...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Day 3241: DOCTOR WHO: Water Water Everywhere… and not one drop…


Scary stuff! The sun had gone down and Daddy Alex closed the curtains and we all huddled up on my sofa while Daddy Richard poured out the Evian that his mummy had provided.

Yes, it was time for Water of Mama's!

…oh, please yourselves.

So the 'scariest Doctor Who ever' turned out to be the Time Lord himself, as the payoff for all of those 'aren't I awesome' moments finally arrived with David Tennant's tenth Doctor finally going completely berserk.

"The Laws of Time are mine," he said, going Mister Master on us, "and they will obey me!"

Funny how Lawrence Miles once said if the Doctor decided to destroy the cosmos, the Master would have to return to save it. More on that story later, as they say.

But first, "The Waters of Mars" did not disappoint.

It lived up to its "beginning of the end" tag line and (unlike "Planet of the Dead") it was about water and it was about Mars. Although what it was really about was the Doctor breaking the Laws of Time. Rather brilliantly, it takes what many people have seen as the worst of the new series – the Doctor's spiralling god-complex – and faces up to the fact that it would be a terribly bad idea. In a way, it is the series making explicit John Nathan Turner's injunction to Andrew Cartmel against turning the Doctor into "god" (or even just "a god").

Finally we get to see under the mask of this Doctor. The sixth Doctor was brusque because he cared too much; the ninth was downright rude because he was so damaged; but the tenth Doctor is the way he is because he is utterly terrified of death.

The fear of death is often said to be what drove the expression of the Doctor's dark side, the Valeyard, and remember that, with his tenth regeneration, the Doctor is drawing nigh to that point "somewhere between his twelfth and last", he is genuinely becoming old.

This, in fact, perfectly explains his trying to bring Astrid back from beyond, his devastation at the Master refusing to regenerate and above all his appalling treatment of Donna in "Journey's End": even over her protests, he would rather see a lobotomised Donna-shaped puppet walking about alive than face up to her real, actual death.

And of course it is death that breaks him here: hearing the sound of dying as he tries to walk away from it is too much for him, which is why he finally goes completely over the edge.

This perfectly capitalises on David Tennant's full-on boggler-boggler interpretation of the role and gives him a good opportunity to get his acting chops on, at the same time allowing him to effectively comment on his own over-the-topness, particularly in the appalled realisation of Adelaide's suicide and that he has caused this himself and then the absolute terror as he starts to hallucinate death portents, in this case Ood Sigma in the role of Ghost of Christmas yet to come (though Christmas Coming Soon might be more appropriate).

But he's also capable of a quieter performance, as when brooding over the need to leave once he knows where and when he's ended up, even as he finds excuses to stay. His "consolation" of Captain Brooke, his bitter regret in the airlock when he tells her she has to die, these are the real Tennant moments.

But David, much as we love him now he has his shtick totally under control, has nothing on the multi-faceted performance of Lindsay Duncan as the companion for this special, Captain Adelaide Brooke, heroine of the first human colony on Mars, where we also get to do this year's "celebrity historical" with the charming twist (even if "Confidential" insisted on hammering the point home) that the "celebrity" in question is from the future.

Adelaide is both hard as nails, no compromises mission commander, not entirely above bearing a grudge (it looks like her second in command, Ed Gold, may have dumped her at some point) but completely focused on the job, yet at the same time a romantic who has followed her dream into space, inspired by a Dalek not to hate but to explore and wonder. She can be extremely clever, seeing through the Doctor like glass, and also vulnerable and frightened when she gets the truth out of him, though she'd never let her crew see that. And she is resolutely humanist, her defining character being a rejection of any destiny but the one she makes for herself: when the Doctor tells her she's doomed to die, she determines to find a way out for herself and her crew; when he breaks Time to save her, she still refuses to live at the whim of a capricious god and would literally rather die than face a universe under the Time Lord Victorious.

In fact, as Alex points out, she kills herself twice – once with the base nuclear self-destruct and then again with her gun – and it's for the same reason: the Doctor saves her, she says that he's wrong to break the Laws of Time, he goes into a big self-justifying diatribe, she quietly pushes the button. She tells him he's wrong and he ignores her, so she kills herself; no second chances, she's that sort of a woman.

So we have a Doctor gone mad with power and a companion who kills herself to make a point about free will. It's not the cuddliest of Sunday evening's family viewing, is it?

