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New Series Episode 60:
The Waters Of Mars
The Doctor lands on Mars on November 21st, 2059. There, Bowie Base One -- the first human colony on the Red Planet -- is destined to be overrun by an intelligent, contagious contaminant freed from the glacier which provides the base with its water. The self-destruct mechanism will be activated, destroying colonists and contaminant alike. The Doctor knows that this event must happen: it is a pivotal moment in human history. But can he force himself to walk away without trying to save the day?
Although it had been decided as far back as 2006 that Doctor Who's 2008 and 2010 seasons would be bridged by several specials to wrap up David Tennant's time on the programme, the precise number and scheduling of these episodes remained in a state of flux until April 2008. At this time, it was agreed that there would be four specials in total -- airing at Christmas 2008, Easter 2009, Christmas 2009, and the last at some point in 2010. The Christmas 2008 special, The Next Doctor, was already complete, having been filmed immediately after Season Thirty. Executive producer Russell T Davies hoped to write each of the three remaining adventures, but it was clear that his commitments to the third season of Torchwood would preclude this. Reluctantly, he agreed to develop the scripts in tandem with a co-writer; executive producer Julie Gardner insisted that Davies retain writing credits in order to help attract the best possible guest cast.
For the Christmas special, Davies wanted to revive an idea he had briefly considered for the 2008 Christmas slot, in which the Earth is frozen in time due to an alien presence. Much of the action would be based around a hotel, which would suddenly be empty except for one human who would become the Doctor's temporary companion. Originally, Davies had envisaged this as a father who would be driven to assist the Doctor by his desire to be reunited with his missing family. However, he was eager that one of the surrogate companions be a strong older woman -- who might be played by an actress of the calibre of Judi Dench or Helen Mirren -- and so this character instead became a grandmother. Davies also wanted to draw upon another discarded idea for the 2008 Christmas special -- in which the world would be transformed into a fantasy landscape drawing upon the imagination of Harry Potter author JK Rowling -- by having the aliens engage in an otherworldly festival on the time-stopped Earth. The story would end with an Ood appearing to the Doctor, beckoning him to return to its planet; this would presage the Doctor's regeneration in the final special.
To write the “frozen in time” story, Davies approached Phil Ford. The two had worked together at Granada Television in the mid-Nineties, and Ford had already written for both Doctor Who spin-off series, contributing adventures such as Eye Of The Gorgon and Enemy Of The Bane to The Sarah Jane Adventures (on which he had also become a co-producer starting with its second season), and Something Borrowed to Torchwood. Ford had also written for programmes such as The Bill, the revived Captain Scarlet, and Bad Girls.
Using Davies' ideas as a starting point, Ford developed a storyline called “A Midwinter's Tale” during July. However, Davies was already beginning to have misgivings about the story, fearing the cost and logistics involved in realising a completely deserted London. When Ford submitted his storyline on the 29th, Davies further discovered that it had taken a turn firmly into sword-and-sorcery territory, emphasising the fantastical elements much more than he had intended.
Davies decided to abandon “A Midwinter's Tale” and instead suggested a story he called “Christmas On Mars”, set in a realistic Martian base in the mid-twenty-first century. The older female companion would be retained, but would now be the commander of the base; it was thought that she might be Russian, since the writers were eager that the base personnel be multinational. The threat would come from some element of the Martian environment which would begin possessing the crew. The announcement on July 31st that NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander had discovered water on the planet inspired the notion that the malign force would be waterborne. Davies was particularly enthusiastic about the idea of setting the story at a point in history which most children watching would live to experience.
