Monday, 16 November 2009

The Waters of Mars


As I’ve mentioned in responding to comments on my post on Saturday, I share the view that the links between crime fiction and science fiction are very strong. A long list of the fine writers who have worked in both genres includes Isaac Asimov, John Sladek, Fredric Brown, and John Wyndham (though Wyndham seems to have given up on detective fiction once the Golden Age had passed.)

I was reminded of the crossover between genres by the TV special of Doctor Who which was screened last night. The Waters of Mars, in which the excellent David Tennant was paired with Lindsay Duincan, saw the Doctor land on the red planet and become embroiled in a disastrous confrontation between the first human settlers on the planet and dark, water-based forces from Ancient Mars which were hell-bent on taking over the incomers. In a nice joke, the settlers occupy Bowie Base One – a nod to the composer of that marvellous song ‘Life on Mars.’

In the last series of Doctor Who, my favourite episode featured Agatha Christie, and countless quips based on the titles of Christie’s detective novels. Here, the focus of the story was on psychological suspense, with a classic race against time. The Doctor knows that the settlers are about to die, on the very day he lands on Mars, and he fears that he can do little or nothing to save them. But might the course of history be changed in any event – and what is to happen to the Doctor himself?

The writers of The Waters of March did a good job of ratcheting up the tension – a skill required of both sci-fi and crime writers. Less time than usual was devoted to the internal anguish of the characters, a feature of the modern Doctor Who stories which sometimes slows down the action. At its best, Doctor Who is a terrific show, and The Waters of March was one of the most compelling and sharply written episodes I’ve watched for some time.

9 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - I confess I haven't watched much Dr. Who. The Waters of Mars sounds like a terrific episode, though, and I absolutely *must* find that episode that features Agatha Christie.

Your post got me thinking about writers who cross the sci-fi/crime fiction genre.... I liked the way Douglas Adams did it in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and The Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul. In my opinion, Adams died far too soon. And of course, you're absolutely right about Asimov - his Elijah Bailey novels are classics.

Martin Edwards said...

The Christie episode was a lot of fun. I agree about Adams, and John Sladek'z two detective stories are well worth seeking out.
I began with Doctor Who back in the very first series - a long time ago! I lost interest in the late 70s, but the revival in recent years has offered plenty of good things, including the performances of Chris Ecclestone and David Tennant, and some memorable aliens, as well as the return of the Cybermen and the Daleks.

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - Isn't it interesting how modern-day revivals of classic television can get people interested, and even "hook" new fans? I'm going to really have to make an effort to try the new series and catch some of those performances.

Nicole_Hadaway said...

You are so lucky you get to see first runs of Doctor Who! I found the last season very dark, at which I was surprised, because I thought Donna Noble's character would bring more levity to the show. I think my favorite season is #2 with the Doctor and Rose, though the Christie episode was classic (all those quips based on her book titles!), and the scariest was Blink with those creepy angel statutes.

Louise said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog (Lou's Pages). I am always thrilled to find new-to-me blogs and look forward to read more of your posts. I do not read that many mysteries, although when I do, its usually a lot in a row.

Martin Edwards said...

Margot, I agree. In a slightly different way, I thought the 1970s remake of 'Melissa' by Francis Durbridge was terrific, though I didn't care for the second re-make many years later, even though it was written by Alan Bleasdale.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Nicole. I agree, the angels in Blink were truly menacing - and memorable.

Martin Edwards said...

Greetings, Louise - and I was glad to find your blog, and the mini review of an interesting Christie.

Steve Steinbock said...

Martin, I don't think I knew you were a Doctor Who fan. What, in the past couple of years, The Doctor has had a chance to visit William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, even Queen Victoria, and probably others that I can't remember. Who will be next? I think a meeting with William Blake or G.K. Chesterton might be fun.

I'll have to watch for Waters of Mars. It's not do to air in the States until mid-December. Meanwhile, the price just went down on Series 1, 2, and 3 (US editions) so I finally decided I could afford to buy them. Time for a Doctor marathon.