Recap: Doctor Who S30 E16 "The Waters of Mars"

aka: Doctor Who NSS 4 E 16 The Waters Of Mars
Would you like some water? It's fresh.

"We're not just fighting flood... we're fighting time itself! And I'm gonna win!"
The Doctor

The Doctor steps out onto the surface of Mars, wearing a very familiar space suit. He's come to Mars on a whim, and quickly finds himself looking upon a human colony called Bowie Base One. He's captured right away, though, by a little robot called Gadget and taken to see the person in charge of the base: Captain Adelaide Brooke.

The Doctor thinks that the cutesy robot is rubbish (although robot dogs are cool, of course), but otherwise loves the base. It doesn't take long for the Doctor to realise exactly where he is, and when: November 21st, 2059. Captain Brooke and her crew are the first human colony on Mars. The Doctor is a huge fan of their trip, and as he rambles through their history while madly squeeing, we see flashbacks to a series of articles with obituaries. The crew will die here today. The Doctor knows it — and knows that he shouldn't interfere, because this is a tremendously important fixed point in time. He'll never know what kind of monster attacked them, but that's fine, and he'll just leave now.

And, indeed, people go missing. One by the name of Andy is already dead. Another, Maggie, is found conked on the head and taken off to the medical dome. The Doctor should leave now. But he lets himself be roped into the investigation by Adelaide, into the Bio Sphere, joined by Expendable Crewman Tarak. Within a good few minutes, Tarak is separated from the Doctor and finds what appears to be Andy... water flowing off of Andy like he's a theme park ride. Andy's face is distorted, cracked and gushing water.

The Doctor keeps making vague excuses about how he has to go.

Maggie, deep in an isolation room, also shows signs of... whatever this is. She's freaking out the base's medic, Yuri. He contacts Adelaide, and she realises it's best to leave the dark, scary giant building with lots of places for something to jump out at them. But they make one last look around for Tarak... and find him in the same water-zombie state as Andy, who is standing right next to him, or what used to be him. Dragging Adelaide away, the Doctor announces it's time to run, and they barely escape the two infected humans.

They lock the two infected forms out of the main central dome. These water creatures, Maggie included, are demanding to go to Earth — where they can thrive in water. The Doctor raises up the question of who else is infected, if the virus/parasite/whatever isn't inside everyone else on the base already, as it thrives in the water and obviously came from the Martian water that everyone has been drinking. Adelaide goes off to check the ice cap on top of which the base is built, while the rest of the crew begin prepping for escape to Earth. The Doctor knows that he should be leaving. But he decides to run off and join Adelaide instead, seeing as he can't leave without his spacesuit.

At the ice cap water extraction dome, the Doctor and Adelaide look out over a rather impressive ice cap while the Doctor rambles about some old enemies of his — the Ice Warriors. Adelaide begins to question the Doctor about why he's so eager to leave and how he knows so much about the Mars colony. The Doctor explains that this is a "locked moment in time", confusing the hell out of Adelaide for a few moments before the Doctor quickly changes the subject to why Adelaide came out into space: The Dalek Invasion of 2009. She looked into the eyestalk of a Dalek, it looked right back, and left her to live. Adelaide simply wished to follow that Dalek out again — not to kill it, but to meet other creatures in peace.

The Doctor rambles on about how awesome Adelaide's descendants will be, all inspired by her heroic journey to Mars. And how massively important they'll all be to the future of all time and space. More newspaper flashbacks. It freaks the hell out of Adelaide in general. In seconds, though, it's revealed that everyone else still alive doesn't have the virus — so it's time to start leaving!

...or it would be, if the infected bodies that were once Andy and Tarak didn't somehow climb up on top of the central command building to start spewing water everywhere.

The Doctor, now with space suit, finally starts to leave. But Adelaide refuses to open up the airlock hatch until the Doctor explains why he's being so... awkward around everyone. He explains it all for us (and Adelaide): this very day is the day that Bowie Base One is destroyed with all hands lost. Adelaide's heroic death is what will inspire her descendants and what will propel humanity into interstellar travel. It has to happen.

The Doctor leaves solemnly, listening through his helmet to the attempts of the remaining crew to fight fate the best they can. He hears about the water seeping into the main control room, taking out another member of the crew. Yet another is infected as a single drop hits his face — and this one demands the crew leave him before he's infected. The pilot of the shuttle, Ed, is also infected — but chooses to blow up the shuttle rather than let the Earth get infected. The resulting explosion traps our remaining three crew-members in a single storage room, and knocks the Doctor quite a good distance.

