Father’s Day

It’s so weird. The day my father died. I thought it’d be all grim and stormy. It’s just another day.

The past is another country. 1987’s just the Isle of Wight.

Rose Tyler and the Ninth Doctor

Synopsis

Rose convinces the Doctor to take her back to the day of her father’s death, 7 November 1987. On a whim, she ends up changing his fate, creating a paradox and summoning the Reapers to the wedding of Stuart Hoskins and Sarah Clark.

Review

When Father’s Day was first broadcast in 2005, it was exploring relatively untrodden ground for the show. Although Ace encountered her own mother in The Curse of Fenric, it was not central to the plot, whilst here it is the driving force behind the narrative. For some fans, this story is symptomatic of the soap opera feel to the revived series, with the Reapers taking a backseat to family drama. However, this is a really moving story that deals with fixed points in time nicely and gives us nice character moments.

The story focuses on the companion, Rose Tyler, and her father Pete, who died when she was a baby in a hit-and-run. With the Doctor agreeing to take her back in time to the day when he died so that someone can be with him as he is dying, Rose freezes when it comes to the punch and she convinces him to take her back again, despite the risks, which are multiplied when Rose saves her father. As the Reapers arrive, the survivors of the wedding party take refuge in a church, as the older something is, the more protection it affords. One of the aspects of this story that interested me was the idealised view Rose has of her father from her mother’s stories, which gets quickly dispelled when the Doctor and Rose attend her parents’ wedding and once she actually gets the chance to talk to Pete in the car after saving him and in the Tylers’ flat. A relationship that has been described to Rose as being perfect, is in reality, full of suspected infidelity and arguments. Equally, when asked about what he is like as a father, she paints an equally idealised image of him as a father which he ultimately sees through and realises that he will not be around to see Rose grow up. The story is packed full of emotion, culminating in Pete’s decision to sacrifice himself to reverse the effects his survival has had on time itself. The story is somewhat driven by misconceptions as the wedding that the Tylers and Stuart and Sarah, where Stuart’s father is certainly of the impression that his son is only marrying someone that he regards to be unsuitable because she is pregnant.

The antagonists, the Reapers, enter the narrative due to the paradox of Pete’s survival and are described by the Doctor as being bacteria coming to cleanse the subsequent wound. They are rather one dimensional as a foe, although the Doctor does admit that he is pretty powerless against them. The CGI hasn’t dated fantastically but they do have a good design and I particularly like the shots from their point of view as they pick off humans in their quest. Ultimately, though, this story is character driven rather than driven by the alien threat. It is perhaps surprising that the Reapers have never returned, especially considering some of the other paradoxes we have had in the revived series. However, it can be said that they only appear when time is seriously weakened: here, not only does Rose save Pete, meaning that she and the Doctor would never have to travel back to save him in the first place, but she does so in front of earlier versions of herself and the Doctor. The Reapers As the characters shelter in the church, the Doctor is regaled with the story of how the to-be-weds met, ironically being asked to look after the baby Rose and the adult Rose imprinting herself on young Mickey. The story certainly deserves praise for making us care about what happens to members of the guest cast, the majority of whom we will never see again.

The cast here do a spectacular job with this story. Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper are fantastic together, even when having the most serious argument that at the time we’d ever seen the Doctor have with a companion. The argument serves to remind us that Rose is still quite young and immature, especially when compared to the Doctor. When the Doctor tells Rose that they are no longer going to travel together, we genuinely believe that he means it, and having seen his ejection of Adam from the TARDIS in the previous story, it feels like a genuine threat. Camille Coduri is good as the frustrated younger Jackie, and of the guest cast, Shaun Dingwall stands out as Pete, who along with Billie Piper acts as this story’s beating heart. Dingwall of course would return for the second series as an alternative version of Pete Tyler.

When we met, I said “Travel with me in space.” You said no. Then I said “Time machine.”

It wasn’t some big plan. I just saw it happening and thought, I can stop it.

I did it again, I picked another stupid ape. I should have known. It’s not about showing you the universe. It never is. It’s about the universe doing something for you.

The Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler

The direction and general production are pretty fantastic here too. Joe Ahearne’s direction is very good and I particularly like the appearance of the TARDIS as it restores around the key. The moment when the Doctor opens the TARDIS doors to find that it is empty is also a lovely moment. There also has to be a mention of the fantastic work done by the costumes department and set dressing in evoking the look of the 1980s with some great costumes, and attention to detail with posters especially in the early scenes.

Verdict: One of several episodes that ensures a strong finish for Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor and the debut series of the revival. 9/10

Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Shaun Dingwall (Pete Tyler), Robert Barton (Registrar), Julia Joyce (Young Rose), Christopher Llewellyn (Stuart), Frank Rozelaar-Green (Sonny), Natalie Jones (Sarah), Eirlys Bellin (Bev), Rhian James (Suzie) & Casey Dyer (Young Mickey)

Writer: Paul Cornell

Director: Joe Ahearne

Behind the Scenes

  • The first contribution of Paul Cornell to televised Doctor Who.
  • The story deals with fixed points in time, a topic which would frequently reoccur in the revived series.
  • Alexander Graham Bell’s first words spoken over a telephone are incorrect.  In this episode, they are said to be “Watson, come here, I need you”, when in fact they are “Watson, I come here, I want you.”  According to Phil Collinson, this was an error that crept in during the recording of the line, as the line was correct in the script.

Best Moment

I really like the moment that the Doctor returns to the TARDIS, only to find that it is only a box.

Best Quote

Now Rose, you’re not going to bring about the end of the world. Are you?

The Ninth Doctor (to Baby Rose Tyler)

Previous Ninth Doctor Review: The Long Game

The Long Game

The Long Game Spike

The thing is, Adam, time travel’s like visiting Paris.  You can’t just read the guide book, you’ve got to throw yourself in.  Eat the food, use the wrong verbs, get charged double and end up snogging complete strangers.  Or is that just me?

The Ninth Doctor

Synopsis

The TARDIS materialises on board Satellite 5, which broadcasts across the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire, however, the Empire’s attitude and technology appear backwards and those promoted to Floor 500 are never seen again.

Review

When I rewatched this episode to write this review, I was quite surprised at how my attitude towards it had changed. Previously I would have considered it one of the stronger episodes of the first series of the revival, however, having thought about it greater depth, I do have some problems with it.

One of the weaknesses of the story is Adam, as played by Bruno Langley.  The story sets out with the ultimate aim of proving that not everyone is a suitable companion to the Doctor, which is achieved by showing Adam’s abuse of the technology onboard Satellite Five to attempt to turn a profit.  Largely I feel that this element of the plot doesn’t work so well because we haven’t really spent enough time with Adam to feel as though his departure from the TARDIS is a great loss and he hasn’t really received any characterisation.  In one draft of the script, Adam’s motivation for sending the future information to the past was in order to develop a cure for his father’s arthritis, an element that would have at least added something to his character, although it would seem incredibly callous of the Doctor to kick him off the TARDIS if this had been his motivation all along.  The truth of the matter is that the Doctor didn’t want Adam along in the first place and it almost feels like he wants an excuse to get rid of him; Rose invited him to join them at the end of Dalek, but neither she nor the Doctor spend very much time with him on Satellite Five.  He rejoins the main narrative late on, but the story at times does feel like separate narratives.  I will admit that I don’t like Adam, but it does feel like he has incredibly raw deal by the end of it, especially considering what happens in the following adventure, Father’s Day.  It certainly does feel as though the Doctor and Rose are all too happy to leave Adam to his own devices during the story, only caring when it could have caused them problems and it is almost as if they have forgotten who he worked for in the previous story.  The scenes with Adam wandering off on his own feel really disjointed, uneven and at times, sadly quite dull.

