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Aliens of London

Episode 4 of the new Doctor Who series
Richard Board

Gee, and I thought last week's episode was about gaseous creatures from outer space.

It had me puzzling how such an episode, containing some of the most untraditional ideas ever seen in Dr Who, could actually feel so much like the old show. First up, we have the Doctor delivering Rose back to her home in an uninspiring London estate, asked by a policeman if their relationship is sexual and getting slapped by her mum. And then there are the flatulent frivolities of our erstwhile alien invaders, which even the writers of Red Dwarf might have deemed to base to include in their own little laid-back comedy space series, and which has spawned such a supercilious stream of negativity - on this website, at least - it would seem some of us have been forever disillusioned.

But the domestic scenes, whilst not as riveting as other elements of the show, still serve one or two important purposes. We are still viewing the Doctor and his travels through the eyes of his young companion - nothing wrong in that, especially at this relatively early stage. It adds depth to her character and let's us "explore" a little further this strange phenomenon in her life from the newcomer's perspective. This said, the relevance of such scenes will inevitibly fade; I'd even say they're just about played out already, but I also think RTD is too experienced a writer to keep on penning redundant scenes - or at least I hope not, then it truly won't be anything more than Eastenders with a Dr Who credit sequence.

Now for the much-debated farting, and it's tempting to join the angry brigade here, as without doubt it is not what I would describe as a "good idea". One can empathise with those screaming "RTD, what are you doing to our show???" (for they do indeed think of it as theirs), and certainly there were a few rolled eyes exchanged about our house upon each boisterous release. But a few chuckles, too. We could have had a dry explaination for the aliens' compression technology, I suppose, necessarily bereft of wit or flair - but infinitely more tasteful! Shame, too, how so many fans have been alienated by it, as RTD should have known and considered. Still, it by no means ruined the episode, and there was plenty else to enjoy.

Of all the past eras, one is of course reminded most of Jon Pertwee's first couple of years. Nice to see the military given a modern spit and polish (no Action by HAVOC, thank the Maker), and to actually see a few UNIT personell; they haven't said a word yet and still look more promising than that sad bunch we came across in Batlefield. Nor could diehards miss that shot of the General and his aides striding down an Albion Hospital corridor, identical to the one of the Brigadier and UNIT officers in Spearhead from Space.

The spaceship's crash landing was very well done, and kudos to the idea of an augmented pig-in-spacesuit. I also had a satisfying chuckle when Jackie tripped the alert by mentioning "Doctor", "Blue Box" and "TARDIS" over the alien hotline. Then we come to the Slitheen who, faulty compression technology aside, fit snugly into the Doctor Who canon (hey, our first bona-fide monsters!). And that cliff-hanger - what a cracker! If no one minds, I just have to talk about this sequence in detail (skip it if you aren't interested in a technical analysis), because to me this is what Dr Who's all about, and this one was textbook stuff, precision in compilation and editing. Starting off, we don't just see one Slitheen unmasking, but three, in different locations and each in front of one of our three main characters, whose predicaments appear equally perilous (allowing for great scene juxtapositioning): the Doctor ends up writhing from electrocution, Jackie's all alone in the house and Rose gets to see one of the guest characters tossed around like the proverbial rag doll. Lovely sound effects all the way through, from an unnerving electronic buzz as the Slitheen unmask to a couple of vicious, blood-curdling monster roars as the aliens emerge from their human skins and proceed to grow bigger...and bigger...and BIGGER. End with Jackie backed into a kitchen corner, one of the Slitheen towering over her, cue music sting and end credits, and phew! Want to watch it again!

As others have pointed out, some of the hard work put into this was then diminished by the immediate inclusion of next week's trailer. Now, the purpose of such a device is to generate anticpation, which works fine at the end of a story but is as detrimental as it is redundant when following a good cliff-hanger, and so easy to leave out.

Aliens of London was amusing and often exciting. Overall, the series lacks a little intensity for my taste; most of it isn't being treated seriously enough, an ever-present danger on a show such as this, but the death-knell if they ever give up and start playing it all tongue-in-cheek. This is why Billie Piper is the stand out actor so far; she plays it straight and convincingly. The Doctor, on the other hand, is a little too jokey, too frivilous much of the time. It's OK for him to have these moments and Chris Eccleston plays them fine, but I hope to see more serious stuff (he plays that even better).

Anyway, time to step off the soapbox, touch it up so it can take the strain again next week. Am enjoying the new series. The ratings prove that whatever RTD is doing works on the whole. There is cause for optimism.

