The Waters of Mars

DVD NTSC
Region 1
5-episode
box set

DVD PAL
Region 2
5-episode
box set
Standard DVD
1-episode
volume


See below for Blu-Ray options
(Doctor Who Story No. 206, starring David Tennant)
  • written by Russell T. Davies and Phil Ford
  • directed by Graeme Harper
  • produced by Nikki Wilson
  • music by Murray Gold
  • 1 episode @ 62 min.
Story: The Doctor explores Mars, quickly encountering an early human colony just as trouble breaks out on their base. What has caused endless amounts of water to spring forth out of several colony members? Does the ancient civilization of the Ice Warriors have anything to do with the underground glacier that the humans decided to build their base on? And what historical significance is the Doctor keeping secret about the events that are about to take place?

DVD Extras include:

  • Doctor Who Confidential documentary: Is There Life on Mars? (58 min.) (also included on smaller DVD volumes)
    with David Tennant (The Doctor), Lindsay Duncan (Adelaide Brooke), Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Maggie Cain), Alan Ruscoe (Andy Stone),
    writers Russell T. Davies and Phil Ford, director Graeme Harper, producer Nikki Wilson, prosthetics designer Neill Gorton,
    production designer Edward Thomas, and others....
  • Deleted & Extended Scenes (multi-story sets only, 9 min.)
  • English Subtitles

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)


The most exciting setting during David Tennant's final year of specials is lumbered with the sorriest contrivance of a story we've seen on Doctor Who in a long, long time. Some of the ideas are not bad at all, and there is definite potential here, yet the story wastes most of its opportunities to explore the material satisfactorily. I'd estimate there are about 5 - 10 minutes of good moments scattered amongst 50-55 minutes of disappointment ranging from stuff that falls flat to stuff that I viscerally deplore sitting through. In the past, I really wanted to like this one, and was keen to give it as many consolation points as possible. These days I dread watching it, and am considerably less impressed by any of it when I do. I wonder if it has managed to become more unloved than my long-declared least favourite New Millennium episode "Love and Monsters" (story no. 179).


A narrative can live or die on its character motivations, especially when it attempts to probe the depths of its central characters as this one does. And it is on this level where we will see the characters and the narrative itself run back to clutch uninspiring clichés over and over, unable to think through any of their problems logically or cleanly.

There is a potent character issue here for the Doctor as well, an issue that everything hinges on, an important warning in fact, but the framing that the story puts around this obscures the heart of it, and may lead people to be warned about the wrong thing. The real heart of this tale's issues flies under the radar, poisoning the two lead characters' beliefs and receiving no highlight or examination or in-depth probe.... until the in-depth analysis version of this revised review. Come back and read that version after you've seen the story, as it would spoil it to go over all the necessary details here.


The Red Planet

This story is refreshing in some ways, putting in a lot of the essential small touches that had needlessly been left out of recent previous adventures, and choosing a superb setting for itself. The good points begin to pile on quickly during the story's opening. The exterior of Mars is very, VERY nicely realized in this adventure, on par with anything seen in recent feature films like Brian dePalma's "Mission to Mars". In the midst of this impressive vista, our favourite police box gives us a proper decent materialization effect, something all too rare for the David Tennant era. The vehicle is taking us properly to appropriate places for once here. NICE!

As the Doctor comes out wearing the space suit he acquired in "The Impossible Planet" (story no. 178), [....or is it the one from "42" (story no. 188)?] another of the long-term design problems with the new millennium TARDIS starts to beg for a fix that it never gets in this tale. Namely, we could really do with an airlock between the interior and the exterior of the TARDIS today. Go back and have a good look at "Four to Doomsday" (story no. 118), and you'll see how the previous design neatly incorporated an airlock into itself, perhaps by accident, but it worked so well. I miss it.

The interior of the Mars base is not quite as cool as what other Martian films (or Doctor Who base-defense bottle stories) have given us. The bright white control areas seem out of place for the red planet, but worse are those massive corridors. Much is made about how much easier it would be to bicycle the length of them than run or walk, but bikes would have cost too much in fuel to be brought in from Earth. Well, what about all the fuel it took to cart in all those massive walls and ceilings to build such a friggin' tall, wide, LOOOONG corridor that does nothing but connect one dome to another? If you can afford the fuel for that, you can throw in a dozen bikes easy!


Bottled Water

Early on, this story clearly and solidly crafts its most external "A"-plot by using the well-established formula for a horrific base-defense bottle story, which, although often carted into Doctor Who as a last minute replacement for other ideas whose scripts didn't work out, usually turn out to be amongst the best stories of whatever season they appear in. This tale is probably unique in the ranks of this sub-genre for having those antagonists use water the way they do. Interesting.

But the tale's creativity seems to dry up there. The effort here in this story focuses so strongly and exclusively on running away from the phenomenon, that it can't help but be one of the weaker examples of this sci-fi subgenre. This eats into the story's points and ranking big time.