Anyway, these "fixed points in time" – how do those work, exactly? Adelaide was somehow always supposed to die on Mars on 21 November 2059. But we're told that she was inspired to sacrifice her entire life, driven to go to Mars, by seeing a Dalek during the events of "Journey's End". But "Journey's End" is pretty much the definitive example of history being in flux: Dalek Caan went back into the Time War and changed history so that Davros escaped.

Do we infer, then, that something else should have happened in 2009, elbowed aside by Davros changing history, and whatever that was it would have inspired her?

More importantly, if the Doctor's gone and broken a fixed point in time and there's something as dangerous as an "ordinary person" alive in the world when they shouldn't be, shouldn't that mean that the Reapers from "Father's Day" turn up to start eating everyone?

Is it enough that Adelaide, like Pete Tyler before her, kills herself before the paradox of her survival can damage Time? What about Yuri and Mia? The Doctor, in his monomania, might refer to them as "little people" but he's gone bonkers and surely that's not how Time regards them. Or is it that Lawrence is right again and the Laws of Time are physically embodied in the Time Lords, or now entirely in the Doctor, and if he wants to bend them right out of shape then he can, even if he goes round the twist with 'em, so there's nothing the Reapers can do about it.

Oh, and time is clearly so much in flux that according to the biography websites flashed up, Adelaide manages to be born in 1999 and yet be aged 10 during the Dalek Invasion in 2008… oops!

Clearly someone was confused and forgot that since "Aliens of London" all "contemporary" stories (with the possible exception of "Planet of the Dead") take place in the year after they are broadcast: "Aliens of London” establishes – on the missing person posters for Rose – that "Rose" is dated March 2005, and therefore "Aliens of London" is March 2006; all further stories with Jackie must take place after this, or she wouldn't have thought Rose away for a year, so "The Christmas Invasion" cannot take place earlier than December 25th 2006; this means that "The Runaway Bride" must be no sooner than Christmas 2007, because even if Donna doesn't remember last year's invasion, the Doctor does refer to it as last year, and the presence of the Christmas Santas reinforces this; Wilf, Donna's granddad as it turns out, appears in "Voyage of the Damned" and refers to the previous perils being why London is empty at Christmas so again, it must now be 2008; "Turn Left" just reinforces that "Voyage of the Damned" takes place before the Adipose affair of "Partners in Crime"; and finally in "The Sontaran Stratagem" Wilf recognises the Doctor from Christmas past so it must by then, and for the Dalek Invasion of "The Stolen Earth", be 2009.

"Base Under Siege" is one of the classic Doctor Who set ups, ever since, well, "The Moonbase", and indeed "The Tenth Planet" before it, and this was one of the best. The "Monsters of the Week", the water zombies or "Flood" were visually impressive, great make up, love their signature dribbling water, even as they merrily defy physics all over the place. I don’t care if the human body is 60% water, you cannot spray those kinds of volumes out of you without turning into a shrivelled up husk. We resort to simply creating matter out of nowhere. Still, as unstoppable elemental forces – even ones that cheat – they did exactly what was required of them, stalking, killing and subsuming each crewmember in turn. Each possession was different, too – the first, Andy, being kept from us as much as possible; the second, Tarak, kneeling before Andy as the Doctor and Adelaide see what is done to him; the third, Maggie, being slightly in sight and yet not, constantly returning to a slightly glimmering, tantalisingly out of focus shot, she's normal… and then she's not; the fourth, Steffi, being the most chilling as she knows what is about to happen and puts on the message from her daughters as she is killed; the fifth, Roman, coming from "just one drop", proving the danger is as extreme as the Doctor warned and a Russell Davies signature teardrop again; finally, Ed, getting it – like all good horrors – just as it seems he's going to rescue them all, and him preferring to go out in a blaze of glory.

Equally, the self-sacrifice and explosion of the shuttle were only the most blatant of the episode's references to "The Ark in Space", well known to be one of Russell's favourite stories.

"The Flood" is a reference too, not just the name given to the monsters here, but also the title of the final "Eighth Doctor" strip in Doctor Who Magazine. Given the "beginning of the end" tagline, that doesn't seem so coincidental.

There was some nice future-history of the kind that the series used to do in the Troughton Era, from the team that have studiously avoided all but the nearest of near-future settings: global warming and petrol apocalypse don't sound too inconsistent with the kinds of disasters that Ramon Salamander saved the world from with his Suncatcher and Kneetrembler devices in "The Enemy of the World". Though, of course, a collapse of civilisation in the early 21st Century is very New Adventures too. And the subtle implication that the planet might be divided between World Zones and Independent States could be a go at retconning in the power blocs of "Warriors of the Deep" too.

