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Wednesday, 27 April 2005 - Reviewed by A.D. Morrison

The Graham Williams universe seems to consist of planets that resemble the home counties populated by peoples who adhere to Terran middle-class etiquette. This is endearing and reassuring in one sense, perfectly fitting for the then tea time slot of the programme, and contrasts fantastically with disbelief-suspended extraterrestrial settings. It can stretch one’s sense of belief to the extremes however – think of Drax and his cockney lingo picked up from his days of dodgy dealing in London’s East End and his true identity as a Timelord trapped on another planet in The Armageddon Factor. No less incongruously, The Ribos Operation pits the Doctor against the cajoling machinations of Garron, an interplanetary con-merchant who explains in one scene how he had almost succeeded in selling the Sydney Opera House to an alien speculator. Garron, evidently incredulous to the Doctor’s well-travelled presence, particularly regarding Earth, impersonates a town crier at the beginning of this story which the itinerant Gallifreyan immediately recognises as “a Somerset accent”. Here then, at the very beginning of a story and of a season, the uncompromisingly parochial Williams micro-cosmos asserts itself substantially for the first time. One might even say it does so earlier in the opening scene when the Doctor irritably confronts the White Guardian who is dressed in colonial attire, replete with sun-hat, and seated in a cane chair in dire need of a veranda.

Then there is the setting of the planet Ribos: an extrapolation of 19th century Tsarist Russia complete with crown jewels, snow flurries and ushankas. The incoming companion Romana too has a faintly Russian-sounding name in full (sorry, can’t remember the spelling) and is wearing a Zhivago-esque white fur-collared outfit missing its own ushanka. The Russo-evocative setting is amplified too by suitably sombre organ music emphasising the gloomy wintriness of a planet steeped in backward tradition – so much so that its inhabitants are completely ignorant of life on other planets and that aliens are mingling casually among them. This planetary obliviousness is exploited to the full by Garron and his indeterminately aged, monkey-faced sidekick Unstoffe: together they attempt to manipulate the battle-weary Graff Vynda-K into buying Ribos from them for his new base where he might regroup his forces for a last stand against those who have usurped his Levithian crown. Garron and Unstoffe plant a lump of the adamantine Jethrik on Ribos in order to deceive the Graff into thinking the planet is rich in this, the most valuable mineral in the galaxy. Garron also claims the Ribans (note here how Holmes expertly avoids the semantic ease of calling the inhabitants Ribosians or even Ribons, instead opting for the slightly lateral variation of Ribans) are ignorant of Jethrik’s properties, not to mention reputation, and through a laboured elaboration improvised by a disguised Unstoffe, further lead the Graff to believe that the Ribans refer to the mineral as Scringestone, possession of which ensures “you’ll never get the scringes again” (Unstoffe). Though it is true the Ribans are unaware of the mineral’s true value.

But the honest-faced Unstoffe is later morally redeemed when his conscience is awoken to the ironic plight of the vagrant known as Binro the Heretic: his gift to this misunderstood genius who was persecuted for his theory of life on other planets is to tell him that he himself is from one of those distant stars – a truly moving scene. Equally emotive and harrowing is the Graff’s ultimate lapse into delusional paranoia on realising he has yet again been strategically out-manoeuvred by a typical Holmesian capitalist (also see the Collector in The Sunmakers, Rohm Dutt in The Power of Kroll and so on).

Otherwise The Ribos Operation is a fairly comical tale and one of the most uniquely static stories in the show’s cannon: there is virtually no action throughout the story and its impetus is almost entirely in the exceptionally colourful, detailed and lively dialogue between the writer’s proverbially caricature-style protagonists.

Detail is the word which springs to mind in summing up the strengths of The Ribos Operation – strengths which far outweigh its situational inertia and suspension of disbelief. Typical of Holmes’s imaginative genius, he teases us with hints of a planet with a rich history and geographical variation; more specifically in this case, he has the characters making geographically specific comments like “Are you from the North?” (to the Doctor); this is also to my mind the second and last time since The Keys of Marinus that a script has detailed an alien planet to such an extent that the concept of countries has surfaced: the events of this story are in the often-mentioned country of Shir (not sure about the spelling). Not since The Talons of Weng-Chiang with its allusions to an Icelandic Alliance, the Phillipeno Army’s final advance against Rejyavik, and the Peking Homunculus, has Holmes so vividly evoked a fictitious backdrop to his stories.

