he can and, as he lustfully notes, there is no one who can stop him. Like the Master, he's decided he has the near-as-dammit divine right to do with the universe as he pleases. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, but this time there's no companion to bring him down to Earth. As Rose feared when she left him, being alone has done terrible things to him. In The Runaway Bride he nearly lost his grip. And this time it's completely gone.
After all the harsh lessons he's been getting since day fucking one, the Tenth Doctor decides to ignore it all. Our childhood hero decides that he would rather be an all-powerful badass mofo than a pitiful snivelling loser. And, in a way, it's like my wild theory that to make us want a new Doctor we'd have to be sick of the old one - except RTD has gone for deep, primal terror.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is how the Valeyard should have been done.
But, of course, the Doctor isn't God, and is brutally reminded of this somehow. (I'm honestly not sure. Adelaide tells him he is a total fuckwit and storms off, but then the sounds suggest that time has somehow sorted it out - maybe Adelaide vanished in a puff of logic or something?) The Doctor is thus left with the knowledge he's managed to make a bad situation EVEN WORSE, callously wasted human lives and what's more, his own imminent death isn't changing any time soon. The cloister bell is ringing, there are things in the snow watching him (...um... the Watcher, maybe? Or is it Ood Sigma), and the Doctor considers his options.
And then, in one last snarl of "No!", it's clear he's not learned his lesson. He's not sorry. Like Quatermass, he's not giving up on his own chance at power, no matter who gets hurt or how obviously wrong he is...
Following this with the "In tribute the Barry Letts" is a surreal compare-and-contrast to the Planet of the Spiders. There, the Doctor had to take responsibility for his actions and quite literally get over himself. But this Doctor is running away, and getting worse all the time...
In The Waters of Mars, the Doctor doesn't defeat the monster.
He is the monster.
And that is why The Waters of Mars can claim to be the scariest story ever.
I didn't sleep that night.
Next time: ___ _____ ___ ___ _____ _______ (I dunno, RTD won't tell us)
"...because a shadow is falling over creation, something vast is stirring in the dark. The darkness heralds one thing: the End of Time itself."
The Ood have gotten a makeover, but are suffering nightmares, leaving them with bloodshot eyes. All the darkness references are apparently building to something that isn't Abbadon, the Grim Reaper, Vashta Nerada or Davros - and so might actually be interesting this time. Lucy Saxon is horrified by her new haircut. Friar Tuck masters his badass business suit. Wilf is scared. Donna is bewildered. And in a quarry construction site, the resurrected Master shows off his funky new cartoon animation skull-face power - but laughing insanely isn't impressing the Doctor who advances mercilessly upon him...
"I'm going to die," the Doctor tells Wilf, sounding like he's desperately looking forward to it...
(though this may fluctuate when I actually do get to watch it properly)