Doctor Who Re-watch: Aliens of London/World War Three
Sorry guys for the lateness of this write-up. Ben was on time, but I’m in Canberra for the 2018 Hardcopy manuscript development program and now is the first chance I’ve had to upload words to this blog. Aliens of London/WW3 is RTD’s first two-parter and to keep things manageable for Ben and I with these re-watches, unless it’s a finale, we’re reviewing two-parters together.
So, how did this one hold up? I originally rated this one pretty high on a re-watch a few years back on livejournal. Alas, this time round the fart jokes, the fat shaming and the strange character beats were not so appealing for this little birdie. On the plus side, we get introduced to Harriet Jones and the second episode has some interesting and funny moments.
Maureen: I liked the opening to Aliens of London. It set the tone (perhaps a little misleadingly) for a fun adventure romp on earth with The Doctor and Rose and continued the theme of The Doctor driving the TARDIS poorly. Suddenly, the series 5 River/Doctor about River driving the TARDIS better is a whole lot funnier… the second episode had little original in its opening to commend itself to me.
Ben: For a two-parter that ended up being inconsistent in quality, we had a hell of an opening in this first episode. After a short recap of Rose, Mickey and Jackie’s adventures so far, we land back on Earth so that Rose can visit her mum. The Doctor assures her that it’s only been 12 hours since she first left with the Doctor, however the Doctor can’t drive the TARDIS and it turns out it has in fact been 12 MONTHS. Whoops. Cue title sequence!
The second episode’s pre-title sequence was mostly a recap, but I did appreciate the smooth transition into the episode proper, literally picking up where they left off last episode with the Doctor and the other alien experts being electrocuted. I guess it is a good thing Rose didn’t get in to the meeting, or she’d be toast. Luckily for the Doctor, Time Lords are made of sturdier stuff, so he’s able to pull off the electrocution lanyard and turn it on to the Slitheen. Aaaand, cue title sequence. It’s nothing special…
Maureen: Now that we’re back on earth, RTD moves beyond Rose as companion to add in a companion who never was (but could have been) in Harriet Jones, as well as the Mickey and Jackie team (I like to imagine that the whole River/Amy/Rory team was a response to how poorly these two were handled by RTD). There’s a lot of people to juggle when you throw in the alien of the week and The Doctor too, but for the first ten minutes of Aliens of London and most of World War Three, RTD pulls it off.
I’m not sold on the actress playing Jackie Tyler, but I sympathized with her concern for Rose, who on earth has essentially become a missing person case with Mickey, the black boyfriend prime suspect. It’s a shame RTD couldn’t leave this story open-ended a little longer, as it would have been an interesting theme to explore over multiple episodes, but as it is, it feels pretty surface level. I did love Jackie stitching The Doctor with a well-aimed slap and that we saw her trauma and sadness over Rose vanishing with a strange man without warning. In World War Three, she is a vehicle to remind us of the dangers of travelling with The Doctor when she asks him if her daughter will be safe. The Doctor never answers…
Mickey fairs less well in the two-parter, but especially in the first episode. I don’t know that it’s the actor’s fault, but Mickey sounds whiny when he says The Doctor ruined his life (probably because we never see how Mickey’s life has changed sans Doctor in the story). At least Mickey found UNIT (even if they seem a little rusty on dealing with alien invasion despite their numerous cases in classic Who) to gain some agency back and shows presence of mind to run away from The Slitheen when he sees they are outnumbered (sometimes being a coward is useful). In World War Three, I found myself more sympathetic towards Mickey mainly because he does more. Despite Jackie’s year of suspicion toward Mickey, it is he that saves her and promises to protect her no matter what (showing he genuinely cares about more than just Rose as someone to bonk), he gets a picture of The Slitheen that attacked Jackie and sends it to The Doctor for identification and formulation of an actual plan and hacks the Royal Navy to destroy Westminster.
Random aside: Moffat is known for riffing stories, especially previous Who stories, and I noticed the way The Doctor said ‘Mickey the idiot. The world is in your hands. Fire’ is reflected in The Eleventh Hour in the below exchange between Eleven and Jeff:
DOCTOR: Listen to me. In ten minutes, you’re going to be a legend. In ten minutes, everyone on that screen is going to be offering you any job you want. But first, you have to be magnificent. You have to make them trust you and get them working. This is it, Jeff, right here, right now. This is when you fly. Today’s the day you save the world.
JEFF: Why me?
DOCTOR: It’s your bedroom. Now go, go, go.
