(WARNING: Seems unusually verbose, even by my standards)
Been slow off the mark with this one, that's for sure. Got the episode last week or some such time, but I've been too bloody tired to watch it past the fifteen minute mark... finally watched it last night, my mum having the unusual honour (for her) of sharing the burst of a new episode cherry. Hopefully that's the worst metaphor I've ever attempted.
What did I think of Waters of Mars? Tremendously underwhelmed would be a neat summary of my thoughts. Again, it faces an uphill battle because this is the terrible gap year we're in the middle of - stories that are primarily arc-driven don't have any context to fall back on, and this is very much an arc storyline. There is scarcely any plot at all to the episode, with only the faintest glimmer of a story.
There is a virus in the water. It is evil and it wants Earth. It turns people into zombies. Really, these are just bullet points and I guess in a way it's reminiscent of Inferno and the way it shoved zombies in when they realised the story needed a bit more tension. The episode is concerned with the well established drama of the future historical, where the Doctor knows the outcome and his duty not to change it. In a way this is much the same as the drama in umpteen William Hartnell stories, so there's some interest there in the constants in the show - is this really so different, for example, from The Aztecs?
Probably not, but I know I felt like I had watched a full story at the end of The Terror of Tlotoxl (best villainous name ever, btw) and the resounding feeling I was left with at the end of the latest special was that I'd seen one stepping stone to the end of Dave Tennant, almost like part three of a reeeeally strange four parter. In a way I feel like I'm not really qualified to offer an opinion until I've seen... erm, The Death of Time? I really haven't been following this well...
Many of my issues are with the entrenched formulaicness of the New Series, forumla being something I find tiresome at the best of times (I've known to get near-violently irritated by recaps and how LCD-pitched they often are) and this is one of the points I will gladly side cautiously by Mad Larry upon, at least briefly. The cold open is especially dull, achieving nothing, as often is the case that has not already known by anyone interested (or even not that interested, such as myself) nor even anything that isn't explained expressly directly on the episode proper starts. For myself, I would have liked a Troughton style opening where we just see things from the base perspective, Seeds of Death-style and Gadget shows up with the Doctor two-three minutes in. Build up the setting.
Of course, this approach wasn't taken due to the fact that the setting isn't particularly relevant as once again this is entirely a character-driven adventure. And by that I mean a two-character piece - Adelaide and the Doctor. Why? Because we need two stars to get billing for the show, and unless their roles are actually big enough agents won't be happy. But ask why to that - why the hell does it matter? Yes, it's format but so frigging what? Ignore it.
It is quite interesting that effect of having the Doctor's face appearing out of the timestream credits was dismissed as redundant - somebody stated that the audience should know what the main character looks like and the effect was something of a dumbing down to begin with. And yet nothing seen as negative about having the actor's name, in ludicrously large font, spinning alongside the TARDIS until it fills our screens. Truly, this was the point where the show advertised that it was to be Doctor Who Suprasized, and yet I never noticed it until recently.
The plot thus gets drawn into this vacuum of +10 vacuosity - we need a headline 'performer' alongside David Tennat, and it needs to be a female, and she needs a juicy chunk of the story to justify such auspicious creditation. So Adelaide gets her role inflated as the Doctor's childhood hero and the Daleks' chosen-one-by-proxy to the point she hogs all screentime and we don't get to know anyone else in the base. It's an odd conundrum - being billed so high she's a dead certainty to be alive until the credits, but because of her position we don't really get to know much about any of the other Bowies so we (I speak for myself, obviously - I guess I use the 'royal' we beloved by online dickheads..) don't care much about what happens to them.
Good stories can pull this off - I'm not sure that this one quite gelled. A big part of it is probably that Adelaide isn't a terribly sympathetic character, given that she just plain isn't that likeable. Whether it's performance, writing or direction I do not know, but Addie is a very abrasive, short-tempered woman who does not seem even that competent a commander in the first place. So un-Doctorly is her portrayal in various ways that it stretches credibility that the Doctor should not be even a little disillusioned upon meeting her.
The key moment of bonding, where the Doctor says "When you didn't shoot him... I loved you" especially seems forced, because of the simple fact she does not seem close to hesitating before the Doctor pleads with her not to shoot. In my eyes it made the Doctor look like a bit of an emo, trying to put significance into the smallest of moments of humanity - if you're generous I guess it could be read as denial on his part that Adelaide is not the woman he imagined to be her and is, in fact, his enemy in this story.