Alex Gibbs

I’ll be honest. I was affected by the fans’ reaction to Aliens Of London well before I’d seen it. “Below par” was the general consensus, it seemed – at best, “amusing but pointless”. Of course, there were only two reasons for this reaction – a pig in a spacesuit, and gratuitous flatulence. But rather than jumping straight into that, I’ll start from the beginning.

As we all now know, Rose is twelve months late for tea. This is dealt with beautifully, and even Jackie Tyler is easier to handle than she was a few weeks ago. Soon, an alien spaceship skims over their heads and crashes headlong into Big Ben, in a spectacular effects sequence, prompting a classic line from Rose. (Only works in context, sorry.) So far, so good. As the streets fill with military and onlookers, there is a sense of The Dying Days about this… but nobody seems, I don’t know, interested enough. There’s not much panic in these streets. At least, not any that’s being filmed. I realised a fundamental difference between this episode and the previous two – the style, the direction. Put simply, Keith Boak. The man behind Rose, my least-favourite among the first three episodes. Could Boak have pulled off a space-station whodunnit, or a Victorian ghost story? Somehow I doubt it. He’s good at certain aspects of this new Doctor Who, but to me he just doesn’t gel with the show as well as Euros Lyn. At the beginning of the episode, I was sure I’d be blaming Russell T. Davies, like everyone else… but it was clear from even this point in Aliens Of London that Davies still knew how to write for this show. It’s the direction, guys, the direction!

Anyway. Mickey’s turned up, and lo and behold, the guy’s got depth! Kudos to Noel Clarke for pulling his finger out and actually acting. Meanwhile, the Doctor’s inside Albion Hospital, while a defenceless scientist is attacked. He immediately gets the military onside… brilliant! Traditional Who again! And then a pig in a spacesuit turns up. I didn’t quite know what to make of this, until it got shot, and the Doctor reveals that it was just a poor, helpless little pig. For a moment, my heart ached, and I considered vegetarianism.

As for the scenes inside Number Ten, it’s like a casting-call for British actors. Thankfully, they’re all good, especially Navin Chowdhry and Penelope Wilton – their dialogue together is lovely. Then someone farts. The first time I watched this episode, I cringed, mainly because I’d seen it coming. But on my second viewing, I actually chuckled. I mean, look at the guy’s face! Granted, it wasn’t a huge guffaw, but I was duly tickled by it, just like the wheelie-bin in Rose.

The TARDIS reappears, and suddenly it’s a domestic. But oddly enough, the dynamic of the Doctor, Rose and Mickey works quite well. I got a nice warm feeling when the words “Doctor” and “TARDIS” triggered a red alert at Number Ten. Again, I felt like I was watching traditional Who. I also got a flashback to the TV movie (for some reason) when the Doctor and Rose are surrounded outside the TARDIS. But the Doctor knows better – this is UNIT. And they’re being escorted to Number Ten. I cheered at the mention of UNIT, and again when the Doctor takes over their emergency meeting with his own hypothesis, only to realise they’ve all been set up, and they’re now all trapped like mice. Yes, I actually cheered. Sad, I know. And we have a triple-pronged cliffhanger – has this ever happened before? The first time around, I was a little distracted, but when I watched it again, in the dark, a Slitheen turned to me – to me – and laughed. For a split second, I was terrified. That sting didn’t help either.

So, in conclusion, I still think this is the worst of the bunch. But that’s not to say I didn’t like it. It made for quite good entertainment. I’m actually looking forward to the second part. Doctor Who can be great TV at times – look at The Unquiet Dead for a recent example – but it can also, like Rose and this episode, be simple escapism. Which is good too.

Richard Radcliffe

I love the way Russell T Davies is structuring this season. Present, Future, Past – followed by a return to Present. It shows the massively flexible format of Doctor Who for new viewers, and gives variety for us old timers. It’s also lovely to break with the long held tradition of Doctor Who that companions can’t return home. But it does this with a fabulous twist.

My initial reaction after having watched Aliens of London was mostly positive, but with a few reservations. I had laughed a lot, yet been fascinated and enthralled too. The Doctor bringing Rose back a year late brought all kinds of emotion to the surface. The situation is potentially tragic, but Russell T derives some humour mixed with the trauma – there’s a realism absent from virtually all of previous DW. The touching base with Roses home is unique in the annals of Who – and I think Russell T has really brought something special to the show by doing this.