Nine tears people down because he is all ego and trauma and pain. Eleven builds people up and gives them agency to fly. God, how I wish Eleven had met Mickey.
In the end, Mickey is offered a space in The TARDIS at least, but he turns it down, claiming coward to the end. I’m not sure I bought this. He has shown himself to be no coward, but maybe he feels responsibility to earth and protecting it from the aliens he knows are now out there (whether through UNIT or someone else) or maybe he knows he needs to let Rose go.
And what of Rose? She doesn’t do much this two-parter, with Harriet Jones getting the best ‘aha’ moments. Still, Rose is the one who figures out how The Doctor, Harriet and her can survive Mickey’s bomb blast. I wasn’t a fan of her violent responses to the alien invasion or flippant weight loss joke (and nor was Harriet) and I hated her false statements to Mickey about missing him and caring for him (come on, Rose. You clearly don’t.)
And at last I get to Harriet Jones. God, how I loved her. I truly felt like she was so fully realised she could have been a companion. I love that she’s a small town MP with brains and heart and the persistence of an old school investigative journalist. I love that she tells Rose where to get off. I love that The Doctor passes his alcohol vial to her before Rose. I love that somehow she finishes the story as PM.
Ben: Okay, there’s a lot to cover here with companions. First Rose, then Mickey, then Jackie, then Harriet Jones. But really, Mickey got all the good bits in these episodes.
Rose is something of an observer for most of these episodes, with everything happening around her. Mostly it’s her mum having a very understandable reaction to her only daughter vanishing for a year and then not telling her where she’s been. She really is caught between a rock and a hard place there, I’m not sure what I would say in her situation at all. But once the alien spaceship crash lands in London she doesn’t really do much other than argue with Jackie and Mickey. World War Three opens with her and Harriet being chased by a Slitheen, only to be quickly reunited with the Doctor. From then on, all she does is emote and react to the events occurring around her.
I was surprised to find myself liking Mickey in these episodes! It’s clear he’s had a rough year, Jackie accusing him of Rose’s disappearance is no easy thing to shake off. Yes he was a bit of a dick to everyone in the first episode, but I think that’s a fair reaction all things considered. Plus the Doctor is still being a dick to him for no good reason. He really comes into things during World War Three, first trying to protect Jackie, and then being the Doctor’s man on the computer. He gets a bad case of the technobabble, but what’s a Doctor Who episode without some nonsense scifi talk. Mass murder aside, he’s become a much better character by the end of the episode, you can see more of the Mickey that joins Unit and less of the whiney boy. Plus, coming to an understanding with the Doctor means hopefully they can move on from the ridiculous name calling.
Similarly, Jackie didn’t do much after the first 15 minutes of Aliens of London. She got to ask some very pointed questions about where Rose has been for the last year, and who in the fresh hell this Doctor is. (YOU HAVE A TIME MACHINE, JUST GO BACK 12 MONTHS AND SAVE YOURSELF THE TROUBLE) Then in World War Three after being saved from a Slitheen in a bit of an odd scene involving pickled foodstuffs, her primary role is to worry about Rose, whether she is safe and whether the Doctor can keep her safe. Which, as Rose’s mum, are very reasonable questions to ask. What is very ominous and foreboding is the Silence (heh) the Doctor responds with. We also get to see how fiercely protective she is of her only daughter when she threatens to stop Mickey launching the missile because there’s the risk Rose will get hurt. By the end of the episode she’s begging her daughter to stay, promising to go back to school and get a job in the hopes of keeping Rose on Earth. Not to be down on Jackie, but I think I’d choose travelling space over every day life on Earth too.
Finally, Harriet Jones. She really was my favourite thing to come from these episodes. She didn’t do a great deal besides observe proceedings along with Rose, but her no-nonsense attitude, intelligence and charisma were great on screen. Also of note, Harriet had one of my favourite lines of the episode in “you pass to the left first” when the Doctor goes to pass her a decanter of alcohol so she could have her last drink. I look forward to seeing more of her in episodes to come! She truly was the sanest companion of the lot!
Maureen: Aside from the first ten minutes of Aliens of London where The Doctor was funny and adventure-filled (shown in the ‘did you know this was gonna happen? Nope’ exchange, the joy on The Doctor’s face as he steered alone in the TARDIS and the ‘never put a man in front of a lift’ quote), I spent a lot of time disliking him. He emotionally blackmailed Rose constantly to continue journeying with him, insisted on calling Mickey Ricky for no good reason, continued to call Mickey an idiot and demean him in front of others, especially Rose, and generally was a bit of a dick.
