The Waters of Mars, the latest episode of Doctor Who and the first of David Tennant’s last three episodes as the tenth Doctor, was an extremely satisfying, compelling and emotional episode.
There had been so much hype regarding Tennant’s final episodes, so that it seemed like nothing the Doctor Who production team could come up with would be good enough to live up to the hype. But so far, with The Waters of Mars, that was not the case.
The basic story of The Water of Mars is that The Doctor finds himself in 2059 on the first human base on Mars (Bowie Base One) but being a time traveler, he has knowledge about something very bad that will happen that very day.
The Doctor knows he has to keep this secret, leave and not get involved, since the events that take place that day are “fixed” and key to the future of the human race. But as the crew starts being infected by Martian water and being turned into what can only be described as “water monsters”, The Doctor finds himself being reluctantly drawn in, especially by the base's dynamic leader, Captain Adelaide Brooke.
One of the better things about The Waters of Mars is that as an audience member, we feel the same dilemma The Doctor does. We too feel the pain of having to watch Adelaide and her team (all of whom are very likeable) fight desperately, when we know there is no hope. We want them to be saved, yet realize that their deaths are inevitable and have to occur to ensure that future human history un-folds as it has before.
The tug of war in these emotional scenes allows for some great performing on Tennant’s part and this is especially true when The Doctor does something very uncharacteristic.
While we were warned The Doctor would do something unexpected in this episode, it still managed to be surprising. It would be too much of a spoiler to reveal what that action is here, but the moment is believably carried out by Tennant.
His strength as an actor, especially in this role, is his ability to switch on a dime from the happy-go-lucky Doctor, to a scary as hell 900 year old Time Lord. There are few of Tennant’s peers that can convincingly portray simmering fury and goofiness in equal measure – not just in the same scene or moment, but often at the same time.
The success of this episode is also due, in no small part, to the brilliant casting of Lindsay Duncan (Rome) as Captain Adelaide Brooke. Casting a fifty-something woman, with an impressive TV and film resume made all the difference. This is a part that would normally go to a beautiful actress in her thirties or forties, but casting a beautiful, strong woman in her fifties brought a certain gravitas to the part that younger actresses just haven’t had a chance to earn yet.
Duncan’s capability of showing strength and vulnerability in the very same moment was a vital quality in Adelaide, as she had to be someone unusual who could gain The Doctor’s admiration and respect in a short period of time. It was also essential Adelaide be someone who The Doctor would have a hard time not helping. This episode also called for an actress who could have great rapport with David Tennant and who could believably defy and challenge The Doctor, which Duncan was easily able to do.
All in all, this was the first special that actually felt, well, “special”. While “Planet of the Dead” was fun, it really wasn’t more than an ordinary Doctor Who episode with more expensive production values.
As with all of the best Doctor Who episodes, the effects, creatures and sets in The Waters of Mars are merely there to serve the story and not take center stage. Hopefully, Tennant’s final two episodes will be as good.
The Waters of Mars will air on BBC America on December 19th.