World War III was an exciting conclusion to an almost old-fashioned monster yarn begun in last week's Aliens of London, replete with frantic hide-and-seek chases and impressive explosions. The Doctor also had his thinking powers put a little more to the test as, with a little help from Harriet Jones (MP Flydale North) he cleverly deduced the aliens' planet of origin and hence their biological weakness. That said eight-foot tall alien could explode upon contact with a jar of pickled condiments is verging on the far-fetched, sure, as is the Doctor's and Mickey's rather simple hack into the UK's missile defense system, but actually I didn't have much of a problem with either idea, as their underlying principles remain valid enough (not that more realism wouldn't have been nice).
Unfortunately, though, this was the episode where some other worrying trends of the show came to the fore, and the first time I truly questioned Russell T Davies' suitability as writer/executive producer. In past reviews I've given him credit for some great writing and imaginative ideas. His writing skill is still not in question. But he's trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Of most concern is his blueprint for the new Doctor. With an actor of Chris Eccleston's calibre in the titular role there are, I'm afraid, no excuses. Let's put it this way: the Doctor is NOT a character from a TV soap! He doesn't argue with his companion's mother and he doesn't make cow-eyes at nineteen year-old girls, or is given to mushy, quasi-romantic sentiments ("I could save the world but lose you" and "I'm so glad I met you" being prime offenders). I think RTD is trying to convey a certain (mostly platonic? Oh, I hope so) affection for his young companion but it's all about as subtle as a Slitheen fart. Nor can I recall the Doctor, Hartnell included, being this consistently and irritatingly rude. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from the Time War? If that's going to be an ongoing theme this year then I'm looking forward to his next regeneration. You could make the Doctor an emotionally overloaded wreck in need of counselling but I think I'd rather watch Timelash. Finally, as I alluded to last week, he's grinning far too much of the time. Here in Australia the dreaded Season Seventeen is playing weeknights, yet with some surprise I've noticed how much more serious Tom Baker is playing it in comparison, even at that dubious stage stage in his tenure.
Almost as annoying is having to watch your favourite program (ostensibly a family show, I might add), serving as forum for its new writer's socio-political agenda. Some fans seem rapt by it. I don't disagree with every sentiment, either, but would much rather RTD left most of it out. He's touching on complex, let alone divisive, issues (oops, there goes the American franchise!) and oversimplifying them, in this case with one of the Seven Deadly Writers' Sins: the use of a non-applicable - and inappropriate - allegory. I have no problem with a family show stimulating the younger generation in how to think (as in The Unquiet Dead, for example) - but not what to think; there's a difference. This episode was practicaly telling us how to vote!
On the plot front, I would like to know why all the Slitheen were electrocuted when the Doctor slapped just one with his ID badge - the current was transmitted, presumably, via their collars, though this wasn't explained and doesn't make a whole lot of sense; one of them better not touch a dodgy toaster! The Slitheen's underlying plan was equally difficult to decipher. I guess that, as a family business (nasty, nasty capitalists - like Cassandra, whaddayaknow) rather than as an entire race of creatures, they had no access to military equipment with which to nuke a planet from orbit, despite numerous other examples of their advanced technology. I hope I'm right in this analysis as it was not made very clear in the script.
As far as the general tone of the series goes, we've had one serious episode (written by someone else) in five - in other words, the balance is off. Dr Who is a sci-fi show which can accomodate comedy elements, not the other way around and having giggling, farting aliens seems to mock what the series is really about. When it is serious, half the time it's a D&M between Rose and her mum or Rose and Mickey. Perhaps this is why, in an effort to offset such maudlin drivel, we've seen the Doctor more insulting and off-hand than usual, when he's not all lovey-dovey. He seems to dislke the domestic intrusions and by now so do I. A little here and there could be justified - even in this episode I enjoyed the scene right at the end with Mickey (the way the Doctor invited him into the TARDIS then helped him save face was nicely handled and a good character moment, managing to convey the Doctor's genuine level of caring without resorting to sentimental dialogue), but most of it is being overplayed. Likewise, the sexual innuendo is coming thick and fast. This time we had references to adultery and bisexuality, last week paedophilia ("Did you find her on the internet?") and before that trans-sexuality. They are amusing lines and I'm definitely no Mary Whitehouse, but I'm glad I don't have a six year-old asking me for explanations.
