Aliens of London
Aliens of London/World War Three
World War Three
|Production Code||Series One Episode Five|
|Dates||April 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 living among us.|
First real disappointment by Michael Hickerson 8/5/05
In the 60s and 70s aliens invaded Earth for a number of reasons. In The Dalek Invasion of Earth the Daleks wanted to hollow out the planet's core and drive the Earth around space as some type of huge space ship (don't ask... it never made much sense to me either). In the Pertwee era, aliens came knocking because we'd sent up spacecraft, thus announcing our presence. Also the Master thought it would be fun to conquer Earth and destroy the Doctor.
Now, in the new modern era of Doctor Who, aliens don't show up en masse to take over the planet. Instead, they show up as galactic entrepreneurs out to make a quick buck by having the entire planet go to war. Aliens have invaded the UK at the highest levels of power in order to get permission to use nuclear warheads to turn the planet into a radioactive slag heap and sell off the waste to the highest bidder. The waste can be used to power space crafts.
That, in a nutshell, is the entire plot the Slitheen have for our planet. No grand dreams of conquest, no bringing the aliens to our doorstep because of anything we've done. Nope, we've essentially got a bunch of aliens who are creating their own E-Bay auction for the remains of planet Earth.
I understand that we're living in a new, modern age here and we've got to have a bit more motivation out of our Doctor Who monsters. But even this idea seems a bit paper thin at best. With the wealth of other planets even in, say, our solar system, why pick Earth? Did I miss some dialogue that stated that Earth's composition made it a better radioactive fuel than others? Or was it that we just had the weapons to create the galactic slagheap? Now, I realize here that I'm answering my own argument, but I still think this is something that one or two lines of dialogue in the story could easily address. But, alas, it's not.
Instead, we get a lot of the other infamous Doctor Who cliche - running down the corridor.
Five episodes into the new age of Doctor Who and we've got a myriad of corridor chases. It's good to know that Doctor Who's contribution to the Olympic games lives on for a new generation of fans to enjoy.
None of this is to say that I found World War III to be all that bad. I found parts of it to be rather enjoyable. But overall, I found it to rather disjointed. Whereas Aliens of London made a smooth transition from the concerns by Rose's mother and Mickey about her travels in time to the main plot of aliens coming from the sky, this one didn't do as well moving from one plot the next. We end the Slitheen storyline with ten minutes to go and then have several dead scenes of Rose and her mother chatting about inviting the Doctor over for dinner and how her travels will affect the family. Now, I did find the scenes with the Doctor and Mickey to be well done, especially with Mickey admitting he's not cut out for travel with the Doctor. But again, it was a rather abrupt change of tone in the story.
Not that we needed more of the Slitheen.
I think the production staff fell in love with the new effects for the first time. We seemed to have a lot of transitions from the Slitheen in their human bodies to being in their alien appearance. I swear someone was scratching open a forehead every two minutes after the Doctor, Rose and Harriet Jones lock themselves in the safe room. Every two seconds the Slitheen were slipping in and out of their suits and it felt more like a time filler than anything else.
It certainly took away from the sense of paranoia and panic that pervaded part one.
That's not to say I thought all of World War III was that bad. I liked the debates between the Doctor and Rose in the war room. It was nice to see Mickey well used and to see how he's taken up the cause that Clive had back in Rose. Mickey actually worked as a character and while it might be intriguing for him to travel with the Doctor and Rose, I'm glad he didn't. He could easily become the Adric of this series and we don't need that.
The scene with the Doctor asking for bits of info about the Slitheen to determine their home world and how to stop them was nice. And it's interesting how extreme the measures the Doctor is now taking to stop the alien baddies. He's let Cassandra die, sacrificed the girl in The Unquiet Dead... and here he allows a missile strike to take out Downing Street. He also slaps a band on the aliens in the opening moments of the episode and gives Mickey the way to kill a Slitheen when it attacks he and Rose's mother. I find it interesting to see this development in the Doctor where the ends justify the means. We saw this develop in the seventh Doctor and now it's continuing here. I keep getting the feeling that something has hardened the Doctor... he used to fight for a peaceful solution. Here, he barely acknowledges it, instead choosing to blow up the Slitheen in order to stop them. I can't help but wonder if we're missing a bit of the clever ways the Doctor used to defeat alien menace here so that we can have a big explosion to end the story.