Ford delivered his new storyline on August 7th under the title “Red Christmas” -- a play on Mars' Red Planet nickname and the Irving Berlin tune White Christmas. Davies was unenthusiastic, feeling that Ford's title was too reminiscent of low-grade horror fare. Most of the action was set at Camp Bowie, named after singer David Bowie, whose many musical successes included the 1971 hit Life On Mars?. Ford envisaged Mars in the adventure as a terraformed planet, with the Bowie base personnel flying great distances to various installations. Davies encouraged him to take a much more low-tech approach to the story, with Bowie Base as the rugged first outpost on the untamed Martian frontier. Davies also had second thoughts about the base commander being Russian, which he feared was too similar to Mirren's turn as Tanya Kirbuk in the 1984 film 2010. Originally called Valentina Kerenski, she was renamed Grace and then Adelaide, after Davies pointed out that Grace was the name of the Eighth Doctor's companion in Doctor Who (1996).
At this point, Davies offered two significant additions to “Red Christmas”. The first was a service robot, inspired by the success of the 2008 animated film WALL-E. Davies' notion was that the robot would initially be clunky yet lovable, but might later go mad and become a threat to the Doctor; this aspect of the character ultimately went unused. His other suggestion was the idea that the crew of Bowie Base are in fact renowned throughout history as Mars' lost pioneers -- a significant event which is one of the “fixed points” in time alluded to in Season Thirty's The Fires Of Pompeii. Davies had promised Tennant that the specials would see his character taken in hitherto unexplored directions, and he now suggested that the Doctor would seize upon his status as last of the Time Lords to actually change a pivotal moment in history. The appearance of the Ood at the story's conclusion would therefore help the Doctor realise that he has gone too far in his hubris, setting the stage for his final adventure.
By October, it had been decided that Tennant's last special, The End Of Time, would be split into two parts, once again throwing the broadcast plans into doubt. Davies was now eager to feature both installments during the Christmas season, which suggested that “Red Christmas” might be scheduled around Hallowe'en. This would suit the story's spooky atmosphere, and would be convenient because Ford was having difficulty making the tale sufficiently “Christmassy”. Later that month, an alternative plan had been decided: “Red Christmas” would air on December 19th -- the Saturday before Christmas 2009 -- followed by the two episodes of The End Of Time on Christmas Day and New Year's Day, respectively.
By mid-November, however, all of these plans were thrown into doubt as the production office found itself caught up in the credit crisis of 2008. It appeared that The End Of Time, intended to be made up of two hour-long episodes, might instead have to consist of standard forty-five minute installments. The only alternative appeared to be the abandonment of “Red Christmas”, which was the less essential of the stories. Fortunately, by the end of the month, Gardner had managed to resolve the financial issues. In the meantime, Davies had become determined to make “Red Christmas” an essential story, and decided to focus the script upon the Doctor's manipulation of history as the transformative event which would lead into The End Of Time.
In mid-December, however, more money woes plagued “Red Christmas”. The first special of 2009, Planet Of The Dead, was supposed to mark Doctor Who's transition to High Definition recording. However, confusion within the BBC resulted in the abrupt loss of the necessary funds. The only solution was to use some of the “Red Christmas” budget to make up the shortfall. As a result, the plan to realise the possessed Bowie Base personnel as computer-animated monsters had to be abandoned. Instead, the infected crewmembers would now be transformed into monsters using prosthetics.
The final major script issue Davies had to confront involved the very last scene. As originally conceived, Adelaide survived the events of the story, rebuking the Doctor for his arrogance in breaking the Laws of Time and running off to rejoin her family following the vision of the Ood. In mid-January 2009, however, both Davies and Gardner independently came to the conclusion that, in order to do justice to the story of the Doctor's hubris, Adelaide would have to die -- taking her own life in order to preserve the course of history. Davies was aware that the suicide of a major character would be a controversial way to end a family programme, and was very careful to construct the revised scene in a manner which concentrated upon the Doctor's reaction, rather than the act of Adelaide's demise.