My optimism from last week is being severely tested; right now I'm of the opinion that RTD is pushing the show in wrong directions. Hope I'm not reading too much into one story.
I think my soapbox just broke.
Here’s what I was going to do. I was going to write a separate review of this episode, and then a full review of the Aliens Of London two-parter. And now, I find myself unable to do that. Why? Because the two episodes are so different from each other. So, so different. I shall explain…
We open with our cliffhanger, and the Doctor very quickly gets himself out of it. But remember, this was a three-tier cliffhanger! No matter. In one swift move, the Doctor solves every problem. For now. Cue titles. I gave a cheer. This set the standard for the rest of the episode. I cheered a lot. And laughed a lot.
Seriously, this was a hilarious episode. Right from the very beginning, with the Doctor’s pathetic-sounding explanation to the military about the alien cover-up, I was laughing every few seconds. We have a lot of chasing through corridors this time around, with another cheer from me. I’ve warmed to the Slitheen, too, partly due to the way blink, partly to the way they move. Velociraptors, anyone? A few belly-laughs later, the Doctor, Rose and Harriet (great character!) have locked themselves in the Cabinet room. And spend the remainder of the episode there.
This was a great move on the part of RTD, who’s delivered a script here that’s about as good as The End of the World. The Slitheen’s plan, with its subtleties and intricacies, is pure genius. Keith Boak has done a better job here too, and manages to keep the action going even while our main characters are stuck in a room for half an hour.
Oh! The dialogue! This is cracking stuff… the best RTD dialogue so far, and acted beautifully. Meanwhile, Mickey and Jackie are fighting off their own monster, and we’re treated to our first “gross monster explosion” of the season. Vinegar, Hannibal, “You kiss this man?”… gorgeous stuff. The Doctor and Mickey are again displaying a wonderful chemistry together, even when just talking on the phone.
David Verrey, by the way, delivers an excellent performance here as Joseph Green, the acting PM (although we all know what he really is). The direction and the music add to the atmosphere the moment he announces to the world that they are at war. At this point, I realised I was no longer laughing – I was too riveted by the drama. I’d always thought Joss Whedon had created an amazing thing with Buffy, a perfect fusion of comedy and drama. We all know RTD is an immense Buffy fan, and if you look at Queer As Folk, it’s obvious he knows how to pull off exactly the same fusion. Never has this been clearer than in World War Three. Did I say this was cracking stuff? Well… er, it is.
The effects, too, are gorgeous. That missile heading across England’s south-east had me completely convinced. The resolution of the story is perfect, and we all know Harriet Jones will make a wonderful PM.
But back to Rose’s domestic life. Camille Coduri as Jackie deserves a mention here for adding a bit more substance to her character, just as Noel Clarke did with his character of Mickey in the previous episode. I was really touched by the way she handled Rose’s decision to join the Doctor permanently on his travels. When I heard the closing sting, I sat back with a satisfied grin.
As a whole, I don’t think I could ever watch Aliens Of London followed by World War Three. Oddly enough, in the event of a huge new series marathon, I might even skip the former and move straight onto the latter. Like I said before, the two episodes are just so different! The acting, the script, the music, the direction, the effects, the pacing, the humour, the fear factor, the drama… with Aliens Of London, I really thought this series was about to go downhill, at least for a little while. Mercifully, World War Three proved me wrong. It only dipped for one week, then shot straight back up. My confidence in this series has been reassured. Bring on the Dalek!!!
As the first Second Part of a previous story, this very much feels like writing a review I have already written. I’ll try and separate the 2 as best I can. I never have reviewed the Classic show in separate episodes (or Big Finish for that matter) – but the nature of the new series means that thinking has changed – and 13 reviews will result. A separate episode title also emphasizes the new episode.
