I've already posted once before on my long-time love of Doctor Who, particularly my personal pleasure in seeing a whole new generation of fans get ready to mourn the loss of current Doctor David Tennant and welcome Matt Smith to the role soon. And Tennant will certainly be missed. Being the ninth actor to play a particular part must be a huge challenge, especially when it comes bringing something fresh to the role, but Tennant has defined the Doctor as no other actor has since Tom Baker and his iconic scarf in the 1970s.
Franchise reboots are tricky, risky things. Battlestar Galactica worked, I think, because the source material was never that great to begin with and the creators of the new series had a lot of freedom to take things in a new direction. The reinvention of the Bond movie franchise in Casino Royale worked for the opposite reason: it actually brought the movie character closer to what Ian Fleming had intended him to be. And then there was this years re-launch of Star Trek, which essentially invented an alternate Trek story universe. For me at least, the results were mixed; the story was visually stunning and at times compelling. In particular, I liked how Uhura and Sulu got moments to shine that had frequently been denied them previously. On the other hand, the progressive social message that was always an important part of the Trek universe was missing. The body was there, but the heart and soul were not quite complete.
Which brings me to Doctor Who and David Tennant's penultimate performance in "The Waters of Mars." When re-launching Doctor Who, I think Russell Davies and his team had as hard a job as J.J. Abrams did with Star Trek, if not more so. The original run of the series had even more history behind it than did Star Trek. With 26 seasons, it ran longer than Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine combined. But the new series has worked, and worked brilliantly. Davies and company have acknowledged the venerable history of the show, especially with Elisabeth Sladen, a veteran of Jon Pertwee's and Tom Baker's runs coming back to reprise the role of Sara Jane Smith in several episodes where she is key to the action.
There's also the women on the show. While it was refreshing to see Liz Sladen finally be able to do more than just scream at Daleks and slip and fall while trying to hide behind the Doctor, the show has done a great job of showcasing new crop of strong, smart, tough female characters. Lindsey Duncan, so great as Servilia on HBO's Rome, is the latest as a Mars colony commander carrying, literally, the weight of the world on her shoulders. She gives a truly wonderful performance, even better than her turn in Rome, managing to say volumes with just one look of those hard blue eyes of hers. It's the kind of part one sees all too rarely for a talented actress, much less a middle-aged one, and Duncan shows just how great a shame that is.
Best of all, though, is the fact that the new Who is exploring questions the old series never did, and probably never could. One of the new developments (and this is really no spoiler) is that the Doctor is now the only survivor of the once near-omnipotent Time Lords, and the writers have allowed that to take a profound toll on his psyche. And while I can't say more about what happens at the end of "The Waters of Mars" to bring this to a climax and set the stage for the exit of Tennant's Doctor without spoiling the ending, it did raise some interesting questions. What would you or I do if we were the sole inheritors of a powerful legacy? If it suddenly occurred to us that our conscience is the only thing holding us back and that conscience is telling us to do something that may have disastrous consequences? If we suddenly realized, to our horror, that we've gone too far?
That's a lot to pack into a one hour episode, but I highly recommend it--to old Doctor Who hands and newcomers alike. For newbies, never fear--"The Waters of Mars" works well as a stand-alone episode that won't lose you. With Battlestar Galactica ended and with Star Trek sticking to the big screen for now, it's time for Doctor Who to start getting the notice it deserves as the best science fiction series currently being produced.