All looks grim for Adelaide, Yuri and Mia... until the Doctor walks into the storage room, shouting out orders like a maniac and trying to save those people he'd declared dead. Adelaide begins to panic, wondering why the Doctor is throwing his previous worries out the window. Almost foaming at the mouth, the Doctor launches into a speech about how there are laws of time. But he can warp them. And he's safe, he knows it's not his time yet, because he'll be killed when someone knocks four times. So today, he's decided that Everybody Lives. The laws of time that were once enforced by a group of people — a group long since dead...

The Doctor: Do you know who that leaves? ME!! It's taken me all these years to realise it, but all those laws of time are mine. And they will obey ME!!!

Adelaide, reasonably enough, believes that the Doctor's gone insane. The Doctor declares he's also fighting time itself. Not even close to giving up, the Doctor finds that robot buddy Gadget in storage and uses it to bring the TARDIS to him — even while Adelaide sets the base to self-destruct. With four seconds to go, the TARDIS begins to re-materialise. As it finishes, the countdown reaches zero...

...but everyone left actually survives, as the TARDIS arrived just in time. The Doctor takes the survivors to Earth: same time, same day. Mia, unlike many companions of the past, utterly freaks out at the TARDIS itself and flees — Yuri running after her. The Doctor himself is all grins and smiles, proudly proclaiming how time now obeys him. He give himself the new title of Time Lord Victorious. Not only did he save two of the "little people", but he also saved one of the "big ones".

Adelaide does not take this well, trying to reason with the Doctor — claiming that no one person should have so much power. However, she just cannot get through to him, as the Doctor is finally realising everything that he can do, all that he can accomplish. He can warp time, escape death, open up the door to Adelaide's home.

Adelaide simply glares at the Doctor and enters her own home. A blue flash through her windows makes it perfectly clear what she did. Thoughts flash through the Doctor's head of reading about Adelaide's once noble death, and that of the two crew members who originally didn't make it. They begin to change, and his face gleams with horror. His fond memories of Bowie Base One's sacrifice have been rewritten... for the worse. The Doctor breaks, realising that he's gone too far. Ood Sigma appears for a moment, and the Doctor questions him, wondering if this is when he's supposed to die.

Ood Sigma simply vanishes, leaving a distressed and panicked Doctor to dash into the TARDIS and lock the door behind him. The Cloister Bell begins to go off, but the Doctor declares "no" and valiantly throws himself into the next episode preview.


