Drip with me • 20 November 2009 • The SnowBlog
Drip with me
So, Waters of Mars, eh? I didn't even realise that a new Doctor Who episode was airing last weekend until I saw the cover of the good old Radio Times (who knew that was still going?). And new Who is always worth discussing. [spoilers] Very little cringing. On my part I mean. That's my main impression of Waters of Mars. Not that I didn't enjoy it in a positive way too, but the show has had a lot of embarrassing moments lately, and it was a treat that nothing about this episode seemed to need apologising for.
The infected water people looked excellent. The base looked better than I thought the BBC were capable of. And visual effects have now reached the stage where even middling-budget shows can depict something like the surface of Mars without overstretching themselves. And thank goodness they got non-British actors to play some of the non-British roles. It really helps. Makes the whole enterprise seem bigger and more professional. In contrast, earnest Brits putting on accents never seems to work as well as it needs to.
And when you can forget about the acting and accents, the visual effects and sets, and just think about the characters and the story, you're definitely off to a good start. The scares and suspense were familiar fare, but the whole thing motored along fairly well I thought (despite some very heavy-handed scoring). Right up until the end I'd say this was one of the better episodes of the last two years.
Of course, as usual with a Russell T Davies story, the plot didn't totally make sense - at least to me. I'm still at a loss as to why a Mars base nuking itself for reasons which are never discovered was such a powerful inspiration to future generations to go into space. And if the Doctor wanted to leave such a pivotal event undisturbed in the timeline, couldn't he have dropped off the crew he saved in the future somewhere: a dream come true for scientist-explorers, surely - especially when the alternative is instant death. And maybe I missed a plot point (my satellite reception suffered in the high winds), but unless Adelaide's gun vaporised her body, someone would soon find her corpse, gun in hand. How is blowing your brains out in your front room going to inspire your granddaughter to be an explorer? Mystifying. And we're dangerously close to Torchwood territory here, where it's normal to save no one and feel wretched for trying.
That broad streak of nihilism we've got so used to I put down to the outgoing head writer: RTD. He was burnt out on Who two years ago and now only writes stories that humiliate, thwart or torture its hero. And what better way of rejecting the Doctor's help than killing yourself as soon as he's finished rescuing you?
That's the main thing that niggled for me. Currently we're not allowed to have any happy endings, or uplifting morals, so the plot's conclusion was wrestled and twisted into making the Doctor's inability to let everyone die, even when he knew he should leave well alone, seem as monstrous as possible. Those he rescued recoiled from him (though that didn't stop them accepting a ride home in the first place). The Doctor was left shaken, humiliated and apparently out of control: perfect for RTD, but not exactly what the rest of us tune in for. It really is time to get away from the nihilism.
I've said it before, but RTD needs a nice long holiday - and ideally it should have started a year or two back. He could have gone out on a huge high. I don't want saccharine - I'm delighted that Who is only partly a kid's programme these days - but for a family show, it's been a long time since anything heartwarming happened (Steven Moffat episodes excepted).
I'm dreading what RTD will put the Doctor through this Christmas. Expect the Doctor to hit an all-time low and do things no previous writer would have forced him to do. But then, just over the horizon, is Steven Moffat who - at least for now - is full of optimism and hope. Let's hope that before the long days and BBC politics turn him bitter we get to have some fun with the Doctor.