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29 March 2015 @ 02:18 pm
NuWho Rewatch: Waters of Mars  
This was the favourite of my specials back in 2009. I've downgraded my opinion on this rewatch. I still liked it a lot, but it is difficult to ignore the fact that the central dilemma is an artefact of having a TV show based on time travel, as opposed to anything real and also that a lot of the story's impact is owed to the direction in a couple of key scenes as opposed to the script itself, and that elsewhere the direction is a bit flabby.

It is hard to tell whether Davies' always planned to have the 10th Doctor ultimately brought low by his own hubris. The journey to the point he reaches in Waters of Mars has not been linear, but the Doctor's need for a companion to keep him in check had been signposted frequently and repeatedly throughout NuWho up until this point. Moreover his tendencies to arrogance, to making other people's tragedies all about him, to think in terms of the grandiose rather than the individual had been criticised by a range of viewers. The episode draws a parallel to The Fires of Pompeii and I suspect that that is not just because both are about "fixed points in time" but also because the Doctor's actions in both are largely the same: he saves who he can while the broad sweep of history remains unchanged, but in The Fires of Pompeii Donna urges him to save Caecillius and his family simply out of a desire to save people, even a few, even if the greater catastrophe can not be avoided. In Waters of Mars the Doctor frames this act as one of defiance against the laws of time, naming himself "the Time Lord Victorious", it seems that it isn't really about saving the people at all, so much as the Doctor getting to win. I'm hoping that viewing of the The End of Time will link up with this and show us Time Lords Victorious.

I've seen Stephen Moffat criticised for making his companion's character growth and key character points hinge upon completely unrelateable science fiction concepts (what if my baby were stolen at birth to be turned into a weapon to be used against my best friend) and that this makes them less grounded than Davies' companions who were driven by indecision about boyfriends, difficult parents and lack of self-esteem. The same criticism can be levelled at the Waters of Mars. The concept of fixed points in time is entirely artificial, created to prevent the show from changing established history, while allowing the high stakes of an existential threat to the human race to be set even in episodes where we have seen the future. As a central dilemma to an episode therefore, it lacks any grounding in reality. The problem is an artificial one and could be solved (or not) by technobabble just as easily as it is (or is not) resolved here.

Similarly, with the exception of Adelaide, most of the base's crew are necessarily rather sketchily drawn. Possibly this is deliberate, the Doctor has no real interest in any of them, he is fixated upon Adelaide. They are all competent and noble, most with family on Earth that will miss them. While their deaths contribute to the sense of growing doom, the viewer isn't particularly attached to any of them. Even Adelaide is mostly a bit sharp, and there primarily to judge the Doctor as he has so often judged humanity rather than to be a character in her own right.

The direction is oddly inconsistent. Graeme Harper had a solid reputation among Doctor Who fans for delivering stories which rose above the cash-strapped constraints of the 1980s, many of which were considered classics of the period. His work for the new series had been less impressive. Some bits of the Waters of Mars don't work - a lot of the slow running down corridors in particular. On the other hand the sequence from where the Doctor starts to actually leave, through to his decision to return is excellent in conveying his sense of detachment and helplessness while the situation in the base goes rapidly from bad but under control to much much worse. It is this sequence, in particular, which makes me like this story a lot. Similarly the effects of water dripping from people's hands and mouths are very effective while the actual jets of water fail to really convince as a strong enough force to tear apart a concrete structure in tens of minutes.

I still like this story. I like the way it fits into what seems to be Davies vision for these specials and I like the way it handles a lot of the criticisms of the tenth Doctor by taking them to their extremes and exploring the consequences. However seems to have been constructed primarily to make a point and, as a result, both the central dilemma and characters feel more in service to the plot than is usual in a Davies story.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/150971.html.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on March 29th, 2015 07:25 pm (UTC)
I had the reverse journey: I disliked it at the time, but on second viewing found it more palatable. My problem was the same as yours, the artificial and contradictory nature of the Doctor's dilemma (and why did Adelaide have to die to inspire her granddaughter? Was what she did not enough?). Still, second time around I found more to enjoy in the monsters and tension and the bravery of the ending.

The characters were fleshed out a little more in cut scenes available on the specials DVD box set. But not much, to be honest.

I've felt that Graeme Harper doesn't stand out as a new Who director as the techniques he pioneered in the eighties are standard or passe now.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on March 29th, 2015 07:26 pm (UTC)
Oh, and I think that in a science fiction series, the character growth should be driven by science fiction concepts. Which is one reason I prefer Moffat to Davies.
louisedennislouisedennis on March 30th, 2015 08:08 am (UTC)
I think it depends, it is very easy, when you have technobabble as a tool to create an artificial problem with an artificial solution and end up with a situation so divorced from reality that you lose audience identification. I don't think that happens here, but I think it is close.
dm12 on March 29th, 2015 11:18 pm (UTC)
It does make the point that the Doctor needs his companions to guide him, especially one like Donna, who only had his best interests at heart, who was his best friend and his moral compass.

"And there is no one to stop you?" Exactly what Donna had told him, she thought he needed someone to stop him sometimes, and she became the epitome of that. This story really showed how unhinged he became without her.

Yes, it did parallel "Fires of Pompeii" in that he tried to save someone, despite knowing that everyone was killed. This, however, was a case where they did it themselves to prevent whatever it was from going back to Earth. Saving someone in this case could have led to grave consequences. He might have justified it by saying it would have been what Donna wanted, but he didn't. He knew better, because Donna ended up having a clear sense of what he was doing and why, and she would have told him to back off here to prevent "infection" of Earth. At least he recognized that much and decided on a different reason... that he's all-powerful, controls Time itself and can do what he wants.

The whole thing might have been contrived, but it really illustrates Donna's point. Had she known he was refusing to travel with anyone, she would have been furious with him! It made me grieve for Donna's loss, and grieve for the Tenth Doctor, and as a result, I have a difficult time watching it.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on March 30th, 2015 08:10 am (UTC)
It's not an easy story, that's true. The modern iterations of the Doctor have this terrible tendency to sulk after they lose a companion, at least the eleventh dealt with it by becoming a recluse while, clearly the tenth tended to go off the rails.
dm12 on March 30th, 2015 11:34 am (UTC)
Ten had some obvious problems. He did sulk a bit after each companion, but then quickly found a new one... except after Donna, when he absolutely refused to find someone else and went off the rails.

He was simultaneously almost suicidal, yet when his time came he didn't want to go. Contrast that with Eleven's philosophical exit and recognition that everything moves on, and even Nine's almost cheerful exit. Ten's exit was extremely destructive; he destroyed the TARDIS in the process. That, too, was extremely difficult to watch. His views on regeneration as expressed to Wilf were not focused on the rebirth, but death; he said it with venom and loathing of the process...

Ten was, many times, difficult to watch, but it was rather like a train wreck; you have to watch even as you know that there is massive destruction. You can't turn away.