1. Aliens of London
  2. World War Three
Aliens of London/World War Three

Story No. 164 and 165 Shake that booty
Production Code Series One Episodes Four and Five
Dates April 16 and 23, 2005

With Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper,
Camille Coduri, Noel Clarke Written by Russell T. Davis Directed by Keith Boak.
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner, Mal Young.

Synopsis: Aliens are here, among us. What a gas!


On the Button by Mike Morris 6/5/05

The annoying thing about this double-whammy - the first two-parter of the series - is that the overwhelming majority of its faults are superficial, but seem calculated to irritate as much as they can. It's possible, for example, that Aliens of London will be forever known as The One With The Farting Aliens, even though that's hardly a major story element. It's easy to let niggles like this detract from an inventive, clever and rather frightening story, and it's a shame. A few production decisions and the odd bad joke aside, Aliens of London is a cracking set-up; the follow-up, World War Three, has a more serious deficiency in that its plot is stretched very thin (something of an oddity in this season), but still manages to be thought-provoking and genuinely moving. Watching the two in a single sitting provides a slightly different perspective on a thoughtful but funny story, let down by a few badly misjudged details.

What makes AoL/WW3 (my shorthand for the overall serial; RTD clearly wants to recreate those Dead Planet/Mutants/Daleks arguments amongst fandom) so frightening - and it is frightening, not in a cover-your-eyes behind-the-sofa way, but in a ugh-that's-disturbing way - is its simplicity. The plot dangles plenty of red herrings and wows us with spectacular set-pieces, but these are clever window-dressing that disguise the sheer obviousness of what's going on. And they succeed, insofar as Aliens of London appears to be depicting a massive, large-scale story, but World War Three neatly counterpoints most of our best guesses in revealing the truly disturbing truth. Disturbing because - and this is the nub of the matter - the Slitheen are able to execute their plan with such ridiculous and plausible ease. Their true aims and means are a Doctor Who staple, charged with some political backbiting (of which more anon), but what's genuinely terrifying is how they can destroy humanity just by getting control of one building. Say that again; one building. Much of this story's self-vaunted contemporariness (ugh, there's an ugly word) is actually rather awkward, but it does have a lot to say about the world we live in.

At its core, this is finger-on-the-button stuff. This was two-a-penny back in the last century, when the world was really, really scared that someone would hit the big red detonate button instead of the little black air-conditioning one and boom, it's all over. I remember being young and being incredibly conscious of this; being genuinely frightened of The Bomb. It's hard to explain to people even a few years younger than me who just don't remember the Reagan presidency, but dammit, I thought the world might end tomorrow, courtesy of those weird commies in the East - now if I'd been alive for the Cuban Missile Crisis, I'd have been a nervous wreck.

Today, we live in a world that's under a similar threat, and busily pretend we're not. This isn't a rant about how we're facing terrorism without limit and Al-Qaeda - the issue is how we're reacting to them, and it's this bomb-it-before-it-bombs-us-with-non-existent-weapons that AoL/WW3 taps into. This is a story of the world being hijacked by some crazy idiots with nothing more than a modified pig and some disguises to help them - they rely upon our panic. And it works. And that is bloody frightening.

The other condition the story taps into is incompetence, which is as dangerous in its own way. Aol/WW3 reminded me of something I saw on the Mark Thomas Comedy Product (a sadly defunct political comedy programme on Channel 4, a bit like Michael Moore but less punchable), when Thomas discovered that nuclear waste was being carried around Britain, completely unprotected, in trains. He rang up some bigwig about this and pointedly asked what would happen if some poor, crazy apocalypse lunatic with a gun got on board, killed the driver and crashed the train full-speed in the heart of London. There was bewildered silence, and then came the response - "but... but anyone who did that would have to be stark raving mad!" And that's a summation of where we are; scared and ignorant, like we were in the Cold War. But the difference is that we no longer believe that our authorities know what they're doing. In fact, we assume that they're bloody stupid - we're talking about ministers (in the UK) who think ID cards would be an effective anti-terrorism measure, we're talking about ministers (in Ireland) who are asked what would be done in the case of a nuclear emergency and answer that they will send out iodine tablets to everyone within two weeks (yes, really). Watching the Slitheen infiltrate Downing Street is based largely on our knowledge of this incompetence; it's remarkably easy to believe that the Prime Minister can vanish and no-one will even go and look for him, it's even easier to swallow that the rest of the Cabinet can't help out because they're stuck in traffic, and it's ridiculously believable that, on top of all this, the guy left running the show is ostensibly a fat farting idiot who's previously dealt with sugar standards.

The setup episode is the tightest plot yet; a whacking great spaceship winging Big Ben, a truly magnificent subplot regarding the ship's pilot (with an oddly moving conclusion), a very clever opening, and PEOPLE WITH ZIPS IN THEIR HEADS THEY'VE GOT ZIPS IN THEIR HEADS NEW UNDERPANTS PLEASE. The initial forehead-opening scene is really, really frightening, and the triple-whammy cliffhanger is wonderfully crafted; clever editing manages to stop this five-minute climax dragging, and the notion of a Slitheen suddenly appearing in someone's kitchen is very unsettling. An unpretentious story of nasty aliens invading, then.


But watching that Big Ben clip again, with the knowledge of where the story's going, it's far more than a big set piece. A spaceship crashes into Big Ben; cool! It looks great! But suppose you express it this way - a huge glorified aeroplane is deliberately piloted into an iconic tall building in a major Western city, and the world immediately goes into mass panic, just as intended. Oh, and the leader of the country is nowhere to be found. Stop me if you've heard this one before. Later, for those of us who've noticed how Iraq's being carved up between various private companies and wonder if the presence of oil might just have been a factor in the decision to go in there, we might listen to the Slitheen's plans for earth and see if we can detect any resonance.

That shouldn't fool us into thinking we're watching an "allegory" or a "satire" here, and nor should we be. This is still a kid's show about great big aliens who dress themselves up as fat people, and I find that immensely preferable. I'm not particularly engaged by allegory anyway, as I find a direct essay on something far more satisfying than a story derived from it to make points in a more clever-clever way. But what this story does is tap into contemporary events and fears, and use them to infuse the story with precedence and direction. I've already used the words "believable" and "plausible", and in spite of some of its sillier scenes the story is just that - because it's derived from the truth. Which is why all stories work, really, even ones about pigs in space. The more obvious digs at the Iraq invasion are either engagingly cheeky - "massive weapons of destruction" indeed - or irritatingly glib, such as when Rose says "they believed 'em last time" and then promptly changes the subject. As someone who found the invasion of Iraq depressing, tragic, horrifying and sickening, and all the rest, I should be the type who likes these jokes. I don't. Great big bombing campaigns are serious subjects. If you're going to make points about how you don't agree with them, well take the time to make them properly. Getting in an offhand dig and then moving on is just bloody cheap, and seems to suggest that you either don't care enough or don't know enough to justify your argument.

But the kid's show with wider, more general points to make about society is wonderful. Some of the kiddier elements that irritate (these are those niggles I mentioned); the start of World War Three is massively disappointing, consisting as it does of a long series of chases through Downing Street - given how rushed some of the other stories have been, it's odd that this one is actually so thin on plot. And the humour can be dreadful; Mickey's pratfall when the TARDIS dematerialises is ridiculous, the "don't back him against an elevator" joke is overlong and silly (trained soldiers do not wait for you to finish your sentence when they're ordered to shoot), and yes, the aliens fart. Sorry, I don't find farting funny. I don't find it disgusting either, I just shrug my shoulders - I eat a lot of onions, so it's all pretty commonplace to me. There's actually a scene where it's used really well - when the policeman's stomach starts up there's an oh-shit-he's-an-alien moment of the highest order, and the nasty, squelching sound really suggests something alien moving around inside a human body. The problem scene is the "shaking my booty" set-piece, because it just strains credibility - aliens who fart are plausible, but aliens who find farting funny aren't.

There are two other downsides. One is that some elements of the production aren't good - the Slitheen's baby-faces look great, but the lithe, sinuous CGI versions don't match the immobile, wobbly-headed body suits which should only have been used for stationary shots (if at all). The music - not something I've found a problem before now - is terribly saccharine and overdone, particularly in World War Three, which is a non-stop barrage of piano ballads for the Big Character Moments and ghastly, swelling orchestra for the hurrah-the-world-is-safe stuff at the end. Keith Boak's direction is sometimes lacking again too (although it's a big improvement on Rose and some shots are great) - the story is far too colourful, the action and chase sequences are leaden, and there are some terrible mistakes. When the policeman-alien sheds his skin, the blue light flashes before he unzips his forehead, and there's a cut from the "stitch this" scene to Rose and Jackie hugging that's almost amateurish.

The other difficulty, and a more deep-rooted one, is that this is another one of those character-based thingummys. Lawrence Miles has said many times that Doctor Who fundamentally isn't designed to be a character-based story, and here it's easy to see what he means. Much of these elements here feel shoehorned in.

