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Home arrow Reviews arrow TV Review arrow Doctor Who - “Aliens of London” Thursday, 21 April 2005
Doctor Who - “Aliens of London”   Print  E-mail 
Contributed by Arnold T. Blumberg  
Wednesday, 20 April 2005

Four episodes in and it’s time to introduce some more breathing room by resurrecting another beloved Doctor Who tradition: the cliffhanger. In “Aliens of London,” part one of the first two-part story of the new series, the Doctor and Rose have returned to London one year after their departure only three episodes earlier. A few things have changed: Rose’s boyfriend Mickey has been investigated in connection with her ‘disappearance,’ Rose’s mother wants to know where her daughter has been for the last 12 months, and there’s a huge chunk out of St. Stephen’s Tower where Big Ben resides, the result of a massive spaceship collision. Aliens have arrived in London… or were they already here?

One of the strengths of this new Who is the attention being paid to Rose and how travel with the Doctor affects her life and loved ones. Some great character moments highlight this episode… which is a good thing, since the alien plot is pretty dicey. The invading creatures, the Slitheen, are nicely designed monsters that have disguised themselves with human body suits, complete with metal zippers installed in their foreheads. I’m not kidding – they actually unzip these suits with a metal zipper pull. Meta-jokes about the days of rubber-suited Who monsters aside, this is a ridiculous touch that only draws attention to this being a TV show with a dubious sense of “in” humor. But it gets worse…

The Slitheen inhabit their human body suits through some technobabble “gas exchange” system – a handy way of explaining how they manage to fit their enormous bodies into a relatively smaller space, although they’ve chosen to impersonate mostly fat politicians to hedge their bets on several levels. But the system is flawed and they’re frequently… farting. This juvenile bit of toilet humor is embarrassingly lowbrow, but it’s made worse by the fact that the Slitheen seem to revel in passing wind, giggling about it conspiratorially like little kids. Ugh. Surely there were better ways to get across the sinister nature of the disguised aliens without resorting to this? There’s a difference between writing something for children and writing something childish; sadly, this falls in the latter category.

Then there’s the pig in the spacesuit. There’s a somewhat rational explanation for this one as well, but the result is still the same – a guy in a fake-looking pig costume running down a corridor. Kudos to Christopher Eccleston for managing to look this thing in the face and deliver such heartfelt dialogue.

Ultimately, these elements belittle the show and insult the audience. Some fans are so afraid that speaking the slightest negative word will result in the show’s immediate cancellation that they’re willing to rationalize things with feverish intensity. The fact that many proclaim the episode a success because children or co-workers found it “hysterically funny” is very telling. I don’t recall the original Who becoming a classic science fiction adventure because children were rolling on the floor purple-faced with hysterics; I recall thoughtful storytelling that didn’t talk down to children but included them in the fun. Those same fans, by the way, who fought for years for the series to be recognized as something other than just a “children’s show” now strangely take refuge in precisely that argument – it’s meant “for the kids.” And I’m sure I’ll be told that I just don’t get it, but I get it well enough. I just don’t want it.

But there’s an escape hatch. Everything about the Slitheen, from their appreciation for toilet humor, to their giggling and baby faces, to their silly prank with the pig, screams “childish.” Perhaps the Slitheen are children – nasty, amoral, murderous children let loose on the Earth. If so, the entire story might at least make sense. If not…

Next week, our heroes enlist the aid of a familiar military “UNIT” to mop up the Slitheen invasion. That’s right, chap with the baby face there – five rounds rapid… C

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