Another Moffat riff I noticed comes from this episode. In the Series 10 finale, Twelve makes this speech to The Master:
Twelve: I’m not trying to win. I’m not doing this because I want to beat someone, because I hate someone, or because I want to blame someone. It’s not because it’s fun. God knows it’s not because it’s easy. It’s not even because it works because it hardly ever does. I do what I do because it’s right! Because it’s decent! And above all, it’s kind!
Compare to Nine speaking to Rose and Harriet as a dreadful decision must be made…
Nine: It’s not fun. It’s not smart. It’s just standing up and making a decision.
Final note on The Doctor: Thank God he finally lays off mocking Mickey by two-parter’s end! I get the sense he has learnt to respect Mickey, even if he’ll never like him.
Ben: I oscillated a lot between like and dislike over these episodes when it came to the Doctor. For starters, he constantly treats Mickey with disdain until he has a use for him. I’m not sure if it’s because of Rose related jealousy, but this behaviour just isn’t cute. At least by the end of the episode they reach something of an understanding, but that involved turning Mickey into a mass murderer by having him launch a missile into 10 Downing Street.
We get a lot of scenes of the Doctor investigating and problem solving and just generally being the Doctor, which were fine, but not particularly inspiring. The investigating the alien body which turns out to be a transformed pig only seems to happen as an excuse to get The Doctor to leave without Rose, furthering the conflict between Rose, Mickey, and Jackie. Things pick up in the second episode when he locks himself, Rose, and Harriet in the Cabinet Room, and we get some good banter, great emotional moments, and some excellent Doctoring moments. The part where he admits he can’t keep Rose safe was a really But do the good Doctor moments of World War Three balance out the mostly bad Doctor moments from Aliens in London? What really sealed it as a no from me is when, right at the end of the episode when Jackie is begging Rose to stay, he pulls some cheap emotional manipulation to make sure she comes along with him.
Alien of the Week
Maureen: I noticed a couple of things about the aliens of the week to comment on. The less said about the fat shaming and the fart jokes the better…
1. Their ultimate plan is quite similar to Cassandra, also a villain from an RTD penned episode. The Slitheen want to destroy earth to sell it for fuel. Ingenious. What this says about RTD’s neuroses I’m not sure.
2. It’s interesting that The Slitheen take over key positions in UK society (PM, head of MI6, head of the military etc.) The PM, especially, is flippant and into bodily fluids and earthy feelings. He says he had a wife, a mistress and a farmer and that he wants to escape his body and get naked. Again, not sure what RTD was saying about politics or about sexuality here.
3. The Slitheen were much scarier in the second episode, as they stalked Rose and Harriet especially. The pig/human hybrid alien was just weird in episode one and I wasn’t keen on the electrocution scene.
Ben: The Slitheen really were a mixed bag, there’s not much else to say. They had a pretty good plan overall, turning the Earth into a nuclear slag to sell off as fuel. I feel like as an advanced alien species there would have been much easier ways to go about it though. If Mickey can hack into and launch a nuke (buffalo as a password, really?), I feel like the Slitheen could probably manage that too. What really weighed down the performances were the bad fart jokes, and over use of special effects. Less is more, BBC! They did have some moments of being truly intimidating, such as when one of them was hunting Rose and Harriet Jones in World War Three. But overall, they ended up being a bit more silly than scary. They had all this amazing technology, and the first part of Aliens of London really set them up well as being a real threat, this was an enemy who was able to set up significant diversions. But when it came to actually meeting the Slitheen… the follow through was disappointing. And in the end, no one actually checked to see if there were any Slitheen survivors before declaring the missile strike a success? Who knows, maybe they’ll make a return later on…
Maureen: I thought this was a kitchen sink mess for the most part, with many series regulars doing unlikable things and displaying unlikable attitudes, especially in Aliens of London which got a measly 2 stars from me. The second episode lifted its game, but not enough to salvage the truly awful first act with a solid 7/10 stars. Aliens of London/World War Three: 5/10 inky stars.
Ben: Look, it wasn’t a great two-parter, I really think they could have done better with the idea. I’m imagining a spy thriller of some form where they go back 12 months to correct the Doctor’s driving mistake and come across the Slitheen when they’ve just landed on Earth and are scoping it out/in the initial planning stages. Something more Animorphs-esque, perhaps. Anyways, I should quit before I write that whole thing out. At least we got another Bad Wolf reference? I give Aliens of London a 4/10, and World War Three a 7/10. Overall, 6/10 inky stars.