For those who loved Aliens of London, it’s like an extra helping of goodness. For those like me who thought it was an entertaining slice of new Who, even though not upto the excellence of previous episodes, then mixed feelings arose. It would be nice to see Rose in her home environment again. Would the Doctors jealousies be strengthened? Jackie would in it more – plus point. Mickey would be in it more – the characters growing on me. More Harriet Jones – excellent. More overweight politicians – no thanks. Runaround in Downing Street – sounds fun. More Big Bouncy monsters – increasingly not so sure about more of them.
The original title of 10 Downing Street actually suits this episode far more than the overly dramatic one used. It’s not as sensational – but this World War Three business just never really convinced. It never happened for a start.
The Cliffhanger was nicely resolved, and that’s where the runaround started, in very effective doubles for the real place may I add. I’m not completely struck on the Music employed in the new series – and this was another example of it not quite gelling to the action smoothly. It was fun seeing CGI Slitheen chasing after our heroes though. The tense scene with Rose and Harriet hiding in a back room was also effective. The Doctor took the rise too much though – especially as he kept opening the doors to gloat at the Slitheen – why didn’t they just go for him then? But then the Slitheen were so incredibly slow – except when they were CGI!
The standard of the supporting cast has been excellent this series – and Harriet Jones more than lived up to her introduction in the previous episode. A caring, compassionate MP may be a contradiction to the popular view – but that’s exactly what we get from Penelope Wiltons lovely portrayal.
The fat MPs were better this week too. I was really impressed with David Verrey as he faced the press, in an attempt to get the access codes. I also enjoyed the mellowing of the Doctors attitude to Mickey – as he finally showed his mettle. The whole UNIT business on the Computer was a ridiculously contrived solution, but fun all the same.
However the Slitheen never quite made the grade as Monsters for me. The intergalactic Scrap Merchants was a good idea – very Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, but they were a bit embarrassing overall. I thought the new Doctor Who was going to play everything straight. I thought Russell Ts Script took the mickey of the aliens a little too much. The whole gastric emissions, that continued forcefully throughout this episode, stripped them of any scariness and seriousness. Maybe Russell T knew this, so had some fun instead. Certainly my nephews and nieces were not remotely scared by them.
I really don’t care for big blobby monsters anyway, in any show. Doctor Who is better when it doesn’t have too many, and it looks like there aren’t this series – and that’s good. Most of Doctor Whos Monsters are rubbish anyway – but I suspect I may be in a minority with that theory. Saying that though DW has got it right in numerous occasions (Ice Warriors, Sontarans, Sea Devils) – but the Slitheen are not one of them. For every 1 brilliant DW Monster, there’s a dozen rubbish ones.
What I particularly enjoyed about this episode actually had nothing to do with the main threat though. It was the wonderful interplay between Mickey, Jackie, Rose and Doctor. I was happy for the main threat to disappear 35 minutes in, as that provided some excellent character scenes for these wonderful personalities. That’s what enthused me about World War Three – the way Rose was pulled this way and that. Mickey levering himself onto the bin at the end, waiting for Rose, was lovely. Let’s get the marvellous Jackie in the TARDIS too, just for a few adventures – now that would provide some tension for the Doctor.
Never short of entertaining again, the 5th Episode continued the bizarreness and silliness of Aliens of London. It’s hardly the best bit of Doctor Who I have ever seen – but it’s professionally performed and produced. It’s just wonderful to talk Who with my work colleagues, most of who watch it, but were never fans. They see it as a light-hearted romp – and who am I to disagree. Light-hearted romps have always had a place in Doctor Who – with this being as fine an example as you will find. 7/10
There's an old tradition when it comes to two-part storylines on "Star Trek". The writers spend so much of Part One setting up for an amazing cliffhanger, that Part Two almost always feels like a let-down. Before seeing tonight's episode of "Doctor Who", part of me was thinking something similar might happen here. Well, I'm pleased to report that "Doctor Who" has not travelled the same path as "Star Trek".
