On “The Waters of Mars”

So I’ve watched last night’s Doctor Who, “The Waters of Mars.”

It’s slickly made. The effects work was especially nice. Graeme Harper acquitted himself well behind the camera. I loved the mention of the Ice Warriors.

I thought it was incredibly boring.

The plot is rather linear. The Doctor arrives at Bowie Base One on Mars (and yes, Virginia, there is life on Mars), has a geek moment, and then announces that he needs to bugger off. The twist, for once, is that the Doctor doesn’t want to get involved. And it’s not like events force him to get involved; they actually don’t. He really is allowed to bugger off, once it’s clear the situation is generally under control and he can’t do anything. But then the Doctor has an attack of conscience, goes a bit mental, resolves the situation, saves the people, and announces that he can do whatever he wants. Then bad things happen. The Doctor buggers off in the TARDIS. The end.

The problem with the episode is that it wants you to think that it’s playing with some interesting ideas, when it really isn’t. It’s trying to look more important than it is. There should be a massive philosophical exploration of destiny and fate versus free-will. The questions that the eighth Doctor and Badar wrestled with over when the Doctor can interfere with history and when he can’t in Lawrence Miles’ Interference are absolutely relevent to this story. Why can the Doctor topple this government, but why can’t the Doctor save that life? “The Waters of Mars” hints at that — yes, the Doctor says he can’t get involved — but there’s no depth to it. It’s so… because the Doctor says it’s so.

No one would try to discern a coherent philosophical system from Doctor Who, though Doctor Who and Philosophy is forthcoming from Open Court Press in 2010, and there’s a website called Doctor Who and Philosophy (which has a not unattractive design) and a Facebook page, too. So, okay, okay, people are trying to discern coherent philosophical systems from Doctor Who.

The point that I’m trying to make, since I went off on that tangent about Doctor Who and philosophy, but not Doctor Who and LEGO, is that there’s a big idea that should be at the heart of the episode — when can the Doctor get involved, and what limits his involvement — except that it’s handled poorly and off-handedly. It should have been the dramatic engine of the episode. Instead, kids at home were probably wondering why the Doctor wasn’t trying to save everyone. Just saying “I can’t be here” isn’t enough. Just saying “I’m sorry” isn’t enough.

RTD sometimes let the spectacle get in the way of the ideas. There were ideas, but they came too late, and the groundwork for the change in the Doctor’s personna from geek to god wasn’t established well enough before it happened. In this episode, anyway. One could argue that this — the monster in geek’s clothing — has always been a part of the tenth Doctor’s characterization, from his toppling of Harriet Jones’ government to his genocide against the Racnoss to his cruelty toward the Family of Blood.

I was bored with “The Waters of Mars.” I wasn’t engaged by it.

Yet, I’m still looking forward to Christmas and the regeneration. It’s the event that RTD has been building toward, as should be fairly clear by now, for his entire tenure as Doctor Who‘s producer. I like novelist Jon Blum’s ideas on where this may go.

Personally, I think RTD has been heading for a Reset Button, and I’ve thought this as far back as the third season. RTD is passing on the box of Doctor Who toys, and there’s one toy that he took out of the box and hasn’t used — Gallifrey and the Time Lords. It’s not RTD’s toy to take out of the box permanently, though; it was in the box when RTD received the box of toys from Philip Segal, and it was in the box of toys when Segal received them from John Nathan-Turner. For Steven Moffat to have the same box of toys to play with that he had, RTD has to put the Gallifrey/Time Lord toy back into the box. Maybe it will be overt, maybe it will be subtle (like The Gallifrey Chronicles, come to think of it), but the toy will go back in, and Moffat will inherit a toy box with all its toys intact. :tardis:

One thought on “On “The Waters of Mars”

  1. Ah, but Gallifrey only got put into the box of toys in 1969. It’s not intrinsic to the programme.

    In fact, the RTD Who has shown that the removal of it helped the show. The Doctor works better without a home, whether that’s because he is an exile (1963-69) or an orphan (2005-present). The return of the Master is so wonderful, insane and tragic because their world is gone. I point you to:
    “where is it, Doctor?”
    “we’re the only two left”

    A home the Doctor avoids, as opposed to one he is denied? I still remember Arc of Infinity

    I know we’re going to see something again this Christmas, but I really hope it isn’t a reset switch on Gallifrey. Leave it as a place that lives only in myths and a Time Lord’s head.

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