Doctor Doctor Who Guide

ALIENS OF LONDON maintains the high standard of the new series and races along with real dramatic weight behind the speed, surpassing the slightly frantic feeling of the first two episodes, and suggesting that two-part episodes will enable the production to achieve an optimum balance between modern TV drama and the more leisurely pace of those old four and six parters.

Some have been complaining about the so-called 'soap' elements of the story. What struck me though was the way in which the 'domestics', to use the Doctor's term, are seamlessly integrated into the sci-fi set-up. The brilliant device of having Rose return home not twelve hours but twelve *months* after she left cued up all subsequent interactions between the mundane and the fantastical. RTD has found a way to mesh the real world (or the real world as seen in other TV dramas, at least) with the bizarre and exciting world of Doctor Who, in a way that is clearly designed to soothe the reservations of those who deride sci-fi for its lack of credibility – but beware soap-loving couch-potatoes, it's a rapprochement with a sting in the tail! I'm sure I'm not spoiling anything to say that this story will end with Rose choosing life with the Doctor over life with her well-meaning but small-minded mum and her sweet but thoroughly average chump of a boyfriend - this is a battle where 'soap' reality loses! (just like that Awards ceremony a few years ago where DW beat Eastenders!) In soaps, characters hardly stray more than 500 metres from a handful of key locations, and for one of them to go five miles away to the London West End would require a bloody feature-length Easter Special. Rose is like a truly great soap character who is about to escape the confines of the Square/Street/wherever, and fly the coop, and I'm rooting for her all the way.

The scenes where the Doctor is trying to watch news of the alien invasion on TV whilst surrounded by the clutter and chatter of Rose's home were hilarious, but again the humour had a sting in the tail. Aliens have landed and Rose's mum is gossiping about some fella she's been out with – a perfect illustration of the small-minded parochialism that Rose obviously wants to escape by travelling with the Doctor. When Rose runs into the TARDIS followed by her mum, her mum bolts back outside, filled not with questions but with fear. She scurries back to the safety of her flat, without a shred of curiosity about the suddenly much larger world she's glimpsed. Rose yells after her that she'll be up in a moment to explain, but then dashes back into the TARDIS to consult with the Doctor about his theory that the invasion is a fake. Rose's suitability as a companion is thus assured – she *can* cope with a larger world, and for once a companion of the Doctor has not only been furnished with a real world background, she's confronted that background, found it wanting, and chosen a life of danger and wonder with the Doctor. She is a brilliant creation, and remember, she's *RTD's* creation, all you Davies-bashers...

The other feature that has 'alienated' quite a few Doctor Who fans is the farting. (Must be down to bad memories of being crammed overnight into shared hotel rooms at Conventions...) No-one seems to have spotted that this is actually 'ripped off,' in the time-honoured Doctor Who tradition, in this case from Stephen King's novel DREAMCATCHER. Personally, I found it surprisingly effective, and I wasn't expecting to think so (I'd heard the rumours beforewhand...). It's both funny, in a vulgar way, and actually rather disturbing. When one of them says "We've got to sort out this gas situation" (I'm paraphrasing), the other sarcastically says, "Oh, I thought it made us very human." And that's the key to understanding these aliens. They're mocking us. They laugh at us. When their plan to infiltrate parliament succeeds, they stand in the Cabinet Office laughing like hyenas. I found this far more sinister and scary than the usual sort of 'fiendish' laughter we get from that jackanapes The Master. They laugh with utter contempt. Being invaded by the Slitheen feels truly frightening because they clearly regard humanity as some idiotic species ripe for destruction, and look forward to killing us with a kind of gleeful cruelty. (although the last laugh under the end credits music was just a bit too 'ho-ho-ho' for my liking - was it meant to stifle the fear factor, I wonder?). The narrative reason they fart is obviously to do with the pressure of fitting their huge bodies into the human skins (which suddenly has me giggling at the idea of Count Scarlioni doing it too!). Perhaps fart jokes are a notch down from the dry, sophisticated comedies every fan *of course* watches between episodes of Who, but for heaven's sake try to be a bit more (ffffffrrrrrrr! - oh I say, do excuse me...) flexible. I know it's written into the contract that we fans must be humourless po-faced drudges, but come on, cut loose a bit (Honk!!!!!! ...dear me, I'm so sorry! Must be something I ate)...