Again, I sense there is something building in a season-long arc type of way, so I'm reserving too much judgment at this point and time. It may all make a lot more sense when we get to episode 13 and everything gels.
Until then, the fifth episode feels a lot like a placeholder. This may be that I'm about to go crazy to see the new Daleks show up next week. (How good was that preview, I ask you?) Or it may be that it was just too disjointed an episode to really capture and hold my attention. Again, there are a lot of isolated things I liked, but when you add it all up, I'm not sure it worked as an entire episode, much less the second half of a story.
RTD on acid! by Joe Ford 21/6/05
Far, far better. Any problems that I had with Aliens of London are successfully ironed out and as a whole this works very well indeed with each storyline being paid off with a great deal of style. The comedy, drama and excitement mingle together to create a thrilling 45 minutes of television and for the first time this season I actually got the very real impression that I was watching "old style" Doctor Who. If you were plummeting to the depths of TV hell and watching Celebrity Wrestling on the other side instead of this then shame on you.
I know this will leave my good friends Mike Morris and Rob Matthews spitting blood but World War Three felt like a really good episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Not only because it was well performed and filmed but there is a terrific thread of humour running through the episode that keeps things electrical on screen. The characters all have a marvellous chemistry and all get very funny lines, which helps to balance the crisis with entertainment. Don't get me wrong... this isn't light entertainment, not when you are talking about nuking the world and firing missiles, but the humour complements the action brilliantly, helping you to like the characters and really care about the danger they are in.
Would any other show do something as daring as destroying such iconic buildings as this does? After the reaction to 9/11 it is understandable that terrorist attacks on TV have calmed down a tad with only natural disasters acceptable to see famous landmarks destroyed (ie The Day After Tomorrow). How like Doctor Who to jump in feet first with these unforgettable images... certainly the destruction of Big Ben was all the talk at my work place last week. It is the shows bravery and unashamed melodrama that has kept it going for so many years. You want Dinosaurs roaming about London? Or the Loch Ness Monster peeking up from the Thames? Now we can add these glorious shock images to the list and even better, we now have the budget to support such spectacle. And they just look fab.
The Slitheen come off much better in World War Three mostly because we always suspected they were supposed to be comedy aliens and they are now confirmed as such. Their cute, bug eyed appearance and wickedly funny lines combine to create an alien race with one of the most ingenious schemes ever to grace the series. They in the middle of galatic recession? What, have they let Margaret Thatcher run the universe or something? There is nothing more amusing than a being chased around corridors by monsters and if you are going to do then why not choose the most spectacular locale to do it in... 10 Downing Street! The FX team pull off the rubber costumes and CGI with minimal fuss, you can obviously tell which is which (and occasionally those fingernails are a bit too rubbery to have the knife edge sound effects playing over them) but I was so caught up in what was actually going on I can only remember nodding at the scene where the Doctor, Rose and Harriet are being pursued by three CGI Slitheen and commenting "That is so cool." Whether arguing over whose disguise belongs to who or uttering a quick "BOL-" before being blown to smithereens, this was simply a far better attempt to appeal to adults as kids with the aliens than the last episode and the incessant farting (which made a brief appearance but was not dwelled upon, much as it should have last week). Personally my favourite Slitheen moment came during the climax when the missile has been launched and everybody is getting nervous and excited and we cut back to the Slitheen for a quick second all waiting by the phone for the emergency codes and one of them cries "Ring, damn you!" Absolute genius.
Of course there is a more serious side to the episode which began in Aliens of London dealing with Rose's return home and her mother's integration into her new life. This is where Russell's writing is at its best to be honest. Whilst this episode has sold me on his ability to write good science fiction, I was always convinced that he could write good human drama and he excels himself here. I love how it is slipped into the chaotic moments without feeling intrusive, any other series would be mad to take a second out of the end of the world to discuss a distraught mother worrying about her child but Jackie's concerns feel real and her "Can you promise me my daughter will always be safe?" when a bloody missile is heading for Rose really hits home. World War Three has proven that this two parter is far more interested in Jackie than it is in Rose which is probably no bad thing, we can emote with Rose in any episode but our rare glimpses of Jackie have got to have a real punch. And boy has she come on since the first episode, now she is a fully fleshed-out character, funny, sharp and pathetic all rolled into one. I think she is great and has been responsible for the most emotional scenes yet. Her quiet "Don't go sweetheart..." at the end is heartbreaking and for a second you want Rose to stay. It says something about Russell's writing for "straight" drama that I found the final scene of World War Three far more satisfying than that of Aliens of London, big blobby aliens are all very well but a mother and daughter being torn apart is just shattering.
