Aliens of London / World War ThreeBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 24 August 2005 - Reviewed by Phil Fenerty

From its earliest days, Doctor Who has addressed (and, at times, embraced) political issues. One of the earliest examples of these stories is The Dalek Invasion of Earth, which casts the Daleks as Nazi stormtroopers (concentration camps and all) against the brave resistance fighters of the Home Counties (I'd suggest Dad's Army as an influence here, but the series hadn't started in 1964).

In the first of the series' two part stories, we get the story of a very unusual invasion. The Aliens are here, and they have managed to creep right into the heart of British democracy. At the same time, and especially in World War Three, Russell T Davies uses his script to satirise the events of the Blair administration's response to the Iraq WMD crisis, dodgy dossier and all.

Perhaps there are those who see it as heavy-handed. Perhaps there are nay-sayers who would grumble that Doctor Who is not the place for political satire, or even for political discussion. Rot! This is satire with a deft touch, unlike the over-Thatcheresque performance of Sheila Hancock in The Happiness Patrol. No one complained about that (they were too busy slagging off the Kandyman, of course).

But there is more to the script than satire. The Doctor's investigation of the UFO crash, and his discovery of the fate of the ship's occupant shows a more caring side than we've seen to date. His reactions when looking at the creature show that, even dulled by The Time War, The Doctor has a respect for life and for freedom. The Creature itself is well-realised, and the way it is handled in the story evokes more than a pang of sympathy.

We also find RTD examining something never considered before: how are The Doctor's companions perceived, accounted for, regarded and missed whilst they are away travelling? David Whitaker's prologue to Doctor Who and the Crusaders notes how Ian and Barbara might explain their absence from their London lives once they return, but apart from that, there has been little consideration as to how his companions fare 'outside the TARDIS.' Aliens of London puts this glaring omission right, and confronts The Doctor clearly with the ramifications of his actions.

In one of the best model/ CGI sequences to have been put together for Doctor Who, well frankly, EVER, we see a spaceship hits Big Ben and splashes down on the Thames. Public reaction, in the light of the World Trade Centre's destruction, is perfectly judged: chaos, hysteria, panic and the desire to get a photo to sell to the News of the World. It's telling that The Doctor and Rose decide to watch the drama unfold on BBC News 24 (and, given the events of The Long Game, interesting to note what they are being fed by the Media). Partly this is because of the way today's world works: partly also because The Doctor has eschewed his authority links and is now the ultimate maverick. It takes a full military team, including helicopter, to "recruit" him to the Alien Expert conference.

Whilst Aliens of London is expansive and has scenes in a number of locations, World War Three is more tightly focussed into two or three locales. This makes the drama tighter and helps to build up the tension. With The Doctor effectively cut off from the outside world, he has to call on Mickey for help. It is good to see development in Mickey's character in these two episodes: in the time that Rose has been absent, he has clearly grown up a lot, and that is reflected in his reactions to The Doctor. At the end of the story, we see them becoming, if not friends, then not enemies either.

The Slitheen monsters were one of the weak points in the production. The costumes were too bulky and immobile and the faces were insufficiently monsterous. The best realisation of the creatures was the CGI creatures running through the hallways of 10 Downing Street - they moved efficiently and smoothly, looking every inch the hunters they were not in costume. Compare the sleek CGI versions against the bulky, static Slitheen menacing Rose and Harriet at the end of part 1 (oh, how good is it to say that!). No comparison.

The guest cast performed uniformly well, with Penelope Wilton's performance as Harriet Jones being one of the best of the series. Her character was utterly believable, and it would be great to see her return in a future episode. Camille Coduri gave another great performance as Jackie, her reactions to The Doctor being spot on. She is an asset to the series, and should recur as a character in Series 2 if there is any justice.

The star of the show was, however, Russell's script, with (at last) the writer rising to the heights he'd enjoyed in Casanova. World War Three was one of the wittiest, even laugh-out-loud funniest, tension-filled 45 minutes of television I've seen in a long time, and thoroughly enjoyable. The story also showed the strengths of a two-episode format, in allowing better plot and character development, and leaving viewers guessing as to what will happen for a week.

The Slitheen motivations were also interesting, and there seems to be a minor 'theme' developing in some of the background story elements. This, along with mentions of the Time War, seems to be a way of linking the stories together to enhance the viewing pleasure of the devoted fan.

And check out the UNIT website (linked in from the main BBC Doctor Who site) – more evidence that the Corporation believe in the programme and are prepared to give it much needed multi-media support in this internet age.

Overall: wonderful satirical script.