Russell T Davies returns with a very good script, full of some classy one-liners and the usual wit we have come to expect from his pen. Thankfully, Russell doesn't rely on wit alone to carry the story. The sheer scope of events is magnificent, with some serious dramatic tension on the line here. There's also some nice touching moments, especially as Jackie tries to come to terms with Rose's relationship with the Doctor.
As I suspected when I reviewed 'Aliens of London' last week, the overall story arc doesn't move along very much at all. In fact, aside from a slightly humourous bit at the end (bringing closure to the graffiti bit in 'Aliens of London'), there's no mention whatsoever of any of the "bad wolf" or "time war" elements already mentioned in the series. Which is no bad thing, I must admit. Makes for a nice change.
Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper continue the tradition of this series, with both of them giving very good performances. Billie really seems to be shining in this series, and is making every effort to silence whatever critics she might have left. Christopher, meanwhile, is obviously enjoying the role, and the wide variety of challenges that it asks of him as an actor. The scenes these two share are wonderful to watch.
The guest cast is generally the same as last week, with some rather fine performances from all involved. It was indeed nice to see the slightly larger members of the British acting community getting a chance to sink their teeth into some meaty roles (no pun intended). Of the guest cast, Penelope Winton comes off best, with her portrayal of Harriet Jones being perfect. It was also nice to see Camille Coduri and Noel Clarke once more.
The production values continue the high standard of Part One, but its obvious why things look so good in this particular adventure - all the sets in 'World War Three' are the same as those featured in 'Aliens of London', and its clear the money has been well spent. It was a shame more wasn't made of the team's visit to the Cardiff Royal Infirmary, as I'd hoped that impressive location would end up being used more often.
Special effects-wise, the episodes come off quite well. There's a wonderful balance between costuming and CGI for the Slitheen (although some of the CGI shots featuring the Slitheen looked a little too fake), while Mike Tucker's impressive model work comes into play once again as the episode ends, and the script calls for 10 Downing Street to be blown up! Nicely handled, and it made for an explosive end to a very good episode.
As this is the final episode to be directed by Keith Boak, part of me is sad to see his contribution over (he was, after all, the first director on the new series), but it means that we've finally moved past the first block of filming, with all its inherent problems. Things can only go up from here. Finally, Murray Gold does his usual impressive piece of work on the episode, although I spotted some re-use of cues.
Overall, 'World War Three' brings the new series' first two-part storyline to a spectacular finish. I suspect in future years this particular two-part adventure won't be held in the same high regard as the original series classics like 'Caves of Androzani' and 'The Talons of Weng Chiang'. It is, however, still an impressive piece of work, and should be celebrated for pushing the boundaries of British TV.
Overall Score: 5 / 6 (Very Good)
A Catchphrase Ode to Slitheens that Explode
“Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!”
The Chuckle Bros may say
When confronted by Slitheen
Nasty, ’orrible and green.
“Nice to see you, nice,”
Would be Bruce’s remark
Echoing the Doctor’s toothy delight
When confronting aliens to fight.
“That’s the way to do it,”
Punch would proudly screech
As with a sledgehammer missile
He hit the Slitheen –oh where the Dr’s guile?
But “ come out wherever you are.”
Type phrases a Slitheen would not utter
As it seeks out Rose to kill.
Panto slapstick undermines the thrill.
“And now for something completely different,”
Should perhaps have been the title of No 5.
For jokes too often diminished tense scenes
Parody parading as the panto peacock preens.
“Will the real Slitheen please stand up”
Could be an effectual pun for obvious disparity
Between CGI quick monster movement
And rubber suited waddling ducks on the River Trent!
“Go on punk – make my day”
Is a nasty Doctor trait I’d rather do without.
His vicious mean berating of Rick or Mick
Was cold hearted, malevolent and sick!!
“Let’s start at the very beginning,”
Julie sang suggesting I was watching not 5, but 3.
This soap opera continued its prime reality brief
Give ‘em modern, social drama full of Eastender domestic grief.
“Thsufferin, Thuccotash” Sylvester uttered
In a frustrated sort of feline way.
Or is that the last TV Doctor turning in his dark matter
Thinking I had more witty gravitas than this Mad Hatter?
