Saturday, December 19, 2009



"it's the end. but the moment has been prepared for."

the final words of the fourth doctor do apply to "the waters of mars," the latest new doctor who special ... and the proverbial beginning of the end for incarnation number ten, played by the smashingly manic and wonderfully emotional david tennant. a mix of classic sci-fi thriller and dark morality play, the episode has already aired in the UK, and bbc america will screen it for stateside whovians tonight at 9 pm.

four's last words work as commentary on tennant's departure just as well as they served tom baker (still the longest-serving doctor and, until tennant, the most popular) in his day ... for surely no moment in british tv history was ever quite so prepared for as the tenth doctor's last story, "the end of time." (like i would know, ahaha.) "the waters of mars" brought a deluge of "the-end-of-time"-is-near coverage: magazine features and covers, radio and tv interviews, news stories, and special tie-in episodes of programs like the panel show never mind the buzzcocks. the UK has so many who-related broadcasts that the doctor who news page made up a handy chart for fans to keep track of it all. pubs in the UK will throw special parties to celebrate the final two-parter, airing on christmas day and new year's day over there, and dec. 26 and jan. 2 here. even time out magazine got into the act with a special edition featuring 10 different doctor who covers, one for each incarnation.

so, yeah. the moment has been prepared for. however, something in "the waters of mars" is a more direct throwback to the demise of doctor number four, which happened in the serial titled "logopolis," way back in 1981. but let's not get ahead of ourselves here.

in "the waters of mars" (working title: "red christmas"), the TARDIS materializes on the red planet, looking ever so fetching alone against the brick-colored landscape. out leaps the doctor, wearing the spacesuit he got in "the impossible planet" over his burgundy-pinstriped blue suit. (which we will never see again, sob! it's my favorite.) he's still traveling without a companion, which is just a bad idea. and he knows that, so it's actually a crazy bad idea.

he finds a base station and some scientists, led by the tough adelaide brooke (lindsay duncan), and quickly figures out he's in the middle of a soon-to-be-tragic historic event from the year 2059 -- background on which we see through the curious, somewhat clunky device of flash-asides to what look like 2009-era web pages with info about the scientist-pioneers. (a big problem of having no companion: no one to expositate to.) it's the flip side of the doctor's triumphant shout of "everybody lives!" from "the doctor dances." that is, this time, everybody dies.

the doctor knows the story and its characters well: in 2059, the inhabitants of earth's mars colony bowie base one (lol!) all died in a massive explosion. and he really should go. because this is one of those pesky "fixed points in time" that he's not allowed to change, due to the laws of time.

shades of "the fires of pompeii," no? but this time the doctor doesn't have the amazing donna noble around, not to persuade him to just save someone, but to stop him from going too far, as companions tend to do. and guess what happens? he goes too far. first, however, we get a lot of the usual clever banter and running about, along with some goofy robot shenanigans and a more external horror story involving contaminated water that begins to turn the bowie crew into super-creepy-looking zombies, one by one.

eeeyieeee! scary, huh?

the doctor can't resist this mystery. continuing to protest that he really should go, he stays right where he is and investigates the problem, even making a vague passing mention of the ice warriors (a reference to the classic series, be still my beating hearts). and as his time spent in this non-changeable event grows longer, he finds it harder to quietly accept the inevitable. fighting back is the doctor's raison d'etre. but today it will be his undoing.

lindsay duncan as adelaide is wonderful to behold, all tough and businesslike but with hints of love and compassion. adelaide embraces risk without a second thought, and the doctor admires that. but he's so impressed with her, and so upset about what's supposed to happen to her, that he breaks one of the rules -- the one about no spoilers for people's futures. he means to comfort her, but adelaide can't be expected to see things the way he does. as much as the doctor goes on about how his perceptions of time and the universe are painfully unique, he often fails to remember that in practice. instead of helping her, his relevation puts her through an even worse ordeal.

once the doctor breaks one time lord rule, the rest start to seem pretty damn stupid, especially because they're keeping him from getting what he wants, which is to save these people. damn the consequences -- he's the only time lord left! so the rules of time are his to command! he can do anything he wants. and no one can stop him. mwahahahahaaaaa!!!

i don't think i've ever wished harder for donna to pop in and smack him on the head.

but, nope. no one's there to stop our budding doc vader. as the perhaps-not-last of the time lords finally went off the rails completely, claiming his legacy with a power-mad arrogance (which is probably just the sort of thing that caused time lords to make up their dumb rules in the first place), i couldn't help wondering just when he really started losing it. i mean, things like this don't happen overnight, right?