If the awkwardness is deliberate, I guess they did a good job because it's completely impossible to warm to Adelaide. Even when she rightfully points out what the Doctor has done, she does so on the odd platform guest characters have done in the show recently - talking down to the interstellar being who could destroy them with a blink of the eyelid for all they know. Why IS this so common, any ideas? Although she is right, and is actually advocating the same morals that the Doctor has for decades she still doesn't do so in any way to garner sympathy, not the least for the apparent hypocrisy of the polar shift of her viewpoint on what the Doctor needs to do. (Most likely she has accepted her death - but this idea isn't communicated terribly well)
With such shortcomings in what is essentially the A-plot of the episode, you'd expect the rest of the story to be without fault. Sadly, there are plenty of cracks that show through. The makers cannot bear to sit on their hands for a second, as depressingly show by a full orchestra 'action' track blaring every single time anyone gets out of their chair and runs a short distance.
The episode contains more of the infamous 'running down corridors' padding in proportion to its total runtime, I'd wager, than any classic episode. (Planet of Spiders episode 2 does not count!) And why wouldn't Andy report a broken water filter to the commander - surely they have a system for that? At least use another fucking tap! Similarly odd to note Daleks can now apparently gaze through the Time vortex (despite only having used a time machine once, and pretty bloody badly at that, in a story everyone tries to forget) and one decides to spare Adelaide so as note to upset the balance of the space-time continuum... during a plan to BLOW UP THE UNIVERSE! Don't you think THAT'S going to upset any balances you plunger-faced retards?
This episode also contains the worst science I've seen in Doctor Who. Water hitting a steel wall is able to shortcircuit electronics on the other side. Even though every kilo taken into space is a logistical nightmare future-NASA have decided the base needs to have ludicrously large aircraft-hanger-sized corridors so the crew will 'stay fit' (as opposed to, say, exercise bikes) And, bafflingly, the sonic screwdriver is now able to generate out of thin air a jet-fuelled combustion engine onto an electronic device, hardwire the engine into the systems and throttle in. WHAT SETTING IS THAT???
I really preferred the sonic screwdriver before he started buying from Ollivanders.
To give it it's dues the story has its fair share of creepy moments. The one-by-one deaths of the crewmembers at the hands of the relentless and unstoppable zombies is very effective and well-shot, likewise the build-up to Maggie's transformation and the moment when Andy and Tarak take to the roof. A good highlight is the scene where Adelaide threatens to kill the Doctor in the airlock, as the audience, unlike our hero, finds the threat very credible (even though he obviously can't die... yet).
One of my favourite aspects was actually one of the smallest and most subtle - the craggy, stone-like transformation of the lower-face the virus causes bears a strong resemblence to the mighty Ice Warriors, and is doubtlessly not coincidence. Could they be set for a return? Well, they've brought back everything else 'cept the Yeti and I doubt they're the next cab off the rank.
The only point where the creepy atmosphere was strongly undermined was when Andy is discovered infecting Tarak. Not because it isn't disturbing, but because it reminded me instantly of the disgusting scene in Garth Marenghi's Darkplace where Rich Dagless MD discovers Matt Berry receiving a golden shower from Noel Fielding in a monkey suit. Apologies if I have now destroyed this moment for everyone else.
Props need to go to the cast as well - they are all very good in their roles in spite of the dearth of characterisation. They may have even got a genuine Australian, I say in a moment of insanity, because his voice is far more convincing than any other I've heard on British telly. I especially enjoyed the way the show seemed to go out of it's way to smack down Lawrence Miles' predictions, with the German chick actually being the most sensitive of the crew, choosing to watch a video of her [kid sister? Some young relative...] at the moment of her death, as opposed to the 'ice maiden' he so confidentally called.
An interesting sidenote for a story that seems designed to pillory the Doctor - the fuss he makes over ...erm, the Chinese girl's age comes across as somewhat hypocritical/creepy given that Roman is actually two years younger than her and doesn't get any mention. Okay, it could be because Roman is, quite simply, a dick but I got a definite vibe they're suggesting the Doctor has an unseemly obsession with pretty, twenty-something girls getting out of scrapes okay. I still like to think of the Doctor as altruistic in such matters, but the tabloid view of him as a millenia-old lusty perv seems to be infiltrating the canon slowly and surely.
Maybe we can put it down to Tenner being an unusually hormonal regeneration?
Now, here's the result of my attempt to watch the show and comment at the same time when deathly tired..
What the hell is with the Flashback... to a webpage? Are we seriously to believe that the Doctor first learnt about the Mars expeditions from BBC news, and this is the image that stuck in his memory? ... oh apparently he got all his information on them from here. Maybe we can take it that after the 5th Doctor had a very dull encounter with a band of astronauts landing on Mars in ... he decided Mars was far too boring to waste any more time on so just Googled the relevant details.
Incidentally, seeing as the Doctor clearly piloted the TARDIS here it's odd he doesn't know the year, seeing as one of his most favourite habits in recent times is striding out the doors and proudly announcing where exactly he has landed.
