RUSSELL T. DAVIES
'THE COMPLETE FIRST SERIES' COLLECTORS' EDITION DVD BOX SET (BBCDVD1770) RELEASED IN NOVEMBER 2005.
The Doctor takes Rose home. But when a spaceship crash lands in the Thames, London is closed off and the whole world is on Red Alert. While the Doctor investigates the alien survivor, Rose discovers that her home is no longer a safe haven...
16TH APRIL 2005
(45-MINUTE EPISODE, PART 1 OF 2)
I get the feeling that reviewing this exciting new series of Doctor Who is going to quickly turn into a redundant exercise, with even the most constructive of criticisms few and far between. Suffice it to say that Aliens of London builds upon the new series’ triumphant start, delivering what is perhaps the most breathtaking episode yet.
The first of the three two-parters in the series opens with a wonderful scene in which the Doctor brings Rose home, almost swaggeringly confident in his assertion that only twelve hours have passed for the world whilst she has been away. Of course, twelve months have passed; Rose has been declared missing; and erstwhile boyfriend Mickey has become the chief suspect in her ‘murder’!
“But d'you know what terrifies me? That you still can't say. What happened to you, Rose?”
After the Doctor tries to explain Rose’s absence
to her Mother and to the Police by saying that he “employed her as his companion” - and gets a slapping for doing so! - the storyline begins proper as during a very flirtatious rooftop chat, a fantastic CG spaceship suddenly flies over the heads of the Doctor and Rose before spectacularly crashing into Big Ben. You can almost see the Doctor’s eyes light up as it happens.
The UFO crash sequence is absolutely cinematic; surely the kind of scene that will stick in viewers’ minds for many years to come. That said, I did think that it was marred slightly by the comparatively poor CSO shots of the Doctor and Rose on the rooftop, which took me right back to the days of Jon Pertwee!
The following scenes, courtesy of BBC News 24, were absolutely flawless though. I have seen many movies and television shows over the years which - in whole or in part - have used news broadcasts as a vehicle to tell their story, but I have yet to come across a non-fictional news station and it’s real life reporters (Andrew Marr and Matt Baker) being used
in this manner. This BBC News coverage really affords the episode a sense of realism and immediacy that sets it apart from anything that I’ve ever seen before.
“We could always do what everyone else does. We could watch it on TV.”
However, for me what made this episode so utterly riveting was the complexity of the plotline and the increased time devoted to dwell on the characters. The pace remains every bit as fast as in the first three episodes, but with a two-parter there is twice the time for twice the story. The whole episode seemed to breathe more easily than its forerunners, really allowing writer Russell T Davies to spoil us with more character moments and delicate world building.
Little things, like the baby on the Doctor’s knee wrestling the control away from him and putting Blue Peter on (a nice little nod to the many features that Blue Peter have run on Doctor Who over years); the Doctor’s revelation that he is 900 years old (or thereabouts!); Rose being given her own TARDIS key; and, best of all, the fact that on the whole Powell Estate, only the Doctor and Rose seem to be remotely excited at the prospect of humans making first contact with extra-terrestrials! As the Doctor points out to Rose, most people would rather talk about mobile phones and being asked out on dates than aliens. It is this sort of delectable contrast that makes Aliens of London, and indeed the revived series as
a whole, so damned compelling.
“You ruined my life, Doctor. They thought she was dead. I was a murder suspect, all because of you.”
I also thought that the TARDIS scenes with Mickey and Jackie Tyler were exceptionally well done. Mickey is a much more entertaining character here than he was in Rose - rather than just some annoying cockney kid, he is someone who has been persecuted for a whole year for something that he has not done. His jealously and anger towards the Doctor are evident, clearly not helped by the Doctor continually referring to him as “Ricky” and belittling him. Still, Mickey gets his own back - his line about wherever you see the Doctor’s name, beneath it you will find a list of the dead seems to really hit a nerve, and follows up a similar line that Clive had in Rose very nicely.
Camille Coduri’s Jackie Tyler is at least equally brilliant. Her reaction to the TARDIS is one of massive culture shock and, of course, fear. After all – how would you feel if your long-lost daughter turned up out of the blue, only to reveal that she’d been travelling around with an alien? I think most people would call the ‘Alien Emergency Helpline’, if there were such a thing.