Digression; a while ago I had a long and interesting email discussion with Joe Ford about the merits (and lack thereof) of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the notion of "character development" became a big factor. Comparing Buffy and Who (sounds like a bad sitcom) gives an indication of what Lawrence Miles means. Buffy's model of characterisation essentially involves two separate strands - an ongoing soap opera between the lead characters, and the actual adventures themselves. It's popular, but I find it profoundly unsatisfying, as the "real-life" teenage angst simply shows up the silliness of the vampires 'n' demons (or vice-versa, quite frequently - I'm not convinced that the real-life stuff is particularly real at all). I have trouble taking vampires seriously at the best of times, but when it's interspersed with Xander and Anya arguing about who to invite to their wedding, my disbelief's suspension falls with a thud (weirdly, since I started writing this, Joe has compared World War Three to an episode of Buffy).

For all that, Buffy the Vampire Slayer - sheesh, who gives a programme a name like that? - can get away with it because it's ultimately a small series set in a single town, with the same faces recurring and the same monsters popping up. Far more than being a drama about vampires, Buffy is a soap about being a teenager - The OC with, say, moody boyfriends transmuted into scary monsters. Which is probably why I never warmed to the programme; I find teenagers incredibly dull, obsessed as they are with the most boring elements of adulthood.

Doctor Who is different. It generally has only two (or at most, four) recurring characters, and can set each story wherever it chooses to. Apart from the TARDIS itself, there's no actual base to the programme - this might be part of the reason why Jackie and Mickey received a fair whack of negative reaction, because they feel like an attempt to give the Doctor a 21st Century base that he keeps returning to, a foreign idea to the programme. We don't need the Doctor to tell us that he doesn't do families; the thought of him eating sheperd's pie with Rose and Jackie is bizarre enough as it is.

And when you're dealing with a format that creates entire worlds in ninety minutes, "character-driven" just isn't possible. Which isn't to say the programme ca't create memorable characters, or have wonderful character moments. But, while we all know what Sarah Jane Smith is like, we don't know about her ex-boyfriends or her relationship with her parents or anything of that ilk. Her character is established solely by how she interacts with the story. When Doctor Who does decide to do character pieces, it has to integrate these fully into the plot as well; McCoy-era stuff provides the most obvious examples, with, say, Survival examining Ace solely through its story (a key difference between the televised McCoy stories and the NA's is that Ace's character in the NA's is often established through flashbacks and subplots, while TV stories linked this more firmly into the plot). I find this much more satisfying dramatically; stories feel complete, and Doctor Who rarely drifts into boring angst replete with Big Character Moments (or, to translate, schmaltzy self-obsessed crap).

AoL/WW3 is bursting with neon-signposted Big Character Moments and they are largely annoying. The last ten minutes of the story - say that again, ten bloody minutes - are an epilogue wrapped up with Rose and her Mum, the sort of thing that Paul Cornell might consider a little bit too indulgent to put at the end of one of his books. It goes on forever, and it's all too obvious that it's there To Show These Are Real Characters. But because of that obviousness it reveals the author's handwriting, it cuts through the fictional world we're in to reveal the painted cloth and scenery. Ditto the Rose/Mickey scene where they almost kiss - what's this for, exactly? To show that these people care about each other? We know this already, the story's done it without trying; the actors' body language alone establishes their relationship. We learn far more about Mickey when he holds off a nasty monster with a baseball bat than any of this sub-Dawson's Creek rubbish. Russell T. Davies has already referred to the fact that you can now establish with a look what used to require five minutes of dialogue. If only he'd applied it to the characterisation here - the big Doctor speech in World War Three is both saccharine ("I could save the world but lose you", ugh, pass the sick bucket) and bloody pompous ("it's just standing up and making a decision because no-one else will"), the sort of thing that would be right at home in Independence Day.

In other areas, though, characterisation is a triumph. The device of bringing Rose back a year late is phenomenally clever - in plotting terms it grounds us back on earth while taking the story slightly out of our era, so it's not distracting that the Prime Minister's no-one we know; and it gives Jackie a good reason to act against the Doctor at key points; it adds to his less engaging side - this is a guy who will cause untold grief and concern for someone he barely knows, and when he finds out he still treats them with contempt and gets their name wrong; and it elevates Jackie from the comedy staple we saw in Rose, giving her the kind of real, sympathetic and important concerns that anyone can empathise with. Similarly, Mickey comes from nowhere in World War Three to emerge as someone quietly heroic, and it's hard to believe the skilful comedic scenes and wide-eyed scared-but-gutsy moments are performed by the same actor who appeared in Rose. While the story's epilogue is overdone, it's actually these two characters who steal it - the final shot genuinely works.

And yet all these character are so much more successful when they serve the plot, rather than taking time out from it. The nod to UNIT is signposted by Mickey, establishing how much he's dug for this character over the past year and implying he's not the idiot we've been told, for example. It's this lightness of touch that make the others seem so crashingly unsubtle; the story makes great play of Jackie taking time out from running away from aliens to ask the Doctor the question of whether her daughter will always be safe. This is supposed to be profound, but it's just stupid - what sort of answer does she expect? "Yes, we're trapped in a bunker with six nasty aliens outside after they've chased all over the place, there's not a bother on us." Tellingly, the most gut-wrenchingly impressive moment is at the plot's climax, in the brief "I could stop you" scene - we get to see defiance and courage from Mickey, we get to see the fact that Jackie loves her daughter more than the entire planet, but is brave enough and selfless enough to do the right thing. It's a magnificent scene, and it comprises just two lines of dialogue.

Oh, this Big Bad Wolf stuff intrigues me. Clever.

A final observation - the speech at the end is bizarrely similar to a Dubya special. Straight after a terribly parochial Made in Britain line, we're suddenly being confronted with clunking jingoistic soundbites like "Mankind stands tall, proud and undefeated" and "God bless the human race." I find it hard to believe that a story that's having a right pop at world politics, can drift into this sort of triumphalistic rhetoric (replete with more swelling violins in the background) - unless there's a point. The mention of Britain''s Golden Age makes me faintly nauseous - why not just Turn All The Atlases Pink? - but I wonder if, later on, we might find that it's not such a pleasant place after all. I suspect this might be going somewhere. If not, it's a really, really terrible concluding scene.

Much time has been spent on negative bits, so here's some counterweight; "Mostly 'cause everyone thinks I murdered you", "Yes, I get the football", "Great, we can write them a letter", that bloke from Teachers, "Defence Plan Delta!", "It was scared", the news-channels device and Andrew Marr, "You kiss this man?", Mickey not knowing what's in his own kitchen, "Narrows it down!", and funniest of all; "You pass it to the left first."

Okay, it's time to conclude this doorstop of a review. This story is, in fact, extremely good. Many elements are reminiscent of the Williams-era, and - like the Williams era - this story has been described by some as silly, bad comedy. I'd argue that - like the Williams era - this is a damn sight more than that. There's a cunning plot and serious concerns in here, and some of the individual scenes are magnificent. A new soundtrack would be nice (a bit like the Williams era), and World War Three's plot is thin, but - like the Williams era - this transcends its limitations to work as a terrific slice of entertainment.

And, like the Williams era, I rather adored it.

When First Contact Goes Horribly Wrong! by Andrew Feryok 10/5/05

I've held this review off until I saw World War Three. Now that it's out, I'm trying to figure out exactly how I feel about this two parter. I was greatly anticipating this adventure. It had a great set piece: Earth has a violent first contact with aliens as a space craft smashes through Big Ben and lands in the Thames. Who couldn't wait to see that! Plus, I had missed the episodic format of the old series with its atmospheric first episode and exciting cliffhangers. I could not wait to see what the new series would do with this.

My final reaction: "um..."

I knew it couldn't last for long. The new series had been doing so well, wowing me with Autons sabotaging spiders, and blue, Victorian gas monsters. But it seems that I have just suffered my first letdown in the new series.

Don't get me wrong. There are things to like in these two episodes. The set piece of the aliens crash landing and the subsequent news reports were pure Doctor Who magic. I was straining at my screen just as much as the Doctor trying to see what these visitors looked like. The Doctor and Rose put in thier usual strong performances. There is a wonderful moment when the Doctor and Rose are on the roof of her apartment and the Doctor is lamenting having been slapped by her mom for "kidnapping" her for a year. "Nine Hundred years and I've never been slapped by someone's mum before!" As Rose laughs, he rubs his cheek in indignation and states "It really hurt!" Also, the ultimate realisation of what was really inside the alien ship was quite good as well. In World War Three the Doctor gets a "Fantastic" moment when he looks like he's about to get slaughtered by soldiers only to point out that they've corned him by an elevator! He then cheerfully steps inside and waves goodbye as the soldiers watch him in complete disbelief! In Aliens of London, I found Harriet Jones to be a lovable, if annoying character, who just seemed to be getting in everyone's way. Then in World War Three she becomes one of my favorite characters in the story. Her flashing her ID card to everyone and announcing who she is, really quickly, is hilarious. And the Doctor and she take an instant liking to each other!

Okay, now for the bad stuff. Probably my single greatest problem with this story were the villains themselves: the Slitheen. The farting. Oh god, the farting. Nothing will destroy the credibility and menace of a villain faster than having them stand around for five minutes farting and giggling like a bunch of adolescents. The "Shake my booty" line still haunts me. The design of the aliens was suitably "out of this world", but I just couldn't buy these guys even though I could see the author was trying to make them a humorous, but dangerous set of monsters. But surely Doctor Who is above resorting to stupid farting jokes. Surely? Even the Williams era, which this story has been compared to, never stooped to such comic lows. What made the Williams era so great was its quick one-liners and outrageous characters. But this was just juvenile.