It certainly does feel as though there is a lot going on in this story, and I’m not convinced that all of it works.  It feels as though Davies has tried to cram his original script premise pitched to Andrew Cartmel in the late Eighties into a 45-minute program, and not all of it entirely works.  We have things like the head chips, which aren’t really dwelt on, and as a huge fan of Black Books, it is a shame not to see more of Tamsin Greig in this story.  This certainly does feel like a Seventh Doctor story, with the Doctor motivating someone to rise up and destroy the current system, with this narrative making it Cathica, angry and resentful at the fact that she has not been promoted before, even though she knows what happens on Floor 500 who saves the Doctor and Rose.  There is certainly an underlying attack on the media here, with the Jagrafess and the Editor controlling the narrative to set the human race back 90 years, which is a thinly veiled attack on media moguls like Rupert Murdoch and the late Robert Maxwell and there is the capitalist nature of the humans on Satellite 5, who want nothing more than to be promoted to Floor 500, where rumours have it, the walls are made of gold.  Ultimately, it feels as though there’s too much going on, and the storylines are not all gold – it feels as though a couple could have been cut to make a better story.

The Editor

The strongest parts of this story is the Editor, played by Simon Pegg.  A middle man involved in the running of Satellite 5 on behalf of the Jagrafess.  Pegg adds quite a lot of menace to the story which is somewhat undermined when we get to see the Jagrafess itself.  However, Pegg almost feels like a dark echo of the Doctor, with the clearest parallel being his enthusiasm at not knowing something when he finds no record of the Doctor and Rose.  The Editor is described as being a human banker, at a time where being human is difficult to make a profit from and his banking background also seems like socialist attack on that profession.  Pegg stalks around his frozen wasteland, perfectly content and channeling a feeling of real menace and evil.  The story never gives us a convincing reason as to why the Jagrafess and the Editor are doing this to the human race (although we do learn why in the finale), however, given the speed at which the Editor is willing to change his plans after learning that the Doctor is a Time Lord and has a time machine, it is a suggestion that he isn’t too wedded to Satellite Five.

Verdict: The Long Game has too much going on in its narrative and feels unnecessary in its treatment of Adam to prove how worthy Rose is.  Simon Pegg does his best but this story is quite forgettable. 5/10

Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Bruno Langley (Adam), Colin Prockter (Head Chef), Christine Adams (Cathica), Anna Maxwell-Martin (Suki), Simon Pegg (The Editor), Tamsin Greig (Nurse) & Judy Holt (Adam’s Mum).

Writer: Russell T Davies

Director: Brian Grant

Behind the Scenes

  • Adam becomes the first companion to be removed from the TARDIS due to bad behaviour.
  • The story is based on an idea submitted to the Doctor Who production team by Russell T Davies in the 1980s.
  • Simon Pegg previously appeared in Invaders from Mars.
  • This story would demonstrate to the new production team the utility of a process known as ‘double banking’, which would lead to ‘Doctor-lite’ and ‘companion-lite’ episodes.

Best Moment

Possibly the medical scene with Adam and the Nurse, but I’m struggling to think of any better.

Best Quote

Create a climate of fear and it’s easy to keep the borders closed.  It’s just a matter of emphasis.  The right word in the right broadcast repeated often enough can destabilise an economy, create an enemy, change a vote.

So all the people are like, slaves.

Well now. There’s an interesting point.  Is a slave a slave if he doesn’t known he’s enslaved?

Yes.

Oh.  I was hoping for a fun philosphical debate.  Is that all I’m going to get? “Yes”?

Yes.

You’re no fun.

Let me out of these manacles.  You’ll find out how much fun I am.

The Editor, Rose Tyler and the Ninth Doctor

The Long Game TARDIS

 

Dalek

Dalek - Dalek.jpg

The stuff of nightmares, reduced to an exhibit.  I’m getting old.

The Ninth Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor and Rose arrive in an underground bunker in the United States in 2012 in response to a distress signal, where alien collector Henry Van Statten is keeping his latest find – the last Dalek in existence.

