A Conversational Journey through New Who – The Next Doctor / Planet of the Dead / The Waters of Mars

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 6 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.

We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun!

The Next Doctor / Planet of the Dead /The Waters of Mars (2010)

The Doctor: David Tennant
The Next Doctor: David Morrissey
Rosita: Velile Tshabalala
Miss Hartigan: Dervla Kirwan
Lady Christina de Souza: Michelle Ryan
Adelaide Brooke: Lindsey Duncan

Well, David, we’re on the final countdown with David Tennant’s run as the Doctor. For me, getting to these episodes was bittersweet, as I had already watched all Matt Smith’s episodes and had then gone back to start with Eccleston and work my way forward to where I started. After the lovely get together of all the gang in the last two episodes of Season Four proper, and then the hideous ending that poor Donna got, these specials are a really interesting change of pace, as the Doctor flits about on his own, essentially. The way it affects him, his decision making, his self-image, all that stuff, is what makes these stand-alone episodes wholly discussion-worthy!

In some ways, having just finished watching the last episode of Season 7, I have to suggest (to Tansy, cover your eyes David!) that these specials are almost the forerunner, stylistically, to the latest season – very much episodic by nature, grand scale, almost movie-like in presentation. What do you think?

In presentation yes there’s a similarity, though I was not very impressed with the year of specials at the time – after four years of regular, reliable Doctor Who, it was gutting to wait so long between episodes, and for several of them (I’m looking at “Planet of the Dead” in particular) to be so disappointingly slight. I think Series 7 achieved the movie event style effect far better, probably because I like the writing and characters better.

Without a regular character (and Donna in particular) to ground him, it felt like the Tenth Doctor was far more of a distant character, moving further away from us. Maybe not a bad thing because we had to think about weaning ourselves off him?

He seemed to be drifting, like he had lost whatever anchor it was that held him close to humanity.

Do you think that was deliberate? They had to know they were working up to Tennant leaving, after all?

Oh, they knew. It had been announced he was leaving well before “The Next Doctor,” and I think Matt Smith was introduced to the nation (in an actual TV special) shortly after that. In a recent Verity we described it as being like an awkward, dragged-out break up where a couple split, but keep living together until the lease on their house runs out.

We start out with “The Next Doctor”, the title of which I can only imagine sent the fans into spasms at the time! Actually the Christmas special that year, I have to say I absolutely loved it! I loved that the villain was a hard as nails woman, absolutely a product of the time but not afraid to take an opportunity when she saw it. I ADORED the steampunk-ish elements of the story. I was completely enamoured with David Morrissey’s “Doctor”, and the story that went along with that. And I’m not a huge Cybermen fan, but I really did like this story.


“The Next Doctor” a style over substance kind of story for me – like most of the specials. Oh so pretty, but not a huge amount to it.

Pretty matters!

I’m not sure anyone really bought that David Morrissey was really going to be one of our Doctors but it was fascinating to speculate on who the hell he really was – a very clever central idea. A little disappointing he didn’t turn out to be the Meddling Monk in disguise, though.

I am a sucker for ‘classic Doctor Who monsters in historical storylines’, so enjoyed that aspect. And I did very much like the way that the episode kicked at the mythology of the show – looking at what makes the Doctor the Doctor by creating another one and having our Doctor pretend to be his companion. David Morrissey felt very convincing as a Doctor – I think his “Victorian gent with panache” interpretation of the role is the sort of thing we expected when the show first came back in 2005 (it also reflects the style choices made around Paul McGann’s Doctor) and because of Blackpool, Morrissey was an actor much speculated as a front runner for the role.

The two Davids worked brilliantly together – enough to make me sad that the show never really gave the ‘male companion’ thing a chance for more than a few episodes at a time … during the RTD era, anyway!


What didn’t work for me? I wasn’t really sold on Rosita – I think I appreciated what they tried to do with her, but sadly, she just didn’t get fleshed out enough to do the character justice. And the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man-style robot creature stomping across the landscape made me laugh, rather than perhaps a more appropriate reaction!

Well, it is a Christmas special. Important to remember these are all designed to be watched after everyone’s been eating and drinking too much all day. Speaking of which, the big gosh wow moment was the time stamp which showed us images of all the previous Doctors – we’d only seen them physically represented on screen in the sketches in The Journal of Impossible Things back in “Human Nature/The Family of Blood”, so this was a big deal.

It’s funny you mention about it being a Christmas special, because for the first ten minutes or so I couldn’t get my head around this episode, then I realised that it was *meant* to be a little over the top and something clicked. I enjoyed it much more after that!

I was trying to work out why David Morrissey looked so familiar, and then I realised he is the Governor from The Walking Dead! That was a surreal moment. But, I really enjoyed his character, and I’d be happy if they brought him back to play Twelve – Astra style (though I am aware that won’t happen)! Rosita was an excellent Companion, and I enjoyed their dynamic. It was also interesting seeing the Doctor get to see what things must look from the outside.

