Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars
(Autumn Special, 2009)
Is there any way to slake your thirst in the dust of the Red Planet?
Adelaide Brooke, the commander of Bowie Base One on Mars, tries to call home but loses contact. While her scientific teams have some fun on the planet’s surface, the Doctor arrives in the TARDIS.
He’s soon found and held at gunpoint by a flimsy robot named Gadget as a trespasser.
Once inside, Brooke demands to know his name, rank, and intention. He replies “The Doctor, doctor, fun,” before asking that she lower her gun and trust him. Brooks wonders if he’s a spy from a rival space agency, but the Doctor realizes that this mission is the one fated to end in a mysterious explosion with all hands lost. Unwilling to break the laws of time and subvert a fixed point in history, he apologizes with all of his hearts and tries to leave.
In the hydroponic farm, Andy Stone and Maggie Cain encounter a problem. Stone is infected by a mysterious life form and turns into a zombie-like creature that gushes water and attacks Cain.
As the crew investigates the mystery, the Doctor is forced to help Brooke when she locks up his spacesuit. As the crew walks to the hydroponic dome, the Doctor muses about robots – Gadget is controlled by Junior Technician Roman Groome – and asks Brooke if the mission is worth it. She says yes, with what the Doctor calls “starlight in her soul.”
They discover Cain and call for medical help. She is alive and taken to isolation while Brooke, physician Tarak Ital, and the Doctor look for Stone. Cain has no idea what happened to her, but she’s required to be isolated for twenty-four hours. Meanwhile, Ital finds Stone and is infected. Cain turns soon afterward.
Cain, controlled by the mysterious lifeform, discovers that Earth is mostly water. They should like that world.
Brooke and the Doctor find Stone and Ital. Talking to them fails, so they run for the airlock. Stone shoots a stream of water at the airlock door but none enters the chamber. Instead, both infected crewmen start probing the airlock door with water. They break through and continue the chase through the tunnels, hijacking Gadget along the way to act as a supercharged go-kart. The three of them return to the central base, but the Doctor warns her that water is patient and always wins.
Back in the base, they check in with Cain in the infirmary. The Doctor tries speaking in ancient North Martian, to which Cain reacts positively. He surmises that the ice fields, the source of the colony’s water, is contaminated. El Gold convinces Brooke to evacuate the base and the remaining crew start preparations. The Doctor reminds her that, since they’ve all been drinking from the same supply, they may all be infected already.
Swayed by his argument, Brooke leaves to investigate the ice fields. The Doctor debates leaving again, but joins her. Cain is left alone in the medical dome and immediately starts breaking out. With a scream, she sends a message to her infected comrades.
At the ice fields, the Doctor muses about the Ice Warriors and hypothesizes that they may have frozen the virus as a means of defeating it. Brooke asks why the Doctor is so keen to leave and he explains what a fixed point in time is. Brooke tells him about her inspiration: When she was ten years old, the Earth was stolen and moved across the universe, and she saw the Daleks from her window. She knew that she would follow them to the stars.
The Doctor tells her that, in doing so, she has created history. Brooke’s granddaughter, Susie Fontana Brooke, will be inspired by her story to pilot the first lightspeed craft, paving the way for generations of her descendants to explore the galaxy, with one even falling in love with an alien prince and creating a whole new species.
But the tale is only a consolation.
The moment is broken by a log entry from Stone. A filter was broken earlier in the day, allowing the virus to enter the water supply. Since the water isn’t available yet for the crew, the survivors are able to leave for Earth. While they continue preparations, the Doctor debates whether or not he should leave.
The crew discovers that Stone and Ital have scaled the base, surviving the elements, and are burrowing into the ceiling. It’s now a raise against time, and the Doctor knows that the fixed point has not changed.