Review

The Daleks are almost as essential to Doctor Who as the TARDIS and the titular hero.  Even in the TV Movie, they are heard but not seen, even if the Dalek voice is a bit questionable.  So looking back on Dalek in hindsight, it seems bizarre that there was a possibility that the Daleks would not appear when Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner brought Christopher Eccleston to our screens in 2005.  Even when you think about the Daleks coming back, it would be far too easy to overcomplicate this story by shrouding the return of the Daleks in large swathes of continuity from the previous stories that have gone before.  So it is still refreshing that Dalek is such an effective reintroduction to the evil pepper pots, whether this is your first time viewing, or simply the latest in many revisits.

In a way, this story cements some things that were introduced in the Daleks’ final appearance in the original TV run, Remembrance of the Daleks.  They are again seen to be masterful tacticians, and obviously, there’s the fact that they can get up the stairs, perhaps putting that over-used joke finally to bed.  The Dalek here is also shown to be manipulative as well, manipulating Rose into seeing something completely different to what the Doctor sees when he first sees the captive Dalek – a cruelly treated prisoner.  The director, Joe Ahearne deserves a huge amount of credit for making the Dalek seem as threatening as it does here, as the Dalek feels just as threatening and menacing when it refuses to reply to Van Statten as when it is moving through the bunker exterminating everyone in its path or talking to the Doctor.  One of my favourite scenes is in the weapons development area of the base, where Van Statten has instructed everyone in the base to grab a weapon to try and stop the Dalek.  Instead of simply exterminating everyone by shooting them individually, the Dalek instead elects to elevate itself above the floor, shoots the fire alarm, which in turn activates the sprinklers, and with a simple blast of its weapon, shoots the wet floor, killing the majority of the people standing in its way.  There is a quiet majesty about the way the Dalek surveys the situation from its elevated position which is truly menacing.

Dalek - Dalek sucker.jpg

This story has to contain some of Christopher Eccleston’s best moments as the Doctor as he faces the last surviving Dalek of the Time War.  He is fantastic as the battle-scarred version of the Doctor and his reaction when he realises that he has been locked in a room with a Dalek, to his sudden switch when he realises that the Dalek is completely powerless, then to actually go against that famous maxim that the late great Terrance Dicks once wrote that the Doctor should never be cruel or cowardly by trying to kill the Dalek himself.  Eccleston really does sell this all so well, with this exchange and his discussion with the Dalek about the outcome of the Time War really standing out.  I feel that I also need to praise two other actors as making this such a great story: Nicholas Briggs and Corey Johnson.  Johnson is utterly believable as this all-powerful individual who doesn’t think twice about replacing Presidents and torturing aliens for not speaking to him, and shows this character as utterly contemptible, with the scene where the Doctor shows him the alien instrument telling the audience everything that we need to know.  And Nicholas Briggs gives a fantastic performance as the voice of the Dalek, whether it being simple screaming or talking normally (for a Dalek), with his voice bristling with menace.

Let me tell you something, Van Statten.  Mankind goes into space to explore, to be part of something greater.

Exactly! I wanted to touch the stars.

You just want to drag the stars down, stick them underground, under tons of sand and dirt, and label them.  You’re about as far from the stars as you can get.

The Ninth Doctor and Henry Van Statten

Rob Shearman’s story is, as is well known, a loose adaptation of his Big Finish story for the Sixth Doctor, Jubilee, but the two are largely very different beasts and can stand alone on their own merits.  There are shared elements, such as the lone Dalek being tortured and appealing to the companion, in this case, Rose, resulting in a bond being formed between the Dalek’s greatest enemy and his companion.  Shearman’s greatest achievement here is strongly establishing for a new audience who may not, as strange as this may sound, be aware of the Daleks and their nature.  With this coming in the first series of the revived series, Shearman keeps the continuity light, however, does enough to ensure that the uninitiated are in no doubt that the Doctor and the Daleks have shared history.  There is even a sly aside about the Daleks’ creator, Davros, which is handled superbly, saying more about the character of Van Statten than delving deep into the show’s continuity – there is absolutely no need for the story to name drop Davros and the story wisely doesn’t.