And then there's my other gripe: the domestic stuff. The Doctor was perfectly right when he states in Aliens of London that he prefers to keep the domestic stuff outside the TARDIS. That's not to say that some of it doesn't work, because it does. It is kind of interesting to see a companion confronted with being absent for so long from her family who has been worried sick about them. But seeing her mom beat the snot out of the Doctor and then having Mickey and her mom constantly interrupting the action by angrily yelling at Rose and then interfering and trying to hold her back as she's trying to help the Doctor solve the alien problem just got irritating after a while. I wanted to lock them both in a closet and let the Doctor and Rose get on with the rest of the story. I must admit though, I did like Mickey better in World War Three as he becomes very proactive in helping the Doctor and Rose solve their problems. In fact, by the end I was almost tempted to see him join the Doctor and Rose. His getting on the Doctor's nerves would have been kind of funny, now that he's gotten over the debilitating fear he had in Rose. He would have been like Harry from the Tom Baker years, bumbling his way through adventure while the Doctor shakes his head in disgust. But in other ways I'm rather relieved he's not coming since the Doctor and Rose have worked so well together in their last few stories, that I think including another traveler would have overcrowded a one-hour story.

Both individually and together, I would have to give both Episodes 6/10. There were some good lines and set pieces, but the villains really didn't work for me, and the domestic stuff with Rose came out of left field. But the good thing about Doctor Who is that if you don't like this week's episode, there is going to be something completely different next week!

Speaking of which...


DALEKS! Well, one Dalek actually. But Daleks nevertheless! Just this alone would make me excited about next week and their new design looks awesome! From the trailer, it seems like a combination of The Space Museum and The Power of the Daleks. This is one I will definitely be waiting impatiently to see!

A decent British soap? by Antony Tomlinson 18/5/05

This story is the first in the new series that is not in place to fulfil an introductory role. The first three tales of the new series (like the first three tales in 1963/4) served to introduce the main characters, establish their relationships and demonstrate the abilities of the TARDIS. This new story (like Marco Polo) therefore has the role of showing that this now familiar format can give us meaty, interesting episodes.

I am not sure how well Aliens of London/World War Three achieves this however. Plot-wise it was a little disappointing. Episode 1 (Aliens of London) was great - it had lots of sneaking around well-armed instillations and government buildings (reminding me a lot of the Troughton/Pertwee eras) and had an international scope with its alien experts being flown in, London isolated, world panic and news of something in the North Sea. However, Episode 2 (World War Three) then failed to maintain the epic scope of the first part. Most of the action ended up centred on one building and the aliens' plot turned out to be very banal. I did stop caring a little, I must admit.

More annoying than the inability to maintain the intensity of the first episode, however, was the number of cop-out escapes in the second part of the story. I had hoped that we'd left lazy Doctor Who "get-outs" behind with the worst of the old series, but here they were in all their shoddiness.

We had: (1) The baddie device that only affects humans, not Time Lords, allowing the Doctor to escape; (2) Aliens who can be killed very easily, using everyday household items; (3) The baddies all in the same place, ready to be killed at the flick of a switch; (4) Aliens it is ridiculously easy to run away and hide from, despite supposedly being lethal predators; (5) The Doctor telling everyone they're going to die, before realising that they'll be fine as long as they duck into a cupboard.

The humour was a little less certain in this story, too. The End of the World was hilarious, and Aliens of London was mostly great with its satire on the way the British would react to an alien attack (they would indeed get drunk, complain about the traffic and unleash sardonic reporters on bemused government ministers). Things went a little downhill after that though. I didn't mind the fart gags at all (especially as they had a vital plot purpose) but I started to find the backbench MP and the Doctor's snipes at Rose's boyfriend dull. I am also a little fed up with jokes about mobile phones. And there was even a repetition of the "Northern accent" gag from Rose, which seems a bit sloppy to me.

Still, despite all these problems, there was much that was good about these episodes. The special effects were obviously splendid, and it is nice to have a return to the big, slimy alien monsters of yesteryear. The idea of the "pilot" in Aliens of London was also inspired - although I would have liked to see a little more done with this notion (it kind of gets forgotten by World War Three, after being the most exciting point of the first episode).

Best of all, however, was the soapy elements of this story. Like many great soaps, this features the return of a character who has vanished for a long time (remember Den in Eastenders or Harold in Neighbours?) We thus get to see how everyday life is turned upside down by this event (in a way ignored by stories like The Chase).

We then see the development of relationships as a result of this crisis. Rose's boyfriend becomes a rather tragic figure, and manages to atone for his cowardice back in Rose - eventually reconciling himself with his girlfriend, her mum and the Doctor. Rose's mum begins by hating the man who took away her daughter - and betrays him for her sake - but ends up inviting him around for dinner. And Rose has to get used to the Doctor's fear of domesticity, eventually accepting and partly understanding it. It's all very nice, and the final line ("ten seconds?") is rather tear-inducing.

Thus, in conclusion, I would say that this is a pretty decent story in terms of characters, but perhaps lacks the depth of plotting that science fiction adventure serials really require to maintain the interest of casual viewers. I liked the soapy elements, but if I wanted those and little else, I'd watch Coronation Street. And as we move away from "introductory" episodes, we need more meaty plots and, perhaps, slightly less emphasis on character development. Still, things remain pretty much on track for the new series. And it's Daleks with Rob Shearman next week.

Howling Around Your Kitchen Door by Phil Fenerty 30/5/05

From its earliest days, Doctor Who has addressed (and, at times, embraced) political issues. One of the earliest examples of these stories is The Dalek Invasion of Earth, which casts the Daleks as Nazi stormtroopers (concentration camps and all) against the brave resistance fighters of the Home Counties (I'd suggest Dad's Army as an influence here, but the series hadn't started in 1964).

In the first of the series' two part stories, we get the story of a very unusual invasion. The aliens are here, and they have managed to creep right into the heart of British democracy. At the same time, and especially in World War Three, Russell T Davies uses his script to satirise the events of the Blair administration's response to the Iraq WMD crisis, dodgy dossier and all.

Perhaps there are those who see it as heavy-handed. Perhaps there are nay-sayers who would grumble that Doctor Who is not the place for political satire, or even for political discussion. Rot! This is satire with a deft touch, unlike the over-Thatcheresque performance of Sheila Hancock in The Happiness Patrol. No one complained about that (they were too busy slagging off the Kandyman, of course).

But there is more to the script than satire. The Doctor's investigation of the UFO crash, and his discovery of the fate of the ship's occupant shows a more caring side than we've seen to date. His reactions when looking at the creature show that, even dulled by the Time War, the Doctor has a respect for life and for freedom. The creature itself is well-realised, and the way it is handled in the story evokes more than a pang of sympathy.

We also find RTD examining something never considered before: how are the Doctor's companions perceived, accounted for, regarded and missed whilst they are away travelling? David Whitaker's prologue to Doctor Who and the Crusaders notes how Ian and Barbara might explain their absence from their London lives once they return, but apart from that, there has been little consideration as to how his companions fare "outside the TARDIS." Aliens of London puts this glaring omission right, and confronts the Doctor clearly with the ramifications of his actions.

In one of the best model/ CGI sequences to have been put together for Doctor Who, well frankly, EVER, we see a spaceship hits Big Ben and splashes down on the Thames. Public reaction, in the light of the World Trade Centre's destruction, is perfectly judged: chaos, hysteria, panic and the desire to get a photo to sell to the News of the World. It's telling that the Doctor and Rose decide to watch the drama unfold on BBC News 24 (and, given the events of The Long Game, interesting to note what they are being fed by the media). Partly this is because of the way today's world works: partly also because the Doctor has eschewed his authority links and is now the ultimate maverick. It takes a full military team, including helicopter, to "recruit" him to the Alien Expert conference.

Whilst Aliens of London is expansive and has scenes in a number of locations, World War Three is more tightly focussed into two or three locales. This makes the drama tighter and helps to build up the tension. With the Doctor effectively cut off from the outside world, he has to call on Mickey for help. It is good to see development in Mickey's character in these two episodes: in the time that Rose has been absent, he has clearly grown up a lot, and that is reflected in his reactions to the Doctor. At the end of the story, we see them becoming, if not friends, then not enemies either.

The Slitheen monsters were one of the weak points in the production. The costumes were too bulky and immobile and the faces were insufficiently monsterous. The best realisation of the creatures was the CGI creatures running through the hallways of 10 Downing Street - they moved efficiently and smoothly, looking every inch the hunters they were not in costume. Compare the sleek CGI versions against the bulky, static Slitheen menacing Rose and Harriet at the end of part 1 (oh, how good is it to say that!). No comparison.

The guest cast performed uniformly well, with Penelope Wilton's performance as Harriet Jones being one of the best of the series. Her character was utterly believable, and it would be great to see her return in a future episode. Camille Coduri gave another great performance as Jackie, her reactions to the Doctor being spot on. She is an asset to the series, and should recur as a character in Series 2 if there is any justice.

