“The Waters of Mars” represents a marked contrast from DOCTOR WHO’s Easter special, “Planet of the Dead,” because it signals the beginning of the end for the 10th Doctor; Mars is the first step on the Doctor’s path to his own planet of death. PotD was the last hurrah for the fun-loving 19th persona; a romp meant to bid adieu to the footloose adventurer. In his place, we see the Doctor in his familiar role as self-appointed “Maintenance Man of the Universe.”
WoM is serious business. It’s packed with action, smothered in melancholy, and tinged with regret. The opening sequence is highly ironic, because the Doctor tells the scientists that he is on the red planet for “fun.” But the wind is taken out of his sails not by the whisper-thin atmosphere but by the realization that he is addressing the pioneers of Bowie Base One, the first human colony on Mars; a colony that mysteriously self-destructed on Nov. 21, 2059 – the very day of his arrival. The Doctor understands that the loss of the colony with all hands is important to the advancement of the human race. The terrible event represents a “fixed moment in time,” and thus he is forbidden to interfere because, “What happens here must always happen.” So the Doctor faces a decision: turn his back and preserve the timeline by letting everyone die, or interfere and let the “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff” fall where it may.
Needless to say, the Doctor dabbles… and things go downhill from there. Or, story-wise, uphill. WoM is a cracking good adventure yarn, up there with the best of show-runner Russell T Davies‘ work. It mixes big ideas with small moments, using the Doctor as connective tissue. He may have been traveling solo when this tale began, but he is at heart a people person, and the gregarious Time Lord instantly bonds with the motley crew of scientists, led by the brilliant and gutsy Adelaide (Lindsay Duncan). The Doctor makes his deepest connection with her, as she is quite literally a lynchpin of human history. Adelaide’s tragic death on Mars inspires her granddaughter to lead mankind to the stars; the Doctor is afraid of altering that paradigm, yet hesitant to simply let her die. As a sort of compensation, he tells Adelaide what her death will ultimately mean, and his speech is as eloquent and moving as the 10th persona has ever been, and David Tennant is positively stellar as the conflicted Time Lord. “Your death creates the future,” he whispers to her, his eyes filled with sadness.