Thursday, November 26, 2009

Doctor Who - The Waters of Mars

So that's what it takes ... a new Doctor Who episode to drag me kicking and screaming back to the keyboard to pen some thoughts ... soooooo much has been happening since I last posted here it's unbelievable. Those who keep up with me on Facebook will know some of it ... but every time I vow to post more here, everything conspires to get in the way. Anyway ... enough of that, and onto the latest Who episode, The Waters of Mars which was on a week or so back. What an intriguing episode. The trailers and pictures really got my imagination going, especially as they revealed the monster and all ... but what of the story itself? Well as usual I'm just gonna waffle on and we'll see where it takes us. The TARDIS arrives on Mars ... possibly the first time the Doctor has visited there since Pyramids of Mars (and I know people will correct me if I'm wrong) and it's a rather lovely red quarry, and the Doctor has a fetching spacesuit which looks very similar to other spacesuits he has worn (maybe to make it easier for the people who make the little figures to release another variant). As the Doctor had a helmet on, I wondered how he heard the cute Gadget robot when it threatened him ... and that robot ... hmmm ... another merchandise opportunity perhaps. To diverge slightly, I had to laugh watching the Confidential episode when they showed a drawing of Gadget and everyone sort of nodded sagely in the face of Russell T Davies' obvious enthusiasm and love for it ... when all I was thinking was that it was the same as Number 5 from the Short Circuit films ... at least it was changed for the televised version as presumably someone else spotted the near identicalness of the drawing. We head to a space-base which looked very CGI to me, more so than other exterior CGI shots in other episodes, and there the Doctor meets the crew. I liked the Doctor's response to 'Name, Rank, Intention' with 'Doctor, Doctor, Fun' ... but I was less impressed by the woman in charge - Adelaide - waving a blaster around. In a pressurised room? What if she missed? Maybe it was just some sort of Stun Gun or something, a taser perhaps. The flashes to the future-Wikipedia were nice at first, but became increasingly laboured as we saw them for every crew member. Alright already, we get the idea. They're all going to die. Today. The whole scene was further let down by the wall-to-wall rubbish music which irritated me throughout the episode. Please would someone tell Murray Gold that less is more ... But the monsters are afoot, and I liked the first transformation taking place in the background to the shot. It's a shame then that every transformation was then seen like this, weakening the initial good idea and making it all feel very samey. The lights go off in the Biodome, but they seem to make a noise when they do. Do lights actually make a noise when you switch them off and on? They do in films and on TV, but in real life? I know that when you switch on hot outdoor floodlights, there can be a sizzle as any moisture on the casing is evaporated ... but on Mars? In a partial vacuum? I don't know. And then they analyse a roar and decide that it's Andy's voice print. Rubbish! How could that possibly work? A speechless howl can be tracked to a person's normal voice print ... disbelief is beginning to be stretched here. Before we can say Lynx Deodorant, the monsters are sweating just like the poor man in those advertisements. Water literally pours off them, and the effect was very well done and very unsettling. When the coloured girl, Maggie, changes into a monster, she's the best of them all as she stands in the isolation ward. Now why does that have door seals of a lesser quality than elsewhere in the base? Don't the designers know what 'isolation' means ... Ah ... but of course ... the base was designed by the same lunatic who designed the spaceship in 42 and the walkway with the giant fans in The End of the World ... that also explains the hideously long, vast, pointless hangar-like connecting walkways to the external domes. So as it's all getting a bit scary for the kids - and Maggie is very scary and unsettling indeed - we need some light relief, so the Doctor manages to make a robot that is designed to go at 2 miles per hour, somehow sprout rockets and go at 10 miles an hour instead. Baffling but fun. I liked the ice field set a lot - very simple - and I hoped that something might come up from the ice later, but no such luck despite all appearances to the contrary. But the chat here between the Doctor and Adelaide is tedious. It drags the whole thing down for a good five minutes. Moments in time being fixed ... I dunno ... sounds a bit like make-it-up-as-you-go-along to me. But then a Dalek interlude. What a rubbish Dalek! Why didn't it kill her? The Daleks were dragging Earth light years off course ... killing countless people into the bargain. If Davros' plan had worked, then everyone would have died anyway ... so are they now trying to say that it would never had worked because Adelaide could not die until her allotted time? Makes it all seem a bit pointless then. Back to the plot, and how can water get in through airtight seals? Air has smaller molecules than water, so there's no way it could happen. And in any case, if water did get through, why didn't the air inside then escape? The pressure seemed quite great later on ... Now