The star of the show was, however, Russell's script, with (at last) the writer rising to the heights he'd enjoyed in Casanova. World War Three was one of the wittiest, even laugh-out-loud funniest, tension-filled 45 minutes of television I've seen in a long time, and thoroughly enjoyable. The story also showed the strengths of a two-episode format, in allowing better plot and character development, and leaving viewers guessing as to what will happen for a week.

The Slitheen motivations were also interesting, and there seems to be a minor "theme" developing in some of the background story elements. This, along with mentions of the Time War, seems to be a way of linking the stories together to enhance the viewing pleasure of the devoted fan.

And check out the UNIT website (linked in from the main BBC Doctor Who site) - more evidence that the Corporation believe in the programme and are prepared to give it much needed multi-media support in this internet age.

Overall: wonderful satirical script.

*gasp* A Two-Parter! by Adrian Loder 7/6/05

Anyone who has read my previous reviews will no doubt be unsurprised to read that the one-two punch of Aliens of London and World War Three are easily the best of this young(old?) series so far, in my opinion. To begin with, we can incorporate some bits of more empowered companions, the Doctor being chastised and mistakes/deaths happening into a story large enough to have plenty other aspects to it to keep things in perspective. To wit, a nice, intricate plot featuring new enemies and a wonderfully political allegory, with the Doctor portrayed as the antagonist of this sort of villainy.

Then we have the Doctor taking charge, mouthing off to the military and to the bad guys, and ultimately saving the day without too many corpses littering the way. We have some excellent sarcasm and wisecracks from the Doctor as well, and some very subtle references to regeneration, his past with U.N.I.T. and other things from the series' history.

I found that the aliens were well-executed, a nice blend of some aspects curiously disarming while other aspects were brutal and nasty. Especially when disguised, the actors seem to be having a wonderful time with the roles and in some cases affect some truly sinister and menacing dialogue. The only negative are the crude aspects - the gassy preoccupations of these two episodes are one of its few shortcomings.

Another would be the human drama nonsense. I'm sure Ian and Barbara probably had some serious explaining to do after they returned to Earth following The Chase, but we weren't presented with any of it and rightly so. While it is true that most of the Doctor's companions have been alone or easily able to part from their homes, there have been others whose original lives had more ties, and the fact of the matter is that these domestic issues have no substantial place in this science-fiction TV show, especially when a certain character's mother is acted so badly. The heart-to-hearts with Rose are starting to get difficult to watch as well. As the Doctor himself keeps saying, "No domestics!"

However, these negatives are counterbalanced by even more positives - namely, the supporting cast. Aside from the afore-hinted Jackie, the supporting cast is tremendous, especially Rose, Harriet Jones and even Mickey. They all perform admirably, do their good in the fight against the enemy and mostly are capable of doing this without having to make the Doctor look like a fool, largely - again - because we have time for more things, we have space to tell the story and fit things in.

This is what I'm looking forward to more of from this new series - the Doctor is not perfect, but he does have a slightly better idea of what is going on and how to fix it than everyone else, as he should; the supporting cast are on a slightly lower level than him, but are not screaming nitwits, and have useful assistance to lend; and the writing is mostly strong, with some space to move around in, finally. 8.5/10

Hammy by David Massingham 4/11/05

Doctor Who 2005 kick-started with one okay-ish and two very good mini-adventures. When it came down to it, no matter what the quality level, the opening stories felt "mini" - they never matched the narrative ambition of most episodes from the original series. We hadn't got the chance to wallow in the set-up of a narrative, or get the opportunity to experience more in-depth or thought-provoking plots. A short-coming of the forty-five minute format perhaps, but a disappointment nonetheless. Something had been missing.

So when Aliens of London (I am referring to both the first episode and World War Three here) trotted into view, I for one was very excited. This was going to be the time to truly gauge whether Doctor Who as I know and love it could succeed in the 21st century. The good news is that the narrative of this two-parter was suitably epic and grand, making full use of the opportunity to exploit a longer running time. Bad news... well, it isn't too crash hot, is it?

Of course, it's hardly a disaster. It's not bad, nor is it good per say... yet it's not mediocre, either. Aliens of London is frustrating, because there are a plethora of tiny problems (as well as a couple of larger ones) that seem to be shoehorned into a good story, seemingly with the aim of getting me angry.

It starts well. A short and sweet little teaser in which the Doctor returns Rose to her home so that she can have a quick catch up with her mum. Problem is that he's got the time wrong, and he drops her off a year too late. It is a nice idea to explore what goes through the minds and lives of those close to the Doctor's assistants after they are gone. After all, the companions simply disappear, often never to be seen again. The only other time that this was really examined in the original series was in Survival, the very final story.

And boy, was it tackled a lot better there. When Ace returns to Perivale, we don't dwell on the emotional content - it's there, of course, underneath the surface, but we don't get the over-wrought dramatic scenes, we don't get the heartstring music (Murray Gold - you're back! We thought they'd hired someone half decent for a moment!). The emotional backstory is barely touched upon explicitly in Survival; instead, Ace's return and the reactions of her friends forms a nice atmospheric backdrop for the adventure. I have no problem with emotional story-arcs being tackled in Doctor Who... but they work a lot better when handled with subtlety, when they're secondary to an intriguing and well-thought out plot; and they are certainly much stronger without the ham-fisted acting of someone like, say, Camille Coduri.

In Rose, I was vaguely irritated by Jackie. In the Aliens of London two-parter, she drove me bonkers. Much of this comes down to Coduri, who to my eye is rather a mediocre performer at the best of times. At worst, she is unbelievable as a character, highlighting holes in the character's conception, and delivering her lines in the most unbelievable fashion possible (witness her phone call to the alien hotline in part one... just makes me shudder to think about it). The performance of the character is only half the problem. Her dialogue is consistently awful ("pickles! Yeah! Gerkins! YEAH!!!") and trite ("She's not safe with him! Oh! She's not safe!"). Jackie is meant to be an emotional hub in this adventure, but it is difficult to care about her feelings when she's driving you absolutely insane. Before season one was over, I came to the realisation that Jackie was one of my least favourite regular or semi-regular characters from any period of Doctor Who. I despise this character.

Phew. Sorry 'bout that, folks. It is amazing and, quite frankly, unfortunate that one single character can ruin your enjoyment of a piece of television that much, but they found a way. I'll turn off my bile now.

On the flip side, you've got Mickey. I didn't take to Mickey in Rose either, but he quickly redeems himself in his second outing (if you ignore the early pratfalls). Noel Clarke begins to tone down his performance a bit here, and will continue to do so throughout the season. His buffoonish nature remains intact, but his more endearing qualities are highlighted by some nice lines ("funny way to invade, putting the Earth on red alert"; "if anyone's gonna cry, it's gonna be me"), and more importantly, by his interactions with the Doctor. The whole Rickey the Idiot joke is firstly quite funny, which is always a plus. Then there is the little sub-plot involving the Doctor gaining some respect for Mickey, which is gently woven into the story - it isn't flashy and big and IMPORTANT unlike many RTD plot strands, and this is the reason it works. The Doctor has a long-standing dislike for Mickey, Mickey proves himself by staying cool in a crisis, the Doctor begins to respect and like him. Simple. Not showy, not shouted from the rooftops, just plain, good storytelling which marries well with the main narrative.

Another example of this is the Space Pig. This scene is classic Who. Firstly, they turn your expectations on their head in the most wonderful way, leading to the biggest belly-laugh of the episode (I adore those shots of the pig waving its trotters in the air as he runs along on his wee legs...). Then that is turned on its head once again with the death of the pig. It is genuinely the most emotional moment of the episode, seeing the Space Pig dying on the tiles of the hospital, and the Doctor's cry of "It was scared!" are quite harrowing. We then get a moment which sums up the Doctor perfectly - his anger and disgust at the abuse of the animal is palpable, a real defining moment for the Ninth Doctor. It's these small scenes of subtle characterisation that are a million times more effective than sledgehammer moments like...

"I could save the world but lose you!" I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch your point there, Russell. Subtlety doesn't really seem to be Davies' strong point (and don't get me wrong, he is a very talented man in a lot of other ways - I don't want to be one of this so-called RTD bashers, but if I don't like something, I'm gonna say it). I was beginning to suspect by this point that Davies doesn't trust his audience to pick up on character interactions and visual clues. He is very much about spelling things out, and personally, I find that very sloppy writing. Not to mention trite writing, in this case... sorry to use that word again, but it is. If he's worried that younger viewers might not pick up on big emotional moments like these, I don't think he's giving his audience enough credit. Besides, half the kids out there are much more interested in seeing scenes with scary monsters than half-baked unoriginal "character" moments like this. Aliens of London suffers from too many forced scenes of Big Character Moments, when it is the smaller less showy stuff that works.

Although Davies' script is obviously the main culprit behind this trend to favour cliched and uninspired emotional elements over a good strong yarn, there are other offenders. Keith Boak, master auteur behind the camera in Rose, is back, and he's just as blisteringly mediocre as ever he was. As it turns out by the end of the season, Boak is by far and away the weakest director on staff. His direction is cartoony whilst simultaneously bland (an interesting combination), and he seems to coax the broadest performances possible out of his actors. Pretty much no one in the guest cast plays this story straight (even the secretary at Downing Street, one of the better performers, seems to place an unrealistic emphasis on certain lines), and only Billie Piper, Christopher Eccleston, and to a lesser extent, Noel Clarke come out on top. And Andrew Marr, for some reason.

