Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Just as I was beginning to think maybe I'm being a little bit harsh on RTD's writing for the new series, and almost starting to persuade myself that little lapses like burping dustbins and Britney Spears outbursts might ultimately be forgivable, or, more easily, edited out from my own recordings of Rose and End of the World, I find that I have been justified in my instinctive dislike of RTD's gimmicky, soundbite-style approach to this important programme.

Aliens of London is puerile and has indellibly blemished the history of the programme with the hammiest, most inappropriate and completely unfunny trio of 'aliens' in a series of unforgiveably crass and infantile scenes ever witnessed in the series. No, I do not speak of an implausibly 'down-to-earth', 'Navvy-on-the-town/live-in plumber of the Tyler household' Doctor groaning to his hosts to 'shoot oop' as he watches the TV in a manner straight out of the equally tiresome Royle Family; I of course speak of the flatulent Slitheens in diguise as Cabinet ministers whose tendency to fart and, just as gratingly, burst into infantile classroom giggles as they do so (why should aliens necessarily find farting amusing as we do?) is tragically - for the credibility of Doctor Who - not confined to just one scene - but MANY which crop up nauseatingly throughout this absurd episode.

Back in those formerly perceived 'dark days' of seasons 24 and (bits of) 25 - now in my revisionist mind comparatively full of hope and wonder for the future of the series - we used to cringe in virtual pits of despair at sights such as Ken Dodd's Tollmaster (Delta and the Bannermen), Richard Brier's Caretaker, Pex and the Ressies (both Paradise Towers), the atrociously ill-realised Whizzkid on his BMX (Greatest Show), the 'Doctor...' tv bit in Remembrance, and just about everything in Silver Nemesis. But at least JNT had the courtesy to confine his occasional whims to isolated scenes, and did not, unlike RTD, string out the 'embarrassments' which tokenised practically every episode in season 24 (obviously RTD's favourite season) throughout their respective episodes! It seemingly wasn't enough for RTD to only vent his highly questionable whims in just one scene (as he did, thankfully in Rose and End of the World) in Aliens of London: no, he had to string out the lavatorial 'fart joke' (which would have had the Carry On team cringing with distaste - except for those numbering the appalling final film, Carry On England, with Kenneth Conner's flatulent officer no doubt inspiring RTD in this gritty new comical edge to the series) all the way through this episode as an actual plot component! As another reviewer has pointed out already, why couldn't RTD have found a less lavatorial and more intriguing biological flaw to the Slitheens which betrayed their Ministerial disguises - indeed, one could have had them occasionally breathing very badly or emitting random gibberish like the Auton disguised as Mickey in Rose (a comparatively tame offering compared to the travesty of Aliens...).

The answer then must surely be that RTD just wanted to capitalise on yet another opportunity to play for laughs and send up a series he claims to be faithfully reinventing. Seemingly his New Who is trying to appeal to the under 5s, but I dare say they themselves would find such frankly crap attempt at humour woefully unsophisticated and silly. I can only conclude that RTD does not take Doctor Who seriously. Is he then, as some are assuming Eccleston is, simply using the show as a stepping stone in his overblown and ludicrously over-rated (courtesy of hyperbolic reviewers and standards-lapsing critics) TV writing career? This element to this episode betrays a tendency towards talentlessness which, if RTD is not careful, will slowly corrupt and obliterate any questionable talent he so far possesses (yes I do admit that Casanova is well-written and genuinely innovative in places, however, even that other series overdoses in humour and trendiness, and endearing though the new Doctor, David Tennant, is in the main role, as one recent reviewer pointed out, his portrayal lacks gravitas and believability, thus ultimately completely undermining the entire point of doing that series).

And yes, I have many other quibbles about this wasted opportunity for a more fleshed-out two parter: the domestic scenes are becoming very very grating and dull, helping to reduce the already excessively mundane ninth incarnation of the Doctor to practically an unconsummated boyfriend to Rose, who's just a tiny bit quirky now and then and who can't quite fully commit himself yet to their 'relationship'.

I really really hate the style of digital video used for the series: it detracts from the dramatic essence of it - with exception to The Unquiet Dead. It seems to me to be the same used for commercials, which I suppose is fairly apt for this highly commercial reinvention of the show. But this style of digi video with its blurry, slightly rose-tinted finish just makes the programme look like one long commercial trailer rather than a drama series. Why couldn't the same film camera used for Casanova been used for Who also? A sharper definition would add a lot to the look of the programme and also make it less impersonal - back in the video-only McCoy days I never thought in the future I would have looked back at that style of filming Who with nostalgia, but I do, and wish at least the TARDIS scenes were done on video.