we have messianic choral music which is OK, and the bit in the airlock where the Doctor talks with Adelaide was much better than the earlier scenes. And so the Doctor walks away ... listening as the humans all struggle to survive behind him. This is a lovely sequence, very nicely played and quite original I felt. However, where the Doctor said that Adelaide's dying to save the Earth was what inspired her granddaughter ... how does that then reconcile with the ending? But the Doctor has a change of heart and returns to try and help save who he can. I liked the hopelessness of it all when Roman was splashed with a drop, and then the Shuttle-guy, Ed, getting sprayed was nice, leaving them all with no hope. The shuttle explosion was spectacular - lovely effect and very impressively carried out. The hull is breached ... so how does everyone breathe then? And the Doctor can electrify the doors? Why didn't he do that before? And how does that work anyway? On what sort of space-base does a control panel allow you to electrify the doors. It would have to have been designed by a lunatic ... oh. The point of including the Gadget robot becomes apparent as the Doctor sends it to get the TARDIS. How convenient that it can hold a key, is the right width to get through the doors, can operate all the correct controls and get the TARDIS back to the Doctor in the nick of time. Lucky that the TARDIS console didn't need hitting with the rubber mallet then. But I was wondering ... when the Doctor first got to the base, he left the TARDIS and climbed over mountains and ended up looking down on the base from a quarry-like area which was in a crater of sorts with a mountain range around it ... so how did Gadget manage a straight run to the TARDIS then? Slightly puzzling. So the people are saved and the base and the water is blown up. A great climax, which is then spoiled by a rubbish final ending. I appreciate the Doctor's mindset of 'I can do anything I like' and being Timelord Victorious, but it all came over as wrong handed. I could see that they were riffing on Donna telling him he needed someone to rein him in sometimes ... and it put me in mind of how perhaps the Master justified his actions ... because he could. I also wondered if the climax to David Tennant's run will see the Doctor and Master change places, with the Doctor being the menace to the universe and the Master having to stop him ... All of which would have worked, except that the Doctor had no need to dump everyone down on Earth on the day the base exploded, outside Adelaide's own house! Why not anywhere else in the world, and tell them to take on new identities and allow everyone to think they all perished on Mars ... much more sensible and logical. So Adelaide's granddaughter is going to be inspired because her gran blew her brains out? She didn't save Earth doing that now did she? I can see it being all hushed up by the family anyway, and them pretending she died on Mars ... which makes her death ultimately pointless. There's also the question of why Adelaide killed herself at all - she never once gave the impression that she was a quitter, that she would accept her fate. It was only when all other options were exhausted that she set the base to detonate ... so it's so out of character for her to do what she did. So unworked for in the narrative and the acting. Just very disappointing. And finally, to cap it all, a comedy Ood Sigma appears like the Watcher of old, and stands, silently watching the Doctor as he gets all griefy and angsty about it all ... and as the Cloister Bell tolls in the TARDIS, so the credits roll. Overall then ... it was a great episode. Exciting and rollicking, you bet! Some brilliant monsters which were creepy and scary, genuinely unsettling and very well acted and brought to life by the cast. I loved the base under siege setting, so redolent of Doctor Whos past, and another great performance by David Tennant capped it all really. The script was generally strong - and I think the juxtaposition of Phil Ford and Russell T Davies' ideas really worked well, though I would be at a loss to guess who came up with what bits. I would hazard a guess that the basic plot of alien water monsters on Mars came from Phil, while Russell jazzed it all up with the Adelaide/Doctor interplay, and the ending. But I could be completely wrong. It had moments where it dragged - like the Dalek sequence half an hour in - but also moments of magnificence - like the Doctor walking away listening to humans die as he goes. Overall it was perhaps the best of all the Specials to date, managing to maintain the excitement and tension, to tell a nice little story, and to keep interest throughout. Personally I know very little about the final two episodes due for transmission, but as I'm not a fan of the Master, I'm kind of ambivalent about them. We have already seen a climactic two parter with the Master and I have a sense that this will be more of the same - all the characters from the past rolled out in a potpourri of deja vu, feeling like some sort of 'best of' all the previous season enders. Maybe I'm wrong ... but as always we shall see.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

What a very strange review. Until I got to the third to last paragraph, I assumed you hated this episode. Then you say it was "great". So much negativity toward an "exciting and rollicking" episode. What's up with that?