The Ribos Operation is not a classic Doctor Who story in the traditionally recognised sense – it lacks sufficient drama for a start. But it is a classic of its kind, that kind being of the dialogue-driven, stage-play style Doctor Who, an infectious medium in which the mind is gradually immersed in a trance of perfect escapism: a fictional scenario which feeds the intellect and puts all mundane preoccupations to sleep for a deeply rejuvenative period. And most of all, as previously mentioned, this story typifies Holmes’s gift at tantalising the imagination with half-sketched details never fully substantiated, which echoes of Hemingway’s theory of ‘omission’: that which is unstated strengthens the story and makes people feel something more than they have understood. This stimulating of the imagination was one of the vital functions series such as Doctor Who exemplified.





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Monday, 25 April 2005 - Reviewed by Joe Ford

There seems to be a general consensus that this was the weakest episode yet and while in some cases that is probably quite true, it also contained some of the best scenes from the series yet, scenes that knock anything from the first three episodes out of the pool. The series is still clearly trying to find its feet and trying new things all the time, sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t…I realise Doctor Who has been on screen for over fourty years and has tried many styles in the past and some of you might think it should KNOW what works and what doesn’t. But I’m sure you will agree Russell T Davies’ new series is unlike anything we have ever seen before and as such it is a new learning curve for him and the series and posting SACK RTD NOW!!! on the forum is rather pathetic and juvenile, written by ungrateful bastards who want the series to match what they envisage Doctor Who to be. They are probably the same people who slagged off Christopher Eccleston when they found out he was leaving just days after they were praising his performance to the high heavens.

I was perfectly willing to enjoy the farting, indeed it has been a staple of one of my other favourite shows, Farscape, with the hilarious Rygel expelling helium farts into the air during some particularly tense moments. The result is a juxtaposition of the frightening and the absurdly crude and wonderfully uncomfortable televison. Aliens of London didn’t quite get it right, not because the flatulence wasn’t a laugh (the Doctor’s “Excuse me, do you mind not farting while I’m trying to save the world?” was especially funny…and the look on his face!) but it did not occur in any scary scenes…it was just sort of there, with the trio of heifer nasties chortling away at how funny their out of control bottoms were. Unlike Farscape which is puerile with style…this was just sort of puerile. And the line Would you prefer silent but deadly? almost threatens to collapse the cliff-hanger moment and should have been cut.

But honestly are people willing to underrate this episode just because of a few seconds worth of farts? There was still so much to enjoy…

Domestic scenes in Doctor Who should be just awful? Turning our beloved show into a parody of Eastenders…how dare you Mr Davies, how dare you sir! But Davies is such a clever writer and he knows exactly what he is doing and by grounding the series in modern day London we get to return home to Mickey and Jackie every couple of episodes and see how much Rose has grown and how much her departure has affected everybody she cares for. It is a cracking dramatic device and when written as well as it is here Doctor Who can resemble Eastenders as much as it likes!

The teaser was predictable (Simon guessed straight away) but still wonderful; a terrific oh shit moment to hang the rest of the episode on. I adored Jackie in the first episode because despite some overdone acting on Camille Coduri she felt like a real person caught up in a freaky situation. Each subsequent appearance has seen both her character and the actress grow into the part to the point now where I found Jackie’s situation as compelling as Rose’s. Her performance was right on the nail throughout, first shock and relief to see her daughter safe, then vicious anger and blame for her disappearing without thinking about anyone else, then back to normal life (“Guess who asked me out!”) and then suddenly she is confronted with the truth about her daughters disappearance, a brief glimpse inside the TARDIS which turns her whole life upside down. Simon was boo-hissing her reaction to the mind-blowing spaceship, to grass him up to the police but to me it felt so very real, a mother trying to protect her daughter from something she doesn’t understand. Which is why Jackie deserved a slice of the cliffhanger frankly, because at this point the series (and especially this episode) is as much about her than it is about the Doctor and Rose and to finally be confronted with a deadly situation where it looks like she cannot escape is the next logical step for a character who has emerged into the Doctor Who world. And bizarrely, of triple barrelled cliffhanger, it was Jackie squeezed against her kitchen sideboard as the Slitheen approaches that I found most disturbing, not only because I really, really like her but because it is such a normal location for such a horrific scene to take place.

