Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars

When it was first announced that “Doctor Who” was taking a break from normal seasons in 2009, I thought, “I can handle that – not a big deal.” After all, aside from the Fox TV movie with Paul McGann in 1996, I’d lived without new televised “Who” for 16 years before the show came back in ’05. Each new season since then has been like a little gift. Surely one year with “only” four specials would be a breeze? As 2009 droned on, however, it seemed an interminably long wait for new outings of the series, and it didn’t help matters that the one outing we did get – “Planet of the Dead” – was a subpar piece of storytelling at best. The other three specials are all finally being unveiled on BBC America in the last weeks of the year (actually, the big finale will play on the second day of 2010!). Anyway, this was my roundabout way of illustrating how much I’ve come to take the new series for granted, and thankfully “The Waters of Mars” is as strong a slice of “Who” as just about anything the series has done up to this point. It is, in fact, everything “Planet of the Dead” wasn’t, which may very well have been the point.

The Doctor (David Tennant), still traveling alone, lands on Mars in the year 2059. He trudges across the desolate, red landscape and bumps into a robot, called Gadget, that takes him to its leader on Bowie Base One, which is a clever enough joke – although one that’s a bit old hat for anyone who’s basked in the wonder that is “Life on Mars,” which coincidentally (or not) starred John Simm, who we’ll be seeing more of next week. Inside the base, the Time Lord meets the crew, led by Captain Adelaide Brooke (Lindsay Duncan), and quickly realizes who they are, and is as awestruck as any fanboy we’ve ever seen. Bowie Base One holds humanity’s first group of colonists on Mars, only the Doctor knows they all mysteriously died on the 21st of November, 2059. Guess what the date is? He quickly realizes that he should go, as this is an instance where he shouldn’t meddle with time. He sees it as a fixed point in the universe, and, as he explains later in the episode, “What happens here must always happen.” But events conspire to prevent his exit, and before long the crew begins succumbing to what ends up being a virus – it transforms them into hideous, zombie-type creatures, with cracked faces and the ability to use water as a deadly weapon. Only “Doctor Who” can find an inventive, frightening way to use water as a killer, and its ideas such as this that make the show the unique concept it is.

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TCA Tour, Day 2: “Doctor Who”

There are no two ways about it: it’s a great time to be a fan of the “Who”-niverse. Not only did the awesome “Torchwood: Children of Earth” miniseries blow away BBC America ratings records, thereby almost certainly insuring that we will see more of Captain Jack and company in the future, but we’ve just been witness to another great “Doctor Who” saga (“Planet of the Dead”) and will have two more coming up in the next few months, with “The Waters of Mars” premiering in the fall and the inevitable Christmas episode arriving…well, you know, somewhere around Christmas, probably. In fact, there’s really only one thing to be sad about: the imminent departure of The Tenth Doctor, otherwise known as David Tennant.

Oh, dear, I’m already starting to get sad about it. Let’s switch gears, then, and talk about how Tennant came to be The Doctor in the first place.

“I first met David when we did ‘Casanova’ together for the BBC,” said “Who” reinvigorator Russell T. Davies. “I remember doing rehearsals, and we used to make ‘Doctor Who’ jokes, which amused us. So he was already there in a way. When you work with these great actors, when you find a great actor, you just cling to them. They’re just so limitless and inspiring. So when it came to putting it together and writing it, we talked surprisingly little about it, really, didn’t we?”

“You just wrote it,” confirmed Tennant. “That was it, really. I just got the script and did it.”

So what was Tennant doing that was different from the other actors who were under consideration?

“He’s a great kisser,” replied Davies, before getting serious. “Actually, I’ll tell you what: it was the ‘Casanova’ audition, because that’s when I sort of thought, ‘Oh, my lord, that’s someone I want to spend many years working with.’ He had auditioned for ‘Casanova,’ and, you know, playing the world’s greatest lover, everyone came in and gave us very heavy and very serious would-be romantic portrayals. And David could just dance over dialogue like…”

At this point, Davies turned and addressed David directly. “I think you’re one of the few actors who understands that dialogue is sort of irrelevant,” he said. “You throw it away and you rattle across it with real speed, and it’s all going on underneath. You get the humor and the comedy, and there’s not many actors who do that. They take it very seriously. And I like stuff on the lighter end, no matter how dark the actual stuff is. It has that throw-away quality to it, and I love that.”

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