I hope that my love of this story has come through in the preceding paragraphs, as I briefly turn to address an element of this story and the following story that I really dislike – Adam.  Established as a boy genius – parallels, of course, to Adric – Langley never really convinces me of this, and the scenes with him and Rose seem to really dull the pace of an overall frenetic adventure.  Ultimately, the fact that Adam even ends up travelling with the Doctor into the next story just feels so lazy that it does bug me sufficiently to write it up here.  The character feels like a complete non-entity and I don’t see why the Doctor doesn’t put his foot down and say no.  After all, it will only lead to trouble…

Adam was saying that all his life, he’s wanted to see the stars.

Tell him to go and stand outside then.

Rose Tyler and the Ninth Doctor

Verdict:  Ahearne, Eccleston and Briggs make the return of the Doctor’s oldest enemy rank among the strongest of the revived series, as well as one of the best stories to feature the Daleks.  10/10

Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Steven Beckingham (Polkowski), Corey Johnson (Henry van Statten), Anna-Louise Plowman (Goddard), Bruno Langley (Adam), Nigel Whitmey (Simmons), John Schwab (Bywater), Jana Carpenter (De Maggio), Joe Montana (Commander), Barnaby Edwards (Dalek Operator) & Nicholas Briggs (Dalek Voice).

Writer: Robert Shearman

Director: Joe Ahearne

Behind the Scenes

  • The story was adapted from the Big Finish story Jubilee, also written by Robert Shearman.  Whilst the two stories diverge, some plot elements appear in both.  The in-universe pizza company, Jubilee Pizzas, is named as a reference to this story, and pizza boxes from this chain appear in this story and in the background of Doctor Who, Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures stories.
  • First appearance of the Daleks in the revived series and the only time in the Russell T Davies era that they would appear in a single-part story.
  • Shearman had to write an alternative version of the story in case the estate of Terry Nation would not allow the Daleks to be used.  The alternate story may have featured a robotic creature called “Future Human”, an idea which would become the Toclafane.
  • The first appearance of Bruno Langley as Adam.
  • The first story of the revived series not to feature any TARDIS interior scenes.

Best Moment

You may have been able to guess from the way I described it above, but the scene in the weapons testing zone – I love how in command of that scene the sole Dalek is.

Best Quote

I am a soldier. I was bred to receive orders.

Well you’re never gonna get them.  Not ever.

I demand orders!

They’re never going to come! Your race is dead.  You all burned – all of you.  Ten million ships on fire.  The entire Dalek race, wiped out in one second.

You lie!

I watched it happen.  I madeit happen.

You destroyed us?

I had no choice.

And what of the Time Lords?

Dead.  They burned with you.  The end of the last great Time War.  Everyone lost.

And the coward survived.

Dalek and the Ninth Doctor

Henry Van Statten - Dalek

World War Three

World War Three Doctor and Harriet

I think you’ll find the Prime Minister is an alien in disguise!  That’s never gonna work, is it?

No.

Fair enough.

The Ninth Doctor and Policeman

Synopsis

With the Slitheen family planning to destroy the Earth to sell off for fuel and the Doctor, Rose and Harriet Jones trapped in Number 10 Downing Street, the fate of the human race is in the hands of one man: Mickey Smith.

Review

Like the first part of this two-part story, I find World War Three to be utterly frustrating in times, especially when there are more interesting elements, in my opinion, begging to be explored.  The second part has the same issues with tone, with the broadly childish characters of the Slitheen family plotting nuclear armageddon and repetitive Scooby-Doo style chase sequences.  There are also parts that feel a lot like padding to get the episode up to the 45 minute mark – the Slitheen constantly feel as though they are constantly undressing from their rubbery suits, which can only be down to the episode falling short.

One positive, however, is the development of the character of Mickey.  In his previous appearance, he has been portrayed as the idiot, however, this story takes the opportunity to really do him justice.  In my review of Rose, I spoke about how I dislike how easily Rose abandons Mickey in the episode’s closing moments, and here we get to see that the Doctor has re-evaluated him by the conclusion of this episode’s events, offering him the opportunity to come and travel with him.  His character has not made a jarring change but instead has made the first steps towards a more believable change.  Potentially there hasn’t been enough groundwork laid for it to be believable that Mickey is capable of saving the day, however, I enjoyed the opportunity for the character to be useful rather than just being there.  Noel Clarke deserves credit for making this version of Mickey seem like a logical progression rather than an overnight change though.

