Nu-View #12: New Monsters on the Block

Aliens of London and World War Three
(Series One, Eps. 4-5; 2005)

Viewed 05 Feb 2013

Doctor/Companion: Nine, Rose Tyler
Stars: Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper
Preceding Story: The Unquiet Dead (Nine, Rose)
Succeeding Story: Dalek (Nine, Rose)

    Looking back, it's amazing I ever became a fan at all. In all honesty, I very nearly didn't make it past these two episodes.

    I watched the first five over a period of a week or two with the friend who introduced me to Who, and then it all kind of fell by the wayside. I don't think we came back to it again for a year or more. When we did, I was reluctant. The stuff I'd seen was OK - pretty good, even - but with Slitheen as my last impression, I was, shall we say, less than keen on continuing (perhaps understandably).

    I was willing to give it another shot, though - and obviously, I'm extremely glad that I did! But as I look back, these are among my least favorite episodes of this series. I think that's partly because the Slitheen got so overused after this, both in Who and especially in The Sarah Jane Adventures, but just something about these introductory episodes has put me off.

    Imagine my surprise when, upon watching them again with the Ladies, they didn't suck as hard as I'd remembered.

    The Doctor returns Rose home, a mere twelve hours after she'd left (yay, time travel!) only to discover it had actually been twelve months ("details," scoffed jE). All of the mother/daughter stuff between Jackie and Rose is well done here, from the snarking and frustration with each other to the honest concern and regret for having caused it. RTD may have brought families a bit too much into the mix for my taste, but there's some good storytelling around it in these episodes.

    When we get the whole "brave new world" stuff with the crash-landing spaceship ("I remember that looking so cool," jA reminisced), I thought, "oh, here we go," but the Slitheen themselves weren't actually unveiled (or un-skin-suited, I suppose) until the end of Aliens of London. Instead, we get the origin of using news reports from around the world to make the plot feel more real (and the occasional Blue Peter spot, just for good measure), intrigue in the local morgue ("deep woodwind sounds are never good" - jA), and the introduction of Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North.

    I was a bit surprised to be reminded exactly how many tidbits really got their starts with the Slitheen. For instance, we get the re-introduction of UNIT to the show, Mickey the Idiot (and the Doctor "winding [him] up" by calling him Ricky, which comes back in Pete's World in the following series), and the beginning of a silly meme: "Who are you?" ~Harriet Jones flashes her ID card as she replies~ (Speaking of Harriet, she's such a lovable goof here; it makes me a little sad to think about her future. While I didn't always like where her character went, I respect the fact that she had actual character development over four series of recurring appearances.) Each of these is a point in favor of this particular two-parter.

    What I expected to be the biggest point against it - namely, the Slitheen - turned out not to be as big of a detriment as I'd thought they were. At first, they're actually a bit mysterious (if overly, disgustingly flatulent), and you have to admit that a glowing blue light (to go with a skin suit) is very Who. During this first appearance, they're also presented as fierce hunters, which is actually pretty scary. It's only on later returns that they turn into the more laughable caricatures I tend to envision when Slitheen are mentioned.

    So I was actually able to enjoy the smaller details of the story, without being distracted by a terrible monster-of-the-week. In other words, I could appreciate the not-quite-casual manner in which the Doctor hands Rose a TARDIS key, how he uses a rubber mallet on the console to make the TARDIS behave, the fact that there appears to be a Post-It® note with Gallifreyan on it on the corner of one scanner screen, how extremely dated Rose's trendy phone looks eight years later, and the way the Doctor keeps using Rose and Harriet's observations to narrow down the Slitheens' home planet to Raxacoricofallapatorius.

    The denouement also brings some key character development moments. As the Doctor tells us there's a solution, but he can't guarantee Rose's safety ("Nobody's ever always safe," jE says, rolling her eyes a bit at Jackie), the girl in question simply says, "Do it." I've always been of the opinion (non-shippers, look away now) that although he's been in love with her for some time, this is the moment when the Doctor realizes it. "You don't even know what it is. You'd just let me?" "Yeah."

    In the midst of all the chaos and uncertainty, Rose demonstrates that instinctual, gut-level trust in the Doctor that a Companion really needs. Watching that develop makes this pair of episodes worth it right there - despite the calciferous, green, ruthless business-beings with a gas exchange problem.

    General reactions:

    • jA - "I think the farting was overkill"
    • jE - glad we're watching again; it's been too long
    • mrfranklin - not actually terrible

    This first time around, the Slitheen have a viable, evil plan to go with their as-yet-unfamiliar traits, and thereby pose a believable threat; Nine and Rose develop their relationship further; and the overall character of the series - and possibly the RTD era itself - feels fully realized by the end. It'll never be my favorite, but this storyline is worth a re-watch anyway. There's more to recommend it than I'd remembered.

