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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Greetings to the New Show: “Fringe”

There’s a tendency among viewers to see the name “J.J. Abrams” and instantly consider it to be a mark of quality television. This is called “The ‘Lost’ Effect,” so named because Abrams is so intrinsically linked to “Lost” that those of us who are fans of the series – and, yes, I consider myself to be one – will tend to shrug off his failures because, hey, the guy was still responsible for “Lost,” so we’ve gotta at least give his stuff a shot, right? Now, in the interest of fairness, we should acknowledge that there are other individuals who subscribe to “The ‘Alias’ Effect” and “The ‘Felicity’ Effect”…though, oddly, you don’t hear much about “The ‘What About Brian’ Effect.” But I digress. My point here, really, is this: when it comes to the latest series to have Abrams’ name listed a producer, Fox’s “Fringe,” let’s all just try to keep things in perspective, view the show on its own merits, and try not to love it or hate it solely because he’s a part of it.

As it happens, “Fringe” has the advantage of featuring a couple of other names which give it added credibility, particularly amongst sci-fi fans: Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Fox has really been pushing the fact that the duo wrote the script for “Transformers,” but for some reason, they don’t mention that they were called upon by Zack Snyder to assist with the script for “Watchmen.” Funny, that. Probably more important than either of those credits, however, is their longstanding working relationship with Abrams, having done time with him on “Alias” as both writers and executive producers and writing the screenplays for both “Mission: Impossible III” and the new “Star Trek” film. The collaboration has worked out well in the past, so there’s every reason to be hopeful that…

Dammit! See what I mean? I almost fell into being optimistic about “Fringe” just because Abrams is involved. Granted, he was only a third of that particular equation, but even so, I don’t want to do that. Not again. I did it with “Six Degrees,” and 13 episodes later, I was left a bitter shell of a TV critic. I can’t handle that kind of heartbreak a second time…particularly not when “Fringe” reminds me so much of still another show that was canceled too soon: “Threshold.”

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