Doctor Doctor Who Guide

There seems to be a general consensus that this was the weakest episode yet and while in some cases that is probably quite true, it also contained some of the best scenes from the series yet, scenes that knock anything from the first three episodes out of the pool. The series is still clearly trying to find its feet and trying new things all the time, sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t…I realise Doctor Who has been on screen for over fourty years and has tried many styles in the past and some of you might think it should KNOW what works and what doesn’t. But I’m sure you will agree Russell T Davies’ new series is unlike anything we have ever seen before and as such it is a new learning curve for him and the series and posting SACK RTD NOW!!! on the forum is rather pathetic and juvenile, written by ungrateful bastards who want the series to match what they envisage Doctor Who to be. They are probably the same people who slagged off Christopher Eccleston when they found out he was leaving just days after they were praising his performance to the high heavens.

I was perfectly willing to enjoy the farting, indeed it has been a staple of one of my other favourite shows, Farscape, with the hilarious Rygel expelling helium farts into the air during some particularly tense moments. The result is a juxtaposition of the frightening and the absurdly crude and wonderfully uncomfortable televison. Aliens of London didn’t quite get it right, not because the flatulence wasn’t a laugh (the Doctor’s “Excuse me, do you mind not farting while I’m trying to save the world?” was especially funny…and the look on his face!) but it did not occur in any scary scenes…it was just sort of there, with the trio of heifer nasties chortling away at how funny their out of control bottoms were. Unlike Farscape which is puerile with style…this was just sort of puerile. And the line Would you prefer silent but deadly? almost threatens to collapse the cliff-hanger moment and should have been cut.

But honestly are people willing to underrate this episode just because of a few seconds worth of farts? There was still so much to enjoy…

Domestic scenes in Doctor Who should be just awful? Turning our beloved show into a parody of Eastenders…how dare you Mr Davies, how dare you sir! But Davies is such a clever writer and he knows exactly what he is doing and by grounding the series in modern day London we get to return home to Mickey and Jackie every couple of episodes and see how much Rose has grown and how much her departure has affected everybody she cares for. It is a cracking dramatic device and when written as well as it is here Doctor Who can resemble Eastenders as much as it likes!

The teaser was predictable (Simon guessed straight away) but still wonderful; a terrific oh shit moment to hang the rest of the episode on. I adored Jackie in the first episode because despite some overdone acting on Camille Coduri she felt like a real person caught up in a freaky situation. Each subsequent appearance has seen both her character and the actress grow into the part to the point now where I found Jackie’s situation as compelling as Rose’s. Her performance was right on the nail throughout, first shock and relief to see her daughter safe, then vicious anger and blame for her disappearing without thinking about anyone else, then back to normal life (“Guess who asked me out!”) and then suddenly she is confronted with the truth about her daughters disappearance, a brief glimpse inside the TARDIS which turns her whole life upside down. Simon was boo-hissing her reaction to the mind-blowing spaceship, to grass him up to the police but to me it felt so very real, a mother trying to protect her daughter from something she doesn’t understand. Which is why Jackie deserved a slice of the cliffhanger frankly, because at this point the series (and especially this episode) is as much about her than it is about the Doctor and Rose and to finally be confronted with a deadly situation where it looks like she cannot escape is the next logical step for a character who has emerged into the Doctor Who world. And bizarrely, of triple barrelled cliffhanger, it was Jackie squeezed against her kitchen sideboard as the Slitheen approaches that I found most disturbing, not only because I really, really like her but because it is such a normal location for such a horrific scene to take place.

All this great work with Jackie is somewhat undermined as this was my least favourite week for Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor yet, despite some of his most Doctorish moments. People are moaning that he doesn’t convince entirely as the Doctor and that he comes across as a mainstream actor trying to play the Doctor, which is not always an unfair assessment. Some of his scenes in this story were fantastic (as seems to be his catchphrase) and totally convinced you that you were watching Doctor Who (his tinkering with the console, his angry “It was scared!” after the military shoot down the pig, his brilliant, excited reaction to being escorted to 10 Downing Street and his marvellous realisation at the climax that the whole thing is a trap) and yet in places I felt he was still finding his feet in the role and played the ‘normal guy’ role a bit too well to stick out as an alien from outer space (such as the scenes with him trying to watch the telly with all the family getting in the way…whatever happened to the Doctor who used to just storm into a crisis regardless?). His relationship with Rose is obviously vitally important and his casual Are you going to stay here now? hints at more fireworks to come in part two. Oh and I loved the sweet moment as he gave her the TARDIS key.

Billie is exceptional. She’s climbing the companion ranks with each passing episode. During Rose she was an exceptional, generic companion fulfilling the asking questions and wanting to leave her boring life role perfectly. But Davies and Piper keep adding layers each week that make her more and more interesting to follow. Aliens of London explores why Rose is the perfect companion for the Doctor, torn between her loved ones back home and her life of adventure on the TARDIS. This is new stuff for the series and another sign that the series is still growing up and has much to learn. Rose’s firm insistence that the Doctor doesn’t disappear and leave her proves she desperately wants to go with him and yet her emotional reaction to seeing her mum and boyfriend again reveals she still has ties to Earth. I sense top drama for episode two and that this story will look a whole lot healthier as one, hour and a half adventure. Billie and Clarke’s quiet moment at the TARDIS console, saying they missed each other is unexpectedly touching and serves to add much depth to Mickey’s character.

Want to know what my favourite moment in the whole series has been so far? That glorious moment when the spaceship crashes into the Thames of course! Fan-bloody-tastic! Not only does it look fabulous, with some giddying POV’s from the spaceship, and ultilise London’s recognisable locations with panache (is there anything as shocking in Doctor Who as when the spaceship smashes through Big Ben and then dive bombs into the Thames?) but it also kick starts a contemporary Earth alien invasion story the likes of which we all know and love and Russell would be hard pushed to get wrong. Honestly, if there was ever a moment to define the new series this gorgeous effects shot (complete with heart racing score) is the one and worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster to boot.

Cue mass panic as we see an alien incursion on a much bigger scale than we are used to. The plot is sneaky, throwing Rose’s domestic situation and a fake alien pig to distract from what is really going on. The pig is a marvellously embarrassing scene, almost grotesque in appearance and extremely comical as it zips along the corridor; it is suddenly twisted into a moment of great pathos as the Doctor reacts with total disgust at its death. Tom Baker would have laughed at the poor thing but Eccleston looks devastated at its horrific mistreatment.

All the build up to the cliffhanger was terrific with the mounting tension cranked up to a spectacular degree. It was marvellous how long he kept the danger going before finally cutting to the end music…with three plots taking place there are three cliffhangers for each of them, the editing quite superb as we cut back and forth between each with plenty of moments to leave it but the creepiness goes on for several minutes with l’ill Joe going cue music! about five times before it finally happened. Davies is playing around with our expectations and in a terribly fun way.

I shall certainly be tuning in next week, usually the set up is much more pleasing than the pay off but I feel the reverse will be true of Aliens of London and World War Three. This was a good hour of telly don’t get me wrong with more than enough to keep you glued but if they had turned down the farting and giving the Doctor a bit more to do I would have been more satisfied. The emotional aspect of the series has been cranked up to a new level and have a strong feeling that Rose’s dilemma and the alien invasion will be handled with considerable skill next week.

Flawed, but still containing some of the finest material we have seen yet.

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