This isn't to say that the guest performances aren't enjoyable. Harriet Jones and Mr. Green are fun to watch once you've got into the general farce-like tone of the story, but one can't help but wonder how much more enjoyable this would be if it wasn't so darn hammy.

By the way, can I point out how good I've been at avoiding any mention of the farts? I've kind of ruined that now, so I'll just confine myself to saying that a) yes, obviously it was an awful idea, b) kids won't only laugh at toilet humour, guys, and c) "I'm shaking my booty" is possibly the worst line in Who history. Resisting the temptation to rant for a bit, I'll move on for a final quick word on the plot.

After all my talk of narrative being sacrificed for shoddy character work, I've just gone and done the same. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. The actual narrative of Aliens of London is fairly standard stuff, but there are nice little touches. We get a very strong impression of a world in chaos when the spacecraft lands in the Thames, with the media frenzy and all that goes along with it helping to paint a picture we don't get to see very often in Doctor Who. The Slitheen's actual plot is rather unoriginal, but the notion of the Doctor facing not a race of aliens, but rather an alien family is a nice change from the norm. There are some nice set-pieces (Big Ben, the scene with the alcohol, the Doctor being surrounded by the soldiers at the hospital), and strong use is made of Downing Street. The story is well constructed, slowly building up intrigue in part one before releasing more salient plot points in part two at the appropriate points.

Aliens of London is such a mixed bag. Poor direction, cheesy dialogue, and awful music consign this very much to the B-grade Who bin, but some exuberant (if hammy) performances and a solid pace gives the whole affair a watchable quality. There are some real classic moments in there, but then there is some of the worst stuff in the show's history as well. It's a disappointment as the first two-parter of the season, but, then again, as a two-parter it nonetheless shows up some of the deficiencies in the prior three adventures. At the end of the day, though, the narrative is simplistic but used well over the course of the two episodes - it's just the window dressing that threatens to let the whole thing down.

6.5 out of 10

A Review by Finn Clark 28/3/06

Much more coherent than I'd thought. The two episodes feel very different, but each counterpoints the other and the story never forgets its themes. It's not as if Russell T. Davies threw any old rubbish together and wrote two unrelated scripts. Everything comes full circle at the end.

The theme here is "reality versus the Whoniverse", with each episode taking a different side of the equation. Aliens of London brings aliens and spaceships into our daily lives. It's mundane and realistic, at times downright domestic. The Doctor brings Rose home and learns that he's accidentally wrecked her life. "I don't do families," he says, only to do exactly that when trying to watch the news. Later: "I've never been slapped by someone's mother." Mickey's looked him up on the internet. We see real-life consequences, emergency hotlines and military operations.

My favourite sequence is the runaway pig. It's a ridiculous idea played deadly straight, with nervous soldiers in a sinister blue-lit hospital. It's easy to say that the pig looks silly, but for me that's almost the whole point of the scene... taking something absurd and twisting it into a human drama, complete with that perfect ending. Russell T. Davies is specifically bringing the real world into contact with Doctor Who's brand of science-fiction, not the more conventional macho square-jawed variety. The story never comes within a million miles of being a Star Trek episode. The Doctor's deadliest weapons are bluff, a fire extinguisher and a mobile phone. This ain't no Hollywood alien invasion.

Of course the director is Keith Boak, the perpetrator of Rose, so things may not have been meant to get this goofy. I quite like the Slitheen, but they're not the most memorable Doctor Who villains. Their giggling and farting wasn't universally loved.

Even their baby-faced design is initially disconcerting, although overall I like the new series's bold take on monster design. Every SF franchise has its own style with aliens, be it Star Trek's bumpy foreheads or Farscape's muppets. Russell T. Davies has chosen simple, high-concept designs in the tradition of Classic Who. The Nestene talking blob or The Long Game's toothy turd on the ceiling for example aren't serious-minded attempts at plausible SF species, but simply the result of trying to create simple, "easy to take in at a glance" monsters. The classic series did this kind of thing out of necessity rather than design, so for instance the Krotons may look a bit daft but you'll never mistake them for anything else. However you can't accuse the new series of doing anything unintentionally... they're deliberately going for that "Adrian Salmon would enjoy drawing this" feel, reminiscent of something that a 1960s BBC visual effects designer might have dreamed up.

Thematically Aliens of London was following in Virgin's footsteps. The NAs tried to make the Whoniverse real, creating an ongoing cast (Ace, Benny, Kadiatu, Jason, etc.) just as Russell T. Davies has done with Mickey and Jackie. It's easy to see why many NA fans liked Aliens of London and found World War Three a letdown, but personally my reaction was the exact opposite.

In April 2005, I was delighted with the results of having the extra elbow room of an old four-parter. At last the Doctor could have an adventure, confronting the monsters, outwitting the military and blowing up Downing Street (yay!). In deliberate contrast with part one's realism, this is a traditional monster runaround. It's like a celebration of Classic Who in its full camp glory, the silliness as well as the high-mindedness. That might sound snide, but actually I love this idea. At its best, Doctor Who could create something truly unique from the synergy of its ambition and its drunken hokiness. Nevertheless, always in the background are Mickey and Jackie, bringing their real-world sensibilities into the Doctor's adventure. "Will Rose be safe?" or "You should be given knighthoods." Most importantly the story doesn't end when the Slitheen blow up. There's plenty still to come as the themes come full circle with decisions for Rose, Mickey and Jackie.

This is the story's question: which would you choose? Real life or the Doctor's fantasy? We've seen them side by side and explicitly compared. Jackie and the Doctor deliver their sales pitches, to which Rose and Mickey give their answers. Suddenly the whole story comes together into something thematically almost beautiful. (These questions would be followed up further in The Long Game with Adam, but that's for another review.)

The story has an attitude towards authority. When we first saw Eccleston's Doctor in Rose, he was planting a bomb in a building in central London. Here extraterrestrials are running rings around the UN, the British government and the army. It's particularly hard not to see real-world parallels when people start mentioning "weapons of mass destruction", especially given the story's theme of comparing the real world with Doctor Who. It's particularly interesting that Harriet Jones will attain power and achieve great things despite being more successful as a Doctor Who character than as a realistic politician. She's certainly no powerbroker. Until the Doctor came along, she was a geekish backbencher devoted to her pet causes and continually getting brushed off by the people who mattered.

Oh, and the Doctor blows up 10 Downing Street. The only shame is that he waited until there were aliens inside it at the time.

The story has some lovely moments. Part one's spaceship flying overhead is Big Goofy Grin time, a glorious sequence made twice as enjoyable by the preceding dialogue. Last year I laughed like a loon at the Doctor telling Mickey how to spell 'buffalo', but this time I preferred, "Sir, there's a missile... sorry," when the soldier bursts in on the Slitheen at the end.

It's noticeable that the Doctor only says "Ricky" when Mickey's around. He really is winding him up! We also get further glimpses of certain London landmarks, presumably for the sake of non-UK viewers who'd appreciate the visual reminder. The London Eye is glimpsed, none the worse for Nestene infestation in Rose, and Big Ben makes just one of several appearances this year. Don't forget the hospital either.

Incidentally the poster at the start says that Rose disappeared on 6 March 2005, so this is March 2006.

I didn't have strong feelings about this story after watching it for the first time, but this rewatch improved my opinions no end. It has clear themes and a good reason why its episodes feel so different. It's two sides of one coin. Each episode is important for the issue under discussion and there's a logical progression between them. We've seen similar things tried in the novels, Seeing I being the most obvious example, but never quite like this. I'm impressed. More than any other story from the 2005 season, I'd suggest that this two-parter is crying out for reappraisal.

Silent, but deadly by Robert Smith? 8/7/08

An iconic building is destroyed, leading to widespread fear, talk of martial law and the curtailing of human rights. A leader who wasn't properly elected and acts like a buffoon dismisses all advice from trained personnel in favour of his own agenda. Massive weapons of destruction that don't exist. The British provide absolute proof of their existence to the US. Votes are secured to launch a massive retaliation at a target that wasn't responsible. After the bombing, the target will be carved up for big business, because it was always, always about fuel.

But that's enough of the real world, what about Doctor Who?

All right, so here it is, the first two-parter of the new series. Surely the epic showcase of the first half of the season? Something gritty and hardcore, something terrifying and edgy, with aliens so realistic-looking they're guaranteed to have you behind the sofa, villains who will chill you to the bone and an utterly convincing sense of realism?

Er, no. Aliens of London/World War Three is the first of its kind for the new series: a good old-fashioned Doctor Who story.

What's amazing about the 2005 season is its ability to convince you that the stories on display are exactly like the Doctor Who you remember, even though they patently aren't. Rose and The Unquiet Dead bear some passing similarities to existing stories... except that they're nothing like either when you stop to think about it. Then there's The End of the World and Dalek, which are so far from what Doctor Who ever was that it's almost absurd - except that once you've seen them you desperately want to pretend it was always like this.

AoL/WW3 is different. It goes for broad comedy, rubber aliens with inconsistent effects, cliffhangers, soldiers running about, UNIT, the entire fate of the planet being decided from one room and some allegory that's so close to its subject matter it barely qualifies as pastiche. Remind you of any classic television series you may be a fan of?

