Doctor Who – The Aliens of London Review (or “Flawed, But The Best Of The New Season So Far”)

We’ve seen the introduction, we’ve been to the future and we’ve gone back to the past.

So what other firsts has Modern Doctor Who got to do?

Well how about a cliffhanger?

The two-part story, The Aliens of London & World War III brings The Doctor and Rose back to modern-day Earth…well, almost.

And unlike the backstreet Autons, this appears to be a full on First Contact.

Doctor Who – The Aliens of London & World War III Review: What’s This One About?

Misjudging their return to Rose’s estate, the TARDIS lands back in London a full 12 months after they left, just in time to see a Spaceship crash-land into the Thames.

But all that is, is a diversion for the real alien invasion that’s already happened, as a family of giant green monsters plan on starting a nuclear war so they can sell off the Earth for scrap.

Thoughts – A Mixture of Good and Bad

First thing’s first; without question, this is the best Modern Who story that we’ve seen so far. While the first two were more introductory affairs and the third was perfectly acceptable, this two-part story has enough about it to comfortably be

Look at those extras - they are barely to stop smiling!

Look at those extras – they are barely to stop smiling!

the best written and entertaining of the six episodes transmitted.

But it’s far from perfect.

In amongst some great storytelling, snappy dialogue, drama and character development, there are also some glaring inconsistencies, repetitiveness, dodgy acting, a bad cliffhanger, an even worse cliffhanger resolution and childishness.

So let’s go through the bad first of all…

The Inconsistencies

Only two episodes earlier, it was established that Rose had a phone that could reach her mum anywhere in the universe from her own personal timeline. So, while she phoned her from 5 billion years in the future, she managed to get hold of Jackie a mere matters of hours after the time she left.

Trying to write this in a way that makes sense is difficult, but if you get my drift, if I leave my house at noon and five hours later phone home, the phone call will arrive at 5pm. So if I went 5 billion years into the future, if I phoned home 5 hours after I left at noon, it would be 5pm at home. Right? Cos that’s the only way to explain that scene from The End of the World.

So in theory, what would happen if Rose phoned home from 12 month’s in Jackie’s future, but only 12 hours into her own? When would the phone call actually come in?

See what I mean? It’s bizarre. Had the phone call scene not happened, then this wouldn’t be an issue for me, but it is.

But if you analyse all of RTD’s stories, it looks like maintaining consistency of continuity is a mild problem. He slips in a line here about Harriet Jones becoming a three-term Prime Minister, and yet she loses her job a few months later and then is killed soon after that. I know history can be rewritten by the laws of Doctor Who, but I’m not even sure if it’s mentioned again.

Repetitiveness

The amount of time the Slitheen get in and out of their human costumes in Episode Two is ridiculous. Within the confines of the narrative, it doesn’t make sense and just adds unnecessary time on to the story.

Don't just stand there watching the alien struggling to very slowly get out of her costume, RUN!!

Don’t just stand there watching the alien struggling to very slowly get out of her costume, RUN!!

I suspect the real reason for why it happens is that for the purposes of moving the plot along and keeping dialogue clear & understood, and I suppose to allow the actors to actually act, it was better for the likes of the acting Prime Minister and General Asquith to be speaking the lines in person rather than as CGI monsters with voice overs

Hey-ho.

The Cliffhanger – Boy Do They Lay It On Thick

Here we have the first cliffhanger of the new series, so I’m sure the plan was for it to be a big one; a memorable one.

And boy did they lay it on thick. There wasn’t just one “How will they get out of that” scenario, nor even two; but there were three sets of characters standing frozen while the Slitheen unmasked.

That was too much.

Moreover, I don’t think it was done all that well either. I mean, in terms of special effects it was fine, but in execution it was three different Slitheen very slowly removing their costume while people just stood around watching and waiting. Even the acting Prime Minister seemed to be running himself into the ground by laughing so continuously while his mate unmasked.

So it was all too much, and then to make matters worse, and in a move that I think even the production team immediately realised was totally stupid, they drained every ounce of drama it created by showing a Next Time trailer that shows that everyone gets out of it alive.

Silly RTD.

The Childishness & The Dodgy Acting

In some ways these go hand in hand.

But before I say how they do, I’ll start by saying that the reporter who came away with lines like “Today might see (this brave new world) end” was far too melodramatic for my tastes, while Andrew Marr was clearly “acting” rather than

Nobody ever listens to The Admiral

Nobody ever listens to The Admiral

presenting an appearance reflective of the situation. He could barely suppress a smile.

As to the childishness? Well in the first episode, Mickey is written too clown-like to be taken seriously, though they tone that down and make him a far better character in the second.

But really, I’m talking – as you might have guessed – about the farting stuff. Now yes, it’s explained away well enough, but it’s infantile and so the characters that do the farting come across like they are hamming it up for kids TV.

Now sure, it probably served a purpose well enough to establish Doctor Who as being something for everything, but the key there is “something”, not “everything”. As an adult, I didn’t find it amusing. Not embarrassing either, but certainly not amusing.

The Good Parts

It’s certainly easier to be more specific about your thoughts when you are picking faults in something, and I don’t want you as a reader to think I didn’t enjoy this story, because I did.

Indeed, for all the faults that I’ve highlighted above, I think it’s a very well put together story.

