Aliens of London / World War ThreeBookmark and Share

Thursday, 24 November 2005 - Reviewed by Billy Higgins

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!”

Wallop. Priceless.

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” . . .