This pair of episodes is utterly appalling. How they ever got made, let alone past the scripting stage is beyond me. There's humor in flatulence if you're five years old, but most of us manage to grow up and stop laughing at bodily functions. Watching "Aliens of London" and "World War 3" makes me wonder just why exactly Russell Davies gets so much acclaim as ˜one of the best writers in television" when from the evidence I've seen (his work on the new Doctor Who) he's clearly overrated? To be more specific, his writing typically has some superficial plot, combined with an over-emphasis on character and emotionalism, with loads of innuendo and juvenile humor thrown in. Some days he manages to restrain himself, as he does with the pretty enjoyable "Long Game", but here in this combo of episodes, all the worst excesses of RTD's version of Doctor Who are sadly on full display for all to see.
I don't like to bash the program, or Russell Davies, or the creative team behind it. Doctor Who is my favorite show, and I'm willing to forgive quite a bit when it comes to writing or plotting or special effects. But while I've been on occasion bored with an episode, or amused by some low-budget effect, or aware of the show's faults while still managing to enjoy it, I've never been angered by an episode before. It's only a TV show, and really shouldn't be worth my time to be angry about, yet when someone takes a program which I really enjoy, and turns out a show as bad as Aliens/WW3 turned out to be, it's hard not to be angry that the writers and producers had the audacity to think that this passed for family entertainment, let alone a good episode of Doctor Who. Especially considering that I can't watch it on TV and had to pay for the DVD set. I don't really feel I got a good return for my time or money when it comes to these two episodes.
This story had so much potential to be good, since the basic plot is pretty sound. It starts out well enough, with Rose coming home to touch base, and the Doctor discovering that he'd gotten the date wrong and that Rose had been gone for a year. It's the type of silly mistake that the Doctor would make, and feels right. Sadly, here the episode goes off the deep end with Rose's mom slapping the Doctor as though we're watching a tedious soap opera. To add insult to injury, the Doctor and Rose discuss it on the phone like a pair of lovesick teenagers whose parents don't want them to date. Quite apart from the absurdity of a telephone in the TARDIS, this type of soap-opera garbage is not what I watch Doctor Who for.
Thankfully the episode takes a drastic upward turn with the spaceship crash, which looks outstanding. The public and news media reaction to it is extremely well portrayed, and the idea of the Doctor being forced to watch it on television like everyone else is amusing. Thankfully the Doctor can't take it for long, and does what any self-respecting meddling Time Lord would do: take his TARDIS and go to see the alien body. The brain-augmented pig is actually a good concept, and rather sad. More good concepts include the mention and involvement of UNIT, and the security that is tripped when Jackie tries to report the Doctor to the alien hotline. The Doctor mugging for the camera is fun. As we are introduced to more characters, I find that Harriet Jones starts out as an irritating character and quickly becomes rather admirable.
Then of course, things go downhill again with the (disguised) appearance of the Slitheen, an alien race who look rather good, but are completely undermined by the fact that I am unable to take them seriously, and find them utterly embarrassing to watch. A particularly dire instance of this has to be the "I'm shaking my booty" scene. Doctor Who was once a drama that was taken seriously by all involved, but now we're reduced to three overweight people passing gas and giggling. It's absolutely puerile rubbish.
The cliffhanger was good. Our first cliffhanger of the new series, and it's a triple threat! Sadly, as others have noted, it was rendered less than effective by the "Next time" trailer immediately after the cliffhanger. I see that they corrected that placement error for "The Empty Child", so the error was realized.
The poorly titled "World War 3" is nothing of the sort, with one missile being fired, and the Slitheen's plans being revealed. There are some more good concepts in this episode, including the idea that Slitheen is a family name rather than a race, and that the spaceship crash was meant to be spectacular, since it was an attention-grabbing spectacle. The Doctor's trick with the alcohol is amusing and in character, and the fact that the aliens figure it out after a few minutes is also good. The denouement, where Mickey hacks into the website and launches a missile is fine on the surface, given that the Doctor is guiding him, but it's let down by a silly password (that works on all security levels) and the idea that an internet site allows a missile to be launched. Thankfully the Slitheen are incinerated. We're then treated to more irritating domestic scenes with Jackie and Rose, though the Doctor/Mickey scene while waiting for Rose is quite good actually. The Doctor actually acts in character and allows Mickey to save face. I was impressed.
I have to discuss the Doctor's portrayal. Generally Eccleston and the writers get his character right, though the continued rudeness is certainly overplayed. The Doctor's "winding up" of Mickey for most of the story isn't alien, its petulant teenager, jealous over Rose. It's pathetic. And of course, the Doctor gets the two most cringe worthy lines of the episodes. "Would you mind not farting while I'm saving the world" being pretty bad, topped only by "I could save the world but lose you", which is the sort of wildly unrealistic expression of sentiment that eighth graders think people say to each other, but is totally out of character for the Doctor.
The politics of the story (WMD ready to go in 45 mins, etc.) are the typical left-wing "Bush/Blair lied" variety, and as such I can't take them seriously. Thankfully, unlike "Boom Town" where the politics are the story, here's they're inspiration for the Slitheen's methods, and don't overwhelm the drama with preachiness.
I've complained before about the high degree of sexual innuendo that has been added to Doctor Who, which has been very much to its detriment. "Aliens of London" contains the one instance I can think of where mentioning it seems appropriate and subtly played, and that's in the scene where the policeman is interviewing the Doctor and Rose. Contrast that with Oliver's rather crass comment about the wife, mistress and young farmer, which is crude in the extreme. It's little wonder this element of the new show continually leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
In the final analysis, it boils down to this: a passable story ruined by bad characterization, juvenile giggles over flatulence and nudity, and domestic tedium when we could be seeing the universe. I can't recall having actually been embarrassed to be a Doctor Who fan before, but this episode has accomplished that. A red letter day to be sure. 4 out of 10, and I'm giving generous marks for the visuals and some good ideas, which are almost drowned by the dross surrounding them.