And wow! That was Mickey! I really wanted him to hop in at the end, I think Noel Clarke has relaxed into the series and would make a pretty cool companion, had he accepted the Doctor's offer I think there could have been a nice bit of tension on board the TARDIS. It is the Doctor's nasty comments about him that make Mickey such fun, despite how has been treated by our favourite Time Lord he still hacks into the Royal Navy and saves the day. There is something wonderfully boggle-eyed about Mickey, that he is constantly being confronted with things that are just beyond his comprehension and Clarke has the comedy coward with a heart down pat. I find his character very appealing (and not just because I think black guys are hot) because he does what a situation demands, he'll pick up a baseball bat and fight even if his instincts are telling him to hide under a table. The "I just saved your life!" "How embarrassing!" scene was excellent.
The least Doctor-ish episode is followed up by the most Doctor-ish episode. How bizarre. Three episodes in and Eccleston has got it. Not perfect mind because he still grins inanely during some tense moments (I really wanted to punch him when that lift door opened and the Slitheen was standing there... and he grinned!) but he is afforded some strong, emotional moments, which really suit Eccleston. Plus he is given some very witty dialogue, which reminded me of Tom Baker at the peak of his powers, his whole sequence with the sonic screwdriver and the alcohol was very funny and delivered to perfection. It was his dilemma between saving the world and saving Rose that I found most satisfying and rarely has the Doctor's love for his companion shone through so bright. When he tells Jackie over the speakerphone about how dangerous his life can be you believe him totally.
I feel I should say a few words about Murray Gold whose incidental music has been given a good slagging off week after week now. If you don't like synthesised music then you are fans of the wrong show! I think he understands the show perfectly, slightly camp but full of excitement, he gives the action a real boost and scores the emotional moments with appropriate beauty. He certainly did a brilliant job with this episode with his constant, jittery score throughout the missile sequences and a tear-jerking finale as Rose is reunited with her mum. Bravo.
The first two parter can only be seen as a success. Perhaps my bad feelings towards last week was because I was frustrated at not being able to see how this concluded... no, there were some genuine problems there. But World War Three addressed them and improved them and made for a far more entertaining and powerful 45 minutes.
Now we have a set of "regulars" that extends beyond the Doctor and Rose, I cannot wait until we pop back and visit them again.
Russell Drops a Clanger! by Ron Mallett 10/8/05
Well this Saturday saw the seeming demise of the Slitheen (oh, and that's their surname and not their species - what a revelation!). This episode saw the Doctor, Rose and some menopausal politician hide in a a metal box that sealed the cabinet room in 10 Downing Street. Using Rose's supermobile phone, the Doctor was able to direct Mickey to save Rose's Mum and save the world. You see what those dastardly foetuses were attempting to do was start a nuclear war so they could sell what was left of the planet as nuclear fuel. Original I'll grant you, but a bit feeble and convoluted.
In fact that's the problem isn't it? A lot of these stories seem to be primarily driven by what might look good on the screen. Last week we had a space ship hit Big Ben and this week we saw 10 Downing Street blown up. The new series is written mostly by Russell T. Davies, I just wonder if the dog is wagging the tail or the tail is wagging the dog? To explain these events we have the highly unlikely climax that involved the Doctor, Rose and Harriet Jones MP being blown from the building in a steel box by a missile that the Doctor had directed Rose's ex-boyfriend to direct via his home PC. Somehow I think the intense heat would have somehow roasted all three before it hit the ground. How lucky it landed the right way up so that they could walk straight out! It smacks of a sort of dot-to-dot plot construction that never produces satisfying stories. Oh, well, it looked good anyway. There were some great visual moments though. The moment when the Slitheen occupied Sergeant Price - played by Morgan Hopkins - was dissolved by a glass of vinegar was quite funny. The moment when the officer ran into a room full of Slitheen was also well played. The military mind - with all it's inability for individual and creative thought, right-wing tendencies and habit of resorting to violence to solve any problem - is a bit of an easy target though. In terms of performances we got to see some really strong ones: Eccleston put in another solid performance as the loopy time traveller, I think Annette Badland also needs to be singled out for a very creepy performance as Margaret Blaine of MI5.
