Doctor Who - beautiful and appalling!

They called it the beginning of the end for David Tennant but something far more serious has happened in Doctor Who, writes Dan Wainwright.

TV Tennant 2They called it the beginning of the end for David Tennant but something far more serious has happened in Doctor Who, writes Dan Wainwright.

Don’t read this if you haven’t seen Waters of Mars yet because it is the end of that episode, which left me dumbstruck and paralysed on my sofa, that I wish to discuss.

In all his travels through space and time the Doctor has lost just three companions. The first two, Sara and Katarina, fell victim to the Daleks in the time of William Hartnell. The other, boy genius Adric, sacrificed himself to destroy the Cybermen in Peter Davison’s era. Serious, but noble, ends.

In the second of four specials that mark the death and regeneration of David Tennant’s tenth Doctor his companion, played by Lindsay Duncan, was so horrified at the immense power of the Last of the Time Lords to change history that she blew her brains out.

As an adult watching that program with my partner I thought it was one of the most powerfully dark moments I’ve seen on TV all year. A moral debate will, I’m sure, continue among older fans until Christmas.

I can only speculate as to how parents of young children will have felt. I’m sure that watching the Flood, the water infected zombies of Mars, chasing the cast down corridors into confined spaces was thrilling for all ages. Kids need to be scared from time to time.

But that ending has me concerned. It was both beautiful and appalling all at the same time.

We saw the Doctor riddled with guilt over his inability to act, then fired up by the realisation that he was the only Time Lord, and the laws of time were his to apply.

We saw him snarl as Adelaide questioned his right to impose his will on the history that is yet to happen. If it had ended there I would have been applauding. Finally, here we have a Doctor to be ever so slightly scared of. He’s brilliant, he’s kind but he’s vicious and a cosmic hypocrite, bursting with conflicting emotions that come from years of never being accountable to anyone for his actions.

This must also be Tennant’s finest hour in an absolutely outstanding run. As he walked away from the base, hearing the screams through his space helmet he conveyed more emotion through his eyes than all his hyperactive, wide-eyed jigging ever did.

He lurched with an almost bi-polar tendency from enthusiasm and joy to furious self-righteousness it was exhausting to even watch him but addictive at the same time.

I’ve no doubt about the power of the story telling and acting, Tennant’s face wracked with horror over Adelaide’s suicide brought about by his actions was a triumph.

This episode should have set us up perfectly for the final two-parter at Christmas, where the Doctor’s chickens come home to roost and he is forced to once more submit every single cell of his body to the cosmos as Rassilon’s great gift to the Time Lords makes him sacrifice all he knows simply to survive.

But, the children. Won’t somebody think of the children? Loathe as I am to admit it usually this is a children’s show. Lindsay Duncan’s character was advertised to them as a companion. Her name appeared in the opening credits. Her survival after almost insurmountable peril is meant to be as fixed an occurrence as the volcano eruption of Pompei.

Waters of Mars told the children that there are no rules anymore. The companions do not just run off with clones of the Doctor or get their minds wiped. They are now susceptible to taking their own lives.

Was it a step too far for the youngsters? Will it ever be safe to be scared again?

Comments for: "Doctor Who - beautiful and appalling!"

Neil Sturton

The spelling is programme not program - that is for computers or Americans! Don't sell your heritage so cheaply!

As for Waters of Mars - boring. Same old same old with a 'Ooh that shook you didn't it' slung on the end to make it seem smart.

Jeans

I think Waters of Mars pushed it about as far as well ever see the show go in terms of dark themes that could be considered inappropriate for some children. It is a family show, and I think occasionally it should deal with ideas that appeal to the adults in the audience on a deeper level than simply action/adventure.

To be honest, I don't see how this is much different from a character jumping in front of a bullet for the Doctor. Many of them have done it over the years, the only difference is they don't tend to pull the trigger themselves.

I think this was pretty much the same as Pete Tyler flinging himself in front of a car to save the world. It's suicide either way.

Gareth

It's not as controversial or even uncommon as you suggest - guest companion Astrid (Kylie Minogue) died in the 2007 Christmas special and the alternate version of Donna threw herself in the path of an oncoming lorry in Turn Left, which may have been more upsetting for younger kids who may not have realized this wasn't the "real" Donna they had come to know and love in the preceding 10 episodes. In contrast Adelaide's death happened off-screen and was depicted in quite a subtle and sensitive manner. Kids "do" dark nowadays - the new version of A Christmas Carol starring Jim Carrey (cert PG) has terrified quite a few children I know!

Dan Wainwright

Excellent points one and all. Thank you Neil for the heads up re the spelling of programme. It won't happen again.

Jeans and Gareth, I certainly accept your points regarding the noble ends of Pete Tyler, Astrid and Donna.

And Gareth, I had forgotten about Kylie being in the opening credits and therefore officially a companion so you win that one.

But I still think Adelaide's suicide was more shocking than anything we've seen so far. In Pete and Astrid's case we had people who essentially took one for the team. It was self sacrifice, not suicide.

The alternate Donna was replaced by the real Donna so her death was kind of cancelled out.

In Adelaide's case we had someone who killed herself in horror at the Doctor's actions and that's something I think has crossed a line we haven't touched on before. It was still great TV in my view.

I actually take great comfort in realising that most people weren't as bothered about it as me. I'd have hated to see this mean the programme (there you go, Neil) was toned down in future.

KC

I think this review is right in terms of the particularly shocking nature of Adelaides death, because, as I think he was trying to put it - the suicide in this case is particularly horrifying because the Doctor drove her to do it. Very compelling episode all round.

Neil Sturton

Thanks Dan! I'll sleep more easily tonight.

(Wouldn't it have been better to deposit Adelaide & Co on some far off world or time to live out their lives? The people of Earth 2059 would still believe they'd died on Mars).

David Farmbrough

That was a very good review, and highlighted the outstanding parts of this programme. Don't forget that since 2005 one-off companion Astrid was also killed, and other characters that the audience would have come to know and love, such as Clive, and Lynda 'with a Y'.

I was surprised that the Doctor didn't bring Adelaide back to a different time, so she would simply have APPEARED to have died on the Mars base, thus not contradicting established history. He also appears to have gravely misjudged her as a person.