With the landing of Curiosity on Mars by NASA during this previous week, and the impending premiere of the next Doctor Who series this month, today’s Netflix Review was an easy choice. The Waters Of Mars is a crowning achievement from the Russell T. Davies and David Tennant epoch of Doctor Who, exploring a darker side of the Time Lord from Gallifrey previously unexplored, while he pops by the Red Planet for a bit a visit.
Set in 2059, the Doctor materializes his TARDIS on Mars with the goal of a bit of wandering and a bit of fun. Companionless since Donna Noble departed, he is essentially running from both responsibility and prophecy, the Doctor comes across the first Earth colony on the Red Planet, named Bowie Base One. Knowing that the base is destined for disaster, the Doctor finds himself in a crucial tipping point – should he interfere with a fixed point in time?
While at the colony, some of the colonists become infected and/or possessed with some kind of water demon species virus thing that places the lives of the others in danger. With the Doctor’s involvement, the colonists might be able to endure, but the conflict within the Time Lord is an almost unending debate of whether he should be involving himself at all.
The script writing of The Waters Of Mars by Russell T. Davies along with collaborator Phil Ford is some of the most solid during the Tennant era of Doctor Who. The standalone special episode runs at a little over an hour, but works and flows as flawlessly as a feature film. While there are many references to the Doctor’s own personal journey before this escapade and after this one, including his destiny (as well as events that would ultimately lead to the Eleventh, Matt Smith incarnation), the standalone episode leaves no element unused, but also addresses some darker matters about the Doctor himself.
At the core of The Waters Of Mars is the deep exploration of the dangerous consciousness of a Time Lord. It has a strong emphasis on how important it is for the Doctor to be accompanied by an assistant of some kind, to help keep him grounded.
The special effects in this particular stand-alone special of Doctor Who are highly notable, with much attention and innovation paid to the monster make-up effects needed for The Flood. The Flood monsters are incredibly creepy, and guaranteed to send shudders up your spine.
They bring a strong horror film element to the special, an aspect (with the exception of Steven Moffat‘s writings) not quite explored in such depth since the Phillip Hinchcliffe showrunner era of Classic Doctor Who.
On the subject of Classic Doctor Who, there are several references (and hints) to older episodes focusing on Martian elements – whether they are related to Sutekh and the Pyramids; or the much-missed Ice Warriors. Additionally, there are frequent hints and clues as to the direction the Doctor is heading towards – both in the ultimate conclusion of the Tenth Tennant Era and the beginning of the Eleventh Smith Era.
David Tennant plays a brilliant performance in this Doctor Who adventure, only to be eclipsed by his final performance in The End Of Time. He explored the depths of his own interpretation of the Doctor, along with some mild and delicate references to previous incarnations (notably Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker).
Coupled with Lindsay Duncan playing colony leader Adelaide Brooke, the duo put in a remarkable exploration of character, with forceful emphasis on the ethical dilemmas associated with choice. Australian actor Peter O’Brien is also a welcome addition to the guest cast, playing second-in-command Ed Gold. He brings a strong consolidation to the show, with an unyielding characterization with strong attention to dependability and duty.
The direction by Graeme Harper is almost flawless, and I cannot list any criticism of his efforts in The Waters Of Mars. Harper is considered to be the longest-running director of Doctor Who, having directed a few Classic episodes (including the marvelous episode concluding Peter Davison‘s era as the Fifth Doctor, The Caves of Androzani). The Waters Of Mars is the last episode Graeme directed. I truly hope he returns at some point in the future.
Additionally, on the technical side of filmmaking, I want to make mention of one creative member of the crew often not mentioned in reviews such as this. The enigmatic and genius Murray Gold, composer and musician is responsible for the musical reawakening of Doctor Who ever since the series was revived in 2005. Gold brought a cinematic feel to the series, once only reserved to the John Williams and Star Wars types of productions of the world. Murray Gold is a crucial element to the revival of Doctor Who in so many ways, and I honestly can’t say whether the Nu Who would have survived without him. The brilliant composer brings some incredible work to the viewers with his musical score for The Waters Of Mars.
On the whole, The Waters Of Mars is an episode of Doctor Who not to be missed. It explores key elements of the David Tennant era, with many hints and references to the past and future of the series. Coupled with a killer performance from Tennant, accompanied by a tight story, brilliant direction, and fabulous monster effects, you’ll not find a better way to celebrate both the landing on Mars and the return of Doctor Who at the same time. Doctor Who: The Waters Of Mars is a must-see – if you’ve never watched it, then catch it as soon as you can.