All this great work with Jackie is somewhat undermined as this was my least favourite week for Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor yet, despite some of his most Doctorish moments. People are moaning that he doesn’t convince entirely as the Doctor and that he comes across as a mainstream actor trying to play the Doctor, which is not always an unfair assessment. Some of his scenes in this story were fantastic (as seems to be his catchphrase) and totally convinced you that you were watching Doctor Who (his tinkering with the console, his angry “It was scared!” after the military shoot down the pig, his brilliant, excited reaction to being escorted to 10 Downing Street and his marvellous realisation at the climax that the whole thing is a trap) and yet in places I felt he was still finding his feet in the role and played the ‘normal guy’ role a bit too well to stick out as an alien from outer space (such as the scenes with him trying to watch the telly with all the family getting in the way…whatever happened to the Doctor who used to just storm into a crisis regardless?). His relationship with Rose is obviously vitally important and his casual Are you going to stay here now? hints at more fireworks to come in part two. Oh and I loved the sweet moment as he gave her the TARDIS key.

Billie is exceptional. She’s climbing the companion ranks with each passing episode. During Rose she was an exceptional, generic companion fulfilling the asking questions and wanting to leave her boring life role perfectly. But Davies and Piper keep adding layers each week that make her more and more interesting to follow. Aliens of London explores why Rose is the perfect companion for the Doctor, torn between her loved ones back home and her life of adventure on the TARDIS. This is new stuff for the series and another sign that the series is still growing up and has much to learn. Rose’s firm insistence that the Doctor doesn’t disappear and leave her proves she desperately wants to go with him and yet her emotional reaction to seeing her mum and boyfriend again reveals she still has ties to Earth. I sense top drama for episode two and that this story will look a whole lot healthier as one, hour and a half adventure. Billie and Clarke’s quiet moment at the TARDIS console, saying they missed each other is unexpectedly touching and serves to add much depth to Mickey’s character.

Want to know what my favourite moment in the whole series has been so far? That glorious moment when the spaceship crashes into the Thames of course! Fan-bloody-tastic! Not only does it look fabulous, with some giddying POV’s from the spaceship, and ultilise London’s recognisable locations with panache (is there anything as shocking in Doctor Who as when the spaceship smashes through Big Ben and then dive bombs into the Thames?) but it also kick starts a contemporary Earth alien invasion story the likes of which we all know and love and Russell would be hard pushed to get wrong. Honestly, if there was ever a moment to define the new series this gorgeous effects shot (complete with heart racing score) is the one and worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster to boot.

Cue mass panic as we see an alien incursion on a much bigger scale than we are used to. The plot is sneaky, throwing Rose’s domestic situation and a fake alien pig to distract from what is really going on. The pig is a marvellously embarrassing scene, almost grotesque in appearance and extremely comical as it zips along the corridor; it is suddenly twisted into a moment of great pathos as the Doctor reacts with total disgust at its death. Tom Baker would have laughed at the poor thing but Eccleston looks devastated at its horrific mistreatment.

All the build up to the cliffhanger was terrific with the mounting tension cranked up to a spectacular degree. It was marvellous how long he kept the danger going before finally cutting to the end music…with three plots taking place there are three cliffhangers for each of them, the editing quite superb as we cut back and forth between each with plenty of moments to leave it but the creepiness goes on for several minutes with l’ill Joe going cue music! about five times before it finally happened. Davies is playing around with our expectations and in a terribly fun way.

I shall certainly be tuning in next week, usually the set up is much more pleasing than the pay off but I feel the reverse will be true of Aliens of London and World War Three. This was a good hour of telly don’t get me wrong with more than enough to keep you glued but if they had turned down the farting and giving the Doctor a bit more to do I would have been more satisfied. The emotional aspect of the series has been cranked up to a new level and have a strong feeling that Rose’s dilemma and the alien invasion will be handled with considerable skill next week.

