The Waters of Mars at its heart is traditional Doctor Who: primarily it’s Doctor vs monsters, but most notably it’s a ‘base under siege’ that has been a Doctor Who regular throughout the decades. However, there is something about Waters that raises its head above the rest and makes it not just my favourite RTD era story, but my favourite Nu-Who adventure, by far.
The monster is a zombie of sorts; the human host is infected by a single drop of water and is turned into a creature that wants to propagate itself into any other available carrier. If that’s not horrifying enough, the basis of the monster is water itself; an element which, like the wind, cannot be beaten.
The sense of foreboding in the Doctor’s monologue — “water always wins” and the “if only one drop gets back to Earth…” — is fairly unprecedented as most other monsters or threats can somehow be tangibly defeated. The big monsters, especially the Daleks, have now been defeated so often that they’ve become impotent. But here the element of water can only be contained. But even then, did the destruction of Bowie Base One destroy the water or merely turn it to steam, allowing the Doctor to rescue the last few survivors? After all, the Ice Warriors only contained it; vapourised water re-forms as clouds, rain or condensation… All the Doctor has in his arsenal, on this occasion, is to collect all he can and run away: smash and grab.
Even though there is water, there is no soap; The Waters of Mars is a solid action-adventure-horror, told at a break-neck pace and isn’t bogged down by a regular companion asking questions. The Doctor is affectively unshackled which leads to the sucker-punch of the downbeat ending: a Doctor going rogue, leading to Adelaide’s suicide. Her death was a fixed point in time and should not have been saved. This made Waters far darker than anything that had come before.
If it were not for the appearance of an Ood, linking Waters of Mars to the following episode, The End of Time, this would be a self-contained movie. Nevertheless, it’s still grim, gritty, exciting, and properly scary.
On a theme, Netflix has got some rather good South Korean science fiction dramas. A particularly good one is The Silent Sea about a moon-base where a team of stranded astronauts are besieged by intelligent water that infects the host… I wonder where they got the idea for that?