The production team had previous said that Planet of the Dead had deliberately been a light-hearted runaround to compensate for how dark the remaining specials were going to be, and Waters of Mars did not disappoint.
From the outset it was obvious we were in for something different, as from the moment the Doctor realises where and when he is, he’s desperate to leave, but at odds with his own curiousity and tendency to interfere. This eventually builds up to a wonderfully powerful scene with the Doctor walking away from the base, haunted by the chatter of the base crew trying to escape from the Water, and in some cases, failing. The pain on the Doctor’s face there is very affecting, and leads directly into his subsequent actions.
And what a surprise they were. I was expecting the Doctor to surprise us, but to the extent that he does, was downright scary. We’re presented with the Doctor having a breakdown, and the responsibility of being the last of the Time Lords finally weighs on him too much and pushes him over the edge.
Back as far as New Earth, the 10th Doctor has set himself up as the ultimate authority in the universe and here that is his undoing. He’s on his own and (as Donna said in Runaway Bride) needs someone to stop him, and more than that, just keep him grounded and give him a friend. Donna’s eventual fate affected the Doctor briefly and has put him on this slope where he’s pushed away all those that could’ve helped him. We can only hope that his realisation of what he’s done, combined with the glimpse of Ood Sigma has led the Doctor to realise just how much he’s hurting and needs help.
I guess back in the day, the Doctor could always be more relaxed in his interference. Despite his protests, there would’ve been a reassurance that should he push things too far, the Time Lords would’ve stepped in. The loss of those Time Lords have finally forced the Doctor to face up to the responsibilities he always ran away from, and perhaps now the Time Lord’s policy of non-interference doesn’t look so nonsensical. Perhaps the reason they ignored all those evils in the universe, was simply because they knew that eventually they would be tempted to abuse their power in the way the Doctor now has, and ultimately become much worse than anything they’d previously stopped. Much easier to have the Doctor running around, who they can clamp down on should they need to.
The other aspects of the story were equally successful. The water monsters were creepy, and terrifying in the way that a single droplet of water would turn people into them. The most effective deaths by far being Steffi’s (as she is trapped in the room with the water pouring in, watching a video message from her children knowing her fate is inescapable) and Roman’s, as he tells the others to go on without him after a single drop falls on him.
And there was even a nod to the Ice Warriors 🙂
This was a superb setup for the final two-parter. I can’t wait to see what they’ve got planned, and I’m very glad to see the return of John Simm as the Master.