Doctor Doctor Who Guide

The previous episode was not quite the disaster other reviewers have made it out to be. Truthfully, there were some serious flaws, most of which created by the decision to return to Rose's time and place - a decision I understand if not one that I agree with. A grounding in reality (well a reality comparable to that on display in a typical episode of Eastenders, anyhow) can certainly be conducive to compelling horror but I don't think this has been sucessfully employed as of yet. The Autons of episode one could definately have been much scarier. The real problem, however was the melodrama that accompanied the setting. Micky/Ricky is just annoying, I'm afraid. Having said that, I think the (eventual) appearance of the Slitheen redeemed the episode. The speed at which the dubious humour drained out of the show to be replaced by the genuinely strange and imposing aliens was truly impressive. So I had high hopes for the conclusion to the story - and I wasn't disappointed.

The Doctor's triumph as the episode reconvened (expertly emerging from the recap of the prior installment) was accompanied by the disheartening fact that every one else in the room was not so lucky. Ecclestone is capable of considerable menace himself, even in his diluted and less successful 'light-hearted' moments. His seriousness (more the accumulated result of other roles than his performances in Who) lends the programme real credibility. When he says the world is doomed, the audience believes him. It is a considerable shame that this will be his only series, as it was largely his work that made the start of this episode so engaging. Some of the chase scenes which followed were a little too comical for my liking but the volume of casualties already amassed by this point demand that we take the story seriously. This is quite a brave move and compensates, somewhat, for last week's overly humorous episode.

The Slitheen are reminiscent of something from a Roald Dahl story. They have an exaggerated, immature grotesqueness about them. I think it works well for the most part. The fact that 'Slitheen' is the name of their family and not their race was interesting as too often in sci-fi we are led to view an entire species of aliens as being wholly alike and evil, which is of course, an arrogant attitude. These particular creatures may well be an exception to an otherwise decent race. I felt this was a forgivable way to introduce the simplistic ethics, which are inevitably interwoven into every television programme these days, as I certainly wouldn't like humanity to be judged by the actions of a dozen individuals. Less forgivable were the subtle digs at contempary international affairs, which have become something of a myth in and of themselves lately. It's not that I think the conflict in Iraq was entered into in good faith its just that I've heard the same arguments too often. There's no conspiracy (as this episode repeatedly hinted) because our 'world leaders' are simply not smart enough. That's the problem. What we have is a confrontation with our own value system and the resulting shock that it is not universally accepted by the rest of the planet. Doctor Who provides an excellent opportunity to subvert this system and fortunately this was acknowledged when the victory over the Slitheen was described as a victory for 'humanity'. The real strength of the Doctor is that he is completely objective and has his own immutable moral code which is irrespective of time and place. Arguably the greatest challenge of a writer in this series is to be conscious of exactly what the Doctor's voice (as the 'voice of truth') is made to say, because he speaks from the ultimate ethical highground. It is far too easy to make him seem pretentious and self-righteous. I think the decision to show the Doctor's cruelty (with his allowing Cassandra to die in episode 3, for example) and hence his fallibility was an admirable one.

Fittingly the episode hinged on the Doctor's decision to destroy the Slitheen, even at the risk of destroying Rose and we are encouraged to see that (despite Ecclestone's impenetrable expression) not only would he do so without hesitation but that Rose would be willing to let him. The fact that this also involved the destruction of Downing street was an added bonus and a terrific conclusion to the threat, almost as spectacular as the collision with Big Ben. And the added fact the TARDIS did not return at the end of the episode as Rose promised is even more interesting. We may have returned to Rose's home but we have also blown it away irrevocably.

This was yet another fantastic episode of what is fast becoming one of the best programmes on TV. With the probable demise of Star Trek on the horizon, Doctor Who is already the best sci-fi series on the air. I, for one, cannot wait to see The Dalek, next week.

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