There is, as I say, genuine drama, especially towards the end when Jackie is confronted with the reality of the situation her daughter is in, and though marred by the stupidity of the Magic Mobile, that a Doctor Who writer finally addresses the situation of how people react to their loved ones just vanishing off the face of the Earth when they leave in the TARDIS is fantastic.

Moreover, the acting of the likes of Christopher Eccleston – who let’s not forget is now six for six in terms of good performances, immediately making him the best Doctor since Tom Baker – as well as Billie Piper, Camile Coduri, Noel Clark (in Episode Two) and Penelope Wilton is superb.

Even the female Slitheen – in amongst a selection of over the top childish scenes – shines in that confrontation with the Doctor where that little bit of doubt creeps into her mind when he says he’s going to stop her.

There’s good humour too, with lines like “How would I know (if I have vinegar)?” “It’s your kitchen”, the bit where Mickey asks if the Doctor gets the Sports Channels and the scene where Mickey stops to take a photo of the Slitheen on his phone providing genuine laughs.

And then of course we have the scale of it. Great location work, the audacity to bring the fantasy of Doctor Who into a more grounded reality by having the Space Ship crashing into Big Ben and the sheer amount of extras – it all just makes the show seem far slicker than it ever has before.

Character Development

Most of all though, it works because it continues to expand the characters. Look at any Doctor Who companion from the Classic Era as far back as the mid 70s and you just won’t find one with any sort of character that has been developed (if they even have one at all). Ian & Barbara and Jo Grant are among the only ones to really develop from the time they joined the show to when they left our screens. You take a character like Nyssa or Peri and you just see a “Doctor Who Girl”, written as an outline rather than as a real person. Nothing seems to faze them and nor does it change them.

But I feel that Rose continues to develop even in the short space of time we’ve seen her. We understand her background, we know about her family dynamic and we watch her grow more confident and assured by being around the Doctor, who

Oh shut up you melodramatic tosser

Oh shut up you melodramatic tosser

also in turn develops as well.

And I think that’s the biggest thing about RTD’s writing; though Doctor Who is a concept that could take you anywhere or do anything, the key is – or at least can be – in the relationships between the characters.

Some might not like that but I do, and I think it’s a necessary part of any TV show made in the era where people can watch the show again and again. Maybe it wasn’t too important in the time before VHS where you’d watch a show and never expect to see it again or feel the need to track the development of these characters, but now it is, and RTD does it very well.

Random Observations

  • How come the Policeman Slitheen actually has a zip on his head when none of the other ones do? That just looks stupid.
  • I’m not entirely sure if the pig is wonderful or terrible in its design. It looks like a pig, but it also just looks fake.
  • Oh, there’s another Bad Wolf reference positioned to get our attention. “I wonder where that’s going?”, thought Stuart of 2005.
  • In 2005, were we really so relaxed about password safety that it seemed ok to have the password to a secret military establishment being “Buffalo?” Watching it now that just comes across as incredible.
  • Of course, the most unrealistic thing about the whole story is not the aliens, the space ships or pig, but rather that Mickey was able to send a picture over his phone by MMS in 2005. Any time I ever tried that I got a “Message Send Failed” alert.
  • Was hiding the dead Prime Minister in the cupboard not a risk?
  • Here’s something that doesn’t make sense; how come the Slitheen when out of their costumes have the same voices as the characters they played while in costume? And did the one who changed to take the costume of the General change his voice too I wonder?
  • Oh yeah, the “skin” left in the cupboard looked like a rubber outfit. Probably because it was.
  • And I know the BBC are good, but surely even they would struggle to immediately identify the likes of the Chairman of the North Sea Boating Club and tell Andrew Marr about it?
  • It’s the debut of the American News Anchorwoman. Let’s see how often she turns up.
  • The big rumour is that The Slitheen, being fat and obnoxious are allegedly named after Super-Fan, Ian Levine. Lolz.
  • DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #132

Doctor Who – The Aliens of London & World War Three Review: Final Thoughts

So it has its faults, that cannot be denied.

But for all those faults there’s a hell of a lot good with this story and it is – in my opinion – of a higher standard than we’ve seen in any of the other efforts this season.

So that rating of #132 is strange as far as I’m concerned.

I expect that Doctor Who fans voting on it might have been left with a lasting impression of it seeming a bit childish thanks to the farting stuff, but that’s only a small element.

To me this brings drama, scale and excitement to Doctor Who, and it’s worth praising it for.

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5 Responses to Doctor Who – The Aliens of London Review (or “Flawed, But The Best Of The New Season So Far”)

  1. Perry Armstrong says:

    I thought the ‘compression technology’ enabling large beings to fit into smaller ‘human suits’ was a hoot; which also had the effect of (retrospectively) enhancing my enjoyment of classic DW stories such as ‘Leisure Hive’ and films such as MIB 😉

  2. Bill says:

    Here’s a mild inconsistency; when the Doctor asks what the dead Indra Ganesh’s name is and Harriet says she doesn’t know. …. Ganesh is wearing an ID tag on his lapel when he gets killed, I think he still has it on. Just read his tag, Doctor.

  3. Rob says:

    Yes. This story is hugely underrated. I guess people just remembered the farting when they ranked it and didn’t remember how much depth it gave the show.

  4. GJ says:

    Six for six? These are episodes four and five though, right?

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