Flawed, but still containing some of the finest material we have seen yet.





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Monday, 25 April 2005 - Reviewed by Nick Peat

There are only a few things on this planet of ours that can be called truly faultless. Perfect. Beethoven's 3rd is perfect. Yoshi's Island on the Super Nintendo is perfect. Aliens of London is perfect.

This is a story that truly has it all - a brand-new monster (that is not only ingeniously-conceived, but truly threatening); an absolutely watertight script (which is a real rarity in Doctor Who... or any sci-fi programme); and a magnificent supporting cast.

Even before the credits roll, we see that this story will be unlike any of the others we have seen so far: Rose's mummy reacts to her daughter's disappearance exactly as we would (by slapping an alien...!); and the realism does not drop by one iota for the next 45 minutes (be it BBC News 24's reports; or the animatronic Andrew Marr's ears). Kudos also to whoever did the amazing 10 Downing Street sets - they deserve an OBE (Other Bugger's Efforts!!).

If only every new monster on the programme was as well-done as the Slitheen: with their disturbingly babyish faces (the childish-freakiness motif returning in Episodes 9 and 10) and their subtle malice.

With slick humour (barring the unforgivable flatulence), amazing acting from Messrs Eccleston, Clarke, Miss Piper et al, the unexpected (and delightful) reappearance of UNIT, and the new series' first true cliff-hanger (and oh, what a cracker: that one kept me guessing all week how they could possibly survive), it's more than clear that the Doctor is here to stay; and if during the repeats they cut the Next Time... montage from the cliff-hanger, we can rest easy: it'll last forever.

Mr Davies, I shall forever be grateful to you for this masterpiece. Thank you, sir. Thank you.





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Monday, 25 April 2005 - Reviewed by Geoff Wessel

Forget all the haters, this episode frickin' ruled it.

And dammit it's about time we saw several things in that episode.

Like, for example, what happens when a companion goes off with the Doctor and then comes back. In Rose Tyler's case, she accidentally comes back a YEAR after Rose. Oops. Jackie's filed missing persons reports and gone on a childsearch campaign, whereas Micky was at home heartbroken. Rose and the Doctor act like business as usual. Such is life in the TARDIS I guess.

The other thing I wanted to see was a PUBLIC alien landing. FINALLY. No coverups, no sleepy villages in the North of England, I wanted full-on raging BBC and CNN covered alien landing, and dammit I got one. FINALLY! YES! BBC splashed out the FX budget on this one, and Big Ben suffers for it! WHOOOOOO!!!

But wait! There's plots afoot. The Doctor determines the alien corpse pulled from the Thames is a fake! Specifically, a genetic chop-job on a pig. So is that ship a fake too? Yeah, probably. But are there real aliens?

Yes. At 10 Downing Street. The Slitheen have taken over the bodies of several key government members, and killed the (not Tony Blair) Prime Minister in the process. And BOY are they gassy.

Yes, there's a lot of fart-jokes in the episode. Not typical, pretty childish, but when you see the Slitheen for what they are, it makes sense, when they compress themselves into a human body. Because they're frickin' huge. And...babydoll-faced. Which is actually...a bit frightening really.

And look! Our first cliffhanger of the new series! And UNIT! WHEEEEE!!!

Yes, sorry, I love this series. No, wait. I'm not sorry for loving it. Not in the slightest.





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Monday, 25 April 2005 - Reviewed by Robert F.W. Smith

As I write, ‘World War Three’ has already aired. I have not seen it, and cannot until Friday, when I will watch the video I’ve 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 Eccleston’s performance in the role of Doctor Who really isn’t 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 BBC’s 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 RTD’s 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! It’s just that one or two of the things that fans in various forums have said come across as holier-than-thou. Why shouldn’t 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 don’t 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 Eccleston’s performance which ruined this episode for me. Here he puts the lid on it a bit, or perhaps I’m just getting used to him ( I heard the man himself say on BBC Radio 5 that in ‘Dalek’ he’s 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 I’ve read that he is the greatest writer, with the greatest credentials, in THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE!!!, and in part on his falling victim to ‘Tony’s 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. It’s 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 heaven’s sake! One thing it could certainly be accused of is possessing atmosphere: that, to me, is a bad thing. This week’s 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 don’t 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 (haven’t 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 RTD’s 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, I’m sure. But, to be honest… well, let me quote Russell’s own ‘Production Notes’ column in DWM: “But you promised us the Doctor!”; “Hate the Slitheen!”; and, most importantly, “RTD must go now!”.

