Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Following the introductory package of the first three episodes - present, far future and recent past - the new series finally takes a step towards what could be described as traditional Doctor Who material. Aliens landing in London causing all manner of general panic; this is the kind of thing everyone remembers as being the kind of thing Doctor Who does well. And this episode is done well... to a point.

Let us get the more contentious issue out of the way - the farting. It was always made clear, was it not, that this was a very new version of the show and we would have to get accustomed to changes earlier series would not have touched. Following the fans' moans about Sylvester McCoy's series turning into a trumped-up kid's show, no doubt the same doubts are rising about this episodes wind-breaking aliens. It was necessary to have some form of symbol to identify the aliens, but this was not really the most appropriate. It was played for laughs, not a 'half and half' between laughs and explanation, and I can only hope enough aliens have been uncovered to ensure we don't suffer the wind again.

Also covered in Aliens of London for the first time, or for the first time in such detail, was the need of the companion to return home. Rose has always had a contemporary base and she would have always needed to return home eventually. In this episode, the Doctor - that 'fantastic' really is here to stay, isn't it? - has mistakenly returned Rose back home 12 months after she left, which results in a very 'domestic drama' sub-story to the alien invasion. In touch with contemporary concerns in a way never really touched on before, there are questions of improper behaviour and Mickey - her boyfriend - was accused of Rose's murder. In one very well composed scene, the Doctor is one amongst a host of normal, loud people in a small flat and this paints the multi-layered relationship between TIme Lord and companion in a very clear way.

Rose's mother has certainly a central role in this series, as she is the one constant Earth character Rose can be sent towards/made to communicate to, to ensure the audience don't get bored of 'full on sci-fi', which this series certainly is not. Her decision to call the police with an alien landing is exactly what any concerned mother would do, and underlines how well written RTD has made so many of those characters who are not always centre screen. For the first time, we have a companion whose streetwise persona is tempered with a very domestic, natural relationship with a parent; it's like seeing Ace's mum tutting about how she's ruined a perfectly good jacket with all those badges.

The alien storyline, weaved amongst the domestic fireworks, was simplistic but did build towards the first of the new series two-part stories. Shapeshifting aliens - so realistic they don't quite fit into their new bodies hence the 'gas exchange' - have taken on the apperance of the Prime Minister, MI5 official and so on, to begin their invasion 'from the inside'. The News 24 coverage was realistic, but the bubbly presenter on the scene from the start has never been done particularly well. Was it 'Daemons' where a similar format was used? When Rose's mother reports her sighting of the Doctor and his 'blue box', a red alert is called within the bowels of Downing Street and from this a meeting is arranged of all 'alien experts'. It was certainly nice not only to see UNIT included here but the I've changed a lot since the old days line was a nicely phrased nod to the past.

The aliens - Would you mind not farting when I'm saving the world, please! - co-ordinate their unveiling with the three separate(d) groups of main characters all conveniently held within their own scenes: Penelope Wilton and Rose in the cabinet room; the Doctor and assorted experts within an internal 10 Downing Street meeting room; Rose's mother at home. The cut-away from one to other was typical Who and led to a good cliff-hanger ending. This was, of course, ruined by the taster trailer for Part II, where all the main characters were shown to be alive and well.

As a return to the kind of storyline Doctor Who has always been celebrated in making, Aliens of London was a fairly well paced episode, with only the farting and clumsy use of (the usually very good) Penelope Wilton the two minor hitches. The second part should keep this up, which I sure hope it does.

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