Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Doctor Who: Aliens of London / World War Three

Aliens of London

“I’m shaking my booty!”

We begin with another reprise, this time of Rose, and the TARDIS arrives back in the Powell Estate. And… Rose has been gone a whole year. Oops. That’s quite a pre-titles sequence.

Hang on, what’s that the little kid is writing on the side of the TARDIS with is spray can? Never mind. This whole set-up is great: once more RTD finally does something that’s never been done before but must have been speculated about by the viewers. In exploring the consequences of travelling with the Doctor on those left behind RTD once more deconstructs the Doctor / companion relationship, to brilliant effect. There are some funny moments- Jackie slapping the Doctor; the Doctor and Rose replying “NO!” in unison as the policeman asks if they’re in a sexual relationship- but these moments are needed to prevent things getting too dark. Because for Jackie things really have been horrible, and Rose really is very uncaring to her mother. Both these things are wisely kept subtle but they’re there.

Things then slow down a bit as Rose and the Doctor go outside for a chat. They start getting all philosophical, and the Doctor casually mentions he’s 900 years old (he’s lost at least 53 years since Time and the Rani, then). But just as Rose is musing on how no one else around her knows that spaceships exist, a bloody great big one proceeds to crash land above them, in the most dramatic way possible. So what should the Doctor and Rose do but watch it on telly, just as we‘re doing? I love it when things get all postmodern.

The montage we get of different TV programmes (including Blue Peter!) and their reaction to the events is another superb touch, and yet another example of both RTD’s effortless grasp of things you can do with the narrative in television and the much greater degree of TV literacy viewers are credited with compared to earlier eras. Plus, we get Andrew Marr as himself, and he’s great.

On a less positive note, RTD clearly has a rubbish grasp of how British politics works, something I’ll be whinging about quite a bit as I’m a bit of a politics junkie, but this time round it doesn’t loom as large as it did at the time, and I think I may have overreacted originally. But there’s no denying it’s absurd for a parliamentary committee chief on sugar standards or whatever- and thus a backbencher- to suddenly become Acting Prime Minister just because the Cabinet are all conveniently outside London.

The Doctor goes for a wander, but to reassure Rose he gives Rose a TARDIS key of her own; big moment, that. He sneaks off to the TARDIS, where Mickey (who no one’s bothered to tell) spots him…

We meet the tenacious, decent and dull (in a good way) member for Flydale North, with her commendable continued interest in the kind of boring details that proper politics is all about in the face of a ruddy great spaceship that’s just landed in London. And it’s through her eyes that we see something is very strange in Downing Street.

The Doctor, meanwhile, lands near the place where the alien has been taken to, and discusses things with one “Dr Sato”. They don’t tell us what her first name is. I’m guessing something like Toshiko.

Bizarrely, the alien turns out to be a cute little piggy- something which just seemed tonally wrong at the time but no longer does. Perhaps I’m more used to RTD’s style. Even more bizarrely, the whole thing turns out to be a joke, an alien hoax concocted by aliens. And if that’s not enough to tell us that the baddies in this story are very silly aliens, we see our three obvious baddies behaving in a most silly fashion.

Mickey’s shocked to see Rose; no one bothered to tell him that she’s back. Worse, he’s spent the last year being thought of as Rose’s murderer; the character was a buffoon in Rose but now he’s suddenly a very sympathetic figure, a casual victim of the Doctor’s and Rose’s lifestyle who’s genuinely suffered in their wake.

The Doctor returns in the TARDIS- and Jackie sees. Oops. Jackie can’t take this, or the shock of the TARDIS interior, and just runs away, her whole world falling apart. Once back inside she reports the Doctor as an alien- and all sorts of alarms go off. The Doctor is a known figure.

We’ve not had much in the way of explicit continuity from previous series thus far, but here we get a mention of UNIT! And Mickey’s been looking up the Doctor online; there are an awful lot of myths and legends that have built up about him. For the first time in the “new” series, we get explicit acknowledgement of previous incarnations.

Troops surround the Doctor and Rose and they’re put into the back of a police car. But they’re not being arrested but rather conscripted; the Doctor is able to smugly inform Rose that he’s well known in government circles as an expert on alien invasions. And that “Lloyd George used to drink me under the table.”

Unfortunately, it’s a trap, set by the aliens, and we get an excellent triple cliffhanger, with aliens- Slitheen- also advancing on both Rose and Jackie…

World War Three

“I need to be naked!”

“Rejoice in it. Your body is magnificent!”

The Doctor saves the day- but unfortunately one of the Slitheen is disguised as someone who seems to be accepted as Prime Minister for some reason; all the forces at the state’s disposal are now out to get the Doctor. Still, he’s brilliant, and manages to manoeuvre himself into the Cabinet Room with Rose and Harriet Jones.

Apparently “Slitheen” is the aliens’ surname, not their species- nice bit of wrong-footing there. And it’s not an invasion, just a family business who somehow wants to make money.

Nice conversation between Jackie and Mickey. It’s hard to argue with Mickey when he says that “This is what he does, that Doctor. Everywhere he goes- death and destruction.” It’s also nice that he bonds with Jackie, sort of (You saved my life. God, that’s embarrassing.”

The bit with the nuclear codes being held by the UN drove me mad with its implausibility when this was originally shown. I’ve now seen Robot, so I understand it’s a nod to continuity (and by far the biggest so far), but in isolation it’s quite absurd that a nuclear power should give up its arsenal so easily, and here it’s far more than the throwaway line than it was in Robot, and no longer supposedly in a “near future” to boot. Even so, it didn’t annoy me so much this time.

It’s great to see that, after his portrayal in Rose, we now see a different side of Mickey, with the trapped Doctor and Rose suddenly reliant on his computer hacking skills. He could get into trouble for that if he’s not careful. And it’s a great moment when Jackie asks the Doctor “Is my daughter safe?” and he can’t answer.

Probably the heart of the episode is the Slitheen attacking Mickey and Jackie while the Doctor “narrows it down”. It seems the Slitheen are from the planet Raxacoricofallapatorius and vulnerable to vinegar.

The line from the “Prime Minister” about “massive weapons of destruction, capable of being deployed within 45 seconds” is even funnier now than it was then, and shows how you can get away with a lot more satirically in a drama if you include elements of the fantastic.

Mickey, of course, saves the world at the climax, guiding the missile which destroys the Slitheen (“Oh, boll…”). And the episode concludes with the Doctor actually inviting him aboard the TARDIS. The offer is turned down, of course, but it’s a nice bit of character development.

Jackie is finally forced to accept the Doctor, if only because she fears losing contact with her daughter if she doesn’t. But the Doctor refuses to stay and have a meal, as though he’s somehow afraid of domesticity. This is an interesting part of the Doctor’s character; this Doctor wouldn’t have cooked supper at the end of Battlefield.

I’m rather surprised to be rating this two-parter a 5/5 after not liking it way back when, but perhaps I’m lightening up a bit in my old(er) age. Once again RTD has a good play with the fundamental building blocks of the series, and it’s great.

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