Aliens of London/World War Three

This pair of episodes is utterly appalling. How they ever got made, let alone past the scripting stage is beyond me. There’s humor in flatulence if you’re five years old, but most of us manage to grow up and stop laughing at bodily functions. Watching “Aliens of London” and “World War 3″ makes me wonder just why exactly Russell Davies gets so much acclaim as ˜one of the best writers in television” when from the evidence I’ve seen (his work on the new Doctor Who) he’s clearly overrated. To be more specific, his writing typically has some superficial plot, combined with an over-emphasis on character and emotionalism, with loads of innuendo and juvenile humor thrown in. Some days he manages to restrain himself, as he does with the pretty enjoyable “Long Game”, but here in this combo of episodes, all the worst excesses of RTD’s version of Doctor Who are sadly on full display for all to see.

I don’t like to bash the program, or Russell Davies, or the creative team behind it. Doctor Who is my favorite show, and I’m willing to forgive quite a bit when it comes to writing or plotting or special effects. But while I’ve been on occasion bored with an episode, or amused by some low-budget effect, or aware of the show’s faults while still managing to enjoy it, I’ve never been angered by an episode before. It’s only a TV show, and really shouldn’t be worth my time to be angry about, yet when someone takes a program which I really enjoy, and turns out a show as bad as Aliens/WW3 turned out to be, it’s hard not to be angry that the writers and producers had the audacity to think that this passed for family entertainment, let alone a good episode of Doctor Who. Especially considering that I can’t watch it on TV and had to pay for the DVD set. I don’t really feel I got a good return for my time or money when it comes to these two episodes.

This story had so much potential to be good, since the basic plot is pretty sound. It starts out well enough, with Rose coming home to touch base, and the Doctor discovering that he’d gotten the date wrong and that Rose had been gone for a year. It’s the type of silly mistake that the Doctor would make, and feels right. Sadly, here the episode goes off the deep end with Rose’s mom slapping the Doctor as though we’re watching a tedious soap opera. To add insult to injury, the Doctor and Rose discuss it on the phone like a pair of lovesick teenagers whose parents don’t want them to date. Quite apart from the absurdity of a telephone in the TARDIS, this type of soap-opera garbage is not what I watch Doctor Who for.

Thankfully the episode takes a drastic upward turn with the spaceship crash, which looks outstanding. The public and news media reaction to it is extremely well portrayed, and the idea of the Doctor being forced to watch it on television like everyone else is amusing. Thankfully the Doctor can’t take it for long, and does what any self-respecting meddling Time Lord would do: take his TARDIS and go to see the alien body. The brain-augmented pig is actually a good concept, and rather sad. More good concepts include the mention and involvement of UNIT, and the security that is tripped when Jackie tries to report the Doctor to the alien hotline. The Doctor mugging for the camera is fun. As we are introduced to more characters, I find that Harriet Jones starts out as an irritating character and quickly becomes rather admirable.

Then of course, things go downhill again with the (disguised) appearance of the Slitheen, an alien race who look rather good, but are completely undermined by the fact that I am unable to take them seriously, and find them utterly embarrassing to watch. A particularly dire instance of this has to be the “I’m shaking my booty” scene. Doctor Who was once a drama that was taken seriously by all involved, but now we’re reduced to three overweight people passing gas and giggling. It’s absolutely puerile trash.

The cliffhanger was good. Our first cliffhanger of the new series, and it’s a triple threat! Sadly, as others have noted, it was rendered less than effective by the “Next time” trailer immediately after the cliffhanger. I see that they corrected that placement error for “The Empty Child”, so the error was realized.

The poorly titled “World War 3” is nothing of the sort, with one missile being fired, and the Slitheen’s plans being revealed. There are some more good concepts in this episode, including the idea that Slitheen is a family name rather than a race, and that the spaceship crash was meant to be spectacular, since it was an attention-grabbing spectacle. The Doctor’s trick with the alcohol is amusing and in character, and the fact that the aliens figure it out after a few minutes is also good. The denouement, where Mickey hacks into the website and launches a missile is fine on the surface, given that the Doctor is guiding him, but it’s let down by a silly password (that works on all security levels) and the idea that an internet site allows a missile to be launched. Thankfully the Slitheen are incinerated. We’re then treated to more irritating domestic scenes with Jackie and Rose, though the Doctor/Mickey scene while waiting for Rose is quite good actually. The Doctor actually acts in character and allows Mickey to save face. I was impressed.

I have to discuss the Doctor’s portrayal. Generally Eccleston and the writers get his character right, though the continued rudeness is certainly overplayed. The Doctor’s “winding up” of Mickey for most of the story isn’t alien, its petulant teenager, jealous over Rose. It’s pathetic. And of course, the Doctor gets the two most cringe worthy lines of the episodes. “Would you mind not farting while I’m saving the world” being pretty bad, topped only by “I could save the world but lose you”, which is the sort of wildly unrealistic expression of sentiment that eighth graders think people in love say to each other, but is totally out of character for the Doctor.

The politics of the story (WMD ready to go in 45 mins, etc.) are the typical left-wing “Bush/Blair lied” variety, and as such I can’t take them seriously. Thankfully, unlike “Boom Town” where the politics are the story, here’s they’re inspiration for the Slitheen’s methods, and don’t overwhelm the drama with preachiness.

I’ve complained before about the high degree of sexual innuendo that has been added to Doctor Who, which has been very much to its detriment. “Aliens of London” contains the one instance I can think of where mentioning it seems appropriate and subtly played, and that’s in the scene where the policeman is interviewing the Doctor and Rose. Contrast that with Oliver’s rather crass comment about the wife, mistress and young farmer, which is crude in the extreme. It’s little wonder this element of the new show continually leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

In the final analysis, it boils down to this: a passable story ruined by bad characterization, juvenile giggles over flatulence and nudity, and domestic tedium when we could be seeing the universe. I can’t recall having actually been embarrassed to be a Doctor Who fan before, but this episode has accomplished that. A red letter day to be sure. 4 out of 10, and I’m giving generous marks for the visuals and some good ideas, which are almost drowned by the dross surrounding them.

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Posted in 9th Doctor - Christopher Eccleston

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