The blood and thunder approach to much of the action of Aliens, especially the Doctor taking on a sort of undercover SAS style role by leading the charge of the Paratroopers (remind you of any crap recent ITV serial?) down top security corridors, is not refreshingly action-oriented, but simply dull and disrespectful to the series' underlying ethos of brain over brawn (bring back the pugilist Sixth Doctor and Pertwee and UNIT, all is forgiven! Indeed, at least the Third and Sixth Doctors had dandyish smoking jackets and patchwork coat-tails flailing flamboyantly behind them when they took on the terrestrial heroics, which at least still emphasized sartorially that they were more than just your average occasional action hero - sadly Eccleston's crew cut and black leather jacket make him fit worryingly well with his uniformed companions).

Oh yes, and the mention of UNIT, accompanied by a shot of some dull-looking, faceless military officials in bland everyday uniforms which in no way indicate that they are in fact from Lethbridge-Stewart's old organisation - and this Doctor, who has famously collaborated with UNIT in FIVE different incarnations, now inexplicably cites his recent change of appearance as an obstacle to him collaborating with them again: 'They won't recognise me'! Has RTD ever actually watched any of the old stories at all? Maybe when he did he was far too busy imagining his own reinterpretation of the series to actually register its original interpretation.

And the Doctor himself: Eccleston said that he didn't feel the need to wear a silly hat and coat to put across the alienness of the character and that he would do this purely through his performance. Right. So what's gone wrong then? Token occasional erraticism, moodiness, gurning and exclaiming 'Fantastic' at the now practically commonplace vicissitudes of extraterrestrial Earth interventions aside, just how else is this incarnation notably alien? Not only does he wear very ordinary clothes thus blending into the modern day almost completely in appearance, he uses contemporary vernacular and expressions, has a very casual manner and takes to catching up on extrarrestrial invasions via the BBC news on a TV set in a council flat rather than using his TARDIS scanner. (Surely the point of the character of the Doctor is to to some extent stand out as a unique and obviously very different sort of person to the norm; yes, in the past the 'costume' approach might have been used sometimes to do the job of this when the characterisation lacked, but it's not so much the costume which is the problem here, it is frankly the scripting and interpretation of the role). This Doctor appears to love the mundanity of contemporary Earth just as much as he does popping off now and then through time. He is quite obviously torn between the two, and obviously it's a hard choice for him, as it is for deciding between saving the world or hanging out with a London shop girl. These return visits to Rose's domestic background are completely pointless and unjustified:when this was done once in the past, it was with UNIT, and that was partly justified by the fact that those characters were at least engaging (particularly the Brigadier); Jackie and Mickey are not engaging, they are in fact irritating to say the least, and add absolutely nothing to the drama or narrative of the series which couldn't have been channelled elsewhere to better effect. Maybe RTD secretly wishes to produce a soap opera? He could change the name of the series to Time Enders perhaps?

And just what is going on with the constant sexual innuendos regarding his and Rose's 'relationship'? How would we have reacted if the Seventh Doctor and Ace intermittently flirted with each other throughout their time together? What they had as a combination - and I in no way cite it as a flawlessly scripted one by any means - was a genuinely deep bond with each other which really was something 'more' than a boyfriend and girlfriend which Rose hints at in this episode to Mickey. The constant innuendo with this present combination completely undermines any attempts to emphasize a sexually transcending bond. I also find Rose's occasional but consistent referring to the Doctor as 'so gay' whenever he shows sensitivity or vulnerability as quite offensive to be honest, not because I am myself, but because I just think it's in bad taste and is completely inappropriate for this worryingly sexually literate version of a series famed and loved for its androgynous appeal - but of course RTD seems to have a licence to drop these un-PC put-downs through Rose by nature of his own sexuality in the same way that Mel Brooks always famously seemed to have an exclusive licence to make gags about Jews. I don't like this sort of scriptorial treatment one bit and it is completely out of place in any escapist, sci fi series.

I will end on a couple of positive comments about Aliens of London: the TV news coverage, bar the first reporter's very portentous coverage of events, is actually quite well handled and convincing in places - reminiscent of Day of the Daleks; I actually think that the twist of the Pig creature was genuinely quite innovative and surreal, though reminded me somewhat of Time Bandits; the Slitheens, over all, are quite well done when finally and thankfully revealed; the lights coming out of the heads is well done. There, that's it. That's all I can think of that's good in an otherwise highly embarrassing episode. I only hope that eventually things will get back on track to the standard of the excellent Unquiet Dead so we might begin to forget this Rent-A-Ghost-style pantomime of an episode which, I predict, will prove to be deeply damaging to the credibility of Doctor Who's forty year history unless some later episodes manage to completely eclipse its significance.

Filters: Series 1/27 Ninth Doctor Television