DVD Extras include:
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 PlanetThis 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 WaterEarly 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 IceOf 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!
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.
Thankfully, the best was still yet to come....
"The Waters of Mars" has become available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
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