    Verdict: Thumbs marginally up

    Looking ahead: Dalek / The Long Game



    All I can think of when I see Harriet is her upcoming tenure in Downton Abbey as the equally principled Isobel, defender of early 20th century underdogs. :-) Penelope Wilton is a force to be reckoned with!

    I also loved that Post-It with Gallifreyan on the TARDIS screen! I feel the flatulence gimmick was aimed at the kids - tiresome as it was.

    I do feel that the Slitheen became quite silly, although it was interesting to see "Margaret" show some depth in the later episode (which you haven't reviewed yet, sorry), being left as the sole survivor and sparing a pregnant female human. I really didn't expect that, and I know you will get to it. She gives us a portrait of what the hunter's lifestyle is like.

    Isn't this also the episode where Tosh from Torchwood makes her cameo, too?

    Great review! Loving the new book, re-reading entries and reading some for the first time! :-)

    By Tree (not verified)
    mrfranklin's picture

    Yes! This is the episode in which Naoko Mori (who later plays Toshiko Sato, or "Tosh" in Torchwood) appears as the doctor in charge of the "alien" pig. I always found it very amusing that when the character left that show, they ret-conned this appearance by saying Tosh had been covering for Owen, Torchwood's actual M.D., who hadn't been at work that day because he was drunk/nursing a hangover/some such.

    Glad you're enjoying the book! :D

    By mrfranklin

    You know, I'm really glad they cleared up the discrepancy before killing off half the cast of "Torchwood" (well, before they killed off Tosh and Owen, Ianto had 5 more episodes to go). It was a very endearing scene between the too late star-crossed pair, at least on Owen's end. I thought it was very thoughtful writing to address why Tosh had appeared as the medic on that episode of Dr. Who.

    Interesting, nobody dies in Doctor Who - major characters (post-hiatus), yet almost everybody dies on Torchwood. Another discussion for another time. As RTD said, "Torchwood is a dangerous place," yet apparently, travelling in the TARDIS through time and space isn't - well, you might end up in a parallel universe, losing your memory, or NYC in the past, but you won't die!

    Yes, love the quick start guide at the end of the book - read that first. :-)

    By Tree (not verified)
    mrfranklin's picture

    It's happened before, just not post-Hiatus. Unless you count Rory. ;)

    Glad you enjoyed the Quick-Start Guide!

    By mrfranklin

    On the whole I like this two-parter. I can genuinely still recall the hairs on the back of my neck tingling in early 2005 when seeing previews on the BBC which showed the crash into the Clock Face on what is now known as Elizabeth Tower, or as everyone usually refers to it, Big Ben.

    Geek Alert: Did you know that they had to show that crash in mirror image? Apparently the FX had the wrong wing hitting the tower. Look at the reversed clock face next time you watch it.

    It may have been funny for the kids but I felt the farting was excessive, Ecclestone's line about not farting whilst he tries to save the world was delivered deadpan and made me smile but perhaps a rotten smell generated by the gas exchange could have been used as an indicator that the Slitheen were present (or nearby) rather than having us beat about the head with fart noises. It became, if you will pardon the metaphor, about as funny as a fart in a space suit.

    So beyond the farting, a really interesting premise about selling off the radioactive lumps of Planet Earth, and I agree about the hunting aspect being genuinely scary.

    At the end of Revelation of the Daleks Colin Baker was paused mid-sentence when saying a word beginning with B, I am willing to bet that as the missile hit 10 Downing Street, the Slitheen leader was not saying "Oh Blackpool" but something rather more Anglo-Saxon beginning with the letter B. Thus I found the cutaway as the missile hits number 10 funny. Is someone swearing off screen as childish as fart noises? Probably, but at least it only happened the once in the episode.

    By Wholahoop (not verified)

    In fact why bother watching the crash again, just look at the screen grab in the posting!!!

    By Wholahoop (not verified)
    mrfranklin's picture

    Absolutely. The flatulence was a vaguely amusing idea ("gas exchange problem"), but as has been said here and elsewhere, very much overdone. Only kids of a certain narrow age range (and, in my experience, more one end of the gender scale than the other) appreciate continual fart jokes.

    And yeah. They got as far as "boll-" before the missile hit. Loved that. :)

    By mrfranklin

    I also agree. I think I rolled my eyes everytime they overplayed that joke. It was just disgusting after the first time. I remember watching an episode of "The Simpsons" where they were trying to get the idea across that the type of joke appeals to a very limited group when they did a flashback episode of Bart in kindergarten amusing a group of children by saying "potty."

    I thought Dr Who might be above that.

    By Tree (not verified)
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