And of course, the mother of all references: the wise and noble race who lived on Mars and built an empire out of snow. Out of "snow"? Cue a hundred YouTube videos opening with that quote before cutting to a montage of Ice Warrior shenanigans over dubbed with "Frostie the Snowman" or "Walking in the Air".

In "The Curse of Peladon" the Doctor was revealed to have prejudged them, but here he seems to have a respect and regard for them and their history.

Ah, Ice Warrior history: this one's a bit tricky. The original Ice Warrior, Varga, was thawed out of a glacier sometime in the future (I favour 5000 AD ish, because it ties in with the "Ice Age in the year 5000" from "Talons of Weng-Chiang") but he has apparently been frozen there since the last Ice Age so therefore at least ten thousand years. By the time of the Galactic Federation (conventionally dated to 3999 AD, though Tat and Larry make a case for it being pre- Earth Empire, 23rd Century; later than this in either case) the Martians are no longer from Mars.

But in between these, there is "The Seeds of Death" in the typically-Troughton 21st Century, which sees an Ice Warrior fleet attempt to invade Earth, starting with biological attack using the eponymous seeds to lower the oxygen content of our atmosphere.

We can be reasonably sure that that story takes place after 2070 AD, because of "The Moonbase". In "The Moonbase", definitively dated to 2070, weather control is done from the Moon using a Gravitron, whereas "The Seeds of Death" includes a visit to the London weather control bureau, so clearly "Seeds" takes place either before the Gravitron is installed or after it becomes obsolete.

Besides which, if there had been a T-Mat link to the moon in "The Moonbase", then the story would have ended about two weeks earlier.

The New Adventures dated "The Seeds of Death" to about 2089, and expanded on this with a future history that saw a nasty little War of the Worlds around the turn of the 22nd Century (they drop an asteroid on Paris; we T-mat in and obliterate their homeworld).

So why is there no one – apart from nine unlucky humans – living on Mars in 2059?

(Mind you, you might ask why they are armed if they don't think there's anyone living on Mars.)

However, a couple of possible retcons spring to mind: firstly, the Ice Warriors on Mars are known to be dying out – that's why they launch their invasion in "The Seeds of Death" anyway – so perhaps they have retreated to the polar Ice Caps and are far, far away from Bowie Base One.

Alternatively, they may have already abandoned Mars and be surviving in their fleet in space until some critical development forces (some of?) them to attack the Earth, perhaps while others leave to found the New Mars that will be their homeworld for the Peladon saga.

Or, possibly most ironically, the Ice Warriors themselves are entombed in that glacier under Bowie Base One and the Flood far from being their enemy is some kind of genetically engineered alarm clock designed to possess anyone coming close and use them to wake up the race for real. Several commentators have remarked, as did Alex, that the cracked skin around the mouths of the Flood's victims is very like the appearance of the Ice Warriors' mouths under their helmets, so maybe the Warriors themselves are carriers of the Flood.

In fact, in any of these cases the attack in "The Seeds of Death" could be seen as a Martian retaliation for setting off a nuke on their home planet.

Of course, "Seeds of Death" sees Earth water as toxic to the deadly Martian seeds… so that's either a flagrant contraction of the "just one drop would infect Earth" that we see here, or rather blackly ironic.

It's been too long since "Planet of the Dead" but "The Waters of Mars" was worth the wait, vastly superior to the desert runaround, it both told an important story of its own, beautifully moving in its quieter moments, and prepared the way for a genuinely big conclusion to the whole tenth Doctor story, indeed the whole of Russell Davies' Doctor Who with some brilliant lines along the way:

"State your name, rank and intention" "Errr, the Doctor… Doctor… fun?"

rather sums up the series' mission statement, while

"Who's going to save you?" "Captain Adelaide Brooke"

is the perfect defining moment for Doctor and companion.

Mind you, the "funny robot" – not actually cute. The design drawing shown in "Confidential" was much better, but not how it ended up, perhaps because Wall-E got there first.

Next Time: Will the Doctor Live or Let Die? Will it scare the Living Daylights out of him? Or will he see his Licence Revoked? Look, basically Millennium is too excited for words because James Bond himself, Timothy Dalton, really is a Time Lord and this really is "The End of Time"


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