It took a while, but I finally tidied up the inside of my head enough to put some thoughts down relating to "Waters of Mars." Not a review, actually; more a riff and a contemplation. But yes, to cut from my own febrile blatherings to the chase, I liked it, a great deal. And perhaps I'll have other thoughts on it before The End, of a less floridly purple nature. **************
Water runs downhill. Time moves forward.
There’s nothing surprising about either statement. Physics: it’s the law – just ask Newton, or Einstein. Don’t ask Heisenberg, Schrodinger or Planck, though, because they might ask you this: What happens when it isn’t, necessarily?
That’s the thing that struck me about “Waters of Mars,” and that I can’t seem to get out of my head – the similarity between water and time, and how much of a brilliant connection Russell T. Davies made when he put both at the center of this story, the beginning of the end for the Tenth Doctor.
Think about what happens when you try to stop water; think about what the Doctor told Adelaide and everyone else on Bowie Base more than once.
You can’t stop water.
You can reroute it for a little while, through irrigation ditches or pipes, behind dams and levee walls. But eventually, it will escape the ditches, punch through the pipes, breach the dams and surmount the levees. Eventually it will find a way to run downhill, to find the level it – not you, nor me, nor an entire Army Corps of Engineers – wants.
Well, there is one way to stop water, but only by turning it into something else. You can boil it away, you can freeze it, you can let the sun steam and dry it into nonexistence – and even then, it’s still water in waiting.
Somewhere, that steam will condense into droplets. Somewhere what moisture the sun chased into the soil will meet up with an aquifer and return to the surface. Somewhere, even if it’s at the pole or floating in the black of space, a chunk of ice holds the promise of water, if only summer comes or it enters the orbit of a star, the pull of a planet. Then it’s back, and it becomes fog, and rain, freshets, rivers, oceans. And it is so, so much larger than we are, and it can win every fight we pick with it if we’re not careful. Ask sailors on the sea.
Now think about time. You can’t stop it, either. Like water, it runs downhill. It runs in one direction – yes it does, eventually. Even in a universe that welcomes the Doctor, and pretends to run by an entirely different set of rules, a set which allows time to swirl and eddy like water round rocks, to be routed into ditches, imprisoned in pipes or held back from its proper course behind a levee or a dam. Time runs in one direction, and nothing out of Gallifrey can change that.
Time Lords called themselves that, but they weren’t, not really. They could manage time, certainly, but they could never really master it, and they knew that, because they knew time so well. They knew the rules they lived by weren’t their rules. They were time’s rules; the universe’s rules, even in a fairy tale universe.
The last Time Lord’s no different. The Doctor may jump from day to year to century at a whim, as a child jumps from stone to stone in the river, but he’s ruled by time and ushered forward by its pull as surely as that child’s motion is ultimately ruled by what the river allows her to do.
The Doctor was born. He has aged. He has died and returned, nine times he’s done it, and each time he’s returned he has been one step older. He cannot grow younger, no matter that he has dark hair now where he once had white. Ultimately, he is as linear as any human, as linear as the rest of any universe – his or ours. He still runs downhill, because that is the only direction time ultimately allows any of us to take.
We live in time. We are born into it, carried along in it, die in it. And he’s known that forever, even if he played a little more with time, in his time, than his more sedate brethren. He always lived by those rules, even if he bent them a little.
But time came to Mars, water rose on Mars, and the Doctor forgot.
It’s a forgivable sin – no need for anyone to say “I’m sorry.” Who could blame him for wanting to run uphill? Who could blame him for wanting to bend that rule until the rust flaked off it, until it screamed and broke under the continued pressure?
It’s not surprising, not for the Doctor, who has, after all, lived centuries of a life that could trick one into thinking one can bargain with time. It’s not surprising for someone who’s lost so much, over and over again, who’s destroyed so much and saved so many at such personal cost. After enough time passes, after enough pressure from the implacable currents, even the strongest, the most steely of souls suffers metal fatigue, creaks, screams and crumples. Someone can become desperate to break the rules, or forget them.
That kind of forgetting, though? It’s sin; forgivable, but mortal.
All the mortal sins are about defying the laws of physics, you know. You can survive other sins, but you can’t survive breaking the laws of physics, whether they’re Newtonian, Einsteinian or Heisenberg’s and Planck’s.
And when you sin against the natural order, unnatural things happen. Water will run in rivulets from the pores of your skin, from under the cuff of your jacket. You will vomit water, it will erupt and geyser, it will come from someplace inside of you from where there's no room for it to be, and it will be wrong.
When you try to turn time uphill, you will ignore the knowledge that sits not only in your head, but your gut, and pretend you can change the laws. You will pretend that Gallifrey made those laws when, really, you know in your bones that Gallifrey simply bowed to them. And you will still do it, and it will be wrong.
You have sinned. Because - to go back to the beginning - I lied about what Heisenberg and the others might say.
Water runs downhill. When you try to thwart water, it will drown you. Time moves forward. When you try to thwart time, you will sink beneath its waves like a stone.