November 16, 2009

Drowning in the Waters of Mars

"We're fighting time itself....and I'm gonna win!
(This will have some mild spoilers, mostly pertaining to tone and referents. Will not reveal any major plot twists)

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the beginning of the end of the Tenth Doctor.

We've all known this was coming, but The Waters of Mars formally jump-starts the end of David Tennant's time in the role of the Doctor...and for the first time, new Who not only seems steeped in its own continuity, but also in the continuity of classic Who, taking themes from both and creating a powerful hour of television.

Watching this episode reminded me of two classic series episodes: Genesis of the Daleks, with the infamous "have I the right?" scene, and The Caves of Androzani, where the Doctor was willing to sacrifice his own life for Peri. Much of The Waters of Mars contains elements from many episodes both new and modern - the obvious reference is Fires of Pompeii<(about fixed points in history) to Midnight (with its unknown adversary)....but Waters of Mars contains both obvious (an obligatory reference to the Ice Warriors) and not-so-obvious tonal and thematic references. (For me to say more would be spoiling). It's a typical base-under-siege, but even that's diminishing the plot and effect somewhat - the episode contains some very suspenseful moments.

But something happens in the middle of the episode, and it's a subtle shift - for maybe one of the first time's in the show's history (and that's including An Unearthly Child, the Doctor is revealed as...well, almost the villain of the piece.

It's not so much an obvious plot point as much as in the subtle details. At one point, when the Doctor is in his spacesuit, he almost seems like a figure of death, walking about as events unfold on Bowie Base One. (Cool reference!). But it's not until the last ten minutes unfold where we see that the Doctor's lack of a consistent companion...has had some effect on his thinking. Losing Rose was bad enough, but we see how Martha and (especially) Donna had some effect on him. This is a Doctor who...quite frankly, is scary. And not in a good way. And to say more would be spoiling.

The acting is top-notch, but Lindsay Duncan deserves additional praise. She manages to hit upon the right note at each point - a role that could have been played poorly at key moments is handled with grace and dignity. By the end of the hour, even though her end is foreshadowed, when it does happen, it still hits hard. So much so that the Doctor moves from being what we've experience someone a little more unfamiliar and frightening. And not in a good way.

But this is, quite frankly, one hell of a ride. Although I always advocate respecting copyright...this is one of those Doctor Who episodes that you probably shouldn't wait to see until it's on DVD.

Trust me on this. You'll thank me later.

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