  • Abandon Ship: The crew makes a hasty attempt to bug out, but Maggie gets on the shuttle and infects Ed before he can lock her out. So he sets the Self-Destruct Mechanism before the infection takes, blowing up the shuttle.
  • The Aesthetics of Technology: Although the Doctor is using a spacesuit from humanity's future, it doesn't look like it, making the comment on its advanced technology a bit odd. Presumably because its more lightweight and noticeably less bulky than the suits they are using, which may be why they wonder where it came from.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: It's heavily implied that something may have gone on between Adelaide and Ed that ended very badly, hence why their relationship is extremely tense.
  • Body Horror: The people becoming water-bloated, ruptured-skin-sporting, dead-eye-having monstrosities.
  • Call Back:
    • To "The Fires of Pompeii", the last time fixed points in time were mentioned. He also used the TARDIS to save a couple of people at the last minute in that episode, although this time it is not shown as a good thing. He rehashes the argument he had with Donna Noble in that episode, then says everything he does to try to help just makes it happen, when trying to convince Adelaide to let him leave.
    • The Doctor is also wearing the spacesuit from Sanctuary Base 6, as seen in "The Impossible Planet".
    • When the shuttle explodes, several of the Doctor's lines about the Time Lords from the last several seasons are repeated as he stares at the wreckage.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Gadget robot gets used as a high-speed Segway by the Doctor and Adelaide to escape the infected crew members, and later is used to bring the TARDIS to the Doctor and remaining crew on the ship.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Really gets to the Doctor in this episode. The Bowie Base One disaster is a fixed event, and as such he would've been more rational and just left right away, but Adelaide forces him to get just involved enough to let his heroic instinct get to him.
  • Continuity Nod: Given that they have a good 45 years to work with, this is to be expected...
    • In particular, the Doctor's mention of the Ice Warriors — notably, the humans regard the idea of a sentient race once living on Mars with scepticism.
    • This isn't the first time this Doctor has met a "funny robot"... Is it at all possible that was a slam against Kamelion?
    • The Philippines is strongly implied to be a world power by this point. Those who recall a certain Fourth Doctor serial should know that it will get much more powerful in the future.
  • Creator Provincialism: Averted, for once; though there seem to be a disproportionate number of Britons around, there is a realistic international representation including the major space powers of the United States and Russia. Many countries that are currently not too important on the world stage are described as being major powers after an "oil apocalypse" which is never really explained (it only gets a brief mention from Adelaide in which she describes that the human race was almost wiped out). Two of these are Spain and the Philippines.
  • Danger Takes A Back Seat: How Ed and the shuttle are lost.
  • Deconstruction: The ending essentially deconstructs the Doctor himself and the mythology surrounding him. As with pretty much every episode ever, he saves the day, does the impossible, gets a little bit smug about it afterwards and all in all lives up to titles like the "Lonely God" — and far from being charming and admirable, it's creepy and unsettling, because he's also in the process of completely losing touch with the "little people" surrounding him as a result.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: The Doctor!
  • Dug Too Deep: There was something living in the ice that the team dug up for drinking water.
  • Dwindling Party: Until only three of the crew are left.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Via parasites in the Martian water that turn people into craggy, water-spewing zombies. With unholy screams that can free the real Eldritch Abomination hiding deep within the ice.
  • Exty Years from Now: The story takes place on 21 November 2059. RTD gambled on the episode airing on 21 November 2009 and lost, but it's close enough.
  • Face-Revealing Turn: Played straight this time, the background music swells as Tarak approaches the now-infected Andy and he turns his face to the camera.
  • Foregone Conclusion: You are told upon meeting the supporting characters that they all die. Today. Yeah.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • During his A God Am I stage, the Doctor starts acting like the Time Lords who appear two episodes later (same Screw the Rules, I Make Them! personality).
    • Also during his brief reign of terror, he uses some of the Master's quotes. Guess who also shows up in the next episode?
    • When Adelaide heads into her house we see her draw her pistol. Had the Doctor been paying attention to her instead of ranting to himself, he might have stopped her from killing herself. Then again, if he had been paying attention to her at all he would have realised how distraught she was and possibly got the idea that going A God Am I on her was a bad idea.
  • Forgot I Could Change the Rules: Inverted/deconstructed. The Doctor really can't change the rules, at least not without causing seven kinds of hell to break loose, but he temporarily forgets this.
    The Doctor: The laws of time are mine! And they will obey me!
  • For Want of a Nail: Everything could have been avoided by filtering the water. In fact, they were filtering the water, but it turns out the spares they brought along didn't fit, and one of the filters failed just before this all started.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: The Doctor makes a big deal out of the fact that Mia is "only 27 years old." However, if you look at all the articles shown, a couple other members of the crew, Yuri and Roman, are only 25. For Yuri's, it's pointed out in the article that he is the youngest member of the crew.
  • Glass-Shattering Sound: The zombies' roars cause the glacier to crack.
