Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Waters of Mars - "The laws of time are mine, they will obey me."

The Waters of Mars - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Special - Fall 2009  (Overall Series Story #205) | Previous - Next | Index

via timeywimeycaps

It's got fiery explosions and water (if I have one overarching mental image of the RTD era, it's of Ten soaking wet with fire behind him), creepy human-to-alien transformations, an old-fashioned base-under-siege vibe -- in short, there's every reason for it be as well-liked as it is. But it's not quite what we hoped for, if we're honest. The dramatic turn from Time Lord Victorious to Hubris Exposedius barely makes a dramatic beat. "The laws of time are mine, they will obey me," the Doctor declares. Moments later, the look on his face says, "Or not." Tennant makes all the right faces, it's just all happens so fast, there's no time build up any worry he might become as dangerous a megalomaniac as the Master.

Widely and correctly viewed as more satisfying than "Planet of the Dead," but that's not saying all that much. If water always wins, it also promotes rust ... and there's a bit of creak and groan where the joints have oxidized. The drama, in retrospect was mostly non-diegetic. Which doesn't, I suppose, mean we can't enjoy it the same as we would if it were simply about the Doctor regenerating. We can still relive the sense of drama that came from Tennant leaving (and not being sure if the new guy would be ... fit to carry water for him) just as we can watch the story with the benefit of hindsight, knowing what the next story, and then the next Doctor, will bring. How much those of us who were fans during the Tennant years mix up our love of actor playing the character, and our love for that actor's take on the character itself, may not matter all that much to us. It's the fan who came along later, who would be seeing this one for the first time, that I think might find it all a little farther along the melodrama spectrum than those of us viewing it through our 3-D red-blue colored glasses.

Part of the experience was knowing Tennant loved the show and the fans. Genuinely loved it all. (And we had so many ways of knowing: from his convention appearances, things only folks attending would have seen back in 80s, in the days before everything showed up on youtube; from all the behind-the-scenes extras on the DVDs; from all the interviews.) Would we have that again? (Capaldi especially, but Smith as well, put that to rest. Yes, Capaldi's a huge fan, and a fan of fans, and what Mo Ryan recently called "an ace human being.")

As the end drew near, it's worth remembering how many stories Ten got: 36. The most since Four and, when he was done, Ten was second only to Four. (Obviously the classic Doctor stories were multi-episode and numbers of stories vs. total hours of screen time, and how long it took for those hours to go out...) There are more Tennant stories than there are Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, and Christopher Eccleston combined.

The most interesting thing about this story is that we've actually found water on Mars, recently. It's more fun to think about how "The Waters of Mars" maps to recent developments in our understanding of the red planet, and to Mars in lit and culture as we consider whether it's a good idea to send humans there. To die.

If there's a way of looking at the 2009 specials that gives them some oomph, it's likely Jane who's got it. She writes the most interesting take on this story I've seen yet in a comment on Phil's post:
I am required, by the way, to point out that the Year of Specials continues to function as prophecy. Here we get a character named for a body of water -- Adelaide Brooke -- and a monster named for water (and indeed enacted through water) as well. This is, of course, a huge motif in the Moffat era, what with the Ponds and River and "water is a reflective surface" and all that ... 
We also get a sneak preview of the upcoming production design, namely the juxtaposition of Red and Blue, which appears in just about every episode of Eleven's run. In Water of Mars we get it right off the bat with the TARDIS landing on the Red Planet. Not to mention the most elemental of alchemical mixtures: Fire and Water! The future is coming, and there's no stopping it.


  • Recently, we learned there's still water on Mars, which prompted a flurry of mentions of this story.
  • This story, only six years old, is yet more evidence that model work should be considered ahead of anything less than top notch CGI. The CGI base looks hokey as heck. Practical effects hold up so much better ...
  • The whole concept of fixed points in time feels dodgy to me. A space time continuum organized around fixed points, with everything else in flux, just doesn't jibe with the concepts of alternate timelines and parallel universes that the series, and sci-fi in general, seem to generally assume. Fixed points suggest the universe as a construct, a designed thing that, it follows, had a designer. I wince every time the universe is called "Creation" for the same reason. Until the mythology accounts for the creator of creation as impersonal forces, or a being from another reality who is not the Abrahimic god, the tedious, uninspired possibility that the author of the work has in mind that very same Yahweh, or some mushy New Age-y equivalent lurks around the edges like a parochial spectre.

Additional Resources:

Tardis Wikia entry transcript

Sandifer post
A Davies-era story is not about the components, in other words, but about their intersections. What matters is not specifically what happens at any given moment, but what moments transition into ... 
And in most regards The Waters of Mars is a calm and unambitious execution of these stylistic inclinations - a story that switches narrative codes with precision, building to its climax, in which the Doctor’s heroic intervention is played against the repeated narrative of “this is a fixed point in time” to show the Doctor becoming monstrous. Except that this doesn’t tell the whole story; a key aspect of the story is based on the nature of Bowie Base One and how it’s presented to us.

AV Club review

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