As I write, World War Three has already aired. I have not seen it, and cannot until Friday, when I will watch the video Ive recorded. I do not know much about World War Three. I hope it is better than this (although I doubt it).
Pleasingly, reviewers on this site are beginning to tune in to what I have said since March 26, that Christopher Ecclestons performance in the role of Doctor Who really isnt very good at all. Throughout, the man has looked a bit like a secondary school level actor, occasionally struggling to deliver the most basic lines in a manner even slightly resembling convincing. Given his performances elsewhere, I can only assume that this is because Russell T Davis writing is forcing him to play it goofy and erratic basically, to conform to Davis own twisted conception of what is Doctorish and he is unfamiliar with this. The BBCs press release refers to this Doctor being wise, as well as funny, but the petulance (seen in his treatment of Mickey), arrogance (always ready to tell people to shut up, even Charles Dickens!) and most of all basic incompetence (cause, think about it, what does he actually do in this episode? Apart from walk into a trap again he shows off his mental brilliance by figuring out that the pig-like thing is, in fact, a pig! Well done, Doctor) of this incarnation makes it very hard for me to take it seriously.
Bizarrely, some people have said that he is the best Doctor yet. Those people are the ones who have gone into the new series simply adamant that nothing and no-one is going to spoil the experience for them, and insist that the sun shines out of RTDs backside irrespective of the quality of the stories they are watching (they clearly also have never seen Tom Baker or Pat Troughton in the role). Well, fair play to them they are clearly who Russell is writing this for (he is very similar, convinced that his view of the series is the best ever) it must be really nice to enjoy it, and I bet they are happier in life than me! Its just that one or two of the things that fans in various forums have said come across as holier-than-thou. Why shouldnt my blisteringly negative interpretation of this series be as valuable as their positive one, without being labelled anal? I bet they hate Time and the Rani, or something, and dont get grief for it. This is something that really annoys me!
To return to Aliens of London (like the title, by the way). No, it is not Ecclestons performance which ruined this episode for me. Here he puts the lid on it a bit, or perhaps Im just getting used to him ( I heard the man himself say on BBC Radio 5 that in Dalek hes a very different Doctor to in the other ones I certainly hope so). This time it was a combination of the scripting and the production that did it. Actually, despite my intense mistrust of Russell T Davies (which is founded in part on the universal insistence from the media, everyone at Doctor Who Magazine and most fans whose views Ive read that he is the greatest writer, with the greatest credentials, in THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE!!!, and in part on his falling victim to Tonys cronies syndrome, hiring his old mates to do the Doctor Who job and presumably not considering other people and actors) I have never before been able to find much corroboration of it in the scripts themselves, but the farting aliens and totally unrealistic reaction of the military establishment to alien incursion (plus of course the supposed cream of British science not recognising a pig!) in this episode were enough this time around.
The production, however, though detailed and glossy, has so far been harmful to the show in the way that it is presented. The 45-minute episodes, obviously, are a problem, but they could work very well were the general ambience within them not so noisy, blurry and, well, orange. Its like The Claws of Axos in there! The lighting and look of the show do not meet expectations my over-riding image of episode 1 is of the Doctor and Rose, grinning, walking though an orange smudge. The sound and editing are similarly bad, some dialogue and much sense lost in a welter of fast cuts and music. They should cart that digital video camera off down the scrap yard and start filming the series and quieten it down a bit, for heavens sake! One thing it could certainly be accused of is possessing atmosphere: that, to me, is a bad thing. This weeks gastrically-tormented aliens are a case in point, being utterly ludicrous and unconvincing. Take, by contrast, the shot which ends the teaser in the previous episode, The Unquiet Dead, where the living corpse walks howling towards the viewer, venting light. That is excellent stuff on paper, and well directed, and more appropriate music and some decent lighting could have made it look good.
Oh dear, oh dear. So, where does this leave us? Well, in many ways, this is a new low for Doctor Who. This anal fan here hates fart jokes, and thinks you dont need them to tell a good alien invasion story but of course his opinion is not cared for by The Powers That Be, being far too la-di-dah and Middle English (havent you heard? We all live in council estates now!) and old fashioned. It simply reeks of Old Fandom! However, there is no question that the show has been worse: Seasons 23 and 24, and even some Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker stories were worse than this. The acting (apart from Chris) is mostly ok, actually, and the scripting has been mostly fine given the enormous constraints. The reason this review has been so violently critical is that I feel betrayed, hurt and terribly disappointed by my beloved show. I was willing it to be amazing, and wonderful, and glorious, and for it to fly, fly like a bird, and to be majestic, and shining (to draw upon RTDs column style!) I was convinced, totally convinced that it would be a masterpiece even after Rose I was willing to be convinced, and God, even Rose was better than this. I feel really gutted with what we have now. I know, four episodes in and already judging! 80s-style anti-producer witch-hunts are not a road any of us want to go down again, Im sure. But, to be honest
well, let me quote Russells own Production Notes column in DWM: But you promised us the Doctor!; Hate the Slitheen!; and, most importantly, RTD must go now!.