  • A God Am I: The Doctor seems to be resembling the Master more at this point. A much nicer Master, to be sure, but still far darker and morally questionable than before. He also starts thinking of himself as the Time Lord Victorious and talking in such a way that suggests he thinks all of time and space is going to bend to his will. For those who didn't get the point, bear in mind that the Doctor's comment about how the laws of Time will obey him is eerily similar to the Master's old Catch Phrase of "I am the Master, and you will obey me!".
  • Go Mad from the Revelation:
    • A subtle execution of the trope — but it certainly applies when the Doctor realises he changed nothing at all in the long run, in spite of his efforts.
    • Arguably what happened to Adelaide Brooke as well. Despite what the entry below says, maybe she wasn't a Heroic Sacrifice at all; maybe she just freaked out at the thought of a sappy eccentric guy playing God and saving peoples' lives based on simply whether they are important or not....
    • The Doctor makes things worse. He not only didn't save Adelaide, her granddaughter is now famous for trying to puzzle out why Adelaide killed herself, rather than why she merely died.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • One played straight, one subverted in that the sacrifice wasn't to prevent something from happening, but to keep the time-line intact... or is it, considering that Adelaide's death was changed from a straight sacrifice on Mars to suicide on Earth? It could also be interpreted as heroically sacrificing herself to save the world from the horrors of the Time Lord Victorious.
    • Ed, who detonates the rocket to stop the Flood from reaching Earth when he realises that it's on board and has infected him.
  • Hypocritical Humor: "I don't like funny robots." As well as "Oh, well robot dogs are different!"
  • Informed Ability: While the off-screen sprays of water are obviously damned powerful, the on-screen water sprays don't even look like they get close to the power of a fire hose. Still looks damned creepy, though. The water sprays were actually made by fire hoses.
  • In Memoriam: To long-time Who alum Barry Letts.note 
  • Irony: After all the complaining about being saluted, the Doctor salutes Captain Brooke.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: The Doctor begins to do this at the end, with a truly terrifying Motive Rant.
    The Doctor: There are laws, laws of time. And once upon a time there were people in charge of those laws, but they died!. All of them died! And do you know who that leaves? ME! It's taken all these years to realise it, but the laws of time are mine and they will OBEY ME!
  • Kill 'em All: A Foregone Conclusion. Which is then subverted, when the Doctor saves three of them! Yes, Adelaide kills herself, but Yuri and Mia are still alive at the end.
  • Knight Templar: The Doctor becomes this for the laws of time. It doesn't end well.
  • Large Ham: Tennant. You'll know it when you see it.
  • Little "No": The last line of the episode, from the Doctor.
  • Making a Splash: The unidentified parasites live in water and can generate water and shoot it at high pressure.
  • Mars: The question of what happened to the water on Mars is pivotal to the plot.
  • Meaningful Background Event:
    • Andy bites a carrot, then the shot changes to focus on Maggie. He remains out-of-focus in the background, convulsing and suddenly falling still.
    • Same thing happens to Maggie later, with Yuri in the foreground.
  • Meaningful Echo: It's pretty clear how far off the deep end the Doctor's gone when he starts echoing the Master's Catch Phrase from the classic series.
    The Doctor: And they will obey me!
  • Multinational Team: The astronauts on the base. Several British and American, a German, a Russian, a Pakistani and an Australian and whatever Mia was; Freeze-Frame Bonus told us she was Korean-American (there's a South Korean flag sticker on one wall and her obituary said she was born in Houston and studied in Stanford), but Gemma Chan doesn't put on an American accent (and possibly didn't know she needed to. The obituaries were likely made during post-production; it's possible that they made the decision to have Mia be from Texas long after filming).
  • Murder Water: Water which turns you into a bloated malevolent water-spewing being seconds after coming in contact with a single drop.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Going hand-in-hand with Go Mad from the Revelation, when the Doctor realises he let his arrogance go to his head.
  • Name of Cain: Maggie's full name is shown in the personnel files to be Margaret Cain. Not only is she one of the first people to be infected, but she appears to act as the ringleader of the infected crewmembers.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: One of the trailers shows the Doctor mentioning the prophecy from the previous special ("he will knock four times"), just before some knocking starts. In the actual episode, it's only one of the water creatures and it only knocks three times.
    The Doctor: And three knocks is all you get!
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Good work telling Adelaide what her death would cause, Doctor. If he'd kept his mouth shut, she wouldn't have killed herself to maintain the old timeline.
  • "No. Just... No" Reaction: Mia does not take well to the TARDIS's Alien Geometries on top of everything else that has happened this day.
  • Noodle Incident: Some incident to inspire animosity between Adelaide and her number two is alluded to but never elaborated on.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Whoever decided that a room that was meant to Quarantine people should have a basic seal and not a Hardinger Seal clearly didn't understand why an unbreakable seal would help to keep something contained.
    • They did recognize the risk of water contamination and included filtration, but they packed the wrong filters for the water system.
  • Not So Different: Many an Ironic Echo abounds when the Doctor starts to snap and unknowingly begins to channel the Master.
  • Oh, Crap:
