The Waters of Mars was my very first Dr Who episode. I was sitting back at my home Sunday evening, trying to find something to watch before calling it a night. It was about 10 pm and Dr Who was coming on PBS. Normally, I would pause on that station before flipping past it, but I decided to give it a try.
Neat fact, before I watched Day of the Doctor, this episode was my only frame of reference for the entirely of Doctor Who. All things considered, it was a good reference point. This was one of the better episodes of Dr Who ever made, if not one of the better episodes in television history.
As always, I will not be doing a recap. I’ll be breaking up my review into the Good, the Bad, and the Honest Truth.
Foreshadowing: The Tenth Doctor was going to die. He knew that ‘He will knock four times’ before The Doctor would die. But he really didn’t have any idea who would be knocking, only that there would be knocking. It made it very nerve-wracking when someone started to knock. You could see the Doctor counting it, even going as far as to stop the person from knocking in order to save his own life.
Of course, I didn’t know that when I first watch it. But it was still pretty disturbing. I figured it had to do with death knocking three times… which wasn’t too far off really.
Plus, with the way it ended with Sigma Ood standing there. Sigma Ood was the one who told him the prophecy of his death. That’s about as much foreshadowing as one can expect. And there’s just something creepy about the Ood in general….
The Antagonists: I love the victim antagonist motif. And in this episode, the ‘monsters’ were all victims. You see, humanity was starting to colonize Mars and needed water. They had filters to try to catch all the unknown and unknowable bad things that were probably in the water. Of course, something went wrong. One of the filters wasn’t properly fitted. This allowed for a virus to infect more than half the crew.
There’s no way to save them and, just like zombies, they want to infect others and turn them into monsters too. Their attack is unique. These are, for lack of a better term, water zombies. They spit water at their victims. If the water touches you in some way, you get turned into a water zombie too. It’s pretty horrific. These guys somehow generate water from within them… not sure if they desiccate while they project water or if it is a function of the virus itself to generate infected water… but that part doesn’t really matter. What matters is that they could project water pretty far, and they had a lot of it.
They were simple and effective. And… very, very scary.
The Doctor’s Speech: Close to the end of the episode, the Doctor did something that I never saw any protagonist do… ever. He gave a speech normally reserved for antagonists. He declared himself master of time, pretty much saying he knew better than the universe. He made himself a god. Check out the scene for yourself.
He tried to change time, discovering that he couldn’t do it. I loved his look when he realized he went too far.
The Doctor is desperate at this point. He doesn’t want to die. This sort of tension is incredible, and something that was sorely missing from the deaths of many of the other Doctors. Too many of them were okay with their own demise. Sure, they might have wanted to stay a little longer, but they never really fought for their own lives. The Tenth Doctor made it very clear. He did not want to die. He desperately didn’t, willing to do almost anything in order to avoid it.
This layer of complexity was missing from almost every other Doctor. It gave him a depth that was sorely lacking from all the others.
The Honest Truth
As I said, this was my very first Doctor Who episode, and I loved it. As a stand-alone, it’s fantastic! It has suspense, great dialogue, wonder acting, and about everything that you can hope for. In the context of the series, this was the set up for the Doctor’s death.
This episode deserves to be one of the greatest in Doctor Who history, if not in television history. Let me explain.
We all have watched episodes to where people were confronted with death. It’s considered to be “brave” to be flippant in the face of death or maybe to accept that we all will die someday. That’s not very interested. There’s no tension there when people are comfortable with their own deaths. Heck, I would say that is unnatural. More importantly, that’s bad storytelling. Nobody should be okay with dying. Nobody!
The Doctor did not want to die. He was not okay with dying. In fact, he never, ever made peace with his own death. While he never descended into the pits of despair. He never stopped struggling. Most of it came out in frustration, calling people “little people” and “unimportant.” But really, he didn’t mean it. The Doctor would risk his life for everyone and anyone. At heart, the Tenth Doctor was as great of a hero as any of the other Doctors, if not more so.
The Waters of Mars showed all of that.
This is a must see episode.