‘Doctor Who’ Reviews – Volume 9.2
The grumpiest Doctor and the chirpiest companion get into the swing of things!
Aliens of London & World War 3
The first of would become many multi-episode stories that the modern era of the Doctor would feature, keeping the serial nature of the original show alive and well. The show starts by addressing an interesting notion that comes about because of The Doctor’s terrible driving in that he returns one of his companions to their own life at the wrong time or place (not the first time, Sarah Jane was left in the wrong town). They arrive back in London and Rose heads home to see her mother, but the Doctor has miscalculated and dropped her back 12 months later instead of twelve hours. Not quick enough to stop her Rose is confronted by distraught family and friends and her boyfriend Mickey having been suspected of her disappearance.
If that wasn’t trouble enough an alien spacecraft crashes into the Thames, taking chunk of the Big Ben with it. With the Earth suddenly becoming aware of alien life forms all attention in on the center of London. The Prime Minister has gone missing, instead power rests with the Chairman of the Parliamentary Commission on the Monitoring of Sugar Standards in Exported Confectionery, now acting Prime Minister. As The Doctor soon uncovers the new rulers of Britain are a family of aliens called the Slitheen who have set up the crashing spaceship as a distraction while they seize power and set out to nuke the Earth in order to sell the resources to other races.
The Slitheen are a big part of these episodes, being the first double-part story of the new era that features big changes to the Doctor Who canon so the villains for the piece need to be something interesting. They have good and bad going for them. An alien race who are on Earth for criminal enterprises rather than conquest is a great concept to explore in a series dominated by invading alien races, and the fact that they’d infiltrated England’s power structure prior to the events of the episode makes it more interesting. What works less well in the alien design. Although they are set up as a great menace to the Earth this isn’t reflected in their appearance or animation, coming across as goofy and lacking articulation. The giant claws don’t make up for the fact that they look like puppets. Then there’s the farting. It doesn’t work either as comedy or a way of building suspense when it’s used to reveal a Slitheen in disguise.
The Slitheen aren’t the only new characters introduced in this episode. We also have Harriot Jones, backbench MP for Flydale North. At the outset she’s just comic relief, a bumbling character who inadvertently triggers some of the story’s reveals. Over the course of the two episodes she develops further to become a great foil to The Doctor and Rose, and she gets some great scenes to show her range. With the promise of things to come at the end of the story we get a great cap off to what seemed like a throwaway character.
As a two-part episode there’s plenty of good story and character to enjoy. It’s a shame that they didn’t have a more menacing villain to round it out with.
First issue with this episode – they should’ve changed the title. Given that the first act of the episode keeps the titular foe a mystery it’s foolish for the writers to give it away during the opening credits. It’s pretty clear that this episode would’ve been much stronger with the mystery kept intact until the Doctor himself discovers the identity of the alien but the viewer is deprived of would could’ve been a clever twist.
The episode begins with The Doctor and Rose landing on Earth a couple of years ahead of where Rose joined the adventure in a museum filled with artifacts from space including the arm of a Sliteen arm, a decayed Sea Devil (for the especially nerdy viewers) and the head of an early Cyberman. Whilst they are taking it all in a heavily armed security unit take them capture and they meet the owner of the private collection Henry van Statten, a reclusive billionaire who invented the internet and uses his massive wealth and influence to manipulate world politics. Curator of his collection – hidden in an underground bunker below Utah – is a young Brit named Adam Mitchell with whom Rose forms a connection. van Statten presents the prize of his collection, a living alien who he insists that the Doctor try and communicate with. Initially the Doctor intends to rescue the prisoner but becomes terrified when he learns that it’s a Dalek who survived the Time War.
While the Doctor is trying to convince the conceited van Statten that he must destroy the Dalek Rose is spending time with Adam, who she believes in a like-minded individual. Adam takes Rose down to see the Dalek and Rose, unaware of the dangerous nature of the Dalek, takes pity on the tortured alien and places her hand on it. The Dalek immediately absorbs the time energy Rose has carried from being in the TARDIS and manages to escape, draining all the power from the southwestern United States to begin an attack on the bunker.
What makes the episode interesting, apart from the return of the Doctor’s most deadly enemy, is the dynamic between the Doctor and the Dalek. Both are the sole survivors of the Time War and the last of their respective races. After losing his family and people to the war the Doctor’s response to the Dalek turns from fear to taunting when he finds that the Dalek is helpless. It’s an ugly side to the usually jovial character. This isn’t lost of the either Rose or the Dalek later in the episode when the Doctor attempts to destroy the Dalek who tells him that he’d “make a good Dalek” due to his determination to wipe out another race.
Eventually the Dalek finds that without it’s purpose, and only being able to survive by absorbing human DNA, it is sickened by it’s ongoing existence and asks Rose to give him the order to destroy himself. As they leave the Doctor remorsefully discusses being the ‘winner’ of the Time War as he is the only survivor. Before they leave Rose invites Adam to join them in the TARDIS and the three of them leave the collapsing museum.