    • There are several moments of this throughout the story, considering only one drop of water can infect someone.
    • The biggest one is at the end, though: the Doctor, on his way back to the TARDIS, pretty much loses it when he realises Adelaide has killed herself.
    • And one last one when the cloister bell goes off.
  • Omniscient Morality License: Deconstructed. The Doctor becomes so overwrought with the guilt and fear that everyone is supposed to die in the expedition that he snaps and saves the three remaining members whom he himself categorises as two "little people" plus one "big person". The Doctor declares himself "Time Lord Victorious", and says there's nothing anyone can do to stop him. Until Adelaide, who is, quite frankly, disgusted with this notion (and rightly so) does manage to stop him by committing suicide, ensuring that her descendants lead the human race outside the cosmos, and the timeline is somewhat fixed. It took this to realise The Doctor's hubris had completely got the better of him.
  • OOC Is Serious Business:
    • Adelaide actually paying someone a compliment is noted to be a bad sign.
    • The Doctor going Time Lord Victorious is awesome, and scary. Also, his solution to the problem is to use the TARDIS, something he almost never does.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: See the entry for Eldritch Abomination, above.
  • Paranoia Fuel: Previous episodes have made you afraid of statues, shadows, and invisible giant time-altering beetles hitching a ride on your back. As for this episode... feeling thirsty?
  • Pokémon Speak: Gadget Gadget!
  • Pre-Asskicking One-Liner: "I don't hear anyone knocking!" *...knock...knock...knock* "Three knocks is all you'll get!"
  • Real Life Writes the Plot. When the bio-dome scenes were being shot, the film lights woke up the birds, and a line was added to the script to explain the birdsong.
  • Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory: Yes and no; the Doctor's memories of history change at the end, but he seems to be aware that they've changed, and from what.
  • Robot Buddy: Gadget
  • Running Gag:
    • The Doctor's insistence that they should have brought bikes. Also a Lampshade Hanging on the amount of running that goes on in this show.
    • The Doctor commenting that he really should go.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Sums up the Doctor's speech.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Humans accidentally released Sealed Evil in a Glacier.
  • Self-Deprecation: Again, the Doctor "doesn't like funny robots". He does avoid self-deprecation later on by saying that robot dogs are different, making it closer to Hypocritical Humor.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The first human base on Mars is called Bowie Base One. There's a David Bowie song called "Life on Mars".
    • It's the wrong song, but the line Planet Earth is blue, and there's nothing I can do from "Space Oddity" seem significantly reflected in this episode (not to mention the event of someone dying in space for reasons never known back on Earth).
    • When the Doctor changes history, we see news entries with changing text. Not to mention the flaming tyre trails.
    • The sound the computer makes when it tracks the crew members is from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
    • Possibly unintentional, but the horrific alien zombie virus is called the Flood.
    • A member of the crew is infected by the virus when a drop of the tainted liquid hits their eye.
    • The door that leads into the comm room where Adelaide contacts the Doctor closes with the same sound effect as the doors in the video game Doom. Fitting, given that the story revolves being possessed by supernatural forces in a creepy facility on Mars.
    • The idea of one drop of water contaminating the global water supply may have been borrowed from Kurt Vonnegut's Cats Cradle, in which a similar plot device causes the world's entire water supply to turn into ice-nine, bringing about a planetary Apocalypse How that is implied to cause the eventual extinction of all life on Earth.
    • An Eldritch Abomination that takes the form of a watery liquid that turns people into zombies who want to bring about The End of the World as We Know It sounds a lot like the modus operandi of the title monster from John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness.
  • Silent Antagonist: The flood only says a few brief lines very early on. From then on, the victims don't say a word.
  • Slasher Smile: The Doctor Briefly adopts one while using Gadget to remotely pilot the TARDIS.
  • Survival Mantra: After the Doctor snaps, channels the Master and starts fighting the water: "Not beaten, not beaten."
  • Tempting Fate:
    • The Doctor when he realises where he is.
      The Doctor: I should go. I really... should go.
      (hears a roar over the Tannoy)
      The Doctor: Oh, I really should go...
    • Later when they are evacuating the base.
      The Doctor: Right, I should leave! Finally! I should leave! Yuri my old mate, no, no point in me seeing the Ice-field? No point at all! No... (begins to run after her) ADELAIDE!
  • There Can Be Only One: In the Doctor's "Time Lord Victorious" speech, he says that as the last Time Lord he is the "winner" and master of the laws of time, allowing him to break them.
  • They Call Me Mister Tibbs: The Captain, upon being called "boss".
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Kind of implied between Adelaide and Ed; see Noodle Incident.
  • The Virus: The Flood.
  • Water Source Tampering: Turned Up to Eleven with the aliens in the water.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The Doctor himself is called out on this by Adelaide. Several times.
  • "World of Cardboard" Speech
  • The X of Y
  • You Can't Fight Fate / Screw Destiny: Played with in pretty much every way possible.
  • You Will Be Spared: The reason Adelaide is there at all is because a Dalek, presumably aware of her significance to history, elected not to kill her in 2008.
  • Zombie Infectee: Averted — the infectee immediately tells the others to leave him behind.

Alternative Title(s):

Doctor Who NSS 4 E 16 The Waters Of Mars