“He’s not my boyfriend, Mickey, he’s better than that. He's much more important. And he would never-”
Billie Piper has been consistently superb this series, and her rapport with Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor is electric. In Aliens on London though, I think that she gives her best performance to date. Not only does she excel in what the Doctor would call the ‘domestic’ scenes, but she is also outstanding in her ‘big’ scenes too. I love how that, after seeing the world’s end and ghosts and Autons, she is still phased by 10 Downing Street!
“Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North.”
I was also thrilled to see Penelope Wilton in the show as the hilariously humble Harriet Jones. Davies’ again manages to plausibly convey the sense of fear, wonder and shock
that ‘normal’ people feel when they experience aliens and the like, and after the horror she witnesses here, poor Harriet really has our sympathies, especially as she is visibly doing
all that she can to hold back her terror and put on a brave face for Rose. As a huge fan of Teachers it was also great to see Navin Chowdry (Kurt!) in there too, though I did struggle
to take him seriously in a straight role.
“IT WAS SCARED!”
One of the most powerful sequences in the episode for me is where the Doctor uncovers
that the pilot of the crashed UFO was not an alien after all – just a freakily enhanced pig. It
is a testament to Eccleston’s skill as an actor that he managed to make the scene where
the soldiers shoot the pig down so very gut-wrenching. In a less capable actor’s hands, the scene could so easily have become farcical.
I also love how the ninth Doctor is able to just walk into a room of armed military personnel and instantly have them follow his lead without having to show them any sort of identification; his whole bearing simply exudes authority and confidence.
“'Scuse me, d'you mind not farting when I'm saving the world?”
As usual, I was watched the episode with my fiancée who, like a massive proportion of the eight million watching, had no idea that the Doctor was once exiled on Earth and employed by a paramilitary organisation called UNIT. As I had convinced myself that UNIT was an area that the new series would try to avoid - continuity to a minimum, and all that jazz - I was busy giving her a brief précis of the third Doctor’s UNIT adventures when suddenly, new-look UNIT personnel appeared on our television screen. To say that I was pleased would be something of an understatement, even given UNIT’s limited role and the lack of any familiar faces.
And thinking about it further, to not include UNIT in this sort of modern-day alien invasion would have all but contradicted the show’s history – how could they not be involved? How could the Doctor not be known to the powers that be? And Davies somehow struck just the right balance with his script; rather than demystify the Time Lord to the new viewers who know so little about his past, to reveal that he once worked for a secret organisation without elaborating too much on the point only furthers his mystique.
“Would you rather silent but deadly...?”
Naturally, the reveal of the titular Aliens of London in all their monstrous glory is revealed for fairly late in the day, though we are treated to their downright bizarre - but nonetheless sinister - antics as, compressed inside human “skin suits”, they slowly infiltrate the upper echelons of our government. Thankfully these ‘Slitheen’ are all portrayed by actors of the highest calibre, as indeed they had to be to be able to pull of the farting with any real sense of menace. I was particularly impressed with David Verrey’s vile acting Prime Minster.
Clearly though, a horde of farting aliens was always going to offend the more prudish members of the audience, as well as those who may have slightly more high brow tastes.
In context though, the Slitheens’ gastronomic problems actually make a lot of sense when you think about it; after all, if you have a huge alien creature contained in what is effectively
a highly-convincing zip-up “skin suit”, then there is bound to be a bit of trapped wind! More importantly though, the vast majority of those watching the show will have revelled in Davies’ gross humour, particularly the younger members of the audience. I know that I did.
And at long last, we get a cliffhanger; and I’m pleased to say that it was well worth the wait. Having deprived us of cliffhangers for the first three weeks of the run, the production team have deigned to make up for it here with what is essentially a triple-threat cliffhanger - it is not just the two regulars that are in danger, but all the characters that we have come to care about – the Doctor, Rose and Harriet, Jackie and Mickey...
All told then, whilst it is hard to judge without sight of the ensuing World War Three, for me Aliens of London typifies exactly what the revived series has to offer. At times, it is reminis-cent of of Lance Parkin’s ‘first contact’ novel, The Dying Days, whilst at others, it is hard to tell it apart from Eastenders. And whilst it certainly won’t be to everybody’s tastes, those that do take to it are sure to love it.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
When is now? As this story is explicitly set twelve months after the events of Rose, it must be set on or around 26th March 2006, almost a year ahead of its transmission.
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