I just went down the shop and I was thinking, you know, the whole world’s changed.  Aliens and spaceships, all in public.  And here it is.  How can they do that? They saw it.

They’re just not ready.  You’re happy to believe in something that’s invisible, but if it’s staring you in the face – “Nope! Can’t see it”.  There’s a scientific explanation for that.  You’re thick.

We’re just idiots.

Well…not all of you.

Yeah?

Mickey Smith and the Ninth Doctor

Christopher Eccleston again does do the best he can with a rather subpar script.  The scenes with the Doctor trapped with Rose and Harriet Jones in the Cabinet Room are some of the highlights of the story with the Doctor trying to work out how to stop the Slitheen whilst Jackie questions whether he can guarantee her daughter’s safety.  There are other great parts of his performance as well, especially his broad grin when he re-enters the TARDIS at the end of the story and his speech to Rose about the Horsehead Nebula.  He is especially at his best when he is responding to Margaret Blaine’s incredulous reply to the fact that he believes that he can stop the Slitheen despite being completely trapped.  He even gets to bluff when he talks about triplicating the flammability of the alcohol which is a lovely moment.  Penelope Wilton as Harriet Jones also feels as though she’s doing the best with this story and the pair of them add some gravitas to this generally and at least keep me entertained for the majority of the episode.  Harriet Jones has some lovely moments, even minor ones like telling the Doctor to pass the drink to the left first, which demonstrates that even in a crisis she doesn’t forget basic rules of manners and etiquette.

Slitheen World War Three

The elephant in the room here is the Slitheen family from Raxacoricofallapatorius.  The reveal of their home planet is just the latest revelation about these ridiculous creatures that irritates me.  I appreciate that Doctor Who is a family show, meant to provide something for everyone, however, I feel that the flatulent, booty shaking villains are frankly just too childish even for this general audience.  They are pretty incompetent villains too, demonstrated by the fact that the very weapons that they use to incapacitate the experts are also capable of harming them too, and they seem pretty ineffectual at hunting too.  Only the policeman who hunts Mickey and Jackie really seems to know what they’re doing, and this isn’t helped by scenes that wouldn’t feel out of place in Scooby-Doo or a Benny Hill sketch.  Ultimately though, their plan is quite interesting: they want the UN to give them access to the nuclear codes under the pretence of an alien threat in space, then use nuclear weapons to destroy the planet and sell the remains off for a profit.  However, with the flatulence and ridiculous undressing scenes and desires to be naked, it’s difficult to take them as seriously as the story demands, undermining the threat and damaging the tone of the episode.  I will praise Annette Badland, who puts in a good performance as Margaret Blaine in spite of some pretty cringe-worthy dialogue as I think she’s the best of all of the villains in the piece.

I feel that this story also neglects potentially the most interesting element.  The story begins in Aliens of London with Rose returning home 12 months after she left with the Doctor, and shows in a limited capacity the effect that this has on those left behind.  This is the first time in Doctor Who history that this kind of issue is even flagged up, and it is surprising that Davies, with his more domestic storytelling, doesn’t focus on this more.  Jackie, despite her concerns, still seems to grudgingly accept that she can’t stop Rose travelling with the Doctor, and it still bugs me that there’s no lasting consequence on the relationship between Jackie, Rose and Mickey due to the fact that the latter was suspected of her murder for an entire year.  Whilst it’s nice to see this issue brought up in the show, I feel that it could have been handled a whole lot better.  That being said, however, the scenes where Jackie pleads with Rose in vain for her to stay and the moment where she looks at her watch for ten seconds after the TARDIS dematerialises are utterly heartbreaking.