The major problem again is of course, the format. Although this was the second instalment in a story, I was wondering how they could wrap up the Slitheen plot line in only 45 minutes. There was very little progress in the first episode with a lot of focus being placed on Rose's disappearance and its effect on those close to her. Not only did Davies wrap the Slitheen up, he found time for some more "tender moments" where Rose could say goodbye to her sceptical Mum. Even the Doctor had time for a bit of a heart to heart with Mickey! I found the resolution of the Slitheen threat a bit swift. I mean, solving a problem by dropping a bomb on it was very President Bush wasn't it! I just found the story a bit unsatisfying in that we didn't learn much about the aliens other than they don't like vinegar, they do like hunting and making a profit, and they wanted to turn Earth into a radioactive mess to sell off as fuel (?). It's not just a matter of taking the padding out either, it's taking the substance out of stories and injecting a lot of limp-wristed relationship orientated nonsense that belongs in Neighbours. "I could save the world and lose you!" Give me a break! In the old days this would have been a six part story and the Doctor would have been an heroic figure leading UNIT against an alien threat, not hiding in a metal box while others take all the risks! Then there's the American-style recapping that treats the audience as if they are all suffering from senility. I can remember what happened last week Russell, I watched it. If I didn't I would be able to catch up - particularly when you're plotting a story! Then we get to see what's happening next week... why? I'll find out next week. The show went for 27 years without having to give a preview of what was going to happen. But then... as I keep saying, it isn't Doctor Who is it? It's more like Doctor Who meets Eastenders.
It's flashy and diverting but it isn't deep. Bring on the Daleks... or should that be Dalek?
Made in Britain by Steve Cassidy 6/9/05
Everytime I slip WWIII into my DVD machine I thoroughly enjoy it.
It's a romp, pure and simple, which presses all the right buttons. It's an adventure but an adventure with gusto. It rushes along at a fair pace almost not allowing the audience to draw breathe. Just like Aliens of London it wins you over on scale and audacity alone. There are ideas here that are original and exciting. And the cast do an excellent ensemble acting job with the guest stars really giving it their all. WWIII has cause and effect, a witty script and moves along like a movie down your local multiplex.
It's damn good fun.
I am rather hard on Russell T Davies and his scripts. I do think he is an excellent producer and certainly knows his stuff about playing "the game" with the upper echelons with the BBC but he doesn't always get it right. Once in a while he slips up, once in a while a scene is misjudged, an idea goes wrong or simply he indulges himself to the detriment of character/plot etc. But not with WWIII. This adventure suffers because there are those out in fandom who don't like farting aliens. I don't always like his sense of humour - the "shaking my bootie" line rates with "Nothing in ze world will stop me now!" as the worse in forty years of the series. It just simply isn't funny but cringeworthy. But Russell has sat down and thought about WWIII. It actually builds to an effective audacious climax, it gets there through cause and effect, and the characters work all the way through. Whenever I damn him for Boom Town, Bad Wolf or Parting of the Ways I can remember how good he is WWIII, Aliens of London and the sublime The End of the World.
Also for one of Russell's scripts it has the rare attribute - a sense of danger. From the word go the characters are put through the wringer. Of course it helps that it leads in from the cliffhanger from the previous episode - Jackie menaced in her kitchen, Rose and Harriet Jones cornered in the cabinet room, the Doctor being wracked with electronic pulses in the conference room (Eccles does a good Doctor in agony, he can join the ranks of Tom and Jon who specialised in alien-induced pain). But then Russell builds on this - he continues the menace. The stalking around the oak-lined corridors of Number 10, the police chief hunting them on the council estate. All simple action and menace scenes but at this stage that is exactly what we need. We need something to grab us by the scruff of the neck. And a clever writer will build this to a climax.
In many ways it is pure B-movie stuff. Thirty years ago we would have had rubber masks and CSO. Pertwee, Manning and Courtney would have invaded Number 10 and it would have had Roger Delgado behind it all. And he of course, realising that the Slitheen would cut him out of the Earth scrap deal, would team up with the Doctor in the cabinet room to defeat them. But RTD puts a modern spin on this. He'd obviously done his homework and it is very true that nowadays the United Nations has the codes to Britain's nuclear arsenal. You could almost hear the nation's jaw hit the flaw when this was imparted. There are a couple of in-jokes as well. The 45 second line must be a direct satire on the "45 minute claim" which dragged a very reluctant Britain into a morass of a war. And this is why I love WWIII - it has global ambitions. Its scale is enormous. We aren't just stuck in a posh Cardiff restaurant debating the nature of evil, it aims for the skies and has the effects and budget to back up those ambitions. Some of the SFX are superb. One of my favourite shots of the entire new series is Jackie Tyler rushing out onto her balcony as a SCUD-like missle scrapes over the rooftops of South East London.