I should warn you at the beginning, if you’re a big Russell T. Davies fan: he’s not going to come out of this well.
Pathetic I know, but sometimes I feel personally hurt by this story; having spent almost all my life defending the show from my friends, who thought of it as a complete joke, Russell T. Davies comes along and proves them right. How could he do this to me? It stings doubly because this was also the first time where the bubble really burst and I realised the series wasn’t going to be the perfection I had been hoping. Maybe you could turn it round and say that I’m better off for seeing it and consequently getting a bit of a reality check, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve just had to sit through the bloomin’ thing again in order to review it.
I suppose it is good that some thought has gone into what Rose has left behind when the Doctor took her away, but it’s spoiled by the lack of thought that seems to have gone into other areas, like why everyone seems to have forgotten that shop window dummies suddenly sprang to life a year previously and killed a lot of people. That’s a big problem with Davies: he focuses on one area of an episode so that everyone coos over how intelligent and thoughtful he is, but then lets it down by neglecting some other area. The pre-titles sequence is at least quite well done though, linking between Rose in her flat and the Doctor in the yard outside.
The policeman asking Rose if her relationship with the Doctor is a sexual one is a very interesting moment as it shows Davies talking about sex in a way that seems totally appropriate to the narrative and not at all gratuitous; that is the kind of question that a policeman genuinely would ask her, so not only is it appropriate it’s quite correct. Davies brings innuendo into the series all too often, and it’s very rare that I end up praising it. Rose’s later line of “it’s so gay”, however, is quite different. It was included in the script simply to stir up trouble and get a reaction; it caused controversy at the time but I gave it the benefit of the doubt as I thought that Davies would have some kind of agenda, but when I found out that the agenda in question was simply to cynically provoke a reaction I lost all patience with him. The line is just presented starkly with no attempt to give it negative connotations, so an anti-homophobic agenda is a bit of a non-starter. Although I suppose if the Doctor had rebuked her for it people would react to that too, thinking Davies has turned the Doctor gay, so you just can’t win.
Forget my opinions about Davies for a moment, or even to an extent Keith Boak, as the spaceship crash looks absolutely great. It has a few flaws, like a lack of reaction shots from the crowd, the actual landing which isn’t the show’s best piece of special effects and the fact that nobody hears it coming until it zooms right over their head, despite it not only having roaring engines but also having a foghorn. Still, it’s still a great set piece and the shot of Big Ben getting smashed looks wonderful although it is spoiled by a totally unnecessary angle change from Boak, to whom fast, random, dizzying cuts are a particularly bad speciality. One thing to note is that the clock reads 10:55 when the ship strikes it but 6:10 when it appears on the news later: good old British workmanship eh? Big Ben keeps going even when an alien spaceship uncaps it like a boiled egg.
The party at Rose’s flat features some Goths as guests; maybe this is just my skewed perspective but they strike me as being somewhat incongruous in a council estate setting where such people would have a short life expectancy (oh, I’ve alienated a lot of people saying that, haven’t I? Never mind, so has Davies). The Goth girl is also the one who yells out to the Doctor “oi gawjus, come back an’ join da par’ay”, showing that Davies knows as much about Goths as he does about politics. The scene with the baby is daft but okay, but cutting to a cake spaceship is a classic example of the clever-clever metafictional elements that Davies scatters throughout his episodes that totally destroy the illusion. Rumour has it that he’s in a future episode carrying a billboard saying “this is just a TV show!”
After this the silliness comes thick and fast. Politicians are given comedy jobs; Harriet Jones is comic relief initially spouting her catchphrase “MP for Flydale North” again and again and again until people start saying it in their sleep; then of course there’s the farting, which is the moment that Davies really shows how little he respects a family audience. It truly pains me that a programme that once had characters talking in iambic pentameter (and getting nine million viewers for it before anyone accuses it of elitism) is now reduced to not just one but uncountable fart jokes. Even at its lowest ebb the original series never disrespected its audience to this degree. Why Davies seems to think that anyone is going to respond to such infantile writing is beyond me, but what is even more beyond me is that they do, with World War Three actually topping this in the ratings. The guffawing aliens seems to be an attempt at keying into an older, cheesier style of villain, just like the Dalek flying saucers key in to an older design of spaceship, but this is so ineptly done that like in Delta And The Bannermen the episode becomes what it attempts to riff off: namely, bad science fiction. I admit I sound patronising there, but I hate the thought that someone who reacts badly to such coarseness is an automatic humourless snob. Believe me, I react very well to humour. It’s just that this isn’t it.
The rest of the episode just keeps on annoying me, from the incredibly twee use of David Bowie’s ‘Starman’ on the soundtrack to Mickey’s embarrassing pratfall when the TARDIS dematerialises (which incidentally takes too long, so the visuals don’t match the sound effects), to the Doctor using a mallet on the console. Sorry, I know I’m being harsh, but they put someone in charge of the show who is simply not taking his job seriously, at least when it comes to this episode.
At least Navin Chowdry is a good actor, transforming a scene with his reactions when in the background. In fact a lot of the guest cast are very good here, such as David Verrey, Penelope Wilton and (particularly) Annette Badland, but their characters are so annoying (Harriet Jones to a lesser extent, bit still a little bit) that it counts for naught. At least Noel Clarke’s on hand to save the day, maintaining some charisma in the face of idiot pratfalls.