Oh and Dervla Kirwan is brilliant in this, especially the scene with The Red Dress, but it’s a shame her character makes no sense at all. Almost everything she says is so bizarrely scripted, it’s hard to believe that the same person wrote those lovely Doctor-Doctor scenes.

Oh yes, I liked her a lot!


I agree that Hartigan made absolutely no sense as a character. We don’t get any real sense of what her motivations are, what she wants, she could have been replaced by any stock villain with no impact on the episode at all (other than losing a brilliant actor). I assume that she was trying break free of a patriarchal society, but that was barely realised. They could have done so much more with her but she left me cold.

I liked the steampunk vibe of this episode, too. But, one area where they shouldn’t have gone that way was with the giant robot. It looked pretty awesome, but didn’t really fit in with the Cyberman style. Speaking of the Cybermen, I take it these were the “real” Cybermen, not the Earth 2 version? I liked the transparent brain case, a very nice touch. And, the Cybershades were a good addition, too.

I think they’re actually Earth 2 Cybermen because they have the Cybus logo. And the Doctor witters on at one point about them falling through a crack in the universes. So no real ones yet, sorry. Hang in there! Also, the transparent brain case looks awesome in not-Lego form. Raeli has one.

*sigh* Oh well, I will keep waiting. Though, was that a semi-spoiler, Tansy?!

Just because I said ‘yet’ doesn’t mean we’re not still waiting! You know there hasn’t been another Cyberman story since, right?

(Phew, I think I got away with that one)

This “don’t spoil David” thing is getting harder! Hurry up and catch up!

One of the things I have found interesting is the legitimisation of the Eighth Doctor. For a while I got the feeling people were trying to forget the movie ever happened, but with the Eighth Doctor Adventures, he is definitely well embedded in canon. Showing him here, amongst all the others, reinforces that. And, how many memories did the parade of Doctors Past that bring back? Though, I was hoping they might do a Brain of Morbius and show some future incarnations!

The faces in Brain of Morbius are NOT future incarnations, they are Morbius’ other selves, right? (at least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) It would be kind of hilarious if, in ten years time, episodes like this were re-edited, Lucas-style, to include future faces of the Doctor. Can you imagine the fan explosions if that happened?

I have no idea what the two of you are talking about. So I’ll move on…

I’m a bit ambivalent about “Planet of the Dead”. On one hand I absolutely adored capable, confident, slightly criminal Christina and would happily have seen her travel with the Doctor for a while. I also really enjoyed Lee Evans’ performance as Malcolm, and seeing UNIT again. On the other hand, the plot was just a bit slight, for me.

I seriously hated Christina, which is so rare for me with a companion or companion type. It started out as mild dislike but honestly it gets worse every time I watch this one. The whole ‘cat-burglar with a heart’ thing is such an old-fashioned style of character type and we learn so little about her to move her beyond the stereotype. The posh accent and cavalier attitude towards everyone around her doesn’t do her any favours. I honestly don’t see why she earned her happy ending, and would have thought much better of the Doctor if he had let her be arrested for her crimes (COS CRIMES) and then met her when she emerged from prison years later, handing over the keys to the flying bus then.


Planet of the Dead 60s style – http://www.colinbrockhurst.co.uk/

I know you’re right, morally and logically (and actually, I really wish we DID know more about her and her life and journey, which is kind of why I would watch more of her) … but I still loved her 🙂

Back in 1989 the plan was for the next post-Ace character to be a posh catburglar girl, with the production crew wanting someone like Catherine Zeta-Jones or Julia Sawahla to play her. So the idea has been around for a very long time … but I don’t think it works in the 21st century. Maybe if they’d set the story in the 1960s?

They really could have just called her Catwoman, couldn’t they? But, they did have great chemistry! My favourite “companion” in this was actually Malcolm! I thought he was hilarious – very Frank Spencer!

YES! Frank Spencer, exactly!


I didn’t mind this episode at all, I liked the idea of creatures that had evolved into predators moving from world to world. We talked earlier about the idea of an ecosystem of time, well this an ecosystem on a interplanetary scale. And, I always enjoy non humanoid, hideous aliens that don’t turn out to be the bad guys.

I will admit that the aliens were quite good in this, and the filming looked spectacular. But it is, sadly, my least favourite Doctor Who story involving a bus.


“The Waters of Mars” is the episode which won the Hugo in 2010 (all three of these Specials were nominated), and I think it’s probably well-deserved. The dramatic tension of the plot and excellent performances by all guest actors make it an all around fantastic episode that I continue to enjoy re-watching. That said, the ending MAKES NO SENSE TO ME! Please, someone explain how the heck this could still work?!

The ending of “The Waters of Mars” doesn’t work. It’s ridiculous – an insult of an ending. The ultimate tacked on (it was a last minute script change) gratuitous death because it turns the whole story into one big narrative mess.


