The Waters of Mars
By Phil Ford
I am a massive fan of the Target imprint of Doctor Who books. Recently they have been filling in the gaps from the older series and producing new adaptations based on the past few Doctors. Taking stories out of any given season is a risky business. It could be a standalone monster of the week story, or a pivotal moment in the Doctor’s current life. The Waters of Mars by Phil Ford is a combination of the two. We get to see some of the most disturbing creatures, but also witness the beginning of the end of the 10th Doctor.
This current reincarnation has all got a little too much for The Doctor, so they decide to spend some quiet time on Mars, decades before humanity populates the planet. However, there must have been some miscommunication with the TARDIS as although humans have not colonised the planet yet, they have started to explore it in the form of Bowie Base One. The Doctor knows that name well. The crew of Bowie Base One are famous for being the first humans to live on Mars and the first to be evaporated in a nuclear blast.
We are used to seeing The Doctor with one of his many companions, this allows the character someone to bounce off. Another bonus for the written adaptation is that you can tell the story from the perspective of the companion watching The Doctor. Mars is a more unusual occurrence as it told from the perspective of The Doctor in a time where they are not sure what the future holds.
This being one of the best action science fictions shows ever made, it is not long until the future must go on hold itself as the present needs to be dealt with first. The scientists inhabiting Bowie Base One have successfully embedded themselves and have even cultivated food from the vast frozen waters under the surface of the planet. However, these waters contain more than just a couple of hydrogen atoms and an oxygen. Inside something has been sleeping and waiting. Waiting for the flesh to return.
Like the best horror elements of Doctor Who, the creatures of Mars are creepy and scary. I often feel sorry for the victims in one of these stories, but doubly so in this case as the victims become the monsters. The closed environment is perfect for classic Alien like horror as the survivors try to escape the water creatures. The Doctor must decide whether to help the crew or leave them to their fate. He is aware of what the destruction of Bowie Base One means to humanity, if he aids the crew, will it change the future?
The Doctors role as the last remaining Time Lord has played out several times over the decades, but under the 10th Doctor it was handled wonderfully. In Mars we are witnessing the 10th Doctor considering breaking the rules that have guided their existence. Are they not time themselves? If they make a change will the universe bend to their will? The consequences are not all that The Doctor thought they would be, and it informs their attitude for the adventures to come.
With a heavier reliance on the internal workings of The Doctor and the overarching story playing out in the background, Waters of Mars is not the easiest book for the casual fan to pick up. It helps if you understand what happened in earlier adventures and what is coming. It is still a thrilling story that captures the classic feel of a Doctor Who horror episode, the creatures are disturbing, and the sequences are tight. As a reader we get a bonus into the thoughts of The Doctor, but also a character who has a pivotal role in direction that humanity takes.
Written on 19th July 2023 by Sam Tyler .