The escape of the space pig is dramatic at first, until we actually see the pig. Possibly this was an attempt to replicate the success of Mr. Sin from The Talons Of Weng-Chiang, but instead of being creepy it just ends up ludicrous. It could have been creepy if it was better done, but unfortunately Jimmy Vee in a pig suit just doesn’t convince. The dry, rubbery mask just doesn’t convince and no attempt to make anything other than the head and hands look like a pig has been made. In short, it looks like what it is: a small guy in a pig suit. And then Davies expects me to get emotional over it.
The scene where the three Slitheen line up and fart in front of Asquith while grinning inanely is my candidate for Doctor Who’s worst ever moment, which even now makes me cringe even though I’ve watched it several times. I’m just thankful that I’ve never seen this episode in the company of others – that’s definitely a moment to get the dog to “accidentally” tread on the fast forward button. The head zips are more tweeness that help shatter the illusion, although the bright blue glow helps obscure it a bit.
Note that the handrail in the TARDIS wobbles when Rose grabs it – I love stuff like that happening in the new series, as it counteracts the smugness of people who laugh at the original.
The scene where Jackie grasses up the Doctor shows that this is actually quite a well paced episode (just a shame that the content being paced is so naff), with the Doctor’s trip to the hospital neatly leading on to the next stage. The mystery of what the aliens have been doing is also good, but highlights how disappointing the story is as it has a very strong core idea and could have been very good.
The “wife, mistress and young farmer” line is Davies again at his most smarmy – the policeman’s question earlier on was appropriate to the story but when an innuendo is devoid of any relevance to the plot it becomes mere attention seeking. The gas exchange explanation for the farting doesn’t quite cut it with me – okay so there’s an explanation for it, but why can’t the exchangers just work properly? Then the Slitheen could at least claim to have a veneer of credibility. Apart from that is the fact that green aliens hiding inside human suits it taken wholesale from City Of Death, where it was done much better and the DVD of which ironically features Steven Moffatt talking (correctly) about the importance of taking the monsters seriously. I know City Of Death raises the question of how the Jagaroth can fit inside human skins but if the answer to that involves them breaking wind at every opportunity then I can live with the dramatic licence, thanks.
The Slitheen, when they emerge, look dreadful – stupid comedy monsters with baby faces, pot-bellies and bad posture. I’ll take the underrated Zarbi over the Slitheen; they may look dated now, but at least people where actually trying back then instead of hurling money at the show until it makes itself. What galls me also is the fact that the new series is capable of making such fantastic monsters (the Reapers), so these look like they do deliberately. When monsters failed in the original series at least you could put it down to budget constraints, but the Slitheen look exactly as they are intended to look and I find that very sad. I have to say, while I’ve seen praise for them on the Internet I’ve never met anyone in the flesh who actually liked the Slitheen. The special effects of their emergence from their skins look awful and fake, although like the wobbling handrail this does at least provide me with some ammo against people who laugh at the effects of the original series. The three Slitheen emerging at the same time in separate places show a completely artificial set up for a cliffhanger, which when it happens is distinctly ordinary. The “next time” trailer has been criticised so much I don’t need to go into it here.
Fortunately, World War Three is a bit better than the dreadful Aliens Of London and (just about) saves the story from a bottom rating. The resolution of the cliffhanger makes no sense though – so all the power transmits to other Slitheen through gas exchangers, does it? This demonstrates Davies penchant for grabbing whatever random sci-fi device comes along and turning it round to suit him regardless of it’s plausibility – see also The Christmas Invasion, where the Sycorax leader happens to be standing on the exact spot on the ship that can be collapsed by a carefully thrown satsuma. Funny thing though, but doesn’t Christopher Eccleston sound like Paul McGann when he says “deadly to humans, maybe”? Listen and hear it for yourself.
We get to see the Slitheen for all their rubbishness: the costumes look as rubbery and artificial as the pig’s and the CGI versions look too cartoony, as well as failing to match the costume-versions’ movements. Both, I should say, are largely down to the way Boak shoots them as the look improves dramatically when Joe Ahearne shoots them for Boom Town. There is no dignity to this episode at all, especially when they wobble about trying to get back into their human suits – and it’s all deliberate. It is quite unbelievable. However, I do like the look of anger that Verrey flashes Rupert Vansittart as Asquith when he tells the guards to take their orders directly from him.
The Doctor defeats a Slitheen with a fire extinguisher, Rose drops a curtain on one of their heads and Harriet Jones screams “noooooo!”. Yes folks, we have something falling somewhat short of the show’s most dynamic action scene. However, the fact that the Slitheen are a family answers a question about why the Slitheen have no nuclear weapons of their own (it doesn’t forgive ripping the plot off The Dominators though). However, Harriet’s rebuke to the Doctor for passing the port to the right is actually a good joke, having a bit of style at odds with the rest of the story (my word, I’m such a snob. Oh well, nobody’s perfect, but at least I know a good episode of Doctor Who when I see it). For every god moment though there’s a bad one to cancel it out, such as the unfunny moment where human skins are hung on coat hangers.
The Doctor’s quiet apology to the dead Indra Ganesh is a good moment though, as understatement is the way emotion should be done. Having said that I do like Father’s Day and emotion is hardly understated there so let me put it another way – it should be understated when done by Davies as he has a tendency to splatter his scripts with trite and cheesy platitudes, such as in the café scene in The Parting Of The Ways. Here, though, it works well. The “buffalo” password on the UNIT site is unbelievably stupid plotting, and when the Slitheen explodes through having picked eggs thrown at it I have to ask myself how thick Davies thinks his audience is.