And it’s such a shame because otherwise “The Waters of Mars” is a fascinating, well made story. A very well scripted base-under-siege story which looks actively at the Doctor’s responsibility when it comes to meeting famous people in history. The cast is brilliant, especially our own Peter O’Brien (love him, love him always, ever since The Flying Doctors) sporting his Aussie accent loud and proud, and the marvellous Lindsay Duncan as Adelaide Brooke. (does anyone remember when there was a fan theory that the water theme for female companion/characters was significant because River, Brooke, Pond? Hilarious). The scene in which the Doctor tells Adelaide about her granddaughter’s destiny is one of the best bits of Doctor Who of all time – a marvellous Doctory moment.


What an amazing cast! Peter O’Brien is instantly recognisable, and adds a nice sense of history between him and the Captain, and has that air of capability about him, but the real star here is Lindsay Duncan. What an incredible performance, and what a great character. If we had written the report card after the specials she would have been my pick, by far.

And no, I avoided fan theories like the plague! lol

The situation where the Doctor has to LET people die because it’s a famous point in history, and then he decides to save them anyway … that’s such a perfect Doctor Who set up. Seeing the Doctor walk away from the base knowing they are all going to die … and then turning back because he’s the Doctor and he has to try and save them anyway. PERFECT DOCTOR WHO.

Likewise, him being drunk on his own power for breaking all the laws of time is a great moment, and should have been the note on which the story ended. It would have led far better into the finale. Adelaide bringing him ‘down to earth’ with her suicide simply spoils the effect as well as making NO SENSE AT ALL. It feels like it was there to hurt the Doctor and the viewers, regardless of what it did to the story.


If she was going to kill herself to save the future, why on earth have her do it inside the house where her family would find her, thereby affecting the timeline? If they’d shown that her gun dematerialised bodies at least that would work, but they didn’t. And what about the cute kids who ran off hand in hand, what changes have they wrought to the timeline by surviving? The co-writers wrote themselves into a corner and then failed to climb out again. Such a waste of an otherwise excellent production.

I know! It made no sense, and otherwise, that story was so darn good. I’ve watched this one a bunch of times now, and each time I think, ‘maybe now I’ll figure out how it worked’, and each time I get to the end and go, ‘what the heck?’ I’ll stop trying to understand now!

It’s interesting you say that, because to me it made perfect sense. Even though the Doctor has always played a little fast and loose with the laws of Time, he has always operated within certain boundaries, both voluntarily because it is the right thing to do, and in an involuntary fashion, because Time protects itself and generally acts to bring things reasonably close to how they were meant to be, even if there are slight variations.

The idea of a Doctor who not only doesn’t feel any moral constraints to not go around changing Time, but actually has nothing stopping him from doing so, is a pretty scary one. Logically, where would it stop? I thought the idea of the ending, whether it was executed well or not, is that there are still consequences if you play with Time, even for the Doctor. Whether it was Adelaide showing a greater degree of wisdom of the Doctor and sacrificing herself to do what she saw as the right thing, or Time itself forcing the lines of history back on track, it shows that the Doctor is not God and above every law of the universe – moral or scientific.

No, see I got that that’s what they were TRYING for, but it still doesn’t make any sense, for the reasons Tansy says above. It’s not the same as dying in an unknown way on a far off planet, not by any stretch…

But, that’s the thing – that’s how she was meant to die, but the Doctor interfered. Adelaide was willing to do what needed to be done, even if the Doctor wasn’t. It may not have been the same, but in the end it had the same effect and the timeline was preserved. However, I may just be giving the writers WAY too much credit!

Of course, there is something problematic about a strong woman character being killed off to motivate the male lead. Isn’t that the definition of fridging?


Yes it is absolutely. And I do think you’re giving the writers too much credit, David! They evidently intended to do what you suggest, but I think they wasted the opportunity with a dodgy dismount.

This one is the only Doctor Who of the RTD era which I categorically will not let my daughter watch (she has also self-selected not to watch “Blink”). The combination of the horror imagery, the lingering and I think indulgently violent deaths during the evacuation, and then Brooke’s suicide makes the whole thing entirely inappropriate for family viewing as far as I’m concerned. The prosthetics look astounding but they are so creepy! A very adult piece of science fiction, in the end, which feels disappointingly less like Doctor Who than I want it to.

I think that’s absolutely a fair assessment. And with that, I think we’re ready to move on … to the end of Tennant’s reign as Doctor *sniff*

Previous Episodes

“Rose”, S01E01
“Dalek”, S01E06
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – DavidTansyTehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion”, S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04
“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06
“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13
Season Two Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“Smith and Jones”, S03E01
“The Shakespeare Code/Gridlock”, S03E02/03″
“Human Nature/Family of Blood”. S03E08/09″
“Blink”. S03E10″
“Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords”, S03E12/13/14
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Spearhead from Space (1970)
Season Three Report CardDavid, Tansy, Tehani
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
“Partners in Crime”, S04E01
The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, S04E0708
“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, S04E0910
Turn Left, S0411
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End,S04E1213
Season Four Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani

2 thoughts on “A Conversational Journey through New Who – The Next Doctor / Planet of the Dead / The Waters of Mars

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