The irony that this, of all the 2005 stories, received the frostiest reception from fans, is astounding. Not only did Doctor Who come back, it really came back. The thing they said could never be done - the Doctor Who series that we actually enjoyed, as opposed to a version of it updated for the twenty-first century - is actually right here on our TV screens. Or laptop screens, as the case may be. What's more, it's just about the most entertaining thing on television.

What's confusing about AoL/WW3 is that it's so many things all at once. It was so perfectly honed for its British election-coverage timeslot that it felt dated almost immediately. It's the broadest, and at times funniest, comedy the show has seen since Graham Williams was producer. It's loved and hated in about equal measures, by fans who also love or hate the Williams era. It's an extremely sharp allegory about the War on Terror and the Iraq invasion. It's a character piece, far more interested in the small, beautiful things than the alien invasion plot happening around it. The entire setup with the crashed spaceship leads inexorably to one of the most exquisitely thought-out traps in the entirety of Doctor Who. And all this in what is basically a four part story, in the old money. Doctor Who really did come back, didn't it?

The engine that drives the story is the domestic stuff. Which is not only extremely well written - it's a great time to be alive when those words are kind of redundant when describing new Doctor Who - but it's clearly brought to life with love and care by the director and cast. The 12 hours/12 months opener is astonishing, making you wonder why we'd never seen something like this before. The consequences of the Doctor's interference in Rose's life are portrayed to perfection, from Jackie's rage to Mickey as murder suspect. It's telling that the triple whammy cliffhanger not only has the Doctor and Rose in trouble, but Jackie too. And the second part redeems Mickey in a way you'd never have thought possible after viewing Rose.

Then there's the alien spacecraft. Eccleston's slightly deranged laugh when it almost crashes into the council estate is brilliant, conveying so much in that moment. Rose's comment "Oh, that's just not fair" gives the punchline some weight, but it's telling that whereas she has to say it, Eccleston can portray everything we need to know with just a laugh. This man is brilliant, utterly brilliant and it's worth everything that's happened since to have had him as the Doctor, even if only for a little while.

However, it's the occupant of the ship that's the story's most touching moment. Not only do we get a hilarious parody of one of the Telemovie's famous scenes, the ship's pilot might be the most adorable and emotionally affecting character that Doctor Who has ever produced. And the line "I just thought that's what aliens looked like" is amusing, post-modern and a plot point all at once.

In fact, the entire cast is giving it their all. David Verrey is particularly good as the acting Prime Minister, going from humour to chilling menace with remarkable aplomb. He's also one of the few actors who can cackle his way through a cliffhanger without ruining the tension. Penelope Wilton is a delight, flashing her ID card at everyone and remaining cool under pressure ("Pass it to the left, first"). Her rapport with Eccleston is particularly good.

Even small parts, such as Naoko Mori as the woman who examines the pilot, are carried off with considerable style. If this were the first story of the season, she'd have been the new companion, without a doubt; you can see why she made it into Torchwood, even if they did have to perform somersaults to make it all fit. And Noel Clarke as Mickey is a revelation. His pratfall in Aliens is a bit goofy, but by the time he faces down a Slitheen in his apartment, armed only with a baseball bat and telling Jackie to run, you want to stand up and cheer. Both the plot ending and the character ending rely heavily on him and, thanks to the work done here, they pull it off. The final shot of Mickey on the pillar is just perfect.

Watched in two episodes a week apart, Aliens of London and World War Three are a bit lopsided. The former is brilliant, leading inexorably to an amazing trap and an exquisite cliffhanger. The latter feels perfunctory, with everybody seemingly stuck in about three rooms, ticking off a list of plot points from the first part to resolve. However, watched as one story, it's a different matter altogether. The cliffhanger doesn't have quite as much zing, but World War Three improves drastically. The comedy is laugh-out-loud funny ("You kiss this man?"), Mickey's redemption is note-perfect and the underlying allegory is so sharp it could draw blood.

Then there's the farting aliens. Reactions to this have been pretty extreme, which is understandable. There are people who are complaining that Doctor Who shouldn't be silly, that it shouldn't have unconvincing aliens, it shouldn't do broad comedy and it shouldn't be aimed at children... Some of these people purport to be Doctor Who fans, but I think they've misunderstood the series they're supposedly fans of. Personally, I loved the farting aliens.

I'll say that again: I loved them.

Like all great comedy, the jokes work on multiple levels. For the kids, you've got aliens who fart all the time, which is inherently funny. For the intelligent 14 year old, you've got the farting used simultaneously as comedy and menace: when the policeman visiting Jackie has an upset stomach, that tells you all you need to know and the line "Would you prefer silent but deadly?" is downright chilling. For the adult, you've got yet more allegory to raise a smile: politicians as gassy windbags. That's downright Robert Holmesian.

Oh yeah, and they've got zippers on their foreheads. Actual zippers! Who couldn't love this story?

The original series gave us a show far more concerned with the monster of the week than character. Companions came and went and very rarely did we see any consequences of the Doctor's interference in their lives. The books were more interested in their characters and had room to breathe, so we often had a domesticated Doctor. This new series is also a character study of its leads, but this time around we've got a Doctor who "doesn't do domestic".

The books' position seemed to be that the Doctor would have done domestic in the TV series, it's just that we didn't see it. The new series, on the other hand, turns that into a character point: the reason we never saw it is because the Doctor isn't a domestic character. Which makes a lot of sense, both within the fiction and without. The Doctor is someone who can go anywhere, do anything, but usually throws himself into the first sign of trouble whenever he can. That's not the type of bloke who tends to pop round to help you with the dishes.

In a larger sense, Doctor Who is about escapism, either from our humdrum lives or from the bounds of society. To achieve that, the Doctor must, by necessity, stand in contrast to the very things that make staying within such a society tempting. For a character whose fundamental ethos is that he never, ever settles down, this is perfect. I'm convinced.

Plus, this is where the Bad Wolf references kick into high gear. Not only do we get one of the little pigs, but the Doctor blows the House (of Commons) in. And one of the reporters is Mal Loup, at least on the website. Clever stuff. Who said they shouldn't make Doctor Who for the fans?

Aliens of London/World War Three is a delight. It's not what we were expecting, but it shouldn't be dismissed because of that. It's Doctor Who that's got something to say, so it's standing up and doing it, because no one else will. It's got an utterly fabulous cliffhanger. It's got some extremely affecting emotional content, a study of some of the fundamentals of the Doctor, his relationship with his companions and those left behind. It's also got hilarious aliens, comedy that ranges from the broad to the subtle, with everything in between, and a sense that this sort of Doctor Who is just as important as the gritty, men-with-guns-and-Daleks story that's on next week. And it does all this, and more, while being non-stop entertainment from start to finish.

I don't know about you, but I'm shaking my booty.

A Review by Brian May 18/4/10

This was the story from the first series of the new Doctor Who I thought I'd like the least. It was the episode titles that initially turned me off. They purported an action-packed battle against an alien invasion, as did the publicity image of the damaged Big Ben. It seemed we would be treated to a blockbuster spectacular. We knew the special effects would be amazing, but just because they could, didn't mean they should. However, thankfully, delightfully, my fears were proved entirely wrong! Aliens of London/World War Three turned out to be one of the most impressive, intelligent and sharpest offerings, and it retains this edge five years on. As the plot progresses, so too does the story defy expectation. It's not an invasion, but a clever plan that's also an amusing critique of unbound capitalism and business (non)ethics; at the end of the day, the Earth is destined to become a radioactive cinder. So the story turns the invasion cliche on its head while staying true to the "Earth in danger" Who chestnut.

However, when it comes to full-blown satire, this story, World War Three in particular, is a biting indictment of the build-up to the 2003 Iraq War, and the obdurate determination of the "coalition of the willing" to invade the rogue nation, based on the now infamously non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, this term is so engrained that the words have to be rearranged just to make a slight differentiation between "fictional satire" and "the bleeding obvious". There's not much subtlety, but then the whole WMD fiasco doesn't allow for any; the targets are legitimate, and in Doctor Who of all shows. That's just marvellous! It's to be expected of Russell T. Davies - from both his admirers and critics - but it's more evidence that the programme can be a vehicle for more than just adventure storytelling. (That's not to say it hadn't been satirical before, but never with a dicey, contemporary hot potato such as this!)

Aliens in contemporary London. The Earth in peril. The presence of UNIT and politicians. Family members who would make regular appearances. Yes, it's the Pertwee era all over again! This is a lovely tribute to a period of Doctor Who oft-derided by fandom in recent decades. It's more proof that Davies was not only looking forward but also glancing back, never wallowing in the programme's past but nevertheless acknowledging its heritage. And he does it so the oldies among us will recognise it but new fans, those who came aboard with this series, won't be confused. The alien hoax headline at the end is also a clever touch; not only is it requisite Davies cynicism, it also offers up a decent explanation as to why very public incidents from the past (mass deaths in Spearhead From Space, Silurians and Terror of the Autons; two evacuations of London in The Web of Fear and Invasion of the Dinosaurs) aren't part of the city's psyche at the beginning of this story. The populace are welcoming the perceived aliens with open arms, as if there have been no previous incursions. Whether it's more UNIT cover-ups or simply human credulity, it's a neat way of placating the continuity nitpickers from the older generations. It's also insurance for Davies; he covers his own derriere in case anyone queries the collective memory of the Auton rampage in Rose; perhaps it has been similarly dismissed as a hoax?