But I suppose these corny jokes and flatulence
Reached a young audience.
But writers – it’s not ‘Carry On Doctor with an MP’
Take your WHO seriously with wit, charm and moral gravity.
“That’s all Folks!!!!”
Well, World War III wasn't bad, but it would've looked alot better had Mark Gatiss's fantastic 'The Unquiet Dead' not been on a couple of weeks earlier. I think, from this evidence, that I prefer the Mark Gatiss style to that of Russell T Davies, and unless something unexpected happens next week I'll probably favor the Rob Shearman style too. But you've got to give Davies credit, he can write a witty, inventive and fast-paced script, and this episode was a lot of fun - but it really benefited from being watched twice. First time round I was silenced by vinegar soaked, exploding farting aliens (more on that weakness later) and what has to be the least secure military website ever (hey guys, anyone can control a ballistic missile! Even Mickey!), but on the second viewing I really enjoyed the throway one-liners and the light-hearted, surreal tone to it all. That's the key to enjoying this episode and 'Aliens of London', I think. Watching 'The Unquiet Dead', you could be in the mood for a realistic, well-acted Hinchcliffe/Holmes scary drama - and you'd be rewarded. But to really get your kicks from 'World War III' you had to take it as what it was- a light-hearted, entertaining run around bookended by an excellent, thoughtful closing sequence.
But what the heck, I'm a doctor who fan so I may as well list the negatives first. (Glass half empty, you say? Never!)
It was noted in reviews for the aliens of london that there was a notable credulity gap between the model slitheen and the cgi kind. (I guess they must have been talking about the preview for this episode). Well, there's no denying that there's a big difference between the slow, bouncing models and the sleek, speedy CGI beasts. Also, giving the slitheen saggy tits and a dog collar was a bit weird. But I actually enjoyed these new monsters; the contrast between their claws and baby faces was disconcerting and they were mostly used well, with the exception of the bit where Penelope Wilton's character ran back into the cabinet office for the protocols only to be confronted with a slitheen bobbling amiably towards her. But I do like a good monster run-around, and the direction made the chase scenes fast-paced and nervy - just like Rose and the auton attack Keith Boak proves he can handle action scenes well. You know what? This negative has turned into a positive. I must like this episode more than I'm letting on! Quick, think of something....
Farting. Actually, hold on, I didn't have a problem with that. I like a good running theme, and there was no cringeworthy 'I'm shaking my booty' moment in this episode. It made me laugh, too. Ahh, here's a good criticism... The element of realism, or lack of it. I mentioned earlier that this episode should be taken light-heartedly, but I think there's a certain level of realism you've got to aspire to in order to sustain the audiences interest, their tension and how much they care for the characters. I can accept the intact survival of a head-on missile hit, and the slightly dodgy UN politics involved, but it really spoilt the plot for me when Micky first of all only needed one, simple password to take control of the UKs missiles system (yes, because we dont have hackers, do we?) and then dealt with the intervention of another missile with a simple mouse click. Now thats a fun game for all the family. Type buffalo, and take control of our countries' entire weapons system!
Come to think of it, the revelation that the slitheen's one weakness was vinegar annoyed me, although it did allow for a great, inventive fact-gathering scene (narrows it down! narrows it down!) and the best line of the entire episode (''pickled onions...pickled eggs..." "You kiss this man?") but to be honest, it makes the cybermens' slightly gay allergy to gold look tough. It's bad enough being able to deal with an invasion of Cybermen by lobbing a bag of coins at their chest, but imagine a slitheen invasion! Quick, it's the slitheen army...Throw me the Sarson's malt!
But now I'm just getting petty. I've only got one further criticism... and that's the slightly smug, oooh thats clever use of ideas indicative of the worst excesses of a Russell T Davies Script. For me this was symbolised by the analogy of the slitheens' plans to the Iraq war (which will understandably pass right over American's heads, I might add). It was a clever idea, and we all like to give Tony Blair a bit of a bashing, but there are more subtle, effective ways of getting the analogy across without -shout-it -in-the-street-obvious lines like 'weapons of mass destruction that can be activated in 45 seconds' and 'I voted against that, you know'. Yes, we know, you're being satirical. Well done, get over it. Having said that, it gave my Conservative-supporting parents (yes, I know, I don't know why either) a good laugh.