Cast as Adelaide was Lindsay Duncan, a Tony Award winner for the Broadway revival of Noel Coward's Private Lives. In addition to her stage success, Duncan also had numerous television credits to her name, including Traffik, GBH, Rome and Margaret. On the silver screen, Duncan had appeared in movies such as Mansfield Park, An Ideal Husband and Under The Tuscan Sun. Directing the episode would be Graeme Harper, whose most recent Doctor Who work was on the Season Thirty finale, The Stolen Earth / Journey's End. In the meantime, Harper had directed The Temptation Of Sarah Jane Smith and Enemy Of The Bane for the second season of The Sarah Jane Adventures.
In early February, the BBC once again changed its mind about the scheduling of “Red Christmas”. Concern had developed that a Doctor Who episode airing right before Christmas would be overlooked, especially with the overwhelming publicity that The End Of Time was likely to generate. The BBC now decided to bring the episode forward for transmission sometime during the autumn; as a result, Davies had to remove most of the Christmas references from the script.
Two weeks later, production began at Taffs Well Quarry in Taffs Well, which posed as the surface of Mars on February 23rd and 24th. The next two days were spent at the Great Glasshouse, part of the National Botanical Garden of Wales in Llanarthne, Carmarthenshire; Davies had scripted the scenes in the Bio-Dome with this location in mind. One unexpected complication was the noise of birds in the Glasshouse at nighttime. Davies duly amended the script to account for their presence on the soundtrack. Meanwhile, Davies was also concerned that the appearance of the infected crewmembers was too scary in these scenes. It was agreed that for the sequences involving the principal victim, Maggie Cain, actress Sharon Duncan-Brewster would not wear the eerie contact lenses which were felt to be the most dehumanising element of the costume. This also prompted script changes, and it was decided that the other infected personnel would be filmed with their eyes closed in some shots.
February 27th took cast and crew to Victoria Place in Newport, Gwent, for the final scene outside Adelaide's home. The next day, recording of the material in the Water Plant Dome control room took place in the car park of Unisem Europe, on the Pen Y Fan Industrial Estate at Croespenmaen. Another car park -- this time the Next Generation Data Car Park in Newport -- was the location used for the various connecting tunnels, corridors, airlocks and roof areas of Bowie Base. Filming there took place from March 2nd to 4th.
The rest of the shooting schedule was confined to Doctor Who's regular studio home, Upper Boat Studios, spanning March 5th to 20th (omitting the 7th, 8th and 15th). Most of this time -- through to the 12th -- was spent in the massive Central Dome Section A set, which was erected in the space previously occupied by the Torchwood Hub, destroyed in the opening episode of 2009's Children Of Earth. In addition, the messages from home were taped on the 9th and the Doctor's conversation with Adelaide from the exit airlock on the 11th. Work on March 13th began with the flashback to the young Adelaide's encounter with a Dalek, and was followed by the first scenes in the Medical Dome. This set continued to be used on the 14th and 16th, alongside the shuttle cockpit. The Section A set was redressed as Central Dome Section F for recording from March 17th to 20th. Also on the 20th, material was taped in the TARDIS console room alongside various pick-up and effects shots.
The final recording for the episode now retitled The Waters Of Mars took place on May 15th at the Brandon Estate in London during the filming of The End Of Time. This was a replacement shot of the Doctor outside the TARDIS at the end of the story, arising from Davies' dissatisfaction with the footage from Victoria Place back in February. Other edits saw the deletion of the watery menace referring to itself as “the Flood”, and the loss of several sequences dealing with the romantic relationship between Yuri and Mia. Meanwhile, a portentous montage of clips reflecting the fate of the Time Lords was assembled for the Doctor's decision to change history; these came from Gridlock, The Doctor's Daughter, Doomsday, The Doctor's Daughter again, Rise Of The Cybermen and Utopia.
For a long time, The Waters Of Mars was intended to air on Saturday, November 21st, but a late decision was made to bring it forward to Sunday the 15th instead. Meanwhile, former Doctor Who producer, executive producer, director and writer Barry Letts passed away on October 9th. In recognition of Letts' enormous influence on Doctor Who and British television in general, it was decided that The Waters Of Mars should be dedicated to his memory.
|Updated 14th August 2011|
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