The Doctor gags at the port (despite claims to have drunk earlier with Lloyd George), which is a great little moment of characterisation, helped by the fact that it’s so fleeting because of a quick cutaway. Keith Boak does good camerawork in the same way that someone playing Pin The Tail On The Donkey will occasionally, quite by chance, hit it right on the spot.
“Massive weapons of destruction”. Please, someone make it stop.
The resolution is, you guessed it, rubbish with Mickey hacking into (for the purposes of new viewers) a random fictional website and launching a missile at 10 Downing Street from his home computer. Davies’s strengths, such as his skill in characterising Rose, just don’t cut it in the face of such ridiculousness. Also annoying is the hint of a swear word from the Slitheen, because of the continued “tee hee, we’re doing this because we can get away with it” attitude of the writer. I’m glad it’s nearly over though (what if Margaret Blaine teleported into a chip shop? There’d be no Boom Town so we’d all be better off.
At least the ending, with the “ten seconds” moment, is pretty good in a sombre and sad way that contrasts with the silliness of earlier. The cover-up idea is implausible though – so what, a student prank? And they murdered the prime minister just for an extra hint of realism. It’s not relevant to anything, but I’ve got the same coffee mugs as Jackie (bet that caught you off guard).
The fact that World War Three isn’t quite as dreadful as Aliens Of London just saves this from a one-star rating, but only just. It totally sums up everything that is wrong with Davies’s writing: it takes all the shaky plotting, silly comedy characters, annoying satire, smut and innuendo and multiplies them; in short, despite not being the worst episode of the series (that thorny crown goes to Boom Town) this is still a poor, poor example of Doctor Who.
Oscar Wilde once asserted that “consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative”. By implication, then, Doctor Who 2005 has been distinctly unprosaic up to this point. Audiences have been presented with the plotless Rose; the surreal sci-fi-whodunit emotional sandwich, The End of the World; and the pre-watershed The Unquiet Dead. We’ve never known quite what to expect – primarily due to the water-tight production. Now, the Aliens of London and World War Three two-parter prolong this trend, targeting younger viewers and the juvenile with instantly tedious and trite flatulence ‘gags’.
The Doc (Christopher Eccleston) and Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) return to ‘the present’, – a requirement of the new soap opera format - to be both greeted and castigated by the perturbed Jackie Tyler (Camille Coduri) and a now-ostracized Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke). In-between this impromptu reunion, an extraterrestrial space-craft crashes into the Thames. The Doctor must consequently defend Earth from… the Slitheen family from Raxacoricofallapatorius (… and a squealing space-pig).
Let me clarify my position on writer Russell T. Davies: my ‘loyalties’ are divided. He has reinvented Doctor Who with four fast-paced and enjoyable efforts…, if you refrain from bordering cognition. However, he seems to be failing on the flip side of the coin to where the classic series failed: he promotes character, but plot is barely an afterthought. Sadly, character so far refers only to The Doctor and Rose. Supporting cast-members equate with cardboard cut-outs, despite some praise-worthy performances. Furthermore, Rose, The End of the World and the present storyline sway toward the absurd and superficial. Consider The Doctor’s flowery tripe in Rose:
D'you know like we were saying? About the Earth revolving? It's like when you're a kid: the first time they tell you that the world's turning and you just can't quite believe it because everything looks like it's standing still. I can feel it - the turn of the Earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinning at a thousand miles an hour; the entire planet is hurtling around the Sun at sixty-seven thousand miles an hour; and I can feel it. We're falling through space, you and me. Clinging to the skin of this tiny little world, and if we let go... That's who I am.
To some it may sound impressive (myself excluded), but ultimately it’s soulless gorgonzola – a perfect example. There’re vestiges of plot, this time, though, if one overlooks a lot of typical-being-chased-down-corridors padding in World War Three. Anyhow, moving on… !
Eccleston is on form, especially in his solo scenes inside the TARDIS, although his ‘hitching a lift’ in escape from the military elicts a groan. Rose is less intregal, here.
The Slitheen… Well, they’re now infamous among Whovians. This isn’t abetted by their coarse and frequent need to relieve themselves. Episode one’s cliffhanger would’ve been superb had they been significantly different. I won’t dwell. They do get a few good lines: “… I was busy!” and “Oh, boll-” being most memorable ;-)! For some reason, I thoroughly enjoyed David Verrey’s hammed performance as the PM Joseph Green Slitheen. Annette Badland is unsettling as the Margaret Blaine Slitheen from MI5, and the others were admittedly well-cast: Rupert Vanisittart (Gen. Asquith), Eric Potts (Oliver Charles), Steve Speirs (Strickland), Elizabeth Frost, Paul Kasey and Alan Ruscoe. Jimmy Vee returns, this time providing the alien voices. The space-pig is amusing… before we discover ‘he’ isn’t the villain of the piece.
“Rickey” is amusing, if amateurish, whilst Coduri stands around looking anxious and wide-eyed a lot. Penelope Wilton portrays Harriet Jones, from Flydale North, we’re persistently reminded. I don’t particularly care for the character, but the MP has a fan base – possibly deserved.
Andrew Marr and Matt Baker provide media coverage of the alien invasion – a nice touch, but again overused in the second episode. Jack Tarlton plays an emotionally-involved OTT reporter (!).
Other notable performances include Navin Chowdhry (junior secretary, Indra Ganesh) and Naoko Mori (the pathologist, Dr. Sato).
Keith Boak, director of Rose, takes over the reins from Euros Lyn. It shows.