Well, thats the bad stuff. But there was alot of good stuff too, not least the trademark Davies wit which, more than any episode so far, was out in force. There were many lines which -only really appreciated on a second viewing - left me on the floor. Like the aforementioned 'you kiss this man?', the lift escape, the 'thats not going to work, is it?' and my favorite moment of the whole episode - the doctor's realisation that the slitheen can't get in but they can't get out of the cabinet office - a moment made funnier by Eccleston's frozen, grinning mug and exhaled 'ah'. There's alot of character faults in Eccleston's portayal of the doctor, but his comic facial and one-liner ability is definately worthy of praise.
Talking of Eccleston's portrayal of the doctor, the excellent last five, or more accurately two, minutes of this episode were for me the most important of the whole series so far. Up to this point I've been disillusioned with Christopher Eccleston's portayal of the Doctor. I can sympathise with his attempts to make the character seem more alien, but in doing so I think he's lost touch with the core character of the Doctor - the person who you want to travel with, who you wish you had as a friend. It's all very well trying to make him a more complex, alien character, but in doing so - for example, his harsh rebuke to Rose in 'The Unquiet Dead' ('it's a different morality, get used to it or go home') and his bizzare, nasty treatment of Micky, who's spent the last year suspected of murder becuase of him and should at the very least get an apology from the Doctor, not a mean jibe - in doing so, I stopped liking him. And if there's one thing that's important about the Doctor's character - this character who represents good in an amoral universe, the ultimate hero - it's that youv'e got to like him. And, with the added annoyance of Eccleston's occasional unsettling pretentiousness (has there ever been a worse abuse of the word 'fantastic'?) I stopped liking the doctor. Thought he was a bit of a dick, in fact. But then I watched the last two minutes of this episode and , thanks to his newfound respectful and amiable treatment of mickey and the small but significant lie he tells to protect him (telling Rose Mickey couldn't come along so she wouldnt find out that Mickey doesnt think he could handle that sort of life), something finally clicked in Eccleston's portayal of the Doctor .The likable, dare I say it human touch is finally there, and I can now start warming to Eccleston's performance the way I have the last eight doctors.
Other plusses include the ingenious, and chilling motive behind the slitheens' brinkmanship - to reduce the earth to slag, and sell it off. As well as being a clever idea - a nice change from the normal invasion storyline - it was an unsettling thought to say the least. It reminded me of the chill that went through me when I first watched 'The Pirate Planet' and realised what the captain's planet had done to all the other worlds - literally drained them of life. In World War III I got a similar chill when the Doctor notes the genocide this would entail and the slitheen replies "bargain". There was also, in this episode, a high quality of acting from the trio of Billie Piper, Noel Clarke and Penelope Wilton. What seemed to be wooden (translation=bollocks) acting has now, in the case of Noel Clarke as Mickey, been revealed to be an effective portayal of a lovable but hapless guy, his moments with the doctor at the end and his tentative comforting of Jackie particularly worthy of note. Penelope Wilton was, as usual, excellent, but - while we're talking about her - is it me, or did every Doctor who fan watching almost certainly shout 'she's the next prime minister' in response to the Doctor's 'where have I heard that name?'. It must be all those years of realising that characters like 'Sir Giles Estram' were actually the master in disguise....
So I suppose when all's said and done I enjoyed, on repeat viewings at least, this episode quite alot. It's got alot going for it -it's funny, it's imaginative, it's got a great ending. But I suspect when we look back at this first series of new Doctor Who it won't be the Russel T Davies episodes like 'Aliens of London' and 'World War III' we deem to be 'classics' and 'gems' but the Mark Gatiss, Rob Shearman ones et al. But you know what? I'd watch this episode again anyday. And that's more than I can say for 'Timelash'.