These "bottle-story" types of tales also often thrive on a fairly large cast of semi-interesting decently developed characters. Perhaps due to the fact that this story is little more than half as long as the average movie or full-length Doctor Who story, and the fact that it gets distracted from formula by a less worthy idea, most of the guest characters in this story never really come alive as interesting three-dimensional people... which makes it hard to root very deeply for them. Expanding this tale to somewhere between 100 and 120 minutes might have allowed space to remedy this and several other of the story's omissions.

Lindsay Duncan's base-leader character of Adelaide Brooke is really the only guest character who gets a decent level of characterization, necessary of course to facilitate the other main idea of the piece, but she does stand out amongst all the other guest characters because of it.


Warriors of Water and Ice

Of course, Doctor Who has been going on for so long now, Mars has not been able to escape having some mythology of its own within the show. "Pyramids of Mars" (story no. 082) may have been the only previous story that actually went to the red planet, but perhaps more significantly the race of the Ice Warriors laid claim to the place as their planet of origin, and returned so often to Doctor Who that they developed a significant cultural presence within the show.

Were we witnessing the genesis of the Ice Warriors in this story? Would the Ice Warriors play some significant role in the tale? One of the best parts of the story are the few lines that the Doctor speaks in "Ancient North Martian", which David Tennant pulls off brilliantly with a little help from a very creepy look of recognition from another character. Excellent!


"And that's how you create history."

Ultimately, a lot of this story's limited screen time is wasted on an old conundrum that should have been definitively put to rest by now. Without wanting to give too much away, let's just say the characters waste a bit too much time worrying about "changing" future history, when their screen time could be put to better uses.

There is a LOT more to be said about this in the in-depth analysis version of this review. Come back and read it after you've seen the story.

As the story moves into its climactic action sequences, the philosophical battle-lines are clearly drawn... Graeme Harper's directing is geared to draw the maximum of emotion out of the audience, even if a wee bit of clarity goes out the window. Does this wash of emotion blind people from thinking clearly about the philosophies often brought alongside all the action? See the show and have a good think about it yourself.

The most memorable and moving piece of Murray Gold's score for me occurs right at the end of this story, and though the best portion of it is available on the official CD release, it isn't particularly well labeled or placed. It's been stuck in at the end of the suite for "The End of Time" (the next story), and confusingly labeled simply "Vale", just like the first track on the first CD, which features the choral melody only. But it's the pulsing string rhythms underneath that give the variation in "The Waters of Mars" its power, and the first "verse" that has this rhythm only with no melody sadly does not appear on CD. The second verse with melody appears on disc 2, track 25 - possibly the best piece of music in the whole of the 2009 year of specials.

Music by Murray Gold
"Vale" (Disc 2, track 25 version), and
a suite of original music new for this story is available on:
Audio CD - Doctor Who: Original
Music from "Series 4: The Specials".
2-disc Audio CD album

More info & buying options

"Turn Left" is available on:
Audio CD - Doctor Who:
Original Music from "Series 4" (2008)

More info & buying options

"All the Strange, Strange Creatures"
is available on:
Audio CD - Doctor Who:
Original Music from "Series 3" (2007)

More info & buying options


Hindsight proves to be fairly unkind to "The Waters of Mars". The issues that it leaves dangling never really receive any more enlightened a follow-up, and this mess never really gets reframed from a healthy viewpoint on the main Doctor Who program itself. Unless perhaps one views "The Day of the Doctor" as Tennant's next story. But even then, I don't think "The Waters of Mars" has added anything of much value to the Doctor's arc, and "Day of the Doctor" can stand equally well on its own. Where "The Fires of Pompeii" (story no. 195) seems to have improved somewhat with time, "The Waters of Mars" has instead rotted its way down in the rankings.


In the end, despite a great well-realized setting, a half-decent A-plot premise, and exceptional work from our passionate director Graeme Harper, "The Waters of Mars" is decidedly disappointing, as written. Extensive character study can prove that it is technically within good time travel theory in terms of on-screen action, yet sadly it articulates and strongly EMOTES much in direct contradiction with good time travel theory, without giving better theories any voice at all, and this motivates philosophically poorer actions than what the story would otherwise have deserved. This story ultimately fails to squeeze past the breezy, equally philosophically unfocused "Planet of the Dead" (story no. 205) which remains much easier to enjoy on repeat-viewing, while "The Next Doctor" (story no. 204) surprisingly sails by still unchallenged for first place amongst these post-season-30 specials.

Thankfully, the best was still yet to come....



"The Waters of Mars" has become available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:

DVD NTSC Region 1
5-episode box set
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
5-episode box set
for the U.K.
DVD NTSC Region 1
1-episode volume
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
"Winter Specials"
3-episode volume
for the U.K.

Blu-Ray NTSC Region 1
5-episode box set
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada

Blu-Ray PAL Region 2
5-episode box set
for the U.K.

Blu-Ray NTSC Region 1
1-episode volume
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada


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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "The End of Time"



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