Curiously, throughout the proceedings, a child (Corey Doabe) spray-paints the words “Bad Wolf” on the TARDIS… and the American reporter (Lachele Carl) was originally named “Mal Loup”… Curiouser and curiouser.
Overall, it’s remotely entertaining and watchable; and that’s the main thing. For youngsters, here, I suppose. I guess we can’t always expect another Unquiet Dead. Or Dalek… **1/2
For “Doctor Who” to survive in the world of 21st-century television, Russell T Davies and the production team realised the new series would have to appeal to a broad spectrum of the viewing public.
Gone were the days when you could chuck “hard science-fiction” such as “Warriors’ Gate” at the viewing public on a Saturday night, and expect to succeed. In fact, let’s be honest, had 95 per cent of the old series adventures appeared in this time slot, “Doctor Who” would have gone the way of “Celebrity Wrestling”.
That’s not to say the old series was bad – far from it. But it was of its time, and though the new series has the same title, has the Doctor and companion, and has the TARDIS (even if it is a superTARDIS now!) it feels likes a totally-different show. It has to be. And, for me, yes, it’s GOOD different.
Die-hard fans may not be happy that it’s so far removed from the old series, and you can’t see many, if any, of the episodes from the new series fitting into previous seasons, even allowing for the obvious improvements in budget, sets and special effects.
The first thing which struck me about “Aliens of London” and “World War Three” was the excellence of the pre-credits sequence. The standard had been set in “The Unquiet Dead” – and the revelation that Rose had been away from home for 12 months rather than 12 hours, as The Doctor had told her, was a real surprise. And a clever twist.
It’s difficult to escape spoilers for anything these days, but it genuinely accentuates your enjoyment of the programme if you don’t know what’s going to happen beforehand. And this was a case in point.
Even more so than in “Rose” and “End of the World”, writer Davies’s great strength, characterisation, was very much to the fore. Again, as with his two previous episodes, I felt this aspect of the script was stronger than the actual story – although this was a better yarn than Episodes One and Two, but then it did have a second episode, which is a big help!
However, there were some truly-classic “bits”. Can you imagine any other Doctor being slapped by an irate mother? Camille Coduri (Jackie) put some real venom into her slap – just as you’d expect of someone who’d lost a year of their daughter’s life. How many times have you seen a slap done badly on TV? Not a bit of it here – totally believable. This is probably why the Doctor “doesn’t do domestics” – protective mothers pack a mean punch!
This was one of my favourite exchanges of the whole series – and there were many.
Doctor - “I AM a Doctor!”
Jackie - “Well, stitch this then!”
Exploring the effect travelling through time and space has on the families and friends of companions is a new – but welcome – diversion for Doctor Who. Davies’s decision to keep bringing Rose and the Doctor back to a base on Earth has proved to be the correct one, and Jackie and Mickey (Noel Clarke) are immensely-likeable characters in their own right. And there is a warm feeling of “coming home” after your travels, for the viewer as well as Rose.
Contrary to a lot of opinion, I quite liked Mickey in “Rose”. Most of us imagine ourselves to be like the Doctor or Rose but, in reality, deep down, most of us are like Mickey. Work, TV, friends, sleep. Play it safe – and run a mile if there’s danger. I’m pleased he was able to play a key role in saving the world.
Both Coduri and Noel Clarke (Mickey) really grabbed their share of the limelight here, Clarke especially. His closing exchange with the Doctor (in which he “accepted” Mickey and offered him a role as a companion) was nicely done. I had felt the Doctor was too dismissive of him too quickly in “Rose”. Hopefully, Mickey will change his mind about time and space travel in “Series Two” – he has to have at least one trip in the TARDIS!
Talking of great characters, what about Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North? Is that her full name? The rat-a-tat exchanges between the Doctor, Harriet and Rose in the cabinet rooms were an absolute delight, and a tribute to Davies’s dialogue. Genuinely funny. I would imagine the actors were thrilled to see quality like that on the page before them.
Penelope Wilton (Harriet) was another great choice from the Casting Department – who, like the rest of the production team, make very few mistakes. And she was far too good a character not to make a return, which I believe she does in the 2005 Christmas special.
It goes without saying that the spaceship crashing into Big Ben and then the Thames was a work of art – trouble is, we now expect these high standards from the special effects teams (and it was heavily trailed) so it maybe didn’t have the impact (pardon the pun) it deserved.
Blowing up Downing Street was also, er, an explosive piece of television. Although, on a serious note, as this series was filmed before this summer’s real-life London bombings, I just wonder if that takes the option of such dramatic scenes out of the equation in future.
The downsides of the story? Well, it was stretching things to believe Mickey could use the computer in his bedroom to launch a missile on Downing Street. A hint of “WarGames” – not “THE War Games”, you understand! – about it. Then again, we are talking about a world which baby-faced green monsters want to sell off for scrap – so maybe it wasn’t that far-fetched. And, hey, it’s a TV programme, it doesn’t all have to make perfect sense!
And what of the baby-faced green monsters themselves? My first impression was “not for me”. They didn’t have the menace of a Dalek, a Cyberman, a Sontaran, an Ice Warrior. The farting aspect didn’t do a lot for me either – not being a fan of the puerile or the totally silly - even though it was reasonably explained. And, although the computer-generated versions of the Slitheen moved slickly around the screen, there was a “lumbering” element to the non-CGI creatures (the people in rubber suits) which suggested you could escape them by breaking into a brisk walk.
However, having already brought back the Autons and with the Daleks to come, it was perfectly understandable that Davies would want to create his “own” monster, and the Slitheen have grown on me. I fully expect them to return in Series Two or Three (maybe the Doctor’s much-discussed visit to an alien planet will be Raxacoricofallapatorius?) as they looked like an expensive production, and I’m sure there will be natural encouragement from the budgetary number crunchers to re-use elements of Series One.