The homely feel continues as the Doctor and Rose watch the unfolding drama on TV – something that we all would do. I loved the chaos of the Tyler household, with the Doctor desperately trying to concentrate on the reports. This was the scene too where Christopher Ecclestons Doctor really seemed other-worldly, even though he really should fit right in dressed as he is. It’s his attitude to the whole adventure that isolates him.

The spaceship crashlanding into the Thames is magnificent, particularly the much-advertised-already destruction of Big Ben. It’s a real surprise for us that it’s a surprise for the Doctor (if you know what I mean!). After Jackies concerned phone call it’s also wonderful to see the Doctor get ushered in to help. Learning from the missed opportunity of the 1st episode (the Internet Doctor Who) it’s also nice to see references to the past - UNIT, even if this organization have clearly moved on in the army from the past.

There’s a tremendous amount of humour in this episode, some of which initially had me squirming, before I remembered the target audience, and the realization of why emerged. The celebrated bodily functions of the Cabinet, for example, which is explained away as the aliens getting the gases of Humans wrong – fair enough. Also my nieces and nephews (4-10 range) loved it, and thought it was the best thing about the episode! The pig pilot took me a while to get my head around too – but then the Doctors explanation of this frightened enhanced creature brought the whole escapade into tragedy. Amazing I could feel sorry for a pig dressed in a spacesuit!

It was lovely to see Jackie Tyler again, wonderfully played by Camille Coduri. She was one of the stand-outs of episode 1, and I’m glad she pops back throughout the series. Roses character is considerably stronger with these touchstones to home. Mickey was better in Aliens of London. Like many others I found him a bit wet in episode 1. There’s better material for the actor here – and it’s great to see the rivalry between him and the Doctor thrive.

Of special mention too is Penelope Wilton as MP Harriet Jones. I’m absolutely delighted this is a 2-parter simply because we get to spend more time with her. It’s a lovely part, and already rivalling Simon Callow for best Supporting Character of the series.

Then there’s the Slitheen. There’s a strong Monster presence in Doctor Who – many claiming Doctor Who wouldn’t be DW without the Monsters. They are big part of the whole mythos, and it’s good to see them in force in the new series. Episode 2 showed the monster makers were up to the challenge for this series, and the Slitheen further enhance that. I loved the fact too that they were made, complete with nodding dog heads, rather than totally SFX. They are a bit cheesy as a result – but let’s do the DW thing and suspend our disbelief. SFX enhances them, but they seem to definitely be a product of Creature Workshop, complete with men inside. I loved that emphasized blink they have, kind of like a camera. It will be interesting to see them more in the over dramatically titled next episode World War Three.

Nice to see a Cliffhanger too, even though the Whats On for Next Week pretty much destroyed the reason for it! Great to hear the DW screech again.

Episode 1 of this 2 parter left me wanting more of this story – exactly the idea surely. The light-heartedness was more centre stage for sure, but DW is very much part of the fun/entertainment industry after all. I really enjoyed it. 8/10

Nick Peat

There are only a few things on this planet of ours that can be called truly faultless. Perfect. Beethoven's 3rd is perfect. Yoshi's Island on the Super Nintendo is perfect. Aliens of London is perfect.

This is a story that truly has it all - a brand-new monster (that is not only ingeniusly-conceived, but truly threatening); an absolutely watertight script (which is a real rarity in Doctor Who... or any sci-fi programme); and a magnificent supporting cast.

Even before the credits roll, we see that this story will be unlike any of the others we have seen so far: Rose's mummy reacts to her daughter's disappearance exactly as we would (by slapping an alien...!); and the realism does not drop by one iota for the next 45 minutes (be it BBC News 24's reports; or the animatronic Andrew Marr's ears). Kudos also to whoever did the amazing 10 Downing Street sets - they deserve an OBE (Other Bugger's Efforts!!).

If only every new monster on the programme was as well-done as the Slitheen: with their disturbingly babyish faces (the childish-freakiness motif returning in Episodes 9 and 10) and their subtle malice.

With slick humour (barring the unforgivable flatulance), amazing acting from Messrs Eccleston, Clarke, Miss Piper et al, the unexpected (and delightful) reappearance of UNIT, and the new series' first true cliff-hanger (and oh, what a cracker: that one kept me guessing all week how they could possibly survive), it's more than clear that the Doctor is here to stay; and if during the repeats they cut the "Next Time..." montage from the cliff-hanger, we can rest easy: it'll last forever.

Mr Davies, I shall forever be grateful to you for this masterpiece. Thank you, sir. Thank you.

Matthew Kopelke

Well, after a week's break from the pen of Russell T Davies, the man himself has returned with a brand new script, this time dealing with the after effects of Rose's depature with the Doctor. Thanks to some fantastic acting and writing, the audience gets to experience a whole gamut of emotions, as we are taken back to England, where Rose is reuinted with her family and friends...

