“Aliens of London” – Review: Redux

“Rickey, If I was to tell you what I was doing to the controls of my frankly magnificent time ship, would you even begin to understand?” The Doctor
“Well, I suppose not…” Mickey
“Well, shut it, then.” The Doctor

Aliens of London

If I were to write a potted history of the re-launched series of Doctor Who, which in a way, I am, I think I would take a moment to consider the impact of “Aliens of London / World War Three” being the first two-part story of the era. In my childhood, Doctor Who was all about cliff-hangers, a moment of jeopardy at the end of (what seemed like) every episode that kept me coming back for more, week after week after week. Hindsight is a wonderful thing though, and re-watching these self-same cliff-hangers on Classic DVDs with benefit of, all-too-often, cynical 42 year-old eyes does make me think that more often than not they didn’t really deliver on the premise. However, there would be no telling that to my 10 year old self who loved every second of them, and who’d talk about them endlessly on Mondays at school before embarking on another make believe episode set around the netball courts of the school playground with best fiend, Tommy. Oddly, as an aside, our version of Playground Doctor Who had the theme music of Haircut 100’s ‘Love Plus One’…. Don’t ask, I couldn’t possibly tell you.

Perhaps as a consequence of my childhood, one of the few problems with New Who (I refuse to refer to it as Nu-Who) was the 45-minute, standalone format meant a lack of cliff-hangers. Surely, 21st century cliff-hangers would be the way to go?! The counter argument to this, that has slowly won me over, is that the pre-titles sequence that I have grown to admire, serves a mini-cliff-hanger inside every episode. It also forces the writers to get immediately in to the action in their plots. Rewatching the last three episodes’ has reminded me that this aspect to a fair deal of getting used to. So, at the risk of starting this review at the end of episode, this first, traditional, end-of-episode Whovian cliff-hanger for 16 years is actually really good. Three main characters all stand in life or death situations with no obvious escape: it’s classic stuff in the best sense of the word. However, the question should really have been asked as to who’s great idea was it, moments later, to show a “Next Time” trailer that included images of all three of the protagonists escaping from their moments of peril? It left the tiniest little bitter aftertaste that, for me, had been a pretty decent offering up to that point.

Let’s start with the positive stuff. The initial concept of arriving back on the Powell Estate after her two trips forward and back in time, Rose thinks she has returned a mere twelve hours after she left, but in a lovely twist we find it is, in fact, twelve months. This serves as an excellent vehicle for allowing Mickey and Jackie into the Rose’s secret. It also sets out RTD’s stall as a show-runner who wants the companion (and, by extension, the companion’s life and loves and hopes and fears and her humanity) to be at the centre of the story. This is further illustrated by the fact that the entire 13-episode run in this first series is set on (or orbiting) Earth. I know that some people take issue with this domestic feel to things, and I recall with some amusement debates raging about whether Doctor Who had become a glorified soap opera. But I enjoyed the direction it was going. It added depth to Rose’s character, so that situations no longer become life or death (we know she’s not going to die, right?! It’s not Game of Thrones after all) but instead become more about understanding how the unfolding events will change her; how her life will be impacted; and, what will be the consequences for the lives of her loved ones. These are somehow more interesting, and provide for a much greater challenge for the actor and much more rewarding, if done right, for the viewer.

Also, worthy of note is the rather wonderful invasion story. An alien family’s nefarious plans to invoke a nuclear war is expertly and slowly revealed through the 90 minute format, which gives the tale plenty of time to develop at a more pleasing pace than the previous runarounds, giving characters plenty of time to develop. It also means that the mystery of what is happening is given time to breathe here in the first episode. But it is at the very end of the episode when I start falling out of love with AOL, the reason for which is the Slitheen…. but more on them in the next review tomorrow. Some of the other characters also had good outings: Mickey was a bit of a revelation after the somewhat drippy portrayal we saw in “Rose” but still not a patch on the heights he reached later in his Doctor Who appearances not to mention the pinnacles he has scaled in his career since then as a writer and director as well as actor. Standing as a beacon of wonderfulness throughout the double header, was Harriot Jones, our “MP for Flydale North” and on the road to greater things. She was a delight thanks to Penelope Wilton’s performance in a role written especially for her. Let us also not forget, for the Torchwood fans around here and I know that there must be some, that this story saw the first appearance of Toshiko Sato. And as if that wasn’t enough there’s always Annette Badland who was delightfully evil throughout and much deserving of a surprise re-appearance later in the series. It was almost a classic until those bloody rubber ‘aliens’ turned up.

Highlight: The Cliff-Hanger

Lowlight: The Next Time trailer after the cliff-hanger

Talking Point: Is Doctor Who a soap opera?

Demon’s Run Rating: 11 out of 20

Original BBC1 Broadcast: 16th April 2005

Marathon Status: Four down, ninety-eight to go. This is gonna be pips.

  1. September 14th, 2013

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