Making the Slitheen a family rather than a race was a novel touch, though, and their reason for being on Earth was well thought out. And I was glad that the pig in a spacesuit didn’t turn out to be the alien! I had visions of the programme being slaughtered in the Press.
There was one irritation at the end of “Aliens of London” – terrific cliff-hanger but, to have the trailer for the next episode even before the closing credits, was plain daft. We know that the Doctor isn’t going to die, but at least give us 30 seconds to consider it!
Going back to my original point about “Doctor Who” appealing to a broader spectrum, I would say I found “Aliens of London”/“World War Three” an enjoyable romp, but I think there was more in most of the other stories for my own tastes. This was probably one for the kids, and there’s no disgrace in that. Giant, green, farting aliens trying to destroy the world – stuff of playground legend. And you know what they say – “children are the future” . . .
My main gripe with the story as a whole is that it is very much one of peaks and troughs, but with troughs making a more frequent appearance. There is too much plot to cram into a single episode, and yet too little to properly fill out the ninety minutes which it has been granted. A lot of running around from a to b strikes as filler when the two Episodes are watched in closer proximity than with a week between the two. When watched seven days following ‘Aliens Of London’, the chase scenes in ‘World War Three’ seemed fine. When watched straight afterwards, they seem a bit gratuitous.
Parts of the plot seem a bit too predictable too. You are never worried about whether or not the Doctor, Rose and Harriet Jones will survive the Missile attack; you know Mickey will press the button to save the day, because the music suggests he will do so. Most annoyingly of all is the Doctor’s constant references to having heard the name of Harriet Jones before, leaving you in little doubt that she shall, a, survive the whole affair and, b, that she shall go on to be a significant figure in British Politics. The revelation about her future near the end of ‘World War Three’ therefore loses its impact, and you are more left with a slow nod of inevitability rather than a feeling of happiness for her.
Both episodes have things to write home about; the destruction of Big Ben is every bit as memorable and impressive as it should be, and as iconic moments in ‘Doctor Who’ go, this one fits the bill very nicely indeed; also, the death of the Space Pig is a memorable moment, as is the ‘capture’ of Rose and the Doctor by UNIT. The appearance of UNIT, though brief, is key to the plot and a really nice nod to the past- one which I am very glad Russell T Davies made. The ending of ‘World War Three’ is utterly superb, and really hits home the sacrifices made by Rose when she decides to travel with the Doctor. Noel Clarke and Camille Coduri couldn’t turn in better performances than those which they turn in here, and the whole scene is both touching and affecting.
One thing that in particular struck me when watching back-to-back is how good some of the supporting cast are. Though her appearance is minimal at best, Naoko Mori puts in a very good performance as Doctor Sato; her belief that aliens must look like pigs due to not having ever seen them before is very believable and well-handled, whilst her fear when the apparently dead creature is in fact alive and well is again nicely done, and it is shame that she could not have featured more heavily. Likewise, Navin Chowdhry as Indra Ganesh is both very convincing and believable, and his death is as touching as it deserves to be.
The Slitheen themselves come across as a lot nastier when you are able to take stock of quite what their actions are entailing. Beginning with the augmentation of a pig to suit their needs, they are clearly not above sinister deeds in a bid to achieve such deeds themselves. The Doctor’s reaction to the said pig incident is enough to add weight to this theory, and you instantly dislike them due to it, before they have even been revealed. The fact that they then go on to murder a room full of human beings seems to be the icing on the cake as it were, though it lacks the same impact as the death of Space Pig, largely because the Doctor almost totally fails to make any reaction to the human deaths, content instead to run about with a grin upon his face, alerting the authorities to the Alien presence within 10 Downing Street.
Whilst memorable, the constant zipping and unzipping which the Slitheen family are guilty of strikes as padding and merely an excuse to show off a good idea. By all means indulge, but perhaps not to the extent that is done here.
The directing by Keith Boak throughout the story is rather disappointing, and it lacks the visual flair and ingenuity that he displayed throughout ‘Rose’. Parts of it show glimpses of innovation, such as the destructions of 10 Downing Street and Big Ben, but on the whole there is not much to shout about, which is a real pity.
Murray Gold’s incidental score has more of an impact when watching both Episodes one after the other; it is pretty much solely down to him that tension is created in ‘Aliens Of London’, and his music near the end of ‘World War Three’ when Rose has to make a decision regarding her adventures with the Doctor neatly underscores the emotions on display, contributing significantly to the scene’s success. Whilst it is not as good a musical score as that which he has composed for other Episodes, I feel that I was much too dismissive of it when watching the Episodes as stand-alone adventures.
In all, I feel that perhaps I was bit too dismissive of the two Episodes initially. I certainly stand by my initial feelings that there is too little occurring for it to work very well, but Davies still manages to provide enough thrills and spills to make it an enjoyable affair. I think that romp would be a better description of the two Episodes, as much of it is played to gain a laugh rather than a fright.
Overall though, whilst the story has highlights, it has enough low points to mark it out as the weakest story in Series One.
Having criticized the new series for being rather light on plot due to the constraints of single forty-five minute episodes, I had high hopes for the first two-part story, since it would allow more time for the story to unfold. In fact, I found myself watching ‘Aliens of London’ and ‘World War Three’ and thinking that the rot has started to set in; there is much to enjoy here, but the two episodes are also horribly flawed in some major respects.