Mickey and Jackie World War Three

Verdict: A story that has some more interesting ideas but fails on execution.  3/10

Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), David Verrey (Joseph Green), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Penelope Wilton (Harriet Jones), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Rupert Vansittart (General Asquith), Morgan Hopkins (Sergeant Price), Andrew Marr (As Himself), Annette Badland (Margaret Blaine), Steve Spiers (Strickland), Jack Tarlton (Reporter), Lachele Carl (Reporter), Corey Doabe (Spray Painter), Elizabeth Fost, Paul Kasey & Alan Ruscoe (Slitheen)

Writer: Russell T Davies

Director: Keith Boak

Behind the Scenes

  • This story is the first time in either Classic or New Doctor Who that the TARDIS is seen to have a working telephone.

Best Moment

The scene where Rose and Harriet fire facts about the Slitheen at the Doctor to work out where they come from and how to fight back against them.

Best Quote

I’ve seen this life of yours, Doctor.  And maybe you get off on it.  And maybe you think it’s all clever and smart.  But tell me, just answer me this: Is my daughter safe?

I’m fine.

Is she safe?  Will she always be safe?  Can you promise me that?

Jackie Tyler and Rose Tyler

Aliens of London

slitheen spaceship

Every conversation with you just goes mental.  There’s no one else I can talk to. I’ve seen all that stuff up there.  The size of it.  And I can’t say a word.  Aliens and spaceships and things.  And I’m the only person on Earth who knows they exist.

Rose Tyler

Synopsis

Rose returns to Earth, only to find that the TARDIS has returned them a year after she originally left with the Doctor.  At the same time, a spaceship crash lands in the Thames, smashing through Big Ben in the process, and there are mysterious happenings at Number 10 Downing Street.  The Doctor is required.

Review

Aliens of London is the first time that the revived series really feels like it stumbles.  It may just be one of my least favourite episodes of Doctor Who that I have seen so far.  There is absolutely no subtlety here, with the story seeming like it’s been directed as an out and out comedy.  With the exception of Eccleston, Piper and Wilton, all the cast seem to be playing it for laughs.  Doctor Who doesn’t need to take itself too seriously, and a good fart joke isn’t in itself a massive problem, but the story doesn’t seem to know when to stop.  There are other elements of the episode that don’t work so well as well, but I’ll delve into them in more depth in this review.

Slitheen

The Slitheen are really the elephant in the room so I will address them first.   I don’t mind the idea of shapeshifting aliens, but the added element of the flatulence is a joke that wears thin far too quickly, and it isn’t aided by the performances of the three main actors portraying the human forms of the Slitheen.  Lines like “I’m shaking my booty” and “would you rather silent but deadly?” just make me cringe, which is partially down to the writing and partially down to their delivery, but combined, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  Part of me wonders why they didn’t think of bringing back the Zygons if they were going to use shape-shifting aliens – the production team obviously weren’t afraid to bring back ‘B list’ aliens, as they brought back the Autons in Rose.  I think if the direction and the actors treated the Slitheen slightly more seriously, they would be slightly less jarring to me – everything in the first series has been at least treated as a serious threat, but the treatment of the Slitheen makes them feel decidedly lightweight.  It is fine that they treat their plans on Earth as a bit of fun and a joke, but the fact that the episode itself does too seriously undermines them.

Another issue I have with this story is the fallout from Rose’s missing year, although I have to say I love the reveal at the start of the episode, more specifically the way Murray Gold’s score starts off bright and optimistic and slides into a minor key which puts the viewer on edge.  Jackie is pretty one-dimensional in her reaction to the reappearance of Rose, and thinking long term, this doesn’t really have very much impact on the relationship between Jackie and the Doctor going forward to the end of the Tyler’s time on the show.  In a way, Martha’s mother, Francine, has a much more understandable reaction after learning about the Doctor in The Lazarus Experiment than Jackie does here.  She is just angry and shouting constantly, which is understandable, but there are no hints of sorrow in this performance.  Coduri is just shrill, which just sets my teeth on edge, but I don’t think it is entirely her fault.  Again, there is no nuance to either the writing or the directing and her character suffers as a result.   The treatment of Mickey is also a bit ridiculous.  We’re led to believe that Mickey has been questioned about Rose’s disappearance and treated as if he murdered her for almost an entire year.  The story only briefly delves into the effect that this would have on a person, and Rose just asks him if he’s been seeing anyone else whilst she’s been gone.  If Mickey is going to be treated as the comedic “idiot”, which the story wants to do here too, judging by the scene in which he runs to the TARDIS whilst it is dematerialising and crashes into the wall behind it, then there’s little point in adding this detail to his character.  It goes without saying, but Mickey being suspected for Rose’s murder and Jackie’s treatment of him during this year is never explicitly mentioned again after this two-parter.