He considers leaving. After he’s suited up and standing in the airlock, Brooke locks the system until he explains what happens next. He asks her to imagine Pompeii and how any action she took would only precipitate the event. He tells her about her destiny, how she destroys the base for reasons unknown but her sacrifice saves Earth, but Brooke refuses to die. She asks for help to change the future, but the Doctor refuses. He wonders if the Dalek knew when it saw her so many years ago.
Brooke releases him with a whispered “Damn you” and rushes away as the water enters the base. The Doctor listens as the crew tries to fight it… as Steffi Ehrlich plays a message from her daughters as she succumbs to the virus… as the shuttle is prepped for departure but fails as Cain breaks through… as Roman falls from one drop on his face… as Ed destroys the shuttle to prevent an incursion on Earth…
It’s the tragedy of a Time Lord. Of knowing everything and being powerless to change it.
But the Time Lords no longer exist. Their rules are gone forever. Nothing remains to restrain the Doctor. He can make his own rules.
So he decides to change it.
Knowing that the end of his song will be heralded by four knocks, he returns to save the crew, proclaiming that the laws of time are his and that they will obey him.
The environmental controls are destroyed. The spacesuits are damaged. The infected are breaking the ice. But the Doctor has a funny robot.
Using Gadget, the Doctor tries to bring the TARDIS to the crew as Brooke starts the self-destruct countdown. Gadget enters the TARDIS and sets the controls, piloting the time capsule to the base as the nuclear device explodes.
The TARDIS materializes on a snow-covered street. Brooke, Bennett, and Kerenski, and Gadget have survived, but the robot shuts down as it loses its control signal. Bennett can’t handle the stress and runs off. Kerenski follows while Brooke confronts the Doctor with the consequences of his actions. The future the Doctor told her about will be broken, but she tells him that no one should have that much power.
The Time Lord Victorious is wrong.
Brooke enters her house, but as the Doctor walks away, she commits suicide with her laser pistol. Bennett and Kerenski will still tell the tale of how she bravely saved Earth. The future is saved.
The Doctor realizes that he’s gone too far, witnessing a vision of Ood Sigma as he wonders if his time has come.
The Cloister Bell sounds. His time is near. But with a defiant “No”, the Doctor sets the TARDIS in motion once again in an effort to outrun his destiny.
What we see here are the depths of the Doctor when unrestrained by neither the conservatism of the Time Lords nor the humanity of the companions. We’ve seen the darkness of the Doctor before – the Tenth Doctor’s rage manifested in The Runaway Bride, the Sixth Doctor let it slip through in post-regeneration psychosis, and the Fourth Doctor displayed how easily he’d wield absolute power in the absence of companions – and we know just how important it is that the Doctor be tempered.
The maxim is true: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
That is one of the Doctor’s weaknesses. Another is love and compassion, which is played in concert with the temptation of power, resulting in this excellent character study of someone who wants to do so much.
It certainly earned that 2010 Hugo Award. The story was competing against its own, of course, but I’d side with this one.
Taking a look at the franchise’s history, this is the second time that the TARDIS has heralded the Doctor’s regeneration through the Cloister Bell. It did this in Logopolis, but in that instance, the Fourth Doctor was willing to wait for the inevitability whereas the Tenth Doctor pretty much fears the coming milestone.
The nod to K9 was amusing, owing to the Doctor’s long-standing love for his canine companion.
We also have quite the focal point in the mythology here. By live action standards in 2009, the next story is Tennant’s finale, The End of Time. Come 2013, The Day of the Doctor would get wedged in between the two, and if we expand to the animated specials (which we do on the Timestamps Project), Dreamland is also on the table.
This story’s placement gets even more complicated this year with the Time Lord Victorious multimedia event, which (naturally) incorporates this story into its narrative.
Finally, there’s an important companion note related to this story and actress Lindsay Duncan. As of this story, she became both the oldest actress and oldest individual to travel in the TARDIS. She’ll forfeit the latter title to Bernard Cribbins in The End of Time.
Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”
UP NEXT – Sarah Jane Adventures: The Gift
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.