The first five minutes of ‘Aliens of London’ are abominable. With the TARDIS returning Rose home to visit her mum, the Doctor tells her that she’s been gone for twelve hours, only to sheepishly reveal moments later, “It’s not twelve hours, it’s, er, twelve months. You’ve been gone a whole year. Sorry.” Cue extended scenes of pure soap opera, as we see the consequences for one’s family of vanishing into space and time. As an attempt at realistic characterisation I can understand the reasoning behind it, but this isn’t in depth moving adult drama, it’s overwrought slop in the vein of such televisual excrement as Hollyoaks. The problem is not simply that it is present at all, but that it feels like it’s been crow barred into the series and it is mind-numbingly dull. Some of it has potential such as the fact that as the missing Rose’s boyfriend Mickey was quizzed five times as a murder suspect, but it’s hard to separate such promising strands of dialogue from Camille Coduri’s profoundly irritating performance as Jackie, who shrieks lines such as “What can be so bad that you can’t tell me sweetheart? Where were you?!” in a voice that could strip paint. In fairness, such soap opera leanings again juxtapose banality and fantasy as in ‘Rose’, such as when the Doctor is slapped by Rose’s mother, prompting him to complain, “Nine hundred years of time and space and I’ve never been slapped by someone’s mother.” Several times during the story the Doctor proclaims, “I don’t do domestics” which begs the question, why do we have to then?
However… despite my feelings on this subject, the unexpected side effect of Rose’s return home is to make Mickey work extremely well. Having been more artificial than an Auton in ‘Rose’, Noel Clarke puts in a much better performance here, for example getting a great deal out of the simple line, “Oh my God!” when Mickey sees the Doctor. When Rose asks him, “So, in twelve months have you been seeing anyone else?” his reply is, “No. Mainly because everyone thinks I murdered you” which made me chortle. Mickey’s banter with the Doctor I found genuinely entertaining here, especially the Doctor’s eye-rolling exclamation, “Yes, I get the football” when Mickey is presented with the sheer marvel of the TARDIS’s technology and thinks first about sport. Understandably angry with the Doctor, Mickey asks him, “I bet you don’t even remember my name?” prompting the Doctor glibly reply, “It’s Ricky” What follows is a daft but amusing battle of wits between them, as Mickey corrects him, “No, it’s Mickey… I think I know my own name” prompting the withering response, “You think you know your own name, how stupid are you?” Other nice touches for the character include Mickey awkwardly comforting Jackie, and the fact that Rose knows where to find vinegar in Mickey’s flat whilst Mickey doesn’t, which strangely is far more convincingly done as a piece of realism than Jackie’s squawking about her missing daughter. This also prompts one of the Docor’s wittier lines here, as Jackie finds pickled gherkins, onions and eggs, and the Doctor incredulously asks Rose, “You kissed this man?” Most notably however, Mickey gets to make up for his (admittedly realistic) gibbering cowardice in ‘Rose’, as the Doctor tells him, “Mickey the idiot, the world is in your hands.” The scene between the pair at the end is rather touching, as they reach an understanding and the Doctor even offers, “You could look after her, come with us.” Mickey declines, unable to face such a lifestyle, but asks the Doctor not to tell Rose, whom the Time Lord tells, “No chance, he’s erm, a liability, I’m not having him on board.”
So I liked Mickey here, but found most of the human drama cloying and tedious. Happily, this being Doctor Who one can always rely on the plot to entertain. Unless of course, it’s complete bollocks. ‘Aliens of London’ starts out quite promisingly in this regard, as an alien spaceship weaves around the London skyline before crashing into the Houses of Parliament clock tower and then landing in the Thames. However, reasonably exciting though this is, it soon leads into the larger plot, and we learn of the Slitheen plan, which is ridiculously overcomplicated. The audience is expected to swallow such claptrap as the fact that the UK has given all of its nuclear missile codes to the UN, that the Slitheen aren’t nuclear capable (it would have been far easier for them to nuke Earth from space), and that British naval missiles can be launched from a website that is protected by a ridiculously easy to hack password. The return of UNIT is nice, except that it will be meaningless to new fans, and will leave old fans trying to swallow the implication that the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce consists of four men in suits, all of whom are killed here. The politics are fairly badly mangled as well, with suggestions that the Prime Minister is the head of state. There is some interesting stuff in here; the whole Iraq war metaphor is too unsubtle to be called subtext, with non-existent weapons of mass destruction that can be deployed in forty-five seconds, and an illegal war fought for the world’s resources. Doctor Who has been doing barely disguised social commentary almost since it began, and it does at least mean that there is more to the plot than the simple message of not judging by appearances that we got a brief nod to in ‘The End of the World’. Nevertheless, the inclusion of such subtext is bound to annoy some audience members, whatever opinion they actually have on the Iraq war; a brief but similar throwaway line in ‘Scream of the Shalka’ proved rather controversial, and this is being watched by a lot more people.
