1.4 & 1.5 – “Aliens Of London”/”World War Three”

DW Series 1 - Aliens Of London

The Doctor brings Rose home, in order to show her that she can be gone for weeks, yet return seemingly moments after first departing. But this being The Doctor, rather than arriving home “just twelve hours” after they left, something goes awry and they return twelve months later. Whilst Rose is busy dealing with the consequences of her “disappearance”, a spaceship crashes into Big Ben and The Doctor and co are forced to take on the Slitheen – an alien family, intent on starting a Third World War, then selling the Earth for scrap. Charming!

If overdone fart jokes are your thing, then this is the two-part story for you! If not…yeah, it might not be your lucky day.

Let’s go for the good points first, shall we?

One thing I particularly love about New Who is the occasional focus on periphery characters left behind when The Doctor and his companions go off on their adventures. In “Aliens Of London”, we discover that The Doctor’s plan to bring Rose home after only twelve hours away has failed and she has returned a whole year after leaving with him. This gives us a chance to see how her family and friends dealt with her sudden, unexplained disappearance. It’s easy to get excited about travelling through time and space without a care in the world, but this is the first time we really get to consider how doing so affects those left to plod through their day-to-day lives without their loved one. Jackie Tyler is understandably furious and demands to know where her daughter has been. Rose’s vague answers get short shrift from her mum and we see some of the emotional fallout The Doctor inevitably leaves in his wake. It’s interesting to watch and it’s done rather well by all concerned; we even discover that poor Mickey has been under suspicion of Rose’s murder whilst she has been gone, but that he has valiantly refused to give away the secret of where she is and who with. The scenes involving Rose’s year-long absence and the consequences of it are emotive ones, as Jackie, Mickey and Rose try to come to grips with what’s really going on.

By the end of “World War Three”, Jackie has learnt the truth about The Doctor and has witnessed his efforts to save humanity from certain destruction. In spite of his heroics, she harbours resentment for the fact that he has taken her daughter away from her and is putting Rose in danger. It’s a plotline very much rooted in reality – what mother wouldn’t be freaked out about her only child disappearing with a 900 year old alien who has a habit of risking death on a daily basis?! I like that the show tackles the issue and Rose having strong family ties back on Earth makes the series seem grounded, providing opportunities for emotional development in all of the central characters.

Another thing I quite enjoyed about these episodes was the portrayal of Harriet Jones MP (for Flydale North, no less) by Penelope Wilton. Her character is feisty, determined and really quite brave in the face of an alien invasion. Okay, so the constant introducing of herself might grate after a while, but she’s someone proving herself to be an old-fashioned “goodie” over the course of the double bill and she’s doing her bit to help The Doctor save the day. She also has a chance to grow and develop over time; when we next meet her in “The Christmas Invasion”, she is Prime Minister and we get to see how doing that job has taken its toll on her usually fair and peaceful persona. I may be in a minority, but I actually wish we’d seen more of her. It was also nice to see UNIT and to have a nod to the classic series, when Eccleston’s Doctor informs Rose that he once worked with the team but “they wouldn’t recognise me, now.”

So…I like those things about these episodes. I guess now we have to have a look at some of the things I like a lot less.

Let me start with the zips. Each member of the Slitheen family is able to kill a human and wear its skin. They step out of the skin by undoing a zip in the forehead, shrugging the skin off and revealing their true form. The first time you see it, it’s quite freaky and unnerving. The trouble is this “big reveal” moment is revealed far too many times during the two parts. You feel as though you’ve seen the “zip moment” so often that it’s ceased to be scary and become frankly irritating. It’s less “quick, hide behind the sofa!” and more “This? AGAIN?!”

And then there’s the farting (believe me, that’s not a sentence I expected to write when I was first asked to contribute reviews for this site). According to the Slitheen, compressing their large bodies into a human skin involves a gas exchange that causes extreme flatulence. Which would be funny if I was five years old. Call me humourless, but do we really need fart jokes in Doctor Who? What next, a Dalek with chronic diarrhoea? A Cyberman with erectile dysfunction?!

And yes, yes, I know the Slitheen – and indeed, the whole story – was meant to be a loving pastiche of the classic series. But in my eyes, it doesn’t entirely work as such. Perhaps it does at first, but not after the ninety six millionth reveal of the zip in the bloody forehead. And again, yes I know the fart jokes were supposed to be a clever little reference to politicians being full of shit. But someone needs to tell the writers that a joke stops being funny if you tell it ten times in a row.

This two-part story is something of a mixed bag for me. I loved the exploration of Rose’s “disappearance” and how her loved ones back home coped in her absence. I liked some of the characters we were introduced to and, on the whole, the idea of aliens wanting the planet to rip itself apart in war so that they could sell the leftovers as scrap is quite an intriguing one. Unfortunately, they tried too hard to make it witty and as a result, the whole thing just felt overdone. It needed to be taken out of the oven a good half an hour earlier than it was. It’s a pretty average 6/10 from me.

Written and edited by Emma Tofi


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