Excuse me.  Harriet Jones.  MP for Flydale North.

I’m sorry, can’t it wait?

But I did have an appointment at 3:15.

Yes.  And then a spaceship crashed in the middle of London.  I think the schedule might have changed.

Harriet Jones and Indra Ganesh

Fortunately, some of the cast are treating it as serious drama.  Eccleston, Piper and Wilton give decent performances whilst the story crashes around their ears.  Penelope Wilton gives Harriet Jones suitable gravitas and she is likeable enough, even when asked to repeatedly churn out that “Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North” line which is initially amusing but wears thin quickly.  This is yet more evidence of Davies not knowing when to stop flogging a dead horse.  It is also really lovely to see Eccleston getting to investigate and discover on his own in this story, which is something we don’t really get to see him to do much of.  I love the Doctor’s equal disdain for the aliens who created the “mermaid” space pig and the soldier who shoots it dead, which for me is the strongest part of the episode.  I am going to put in an honourable mention for the scene where the pig is trying to break out of the morgue, which pays a rather obvious homage to Paul McGann’s regeneration scene in the TV Movie, which I only really noticed on this occasion! Billie Piper also helps to keep the story grounded, and these three performances perhaps save this story from me giving it a lower rating.

Verdict: Aliens of London might just be one of the weakest episode of the revived series.  Repeated jokes and extremely broad performances make this one to forget about as quickly as possible – the rest of the series does, anyway!  2/10

Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Corey Doabe (Spray Painter), Ceris Jones (Policeman), Jack Tarlton (Reporter), Lachele Carl (Trinity Wells), Andrew Marr (Himself), Matt Baker (Himself), Fiesta Mei Ling (Ru), Basil Chung (Bau), Rupert Vansittart (General Asquith), David Verrey (Joseph Green), Navin Chowdry (Indra Ganesh), Penelope Wilton (Harriet Jones), Annette Badland (Margaret Blaine), Naoko Mori (Doctor Sato), Eric Potts (Oliver Charles), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Jimmy Vee (Pig), Steve Speirs (Strickland), Elizabeth Frost, Paul Kasey and Alan Ruscoe (Slitheen)

Writer: Russell T Davies

Director: Keith Boak

Doctor Rose Downing Street

Behind the Scenes

  • First two-parter of the revived series and the 700th episode of Doctor Who.
  • The final Doctor Who story to have any footage shot at Television Centre.
  • This story introduced some recurring characters and aliens for this era of Doctor Who.  The Slitheen would go on to reappear in Boom Town and The Sarah Jane Adventures, whilst it would also introduce Harriet Jones, who had several appearances later in the Tennant era.  It also introduced Toshiko Sato, who would be a member of the Torchwood 3 team in the first two series of the spin-off, Torchwood.  Finally, it marks the first appearance of newsreader Trinity Wells.
  • This story features U.N.I.T. for the first time since Battlefield.  Notably, this is the last time they are referred to as the United Nations Intelligence Task Force.
  • The story moved the narrative of the programme to a year ahead of the broadcast version, something which would continue until Planet of the Dead in 2009.
  • The next time trailer being shown immediately after the cliffhanger was criticised, and following this story, the trailer for multi-part stories would only be shown after the closing credits concluded.

Best Moment

The scenes where the Doctor is off investigating at the hospital, especially when he expresses his disgust at what the space pig is, comparing it to a “mermaid” and his anger at the U.N.I.T. soldier for shooting it dead.

Best Quote

Excuse me, would you mind not farting while I’m saving the world?

Ninth Doctor

Doctor Aliens of London