It also gets a bad rap because of the Slitheen. Personally, I'm nonplussed about the Slitheen although I don't think they were such a successful monster that they should have been brought back later in the series. They should have done their bit in episodes 4 and 5 then given a rest. As someone pointed out they were done back in 1980 with the Foamasi. They seemed a hotchpodge of ideas. Meant to be scary for the kids but at the same time funny due to the breaking wind, a menace to the free world but at the same time we are meant to be feel sympathy when one of their number dies - so they actually lose menace. When they kill Navin Chouhdray in Aliens of London, Margaret seems to kill him by shoving him up against a wall rather then using those enormous claws. No violence for the kiddies I suppose. I must admit that although Annette Badland and Rupert Vannissart are very good, I must commend David Verrey for his portrayal of Joseph Green. When the story takes a 180 degree turn and he stands on Number 10's steps and lies through his teeth about a mothership hovering above Britain with missiles poised to take us out - the actor is extraordinary. It's a good bit of writing carried in an almost Churchillian fashion by David Verrey, and by god he makes every syllable sound convincing.
I am of the firm opinion that less is more with Camille Coduri as Jackie Tyler, but in this story she works wonderfully. She provides the heart to this story - a woman who doesn't think about the big picture but only of herself and her relationship with her only daughter. A woman who comes close to blowing the entire plan on a number of occasions to prevent "her" Rose being in jepoardy. She's only had to look after herself and Rose in the past. And now someone else comes along and turns her daughter's head, this one is not like Mickey - she can't bully this one. And then she finds herself at the bottom of the pecking order - Rose is with the Doctor at the heart of the action and Mickey is instigating the resoloution. She has no one to bleat too, she has no one to tell "I was nearly killed" and so starts to lash out "Who the hell do you think you are?!" she shrieks at the member of Flydale North. For this adventure she works well - and I never thought I'd ever say that. It's a shame they overused her later. If her next appearance after this had been in the second series then we would have been glad to see Jackie Tyler back. Sadly they didn't do that.
Even the most churlish of fans admit that Noel Clarke's Mickey is quite likeable here. He gets to play the hero protecting a shrieking Jackie from the Slitheen, and there was a wonderful character point where Rose knows what is in his kitchen more then he does. Also, the Doctor and he bond at the end over the coverup over the entire invasion and the wonderful "He's not coming. He'd be a liability" is very touching. The Doctor does it to save Mickey's face. And as for Eccles here... well, you can divide the Doctors into two camps. Those that walk into a room and immediately take charge and those that don't. I won't go into those which can't, but the Bill, Jon, Colin and Tom shoes now comfortably fit Christopher. He immediately takes charge of a situation. His brainstorming with Rose and Harriet Jones over what they know about a Slitheen is drama at its best. And his carefully-judged missile strike suggestion was probably something he thought of hours ago but with Jackie Tyler at the end of a mobile he knew he had to play it delicately. In character, it is Rose who makes the ultimate decision for him, and Harriet Jones pulls rank on both of them and finalises the decision. She takes it out of his hands and makes it the decision of the democratically elected British government. Democracy at its best you might say. But it's the playing of the dialogue in these scenes which proves to me that Christopher Eccleston is without doubt the best Doctor since Tom Baker. And that is one hell of a compliment from me.
So there we have it. WWIII leaves you on a high. It builds to an explosive climax. When Harriet Jones emerges blinking from the rubble of Number 10 and taps the iron room which has been protecting her - the "made in Britain" line cannot fail to bring a smile to your face. WWIII is adventure pure and simple, it's ambitious and imaginative - it deals with big canvases and the fate of millions convincingly and at times puts you on the edge of your seat. It isn't perfect, if you didn't like the Slitheen before then nothing is going to convince you now and the usual RTD sugar is ladled on with a spoon. But it is a good romp that doesn't waste a scene and builds to an effective climax. The production design, effects and acting are all top notch. Best of British you might say...
Come on. Your country made this. Walk that little bit taller.