David said...

In my reviews I like to go through and sort of nit-pick the things that intrigue and annoy me as I'm watching, but none of this means I'm not enjoying it ... lots of the reviews on here do that and because I realise that sometimes people might think that I don't like the stories etc as a result, I also like to point out that I do like them as well. Just because something seems to be full of holes doesn't make it not enjoyable.

Apparently I have a lot of 'scientific errors' in the review as well as pointed out by another Anonymous commentator ... well I never claimed to be a scientist and am really just saying what comes to mind as I watch. I'm quite happy to be corrected :) They mentioned that there was burning debris on the Martian surface as well - good point ... so it can't be a vacuum and there must be oxygen there as well perhaps. I think those scenes were just so good that I wasn't concerned about the whys and wherefores too much ...

Dave Mullen said...

I enjoyed it thoroughly, Doctor Who and storytelling in general always work best when there's a strong moral/ethical dillema at the core and is why i enjoy the Pertwee stories so much.
Here you had all those ingredients in attendance including the base under siege and quite an interesting group by modern Doctor Who standards, I cared nothing for the crew in 'The Impossible Planet' for example but in WoM you had much better actors who really tried to make something of their parts and it worked!
I did wince profoundly at the Doctors miraculous entry to save the crew in the penultimate act but it's becoming clear arrogance is as much a part of his character as it was for the Third Doctor (note the constant parallels!) and his comeuppance is soon to be had...

The visuals were superb, clearly being informed by the switch to digital and Hi-definition but I hope the effects of that are not biting unduly into the budget.
The water virus or whatever was a very effective idea but made no sense, where did all that water come from?!!

Out of interest I can tell you that a lot of industrial lighting is indeed VERY noisy when first turned on and the filament or whatever is activated, I've worked in enough places to attest to that, and you're right about the complete lapse in logic of the Daleks decision not to kill her when the Daleks were engaged in a campaign of utter extermination!

Still, While i have only seen it once (my DVD recorder failed yet again) I had no issue with the idea the commander would shoot herself in the context, though again why the Doctor didn't just drop her off in the future to live anonymously with her daughter can maybe only be laid at the door of his by now raging ego, I think people just haven't absorbed how far gone the Doctor was at that point in that he just was not thinking it all through, that was what the scene was all about....

I'm not a fan at all of Simms Master and have a degree of apathy for the coming finale but these final scenes of the Doctor fleeing the dreaded Four knocks (cloister bell) and in a real sense running from himself were haunting scenes that will stick in my memory...

The Grumpy Cleric said...

THIS COMMENT IS BY THE FINAL INCARNATION OF "PIGBRAINEDHOMONCULUS":

I agree with you, again, David: "The Waters of Mars" was far better than "The Next Doctor" & "The Planet of the Dead". Scary, tense with a great performance from L. Duncan and a spellbinding performance from David Tennant.

But, it was a bit odd to hear the Doctor to talk about the role of destiny when often he doesn't normally give a fig about it. (Okay, except in "The Pyramids of Mars" & "Father's Day.") David's father is a former Moderator of Church of Scotland and I wonder if, as I write, a thesis in being written at the Media Studies Department of the University of St Andrews entitled "The Waters of Mars: Calvinist Predestination & The Timelord Victorius".Probably not .... But in "The Unicorn & The Wasp" we are told that there is the possibility that Agatha Christie CAN die & in "Turn Left" Rose tells Donna she has had an aura round her since birth so she has a destiny to fulfil- so
more Daviesian plotting-on-the- hoof again, I'm afraid, with a annoying nagging feeling that his closing stories of his era might see the Doctor's character being contorted to conform to Russel T's urge to be shockingly "original" rather than focussing on his real talent as a storyteller and the headless granny seems a bit of an odd motivator for her space travelling granddaughter ?

But I haven't felt so tense since the run up to "Rose", .... wait a minute .... actually since ..... "The Caves of Androzani .... no, since "Logopolis"!

SERIOUSLY.