Aliens Of London and World War Three
In his first two episodes, Russell T Davies gave us two distinct types of Doctor Who. There's the bawdy, silly, just-a-bit-of-fluff monster mash, and the emotional character-developer using sci-fi as a backdrop. Which do we get in Aliens Of London? Um...
In a couple of seconds Rose goes from having an exciting TARDIS-themed hobby to dealing with the consequences. It's not something Doctor Who used to think twice about, so it's absolutely ripe for a going-over. Come to mention it, yeah, it's a big deal when someone drops their entire life to travel with the Doctor; most of his past companions didn't end up back where they started either, meaning they pretty much vanished without explanation. Episode Four seems a bit soon to worry about all this, but it's a pleasant surprise to be thinking about it at all.
Having said that, it is a bit of an overreaction, if not on Jackie's part then on Davies'. Rose left the flat a couple of days ago to have an adventure, and thanks to a quirk of the TARDIS she's paying the price – but she hasn't actually done anything wrong. (Well okay, the way she did it, hanging up on Jackie and disdainfully ditching Mickey, left a lot to be desired. But that's just her natural, er, charm.) It's a curious double standard, that we should expand our horizons and see the universe, but not if it means actually leaving the house. Does Russell have issues about leaving home? What's so wrong with getting out there and doing stuff? So Rose went and got a life. The horror, the horror.
|He was acquitted of murder, but he'll always be guilty...|
Ah yes, the Slitheen. There's a lot to like about them: the fact that they're a family, not a species, because not every member of every race acts the same thankyouverymuch Star Trek; the way their plan plays on what you (and the Doctor) expect of an alien invasion, which wittily rewards any sci-fi fans in the audience; and the general creepiness of a bunch of aliens wearing human skins like lycra. I'm not so keen on their motive for blowing up the Earth, which just like Cassandra's is a boring bunch of dollar-signs. But it's probably supposed to be a reversal of the usual Today London Tomorrow The World schtick.
They work best when they go against convention. They even call the Doctor on his own flim-flam when he threatens to sonic some alcohol at them. "Your device will do what? You're making it up!" It's a bit risky making fun of the sonic screwdriver and its limitations, given the rubbish it's capable of doing, but hey, they're right.
Less good, though, all that farting. I said in my review for Rose that New Who feels awkwardly obligated to poke fun at itself (and that there were "worse bodily functions" – ah well), and that all goes a bit far in this one. From giggling at their own naughtiness to stopping and talking about the fact that they're farting, they seem determined not to be taken seriously, because who could take a bunch of green blobby aliens (or worse, fat people) seriously? Um... people who watch Doctor Who, perhaps? Their general disgustingness is played for laughs, but so is their murderous nature. Even their death is coupled with a comedy swearword. As for the unzipping effect, so unsettling at first, it's way overdone and eventually, yes, played for laughs. How many times do they need to get their kits off? And seriously – "literally hair-raising"?
|"Yes, Prime Minister, I see what you did there.|
Please stop explaining."
The second episode is more about hurriedly putting the plot to bed than carrying on the character development, but there's some there. We have a nice thread about Mickey and Jackie working together because, presumably, they're all they've got; the Doctor gradually overcoming his (random) dislike of Mickey, and eventually offering him a place on the TARDIS; and Jackie wanting to know if Rose can ever be safe if she travels with the Doctor. It's an understandable thing for a parent to worry about, but her request that Rose "always be safe" couldn't be granted even if Rose lived in a one-horse village and slept in a house made of pillows. It's probably meant to be hard-hitting that the Doctor leads a dangerous life, but isn't any life potentially dangerous? I know the Doctor's meant to be murkier than just some wonderful guy who's fun to be with, but Rose hasn't made any Faustian deals here – she's just seeing the world and helping people. The constant guilt-tripping doesn't compute for a show that's also trying to encourage a life of adventure.
Meanwhile, there's a lot of running through corridors (because apparently No. 10 Downing Street is massive), including some unwise Benny Hill-esque chase sequences, because apparently some of us didn't get the memo about this being comedy. And how could I forget some of the most hilariously terrible computer hacking ever put on screen? Mickey can, from his home computer and using one password (which is one word with no numbers, symbols or different cases, none of which asterisk out when he types them), launch a missile at Downing Street. It's easier than eBay. There's even a big red button marked FIRE! In a self-deprecating story about blobby green aliens that fart, it takes some doing to cross the line into unbelievability, and this bit does it with a pole-vault. (Rose's "ingenious" solution of surviving by hiding in a cupboard isn't much better. Oh, so the three-inch steel walls won't help, but wait until you see the cloakroom?)
|Junior School Under 7s Missile Survival Team.|
She got the Bronze.
Cast-wise, it's a strong one for the Doctor, although his possessiveness doesn't make much sense right next to his offering Mickey an olive branch. Mickey grows, despite some lingering slapstick tendencies. The Slitheen are all having tons of fun; it's not their fault the comedy's so broad. And Penelope Wilton is a constant highlight as bright spark Harriet Jones. Maybe it's her vague resemblance to Elisabeth Sladen, but she strikes me as a better and more useful Doctor Who companion than Rose could ever be. Shame we can't keep her.
It's unwieldy, and on a constant humour offensive that cannot help but miss half the time. But when it's funny, it's very funny; when it's thoughtful, it's refreshing. The good stuff's trapped inside a wacky, often annoying pantomime, but squint and you'll see it.