This story also boldly goes where televised Doctor Who had never gone before. For the first time on screen, the Doctor must face the consequences of taking a human away from their environment. Due to a typical TARDIS miscalculation, Rose has been missing for a year; her mother is distraught and Mickey a murder suspect. The Doctor has to be held accountable for these predicaments and, despite his protesting "I don't do families", he needs to learn that most of us humans do. It wasn't in the nature of the classic series to examine such situations in depth; companions were there simply to accompany the Doctor; their family situations were largely irrelevant, so too the consequences. But not now. I'm not sure how others reacted to this emphasis on character relations. True, it goes against the grain of the earlier shows, but it's updated for 21st century television and is therefore appropriate, and quite underplayed, at this point anyway. For example, in future adventures, the Doctor's pledge to protect Rose becomes very laboured. But here he doesn't guarantee her safety. In fact he refuses to do so, twice: once in the Cabinet Room at the height of the emergency; secondly, outside the TARDIS, after the threat is over. Following on from Rose, the Doctor continues to be scrutinised from a darker perspective. Mickey has been researching his presence online and, like Clive before him, finds a less than happy story. Death follows the Time Lord wherever he goes, and he is a subject of interest for both the conspiracy theorists and the authorities.

Christopher Eccleston's performance here is the one that in retrospect had me most wishing he'd stayed on in the role, if only for another year. He delivers another powerhouse turn, alternating between madcap joker and deadly serious protagonist, with lots of his usual manic energy in between (treating his entry into Number 10 like a film premiere is a priceless moment!) The whole cast is excellent. Despite their good performances in Rose, Noel Clarke and Camille Coduri were never allowed to make Mickey and Jackie proper characters. They existed solely as representations of Rose's humdrum existence to contrast against the prospect of life with the Doctor. Here they are allowed to utilise their potential, and it's interesting to see them progress. Mickey turning down the Doctor's offer to travel in the TARDIS and his insistence it looks publicly as though the Doctor has in fact rejected him, is wonderful.

Of course, in this day and age there are no technical complaints for the veteran Who reviewer. But there's an exception here; Mickey's escape from the military ambush outside the TARDIS is very poorly done. It's so unconvincing. In fact, it's largely reminiscent of the bumbling guards with no peripheral vision we groan at from episodes past. There are no excuses this time; the guards of this story are too efficient, the security too tight. It looks like the plot device it is. Oh, and I can't go without mentioning something else. In Rose, we had a burping wheelie bin; here we have farting aliens. They fart loudly and often. It doesn't reach South Park extremes and of course a scientific explanation is forthcoming, but it does become slightly puerile. "Would you mind not farting while I'm saving the world?" is a very un-Doctorish line, but to Eccleston's credit he manages to pull it off.

On the subject of humour, repetition becomes a problem here. The excellent "lots of planets have a north" from Rose is cheapened by its reuse. It should have remained in its one story. Of course, there are many funny moments, with two highlights. First, the discussion of dinner table etiquette during a crisis. Second, Andrew Marr's hilarious cameo: he gets everything right: the wry, understated humour of his lines succeeds thanks to his deadpan, self-deprecating delivery.

There is a lot going on in Aliens of London/World War Three. It belies the bombastic, action-oriented imagery of the pre-air publicity shots, instead providing strong, clever entertainment and satire that caters for both new fans and the old guard. For the latter alone, it reaffirms that, with only the slightest of hiccups, Doctor Who's revival was in the right hands. Very good. 9/10

I could save the world but lose you by Evan Weston 16/4/13

I'll admit, when I went to rewatch this episode for my retrospective, I wasn't really looking forward to it. All I really remembered was that the Doctor, Rose and Penelope Wilton get trapped in 10 Downing Street, and the villains farted. I went in thinking that it was one of the worst stories of Series 1. After a second viewing, Aliens of London/World War Three doesn't quite crack the top half of what is probably the best new series of Doctor Who, but it's still a really entertaining story with some great set-pieces and touching character moments.

Those set-pieces... oh my. The crash in the Thames isn't great, but only because the spaceship looks a little too computer-generated to believe. Ripping Big Ben a new one is a really cool scene no matter what you crash into it, and I thought it was well-done. The chases through 10 Downing Street are also impressive, with the Slitheen moving far more gracefully in CGI form than they do in those silly prosthetic body suits. The explosion in the finale is also well-done. Overall, this is probably the most exciting episode of New Who yet, and it's the first that really feels like a blockbuster.

The acting is also much better than I remember it being, too. The star of the episode is Camille Coduri as Jackie, who is given way more to do here than she was in Rose. The plot device of showing up a year late works wonderfully, and it gives Jackie a reason to hate the Doctor for taking her daughter away. Her slap of the Doc is a great scene, and the pained look on her face as she realizes saving the world is more important than saving her daughter is tragic. Still, she's used as near-victim once again, and that was one of the weaker sequences in the story.

And how about Noel Clarke! I ripped him for his ham-fisted performance in Rose, but he's miles better in Aliens of London/World War Three. It helps that the character is given more to do than look scared or obnoxious, but Clarke sells Mickey's arc quite nicely. Again, we see how the year-late plot device is used to develop character: Mickey is a murder suspect who has grown a lot colder in the last 12 months. I'm not sure I buy that he'd still love Rose after her action turned his life into a living hell for a year, but Mickey's a soft dude, so I'll let it slide. The way the character ends the story is nice, too: he has his hero moment, he helped save the world, but he's still scared little Mickey, and that's the difference between him and the Doctor.

Speaking of the Doc, Eccleston is given even less to do in this story than he was in The Unquiet Dead, but he makes what he can out of the material. His contempt for Mickey and Jackie even after ruining their lives is pure alien and part of what makes the Doctor who he is. It also fits in with the Ninth Doctor's brooding, bruised temperament. However, he's also clearly developed a soft spot for Rose and has started his redemption. He continues to turn the ordinary people around him into heroes - a trademark of the Ninth - and those are the most effective moments.

Rose and Harriet Jones are two of those characters in Aliens of London/World War Three, and they are used well in this story. Rose, for once, isn't trapped in a room for half the story - oh, wait. Well, at least she's not alone this time, and her bravery in rallying the Doctor and Harriet is palpable. Penelope Wilton is excellent as Harriet Jones, and her character gets a few really great moments: breaking into tears as her spirit is broken by the Slitheen and taking control of the situation in the bunker. This is a pretty strong character episode for Doctor Who, even as it takes on its blockbuster role.

Any good blockbuster has to have a good plot, though, and that's where Aliens of London/World War Three starts to slip. The story just doesn't justify its running time; while the characters are given proper space to develop, the plot does not need 90 minutes to be told. We spend most of Aliens of London watching as red herrings are revealed, only one of which (the pig) is important to the plot. Then World War Three consists mostly of running around 10 Downing Street, and while I've praised the effects work, the scenes themselves tend to drag a bit. The ending is another Davies ex machina, too, and this one is even more annoying than the one in The End of the World. The Doctor says the bunker isn't strong enough to save them from the explosion, all the emotion in prior scenes is predicated on that fact, and then the bunker is strong enough to save them from the explosion. Because it's "made in Britain". Cute.

We also have to talk about the farting aliens. The Slitheen are interesting villains to discuss: on one hand, their plan is pretty terrifying, and they are pretty nasty characters down to the bone. On the other hand, they fart. The design is a weak point, as well. I don't need to see 8-foot tall green babies with pot bellies running about the most important building in London. Lines like "I'm shaking my booty" and "victory should be naked" really rob the characters of their menace, and it's hard to be scared of them. The episode doesn't seem sure if it wants to make the Slitheen scary bad guys or comic relief, and that indecision hurts the story.

Still, Aliens of London/World War Three is really pretty good. I like it more than The Unquiet Dead even though I'm giving it the same grade, mostly because it's a more entertaining episode with some really nice quiet moments for the characters. Mickey is maybe never used this well for the remainder of the character's run (with the possible exception of Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel), and though Jackie has some good moments down the road, she's rarely as powerful as she is here. While next week finally brings some real character development for the Doctor for the first time since The End of the World - and I'm so excited to review that one - Aliens of London/World War Three is still worth watching for fun.


"If voting changed anything, they'd abolish it!" by Thomas Cookson 30/4/13

It seems Russell T. Davies was given total power over Doctor Who and his own pet spin-offs, because Russell was a prize catch to the BBC. Channel 4's Queer as Folk made him a writer the BBC wanted on their staff, and the prospect of reviving Doctor Who was the carrot used to bring him onboard, and keep him sweet.

Clearly RTD brought his Channel 4 sensibilities with him. In theory, nothing's wrong with that. Revelation of the Daleks is the closest Classic Who got to Channel 4 territory, and it's the best story of its era. A brief moment where the series looked to evolve beyond JNT's wino's vision. But by 2005, Channel 4 was the trashy Big Brother Channel, and Bad Wolf shows how that came to infect Doctor Who.

