‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “The Waters of Mars”
(tons of spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode! and no comments from party poopers — this is a love fest only / previous: The Sarah Jane Adventures: “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith”)
Holy shit, the Doctor has gone bye-bye. As in crazy. As in the megapowerful godlike potential that has always been held in check mostly by his conscience and a little bit by the Time Lords has been unleashed, and he is off the reservation. As in crazy.
I’ve watched this episode three times now, and every time, it’s the same thing: I tell him — I tell him — to leave, to get away from there, to remove himself from the equation. And does he ever listen? No.
This is the Doctor’s pathology: he cannot help from interfering, even when it would be better to leave. That’s always been his downfall: he is constitutionally incapable of not being a busybody. Except it never really felt so much like a downfall before, at least not before Russell Davies came along. Russell Davies, who knows the Doctor like we know him, sees the tragedy of the hero, sees that maybe the hero ain’t really much of a hero at all, or at least not deliberately. The Doctor does what he does out of his own need, not out of any great selflessness. Or maybe the selfishness is new, too.
Look, “The Fires of Pompeii” was bad. “Midnight” was worse. But this? It’s hard to see him recovering from this…
Funny thing is, I felt, the first time I watched this, when it was all new, that it was just gonna be Pompeii all over again. I wasn’t seeing how this was worthy of being the third-to-last story ever for David Tennant. I thought, Oh, yawn, boring, he’s gonna try to avert disaster and end up causing it instead. Didn’t we just see this last year? And then it turns out — in that wonderful scene when Adelaide’s got him cornered in the airlock — that the Doctor’s been thinking that all along, too — It’s Pompeii all over again — and can’t bear it. So: my apologies to Russell Davies for doubting. I’m sorry.
And then some little switch gets thrown in the Doctor’s mind. He’s had enough of grief and enough of guilt, and suddenly he realizes that whatever had been constraining him before simply no longer matters, or even exists. (There will be no Time Lord trial for interfering, as there has been in the past. No more Gallifrey, no more Time Lords, no more holding the Doctor back. It makes you wonder whether it wasn’t actually only the threat of the Time Lords that had kept him from doing whatever he the hell he wanted since the very beginning of his travels.)
And that’s when he goes bye-bye, and it is terrifying to see… well, is this the real Doctor, the one he’s been sublimating all along? Or is this merely the Doctor driven temporarily insane?
Either way: “You stupid, stupid bastard,” I want to tell him. He knew he should leave, and he doesn’t leave. And then there’s that miserable bastard Russell Davies — did I apologize to him? I take it back — kicking the Doctor (and us) in the stomach with the screaming and sobbing over the intercoms and radios, with the Doctor listening to the video letter of Stefi’s daughters as she’s being transformed into some alien monster. Of course the Doctor had to do whatever he could. Of course he did…
Gut-wrenching, this episode is. Just plain gut-wrenching. The worst of it is seeing the Doctor go mad. And — whew! — David Tennant is intense here. “The laws of time are mine!”? “And they will obey me!”? “We’re fighting time itself! and I’m gonna win!”? This is the Doctor?
Suddenly, the Doctor saving the day is scary. And wrong. And worse, he’s enjoying the godlike stuff way too much. When Mia gapes at him, and asks him, “Who the hell are you?” that’s our question, too. “The Time Lord victorious” is not the Doctor we know… or is it? He’s always been arrogant and sure of himself — is this really so different?
And then Adelaide snatches it all back from him, reminds him that she rules her own life, by killing herself. Or — and here’s the real kicker — does she rule her own life? Or is her suicide merely the universe ironing out the kink the Doctor has introduced by rescuing her?
Oh, my brain hurts.
And the Doctor, sad
And sorry. He’s sorry, so sorry.
I’m sort of torn between wanting to hug the Doctor, and wanting to hit him. And between wanting the final two-parter story to be a huge resolution to his sadness, and a huge smackdown to his superiority and pride. Either way, though, it’s gonna be devastating, if Russell Davies and David Tennant are even halfway on their game.
Random thoughts on “The Waters of Mars”:
• What made the Doctor decide to pop in on Mars, I wonder?
• Bowie Base One? *snort* Someone’s been watching Life on Mars again…
• Aww, the first flower on Mars in 10,000 years. Pretty:
And insects and birds too! Lovely.
• Adelaide tells the Doctor, “It’s been chaos back home — 40 long years: climate, the ozone, the oil apocalypse. We almost reached extinction.” So we’re not in for a respite, I guess. On the other hand, we didn’t have to deal with a Dalek invasion. So maybe it’s not all bad.
• Speaking of… Nice tie-in with the Dalek invasion of “Stolen Earth”:
Which makes you think: Adelaide is a little girl right now, or would be, if she were real. What is for real is that any little kid you see on the street today could be destined for great things half a century from now…
And if Adelaide is basically the mother of spacefaring humans, both metaphorically and literally, then this is all sort of an anti-grandpa paradox SF story. You’re familiar with the time-travel thought experiment, the one that asks, “If you traveled back in time and killed your own grandfather, what would happen?” The answers that always felt most right to me involved things like, Well, you simply couldn’t kill your own grandpa (at least not before he’d fathered your parent), so it would turn out that the man you killed wasn’t really your ancestor because grandma was fooling around with the milkman or something, and so the timeline would remain intact.
But with Adelaide, it’s the opposite: she has to die, and so, you know, she has to die.
Maybe the Doctor needs to read some more science fiction.
• All those BBC News web pages need some major copyediting (or subediting, as they call it on their side of the pond), but there are all sorts of extra details about the Mars team to be found in the stories there, if you have the patience to freeze-frame them. We don’t get to read the really intriguing ones, however:
I had been wondering, before I saw this, how Yuri and Mia were going to explain their apparently magical reappearance on Earth, without any of that tedious mucking about on a months-long interplantary journey, but here we have it: the “mythical Doctor” is responsible. I really want to read the other story linked on that page, the one headlined, “How the Couple Escaped Mars” — what, exactly, did they say about what happened?
Of such stuff is fan fiction born…
• The Cloister Bell is ringing at the end of this episode, and the Cloister Bell has always meant that disaster is looming. Did the Doctor infect the TARDIS with his madness? Is it the TARDIS itself that is in great danger because of the Doctor? Yikes.
• Great quotes:
“State your name, rank, and intention.” –Adelaide
“The Doctor, doctor, fun.” –the Doctor
“I hate funny robots.” –the Doctor
“Are you the Doctor or the Janitor?” –Adelaide
“I dunno. Sounds like me: the maintenance man of the universe.” –the Doctor
From the coming attractions:
• What the hell, has the Master moved to Venice Beach and taken up surfing and bleaching his hair or something?
Still, blond John Simm is kinda sexy. But wait:
Ai-ya! Cyborg John Simm Master is scary! WTF? (We’ll find out tomorrow!)
(next: Episode 4: “The End of Time: Part One”)