Like last week's episode, this felt like classic Who with a burst of new energy cascading through it. I loved the pig creature, and when it was shot down I felt a lump in my throat - which, given that all I had to contextualize it were a few rapid lines from the Doctor and a brief glimpse of it running down a corridor, means I'm either a complete sap when it comes to poor little piggies, or it was simply the good writing communicating a complex idea with dramatic economy. The 'fake invasion' plot was ingenious – I was completely hooked by the various twists and turns (and no, I don't care if some sci-fi novel I've never read has done it already: and no, AMBASSADORS OF DEATH isn't an example).

The special effects are better than they've ever been in a British show, and miles better than any previous Doctor Who. No, they're not perfect, I was *not* convinced that the production team had found some real aliens and persuaded them to take part. But what do I read on this newsgroup–complaints about lighting irregularities on the rooftop? Jesus wept. To quote a Slitheen: "By all the Saints: get some PERSPECTIVE, you lot!" The alien craft looked great crash-landing, the Big Ben smash was fabulous, and although the Slitheen transformations were technically a bit dodgy here and there, I thought they were gross and genuinely alarming in overall appearance. Reminded me of the weird baby-faced monsters in the dream-sequences of Terry Gilliam's BRAZIL. Those who are suggesting they're the equivalent of the Mhyrrka (spelling?) are either taking the mick or senile. When that creature loomed towards Rose's mum in her pokey little kitchen I felt the stirrings of something long dormant – no not that, I don't fancy either of them – I think it might have been fright...

This is a better Doctor Who series than we ever had the right to expect. What's more, ALL of the people I know who are casual but not rabid DW fans have loved every single episode. ALL of them who have children have said their kids are totally rivetted to the screen. No-one seems to have a problem with the so-called 'soap' elements, and no-one seems outraged by the occasionally vulgar humour.

There are elements of the new series that are not completely to my taste, but my overwhelming feeling is that we have a bold, triumphant return of the best TV show ever, and I for one feel like I'm part of a great big thirteen week adventure. I'm finding it impossible to sit down and watch old episodes because all I can think about are the new ones. I'm now on tenterhooks as each Saturday night approaches and as a fan who grew up with DW in its golden years of Holmes and Hinchcliffe, I think I know a thing or two about 'behind the sofa' apprehension. For the first time since the seventies, I'm feeling tormented by the week-long wait for a TV show.

I'll add a few minus points down here at the bottom, just to show I'm not a production office mole..

the TV reporter (not Andrew Marr, the other one) was phony, which is a shame given how convincing programmes like THE DAY TODAY and BRASS EYE could be. This guy was no better than the one in THE DAEMONS all those years ago.

Why did the female doctor in the morgue go and open the fridge door when she could hear the alien was inside trying to get out? Leave it be!

When the (excellently acted) female MP tries to butt in to talk to the Doctor, she has already seen the aliens. I thought she would have been more insistent and spoken directly to the Doctor, interrupting his conversation with the usher by hissing in his ear, 'I've seen them and they're here!" As that would have prevented the big reveal, better that she should have arrived too late to speak to the Doctor as he disappeared into the other room.

The three-part cliffhanger was great, although it relied twice on people standing still as the transformations took place. A horror film convention, but one that could have been avoided.

And one more thing:

The 'next week' trailer after a cliffhanger really jars. I hope they have time to rethink this way of doing things. The last image should be enough to bring people back next week - isn't that what cliffhangers are all about?

Filters: Series 1/27 Ninth Doctor Television