Some of his Channel 4 sensibilities make sense. Doctor Who in 2005 had to put itself on the map just like Channel 4 did when it first launched. Channel 4's opening night included The Comic Strip Presents, which RTD seemed to particularly aspire to. A bold, colourful, satirical, cinematic but homegrown pastiche show that resounded with a mainstream audience by its stark impact, hunger, and attention to 'money shots', and thus became a TV 'event'.

Here's why I'm torn over Eccleston. I found RTD's projecting such a childish bad attitude and vitriolic personality onto the show and its hero to be borderline intolerable. However, back in 2005, a show with that kind of bad attitude was probably needed. We needed a new kind of punk, with an angry snarling streak, providing some kind of direct shakeup of the complacent TV landscape of introspective dramas and vile, self-improvement reality shows. Something that imbued people to say 'Sod it! I'm worth more than this!' Like how Boys From The Black Stuff was pretty bitter, but crucially was 'medicinally bitter'. And somewhere beneath RTD's vitriolic personality was remnants of a lost generational upbringing that emphasised a collective socialist spirit of having a stake in your fellow man and community. Even if RTD's era seemed to scoff at idealistic notions of TV being a force for good.

But RTD's writing could be far more vitriolic than was healthy. Also, it was a rather two-faced punk aesthetic, simultaneously putting on a jolly smile and cosying up to modern sycophantic TV media culture. This was no gradual corruption, but RTD's intention from the start. The guy never had integrity. What's almost unforgivable is how RTD's philistine, anti-intellectualist writing demanded the same kind of unthinking culture that let pass all the terrible deeds of our government, because overthinking is for sad nerds and ming-mongs (oh Russell, you're such a charmer). No one was prepared to tread on his toes, to curb his vitriolic streak either in his stories or his interviews.

But even this anti-intellectualism maybe had worth back then. Perhaps we needed something that declared an intent to cut through the intellectualist crap and just say 'no', advocating taking a stand, taking action. Because with noughties media culture, there was so much information and political angles being poured into us, it was unprocessable, leaving us mostly confused, exhausted, bored and apathetic, and just willing to trust in someone in power who could make sense of what to do. So we probably could do with a popular show with a reckless hero of direct action, and a head writer as intellectually conceited as Russell.

This story is very The Comic Strip Presents. All cartoonish political satire, big money shots and lots of oversaturated colour. Why then, as a fan of The Comic Strip, do I find this awful?

Well, because as inconsistent and implausible as The Comic Strip was, you couldn't accuse it of being unimaginative. This, like so many RTD stories is depressingly unimaginative. Whereas The Comic Strip Presents' satirical moments had vitality, the satire here feels witless, slapdash, routine and incredibly tedious. It feels forced into the story like a long intrusion rather than evolving naturally from it. It's also too self-aware, smug and laboured to work. You got the sense the Comic Strip writers were striving to say something worthy. This just feels like a 'this'll do' exercise, which speaks of RTD's reprehensible contempt for the mass audience's intellectual capacities.

It also doesn't feel at all adventurous in the way the Comic Strip did. It feels stagey and restricted. Sure, in certain places it was exhilarating and involving, but afterwards it feels horribly sloppy, like rotten junk food.

In fact, the Doctor bluffing the Slitheen with triplicating the alcohol's flammability is this story in microcosm. A load of ineloquently infantile nonsense made up as it goes along and ending in a cop-out. Likewise, the whole story is made up of our heroes waffling unbelievably and indulgently in the face of death, even working in the repeated "he's got a northern accent" gag whilst the enemy patiently waits for them to finish. It seems the threat would wait a year for them. There's no suspense in the end.

Perhaps the saddest indication that this is The Comic Strip gone wrong is that we have the adventurous Doctor Who grounded in a soap opera with all sci-fi elements and plot mechanics jettisoned, and a Doctor horrendously mischaracterised and miscast as a common belligerent bullyboy thug. This is the kind of wrongheaded take on a classic institution that the Comic Strip would do as a parody of the kind of product we get when TV fatcats who just don't get the original concept decide to re-envision it for their cynical notions of mass appeal. But the actual fact of this isn't a joke, nor is it a one-off. This is really how RTD sees the show working. It's ridiculous in ways the show never was before, even in the dark JNT days. You could almost show Dalek or The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances as a better starting point for non-fans, but even then they'd have to get past the laughable concept that this character is an enlightened alien from an advanced civilization.

Shall I count the ways this story disgraces the Doctor's character? I swear, during the scene where the Doctor is belittling Mickey by calling him Ricky and 'the idiot', Attack of the Cybermen spontaneously became a masterpiece of character drama. The Ninth Doctor isn't even being the kind of Scorsese anti-hero who, for all their vileness, manages to cathartically say the unsayable for us, he's just delighting in being mean for its own sake. So there was no catharsis for us, the viewer. We were simply shown a horrible lesson that modern fandom learned here. That it's so easy to be a bully. And as fan culture descended into that, I'm ashamed to admit I became an online bully too. I was childish, vile, and it gradually became as natural to me as breathing. Am I blaming Russell for this? In a way, yes. Enough bad work can be corrosive to a culture and I firmly believe RTD's era was incredibly corrosive to fan culture. It reinforced how contemptful and worthless we are, according to Russell, whilst pointing the finger so vaguely that inevitably fans chose the power of deflection. And so fandom's ivory tower became more ruthlessly defended. All because RTD's era sent a horrible message, that some people don't count.

This gets worse in part two when the Doctor intersperses a frantic call to Mickey to call on him for help in a life or death situation, with yet more vitriolic insults. Doesn't anyone long for the days when the Doctor had to navigate other grown men's childish pettiness, rather than making other well-meaning people navigate his own? But it's all right because Mickey earns the Doctor's respect in the end, which of course makes up for it. And all Mickey had to do to earn it was recklessly put his life in danger and blow up all the aliens.


But it's the Doctor's moments of being a complete liability that really made me despair first time watching this.

When the UNIT advisors are being electrocuted, he turns his own badge on the Slitheen, and leaves the power running and bails. It never occurs to him that if he survived the voltage, then some of the UNIT members might have too, and might've only been stunned if he cut the power then. Since when did the Doctor become so dangerously stupid, or prone to leaving anyone behind? I could probably forgive this if the story took the missed opportunity to carry through the Doctor's anger at the Slitheen's massacre of his UNIT comrades, instead of having him joking about.

Then there's the death of the space pig, which is so contrived as a set-piece that the Doctor is forced to be beyond incompetent in preventing the utterly predictable. For God's sake, he's worked with the military before and his healthy (and not so healthy) cynicism about them is well documented. So when he orders a defence pattern delta, then the pig runs away and he chases it, but doesn't bother doing anything sensible like shouting "don't shoot!", what the hell did he think was going to happen? The set-piece necessitates the Doctor again being a complete idiot to let it happen in ways that the Doctor's incapable of.

In fact, this Doctor is a soap character. A Phil Mitchell, with none of the Doctor's enlightenment or intelligence. RTD has turned everyone into a petty-minded soap character just to make them 'relateable'.

The soap approach arrives in force here. At first, Jackie's reaction to Rose's return is very well handled, right till the line "What scares me most is you still can't say." But then, bizarrely, the Doctor is still welcomed in her flat when watching the news (incidentally, the tastelessly on-the-nose digs at 9/11, i.e. "watch the skies" are what made RTD into the reprehensible villain I now see him as), and is even at the homecoming party. It's all thrown in the garbage, in such a way that Jackie's calling a Code Red seems to happen only because the story needs her to. Likewise the Slitheen policeman hunting her comes off as a false, contrived reason to keep her in the action.

It's still more believable than the contrived attempt to repeat this with Martha's mum. Mainly because the Ninth Doctor genuinely had 'mad, bad and dangerous to know' written all over him. Trying to force the same ferociously suspicious reaction to the endearing, clean-cut Tenth Doctor doesn't work. If Francine initially trusted the Doctor with Martha, and felt her daughter had found the right man, only for his explosive stint in the lab with the Bunsen burners to endanger Martha, so she understandably feels betrayed, then the audience could genuinely empathise.

Whilst this story descends into soap, the Doctor keeps repeating "I don't do domestics" with typical RTD overstatement. (How did RTD get praised for making Doctor Who cut to the chase more, when so much of his dialogue is worthless infantile repetition of the same thing? Yes I know that's a signal to Fred.) Meaning we're watching soap opera business with the dialogue repeatedly telling us in contrary fashion 'this is not a soap'. And somehow it worked at convincing fandom that the soap charge against RTD was fallacious, even though it's blatantly true. The same Orwellian double-speak con-trick Warriors of the Deep pulled. The same way RTD sycophant Lawrence Miles desperately claimed farting aliens is cleverly innovative and convention-defying.

Normally, I forgive implausible science when done with genuine 'anything's possible' whimsy. Like breaking Meglos' chronic hysteresis loop. But there's nothing whimsical about this cynical, tasteless story, or about our heroes nuking the villains via laptop. The 'massive weapons of destruction' gag is beyond witless, and the fact the public are shown to be stupid and gullible enough to be fooled twice, is so unbelievable, it's beyond contemptuous and insulting.

It baffles me how RTD's era gained such massive public good will, whilst demonstrating so little.