arguably he's been kinda unhinged since the time war, but i prefer to imagine he snapped after returning donna to her human self, saving her life but going against her wishes, and dooming her to be ordinary forever ... not to mention lost to him forever as well. maybe the doctor's mind began to turn during that scene in "journey's end," where, his awful duty dispatched, he's standing in the pouring rain, heading back to the TARDIS all alone, having lost his beffie, someone he probably actually could have traveled with for the rest of her life. i like this idea because donna's granddad, wilfred mott, is there when it happens, looking at the doctor in that kindly knowing way of his and telling him he will think of the doctor on donna's behalf. and we know from the trailer at the end of "the waters of mars" that ten will seek out wilf again.

he will definitely need a friend. because when the dire resolution of his mars misadventure unfolds, it is dark indeed, akin to torchwood: children of earth dark. what adelaide does to stop him is so shocking and yet so clever -- exactly the sort of thinking he might applaud under different circumstances. in her own way, she does serve the companion's purpose of putting a lid on his excesses and keeping him grounded, although it's too late this time and she pays a terrible price to shake him out of his mania.

when it's all over, the doctor's actions leave history, the mars colonists, and us viewers totally messed up. and the doctor doesn't look so good himself. he knows he did wrong, but he doesn't want to face the music.

not just the music, mind you, but the song. ood song, that is. as the full weight of what he's done sinks in, the doctor leans against the TARDIS ... and hears the beautifully mournful psychic song of the tentacle-faced race known as the ood. then he sees him -- ood sigma, standing expectantly in the snow.

the doctor looks remorseful ... and afraid. "i've gone too far," he whispers. "is this it? my death? is it time?" he asks with distress.

why does the doctor think ood sigma is a harbinger of his death? well, he's seen this sort of thing before. in "logopolis," he kept encountering this white figure, hanging around at a distance from the action. the figure, called the watcher, was a signal to four that his time was up. (and was also apparently some future incarnation of himself ... wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey!) he didn't make a fuss about it then; in fact, seeing the watcher was a sort of comfort. so far, ood sigma doesn't seem to be a future incarnation of the doctor, but, hey, anything could happen.

but the doctor sure isn't comforted by sigma's appearance. in the last special, "planet of the dead," tennant's performance felt, by no means terrible, but definitely off his game, as though he just didn't have the energy to give it his all. here, he is fantastic -- not just in the broad physical shtick he does so well, but especially in the subtler moments. he does some of his best acting inside that damn spacesuit, for one thing. and also in this scene, where a dozen different emotions pass across the doctor's face as he slips into the TARDIS, still looking shaken to his core. the cloister bell -- that eternal harbinger of bad bad stuff for time lords -- chimes. and then the doctor turns defiant. "no," he says. and, slamming a lever on the console, he dematerializes the hell out of there. straight to, no doubt, the end of time. will he stop with the "i am the great and powerful time lord" jazz now? is he running away from his death because he wants to fix things or because that's what he does?

we'll know the answer in less than a week. i can't wait, but i'm also scared. the doctor's dark side has always been there, and it can be magnificent to behold in the right circumstances, but i don't want him to keep being frighteningly megalomaniacal till he dies. i hope he snaps back to some semblance of his usual self while dealing with all the delicious spoilery stuff yet to come. because you know that, when we see him again after regeneration, he will be very different ... and not just because he'll be wearing matt smith's face.

anyway. it seems i was right that RTD will be torturing the doctor to death for three episodes. SIGH. i never thought i'd say it, but all of this pain and drama and torment kind of makes me ready for a new doctor. (hmm. perhaps that is the plan.) i'm starting to miss the days when he just bopped out of the TARDIS with his companion and rushed off to embrace some new adventure. i mean, i am loving the angst and can't wait to see just how dark things are gonna get, but i really want the tenth doctor to have the proper wonderful sendoff he deserves. almost every single incarnation has died a heroic death, and if ten doesn't get one, i'm going to be well pissed off.

furthermore, if RTD doesn't give ten a heroic death and rip me into little pieces and throw me to the floor and make me cry just thinking about the ending -- as with donna and "journey's end," which to this day i have to shut off before it plays out or risk blubbering like a baby -- well, then he will have FAILED. so, russell. it is on. and you'd better bring it!

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