D’oh!!!!





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Monday, 25 April 2005 - Reviewed by Gregg Allinson

Well, erm...how did that happen?

I suppose I'll start off with the positive: I loved the fact that, for once, we saw the real world consequences of somebody leaving their life behind to travel with the Doctor. We got a glimpse of this in Survival, but to the best of my recollection, it's never been dealt with to this degree in the series before. Rose's disappearance also added some dimensions to the previously one-dimensional Jackie and Mickey characters. Mickey, in particular, came off much better than he did in Rose. Instead of being Stock Jerk Boyfriend A (see also: Billy Zane in Titanic), who exists just to make the hero look good, he came off as a real person. I also enjoyed the Doctor's refusal to call him anything other than Ricky. Also, the TARDIS crew were in top form, as usual, with Eccleston making a commanding and compelling Doctor and Piper as the first companion to truly represent the viewing audience since...gosh, probably Ian and Barbara.

The Spacehog didn't phase me. Its passing was oddly tragic, and as a visual gag, it fit in fine with the strange humour of things like the original Doctor Who and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The farting, while it did grate after a while, wasn't horrific, as it was a plot point rather than a cheap gag (although there certainly were other more subtle, less scatalogical ways to indicate that these aliens don't quite fit their adopted bodies). I do, however, question the wisdom of having two back-to-back episodes featuring distinct gaseous alien races taking human form, but since RTD seems to ignore the very existence of The Unquiet Dead in his script, I suppose I should too. It's only the best episode of the new series thus far, but considering Aliens of London essentially picks up where End of the World left off, in contemporary London, and the script makes zero mention of the events of The Unquiet Dead even obliquely, it seems to have been quietly buried (no pun intended!).

All of the episode's sins are quite forgivable until the very end. The Slitheen, in a word, are a disaster. Poorly designed, poorly realised, and totally unconvincing, they rank alongside the likes of the Myrka and the Mestor. Their awkward, lurchy ambling is neither unsettling nor alien, and their big fake baby heads are laughable. Alien invasion episodes more or less live and die by how scary, cunning and powerful the aliens are. The Slitheen are giggling idiots whose faces look like babies. 'nuff said?

Finally, while I am glad that once again overt continuity was avoided, I did find it curious that the room of all the assembled alien experts didn't contain, say, Liz Shaw or Sarah Jane Smith. I wouldn't want to see a JN-T style story where the Doctor bumps into an old companion, and we're treated to a two minute clipfest for fans to mastubate to before the entire story descends into a batch of continuity references that go far and above the average viewer's head, but what would the harm of a brief, wordless cameo by Caroline John or Lis Sladen do? Obviously, they wouldn't recognize the Doctor due to his regeneration and the Doctor wouldn't recognize them because they've aged so much since he last saw them. It'd be a nice little bit of continuity, a nod to the fans, and wouldn't mean a thing to the general viewing audience (they'd just be one more face in the crowd). Ultimately, I suppose it wouldn't've meant anything, but I'd like to think in the Whoniverse of 2005 (or is that 2006?), Sarah Jane Smith and Liz Shaw would still be around and be considered two of the top authorities about aliens in the world.

While a second season has been confirmed, I still feel as if Doctor Who is at a critical stage, and needs to hold on to its thus far solid-to-spectacular ratings. If this were the third season of the new series and a fourth had been confirmed, I wouldn't be so worried about Aliens of London being a rather poor outing. But as the first traditional alien invasion storyline in the new series, it seems to have obliterated whatever goodwill and innovation the first three episodes built up in an effort to confirm old Doctor Who stereotypes to casual viewers (repetitive and silly storylines, cheap effects, etc.) While the Slitheen's horrifically awful realisation can't be fixed by this point, hopefully World War III will contain enough drama and innovation to restore some much-needed goodwill towards the series amongst the casual viewership. Any more episodes like this, and there might not be a TARDIS for David Tennent to step into.