Fascinating to read that South Australia of all places, will have the infrastructure, industry and university base to put Australia on the map in the space race of the future...
I'd have to be a bit hypocritical to complain about that, though, considering that one of my pet peeves of fiction involving Aussies is that the birthplace of characters is almost always Sydney, as writers apparently can't be arsed to get up and look at an atlas. This reached, for me, a height in Star Cops, not the most politically open-minded, generous or well-researched show for depicting non-English peoples (Italian cops dress like the Mario Bros and plant pornography in your hotel rooms!) , wherein not only was the absurdly named Pal Kenzie born and raised in Sydney, but so too was the only other Australian character to ever appear on the show. Given the fact that the other was a woman from a dynastical Italian family notorious in the criminal underworld, you'd think Melbourne would make a lot more sense.
The polar opposite of this effect, getting bonus points from me, is Detective Robert Goren's nemesis Nicole Sullivan (?) in Law & Order: Criminal Intent who was born in Bendigo. Yes! Not even one of the seven capital cities! Or Newcastle! An actual town!
Adelaide Brooke's entry is less interesting in terms of conversational segues, aside from a spelling error certainly placed their to show that the de-evolution of journalists into base creatures with no knowledge of spelling, grammar or sentence construction shall doubtless continue at it's horrific pace. (Now all I need is Alan Stevens to quote every spelling error in this post and call my a hypocrite..)
Hmm, Yuri's entry seems to mildly suggest that systems in Russia haven't changed much since Europe thawed, which may not actually be far from the truth. Perhaps I should have asked that Russian girl in my IT class whether you can become an astronaut by dealing with your boss's STDs on the sly. She could have taken that as me asking advice for my own career, though, which could have been slightly embarassing.
The timeline here outright states that Australia was the fourth nation to launch a satellite... I need to Google this shit. Obviously there's Sputnik and whatever Von Braun's weak-ass response to that Korolev magic was... but then what? I'm not sure if we move in to fiction or not at this point - we know England has a space program from Ambassadors of Death, Steffi's BBC obituary says that Germany is a major player in moon landings, and in the real world India and China are shaping up to be heavyweights.
Incidentally, this episode seems geared to rejuvenate interest in space travel... that could change when bodies start piling up though..
Okay, Roman's profile is complete bullshit. Nobody with his M.O would make the mission - setting aside the obvious fact that he does not currently appear to be a boy genius grown up (I guess the standard has slipped since Luke Rattigan..) For a junior technician guy they wouldn't be looking at a pampered genius like him, but the traditional astro/cosmonaut mould of a young but experienced military test pilot - they have excellent physical fitness, buckets of training, know to obey orders and a higher-than-average grade of technical knowledge and skills. Seeing as most of the crew have been detailed as academic specialists with 'basic training' it would only make sense to have somebody with such a profile on the team - in real life such a person would probably be commanding the mission as well.
For that matter, the commander probably shoud be an American, given the fact that the mission is stated as being launched from Houston (Or command being in Houston, at any rate, so launched from Florida in all probability) - unless we're to assume Britain is actually at the point now where it bosses America around. Suppose that isn't too unlikely seeing as all Doctor Who writers share this image of the future as their wet dream and work it into scripts as often as possible. (Isn't it weird that all of the PMs have shown borderline hostility in their dealings with the Americans? But then they've all turned out to be evil. Mixed messages, I feel..)
"You're only 27 years old..."
...and Roman was even younger. Did the Doctor think he was an arsehole?
Heh, and the Doctor gets smacked down right away. "Yes, I established that everyone knows who we are in a throwaway line a moment ago, weren't you fucking listening?"
I was about to write that the other two didn't deserve a Wikipedia entry to flash up on screen, but they proved me wrong once more. Good to see ANOTHER crash into the date of death, in case you were mad enough to think that SOMEBODY might live out the day. Everybody dies, mate, EVERYBODY DIES!!!
Blimey, Andrew Stone's backstory is a bit much. It's possible to be really good at growing crops without being the offspring of a hippy commune, surely?
Wooo! K9 reference!
Simultaneously showing the bad sign of the Doctor, in the middle of a speech dissing robots as man's desire to create creatures that they can willfully dominate for their own amusement, he's called on it AND DOESN'T EVEN CARE! This must be the evil Doctor I've heard so much about! Dear God!
..or it could be just a throw-away comic moment.
To sum it all up.... yeeees the Doctor goes power-mad... but WHAT happens in Part 2?
I keep forgetting if I rate episodes or not. Anyway, this gets a 6/10 . So far, this year's has been all filler, no killer. But what's around the horizon???