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What Price Victory: An Advance Review of BBC America's "Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars"

"Water always wins."

Those words are uttered by the Doctor (David Tennant) about a certain water-based entity stalking the crew of Bowie Base One, the groundbreaking Mars colony currently inhabited by a group of Earth scientists. Certainly then, the Doctor and the residents of Bowie Base One (and, yes, that's a direct reference to "Life on Mars" singer David Bowie) are at a bit of a disadvantage. How do you fight something that's persistent, deadly, and can wait forever, wearing down everything around it? How do you battle the eternal?

In his journeys through time and space, The Doctor has squared off against some pretty tough adversaries but perhaps none quite so dangerous as the one he faces in the latest Doctor Who special, the darkly compelling Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars, written by Russell T. Davies and Phil Ford and directed by Graeme Harper.

That's because the enemy he must confront is himself.

I had the opportunity to watch Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars in advance of its US broadcast tomorrow night on BBC America and was immediately struck by its darkness, its stakes, and a sense that time is finally catching up with the Tenth Doctor.

Just what did I think of Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars? Read on for my thoughts but beware there are minor spoilers lurking about.

It's worth noting that Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars is the best of the three season-bridging Doctor Who specials that have aired in the last year or so. The Next Doctor offered a campy Victorian-era steampunk rollercoaster ride in the tradition of other Christmas-themed episodes, The Planet of the Dead was an adventure story that fused together a heist with a sci-fi caper. And finally Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars represents the beginning of David Tennant's swan song on the series. It's the darkest of the specials and the most complex in terms of the emotions that are brought up over the course of the hour.

At its core, Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars is a story of survival, not just for the crew members of Bowie Base One but also for the Doctor himself, the ultimate survivor of a doomed race that has been exterminated. Survivor guilt can do strange things to those it infects; it's propelled the Doctor out among the stars on a never-ending series of adventures, always running, always looking to connect, and always ending up once more on his own.

Over the course of the revival series, we've seen the Doctor attempt to form permanent relationships with the companions he brings aboard the TARDIS but every time he does, the universe conspires to punish the Doctor for managing to survive. Each of those relationships--whether it be with Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, or Donna Noble--always end in tragedy.

In Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars, the Doctor talks about certain events being fixed points in time and the plot revolves around his interference into one of those very unalterable events. Here, he comes in contact with the crew of Bowie Base One, led by the gruff Adelaide Brooke (Lindsay Duncan). Adelaide is unlike any of the other companions the Doctor has encountered; she's perhaps a woman as stubborn and far-thinking as the Doctor himself, a pragmatist who knows just what needs to be done, no matter what the sacrifice. As the base falls prey to the aforementioned water-based entities, Adelaide faces her toughest decision yet, a choice that she must make that will put the future of the human race on the line and yet which also connects to a very personal moment she shared fifty years earlier, a moment that ties in very nicely with the continuity and plot of the Doctor Who revival series.

As for the Doctor, he too faces a choice here. It's a decision which speaks volumes about the pressures and tragedies that the Tenth Doctor has faced since his regeneration. It's a monumental decision that alters some of the unquestionable boundaries the Doctor has placed on himself and ultimately exposes his fatal flaw.

Yes, it turns out that the Doctor is just as human, perhaps, as any of us. And the flaw he holds within his character is one that has faced many a character in literature as the Doctor falls prey to hubris and makes a decision that could change the Doctor from hero into a tragic figure.

Tenant and Duncan make a superb pair and there's an energy and respect between the two that puts them on equal footing in a way that the Doctor hasn't quite been with any of his previous companions. There's a sense that Adelaide, like the Doctor, has to make unpopular decisions and that she too is alone in the universe. That they would find each other to be sympatico souls in the toughest of situations and yet never take their chemistry into a romantic place is a testament both to the actors and the top-notch writing of Davies and Ford here. There are still little Davies-esque quirks here, such as the "gadget, gadget"-spouting droid but this is a more serious, "adult" adventure than we've seen the Doctor on in quite a while.

I won't say anything more, lest I give away just what happens in this momentous and tense special. The end is near for the Doctor and will signal its arrival with four knocks. That time is drawing ever closer and in Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars there's a sense of a ticking clock as we prepare to say goodbye to the Tenth Doctor and series lead David Tennant. Decisions are made, lines are crossed, and consequences hit home.

Yet for all of the Doctor's bravery and good intentions, there are some things that can't be undone, some events that must unfold, and some fates that can't be avoided. For a man such as the Doctor, a Time Lord who exists somewhat outside the laws of time and space, I am sure that the irony isn't lost on him.

Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars airs tomorrow night at 9 pm ET/PT on BBC America.


Bella Spruce said…
This sounds fantastic! I can't wait to see it!

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