Russell T Davies has often said that he can write sparkling dialogue without any effort whatsoever. 'Aliens of London' proves that he is certainly capable, but if he does it as easily as he says he does, then I am in awe. This script simply crackles with life and vitality, and I was in awe at the structure and balance. We move from domestic drama all the way to Earth-shattering revelations, so large is the scope of this tale.

The story arc doesn't seem to move any further forward, although an initial scene with a young boy spray-painting "Bad Wolf" made me sit up and take notice. That aside, Russell simply focusses on telling a gripping story, with revelation piled upon revelation. In my mind, he is quickly earning the title of the 21st Century version of Bob Holmes, in all honesty. I love this guy's writing, and this episode has everything I love in scripts.

Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper turn in some charged performances, with Chris getting a chance to really show off his comic ability. Meanwhile, Billie gets to take the dramatic focus, with her really showing off her range as an actor in scenes with Camille Coduir and Noel Clarke. We've been very lucky, as an audience, to get such a fantastic pair of actors for our leads. Almost makes me sad we're losing Chris very soon.

The guest cast are generally rather good, although I must admit to being rather off-put by the cabinet officials who have been replaced by the Slitheen. Their constant giggling and grinning seemed a bit excessive, especially when you consider they were constantly farting (which ended up being better handled than I'd originally imagined). I must admit, however, that Naoko Mori gets my vote as the sexy female scientist!

The production values are generally very impressive, and the locations and sets used to realise this episode are all pretty much flawless. Not a wobble in sight. I was very impressed by the use the production team put the Cardiff Royal Infirmary to, as it looks damn nice on screen. As well as that, 10 Downing Street looks nice inside, even if it was a bit over-satured with red. Oh well - a minor flaw in a very impressive episode.

Obviously, in future years, when it comes to looking at the special effects, everyone is going to almost always talk about the space ship which crashes into Big Ben. It's a well realised scene, looking fantastic. The combination of CGI and model work looks great, with special thanks to Mike Tucker for his work. I do, however, have to admit that the Slitheen transmutation sequence was a bit ropey, as was that space pig costume.

Keith Boak generally does a pretty good job with the direction on this story, with his use of the camera giving the whole thing a rather important feel about it. One was never left in any doubt that the events we were witnessing were big. However, no overview of this epic quality would be complete with special mention of Murray Gold's incidental score, which is fantastic. He's been great on the series, and this episode is tops.

Overall, 'Aliens of London' is a great episode of "Doctor Who". I doubt it will ever go down in the history books as a classic, but it's certainly a gripping piece of action-adventure, with some wonderful gags chucked in to keep everything in balance. Russell T Davies is quickly showing just how well he can handle the series, and with examples like this it's easy to see why. He can even write great cliffhangers!

Overall Score: 5 / 6 (Very Good)

Geoff Wessel

Forget all the haters, this episode frickin' ruled it.

And dammit it's about time we saw several things in that episode.

Like, for example, what happens when a companion goes off with the Doctor and then comes back. In Rose Tyler's case, she accidentally comes back a YEAR after "Rose." Oops. Jackie's filed missing persons reports and gone on a childsearch campaign, whereas Micky was at home heartbroken. Rose and the Doctor act like business as usual. Such is life in the TARDIS I guess.

The other thing I wanted to see was a PUBLIC alien landing. FINALLY. No coverups, no sleepy villages in the North of England, I wanted full-on raging BBC and CNN covered alien landing, and dammit I got one. FINALLY! YES! BBC splashed out the FX budget on this one, and Big Ben suffers for it! WHOOOOOO!!!

But wait! There's plots afoot. The Doctor determines the alien corpse pulled from the Thames is a fake! Specifically, a genetic chop-job on a pig. So is that ship a fake too? Yeah, probably. But are there real aliens?

Yes. At 10 Downing Street. The Slitheen have taken over the bodies of several key government members, and killed the (not Tony Blair) Prime Minister in the process. And BOY are they gassy.

Yes, there's a lot of fart-jokes in the episode. Not typical, pretty childish, but when you see the Slitheen for what they are, it makes sense, when they compress themselves into a human body. Because they're frickin' huge. And...babydoll-faced. Which is actually...a bit frightening really.

And look! Our first cliffhanger of the new series! And UNIT! WHEEEEE!!!

Yes, sorry, I love this series. No, wait. I'm not sorry for loving it. Not in the slightest.