Thoughts after rewatching The Waters of Mars (Doctor Who)

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Summary: On how The Waters of Mars hints at the necessary end of the Tennant years, and how it is a shout out, perhaps unintentionally, to Tom Baker's tenure.

BLOT: (21 Jan 2013 - 12:57:02 PM)

Thoughts after rewatching The Waters of Mars (Doctor Who)

[I've decided to do a Tennant year's rewatch, though season by season mostly in reverse order, meaning I'll start with the specials, go through seasons 4-2, and then watch "The End of Time".].

While "Planet of the Dead" was a fair Doctor Who romp highlighting some of the best* and worst** aspects of the RTD era, "The Waters of Mars" is a tense base-under-siege tale that is one of RTD's best [CG water vomit streams and rocket boosted robots with flame trails notwithstanding], and is one of the most important stories for the personal history of the Doctor himself. It also shouts out to the Fourth Doctor style base-under-siege while The-Doctor-is-not-quite-trusted stories, with not only a reference to K-9, but a scene that involves the K-9 stand-in piloting the TARDIS.

I especially like how it dissects, here near the end, the character of the Tenth Doctor. Doctor Number Ten is The Doctor as a teenager***: brash, bold, prone to mood swings, pompous, frenetic, adoring of attention, a bit self-centered, and even eaten with doubts that lead to even louder behavior. This is a reason that he is very popular and missed: who [pun!] doesn't love a character that carefree, badass, intelligent, unsurmountable, but just a little bit off and capable of being pouty in the same breath?

Conversely, this is one of the reasons why he ranks relatively low on my favorite Doctor list (though there is no Doctor Who lead whom I actually dislike, and I do enjoy Tennant's portrayal), because this is not an out of nowhere character. This is the same man who had the chance to wipe out the Daleks, who only had to press two wires together, but chose not to press them, and went on to watch those Daleks kill off his people, his family, to destroy his beloved friends. This is the man who has committed genocide against less destructive races. Who has went to the edge of the universe both literally and metaphorically. He is old, and tired, and continues to go on because he cannot imagine stopping. For me, the Tenth is The Doctor stepping back and hiding behind a slightly imbalanced bravado in response to the darker moments of his three previous incarnations, to try and stop himself from downward sliding into his darker nature, and nearly bringing such about.

Watching the Tenth at the end of this story, as he declares that he is the Time Lord Victorious, that he does get to decide who lives or dies, and not just the "little people" any more, he is one step away from taking the plunge. He is also acting the part of the "teenager", a youth drunk on his own ability and thinking himself above reproach. Except, then, as the reproach comes, the Doctor is terrified, fears punishment from the Universe itself. He flees, tries to run from his troubles, not quite yet ready to admit the darker truths. Though this story is probably not the last before the "The End of Time" ("Dreamland" seems to be after this, and there are a number of "solo Doctor" audio-only releases that seem to come somewhere around this period), it foretells the Eleventh, a Doctor who is sneakier, more able to admit his own past, a bit more honestly angry, and a Doctor who is aware of his own power and is trying to dial it down. If Tennant played the Doctor regressing to his teenager days, right down to his despair at having to let go of who [pun!] he is at present****, Smith is playing the Doctor as a somewhat adrift post-doc. And if each incarnation is something of a response to the last, who knows what the Twelfth might be, or what cracks in the armor he (or she?) will display.

While I am at it, I found this by entire accident yesterday, a Doctor Who fan website harking back to what was probably my favorite time on the web, when weirdly designed personal websites filled to the brim with a miscellany of a person's thoughts drifted across odd folder choices and unmatched image sizes, with very little Javascript and no Flash to be found. I mean, I love Wikipedia, but I will probably never enjoy the web as much as I did when thousands of Geocities profiles dotted the landscape, less honest but far more open than any Facebook profile. Also look around on it, because there are some pictures and notes from late 90s Who fandom, including some interesting quotes by McCoy that fit into this overall post.

* Interesting bad guys, fun interplay between erstwhile group, grounding danger in the middle of everyday life.

** Kind of goofy aliens, imminent danger that takes *just* long enough to get there, UNIT as a comical side troupe, the Doctor having to pep-talk humans into enjoying their boring lives (again).

*** Well, really more like "As your dad's slightly-wild and youthfully-worldly youngest brother, the one who shows up twice a year to brag about the time he was in the Peace Corps, or to talk about some crazy party he got into up in New York, or about how some girl in Argentina broke his heart, or about how he was in a protest in Paris, and so forth". Though in this case take "teenager" to mean in contrast to his older, crankier, kookier grandpa and/or uncle selves.

**** I much preferred Eccelston's end: "You were brilliant, and you know what, so was I," to Tennant's extended despair at regeneration, though if I had burnt out an entire lifetime in about 4 years, I'd probably be pretty upset, too.


Written by Doug Bolden

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