There are other problems with the episodes as well. Most of these are minor irritations, such as the fact that there isn’t any blood left in the cabinet chamber after Asquith is killed and apparently skinned, and the sheer incompetence of the Police backing the Doctor against a lift is unbelievable, as is the fact that they just stand around looking gob smacked whilst he escapes, instead of riddling him with bullets. Indeed, gormless would-be comedy policemen litter the storyline like dog turds on a pavement. And in the midst of all the factual inaccuracies about the British government, Harriet delivers lessons for the kids about Hannibal and making acetic acid from ethanol, which is strangely twee. I also have issues with the production, including Keith Boak’s direction. Whilst I like the Slitheen spaceship (which reminds me vaguely of Thunderbird Two), the Slitheen themselves, and the infamous Pig, the CGI used for the first two occasionally looks unconvincing, and the decidedly rubbery nature of the Pig doesn’t do anything to silence its detractors. The Slitheen costumes are also obviously men in rubber costumes, which this being Doctor Who I don’t have a problem with; they are occasionally realised purely by CGI however, and it doesn’t mesh convincingly with the costumes, especially during the chase through Number 10 in ‘World War Three’. Mind you, the destruction of Number 10 Downing Street is well realised, and if that bloke who complained about the BBC blowing up a church during ‘The Dæmons’ is still alive and watching, he must have soiled himself. The incidental music also grates once more, acting yet again as a pompous intrusion during the more dramatic emotional scenes in the second episode. What really annoyed me however was the horribly mangled cliff-hanger, which showed various characters in peril, only to be immediately followed by the trailer for ‘World War Three’, which showed the same characters in rather less peril. I didn’t think that the Doctor or Rose would get killed, but I didn’t even get to spend a week hoping that I’d be spared any further appearances by Jackie. It didn’t help that the resolution at the start of ‘World War Three’ was effectively a pre-credits sequence, making the whole thing feel horribly disjointed.
‘Aliens of London’ and ‘World War Three’ also mark the point at which I finally start to find the Ninth Doctor irritating, although still not as much as some critics. It’s Christopher Eccleston’s gurning that irritates me, and there is an appalling scene in the TARDIS as the Doctor repairs things in fundamentally annoying slapstick fashion, grinning like a tit throughout. On the other hand, he gets plenty of decent moments here, including the Doctor’s laugh of delight when the ship crashes (and Rose’s stunned “Oh, that’s just not fair” is great). There’s a nice moment when he gives Rose the TARDIS key, but best of all is the fact that he’s at his most proactive here, such as when he takes charge of the military in the hospital, overcomes the Slitheen trap at the end of episode one, works out how to defeat them with vinegar (The “Narrows it down” scene allows Eccleston to show the cogs in the Doctor’s mind whirring overtime), and gives Mickey instructions on how to blow up Downing Street. Eccleston conveys the Doctor’s fury at the shooting of the pig, of which he snarls, “What did you do that for? It was scared!” and the Doctor’s obvious glee and waving at the cameras when he’s escorted to Downing Street is amusing. The Doctor quietly saying sorry to the dead, nameless secretary also achieves minor greatness. Eccleston sounds deadly serious when the Doctor tells the Slitheen, “I’ll give you a choice, leave this planet or I’ll stop you” and his line, “This my life Jackie, it’s not fun, it’s not pretty, it’s just standing up and making a decision” is designed to be quotable. However, I do find the Doctor’s dithering over whether to save the world and risk losing Rose frustrating in a way that brings back unpleasant memories of ‘Neverland’ and it again suggests that he’s lost some perspective since Episode Seven of ‘The Evil of the Daleks’. Rose incidentally gets less to do here than in previous episodes, most of her scenes revolving around the tedious domestic rot of her relationship with her mother, and attempts to explain her non-sexual relationship with the Doctor via dialogue such as “’E’s not my boyfriend Mickey, he’s better than that.” She also utters the controversial line, “You’re so gay” which I find more crass than offensive.
With more time to play with here, Davies does score with the some of the supporting characters and the guest cast is generally very good. Penelope Winton is great as Harriet Jones, who is obviously terrified by what she’s seen, but brave enough to try and do what is right, prompting the Doctor to tell her, “You’re very good at this.” As soon as the Doctor recognizes her name, it’s obvious that she’ll become Prime Minister, but it still works quite well. Mind you, her line, “When they fart, if you’ll pardon the word” is an example of misfiring would-be comedy. Navin Chowdry is also good as Indra Ganesh and whilst Davies might overdo the human drama in some scenes, the small kindness of a cup of coffee manages to be strangely poignant. Mention must also be made of Andrew Marr who does a fine job of playing himself in ever-so-slightly tongue-in-cheek style. The various “fat” actors all seem to be enjoying themselves immensely, especially David Verrey and Rupert Vansittart, and Annette Badland manages to be gleefully sinister.
But my favourite aspect of ‘Aliens of London’ and ‘World War Three’ is the Slitheen, who work for me simply because they seem to having so much fun. Yes, their plan is ridiculous, but aliens who giggle at their own colossal flatulence and are obsessed with nudity entertain me on the basest possible level. “I’m shaking my booty” is an appallingly bad line, but it is compensated for by the brilliant, “Excuse me, your device will do what? Triplicate the flammability? You’re making it up!” and “I rather enjoyed being Oliver. He had a wife, a mistress and a young farmer. God, I was busy.” They look great too, in a rubbery, traditionalist sort of way, and their big eyes are rather striking. On a less silly level, Davies makes an attempt to flesh them out as characters, with their hunting rituals and details about their rather novel calcium-based physiology, which memorably makes them vulnerable to vinegar. The fact that Slitheen is their family name, not the name of their species is a nice touch, as are their convoluted and overlong names. In a possible nod to ‘The Leisure Hive’, we also get an acknowledgement of the fact that they hide inside fat humans, as the Doctor explains, “They’re big old beasts. They need to fit inside big humans.” The fact that they sober up when they learn that one of them has died, allows them to show just enough emotion to add depth, and I also like their final scene, as they bicker over costumes before their leader casts his eyes skyward and cries, “Oh, boll-”.
Overall, ‘Aliens of London’ and ‘World War Three’ form the first real disappointment of the new series, but they aren’t entirely without merit. It might be worth noting that we get the first proper reference to regeneration in the new series, just as people are wondering if Christopher Eccleston really quit or if he only ever signed up for one series. And whatever the shortcomings of the episodes, everything suddenly feels terribly exciting at the end with the trailer for ‘Dalek’.