Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Well, World War III wasn't bad, but it would've looked alot better had Mark Gatiss's fantastic 'The Unquiet Dead' not been on a couple of weeks earlier. I think, from this evidence, that I prefer the Mark Gatiss style to that of Russell T Davies, and unless something unexpected happens next week I'll probably favor the Rob Shearman style too. But you've got to give Davies credit, he can write a witty, inventive and fast-paced script, and this episode was a lot of fun - but it really benefited from being watched twice. First time round I was silenced by vinegar soaked, exploding farting aliens (more on that weakness later) and what has to be the least secure military website ever (hey guys, anyone can control a ballistic missile! Even Mickey!), but on the second viewing I really enjoyed the throway one-liners and the light-hearted, surreal tone to it all. That's the key to enjoying this episode and 'Aliens of London', I think. Watching 'The Unquiet Dead', you could be in the mood for a realistic, well-acted Hinchcliffe/Holmes scary drama - and you'd be rewarded. But to really get your kicks from 'World War III' you had to take it as what it was- a light-hearted, entertaining run around bookended by an excellent, thoughtful closing sequence.

But what the heck, I'm a doctor who fan so I may as well list the negatives first. (Glass half empty, you say? Never!)

It was noted in reviews for the aliens of london that there was a notable credulity gap between the model slitheen and the cgi kind. (I guess they must have been talking about the preview for this episode). Well, there's no denying that there's a big difference between the slow, bouncing models and the sleek, speedy CGI beasts. Also, giving the slitheen saggy tits and a dog collar was a bit weird. But I actually enjoyed these new monsters; the contrast between their claws and baby faces was disconcerting and they were mostly used well, with the exception of the bit where Penelope Wilton's character ran back into the cabinet office for the protocols only to be confronted with a slitheen bobbling amiably towards her. But I do like a good monster run-around, and the direction made the chase scenes fast-paced and nervy - just like Rose and the auton attack Keith Boak proves he can handle action scenes well. You know what? This negative has turned into a positive. I must like this episode more than I'm letting on! Quick, think of something....

Farting. Actually, hold on, I didn't have a problem with that. I like a good running theme, and there was no cringeworthy 'I'm shaking my booty' moment in this episode. It made me laugh, too. Ahh, here's a good criticism... The element of realism, or lack of it. I mentioned earlier that this episode should be taken light-heartedly, but I think there's a certain level of realism you've got to aspire to in order to sustain the audiences interest, their tension and how much they care for the characters. I can accept the intact survival of a head-on missile hit, and the slightly dodgy UN politics involved, but it really spoilt the plot for me when Micky first of all only needed one, simple password to take control of the UKs missiles system (yes, because we dont have hackers, do we?) and then dealt with the intervention of another missile with a simple mouse click. Now thats a fun game for all the family. Type buffalo, and take control of our countries' entire weapons system!

Come to think of it, the revelation that the slitheen's one weakness was vinegar annoyed me, although it did allow for a great, inventive fact-gathering scene (narrows it down! narrows it down!) and the best line of the entire episode (''pickled onions...pickled eggs..." "You kiss this man?") but to be honest, it makes the cybermens' slightly gay allergy to gold look tough. It's bad enough being able to deal with an invasion of Cybermen by lobbing a bag of coins at their chest, but imagine a slitheen invasion! Quick, it's the slitheen army...Throw me the Sarson's malt!

But now I'm just getting petty. I've only got one further criticism... and that's the slightly smug, oooh thats clever use of ideas indicative of the worst excesses of a Russell T Davies Script. For me this was symbolised by the analogy of the slitheens' plans to the Iraq war (which will understandably pass right over American's heads, I might add). It was a clever idea, and we all like to give Tony Blair a bit of a bashing, but there are more subtle, effective ways of getting the analogy across without -shout-it -in-the-street-obvious lines like 'weapons of mass destruction that can be activated in 45 seconds' and 'I voted against that, you know'. Yes, we know, you're being satirical. Well done, get over it. Having said that, it gave my Conservative-supporting parents (yes, I know, I don't know why either) a good laugh.

Well, thats the bad stuff. But there was alot of good stuff too, not least the trademark Davies wit which, more than any episode so far, was out in force. There were many lines which -only really appreciated on a second viewing - left me on the floor. Like the aforementioned 'you kiss this man?', the lift escape, the 'thats not going to work, is it?' and my favorite moment of the whole episode - the doctor's realisation that the slitheen can't get in but they can't get out of the cabinet office - a moment made funnier by Eccleston's frozen, grinning mug and exhaled 'ah'. There's alot of character faults in Eccleston's portayal of the doctor, but his comic facial and one-liner ability is definately worthy of praise.

Talking of Eccleston's portrayal of the doctor, the excellent last five, or more accurately two, minutes of this episode were for me the most important of the whole series so far. Up to this point I've been disillusioned with Christopher Eccleston's portayal of the Doctor. I can sympathise with his attempts to make the character seem more alien, but in doing so I think he's lost touch with the core character of the Doctor - the person who you want to travel with, who you wish you had as a friend. It's all very well trying to make him a more complex, alien character, but in doing so - for example, his harsh rebuke to Rose in 'The Unquiet Dead' ('it's a different morality, get used to it or go home') and his bizzare, nasty treatment of Micky, who's spent the last year suspected of murder becuase of him and should at the very least get an apology from the Doctor, not a mean jibe - in doing so, I stopped liking him. And if there's one thing that's important about the Doctor's character - this character who represents good in an amoral universe, the ultimate hero - it's that youv'e got to like him. And, with the added annoyance of Eccleston's occasional unsettling pretentiousness (has there ever been a worse abuse of the word 'fantastic'?) I stopped liking the doctor. Thought he was a bit of a dick, in fact. But then I watched the last two minutes of this episode and , thanks to his newfound respectful and amiable treatment of mickey and the small but significant lie he tells to protect him (telling Rose Mickey couldn't come along so she wouldnt find out that Mickey doesnt think he could handle that sort of life), something finally clicked in Eccleston's portayal of the Doctor .The likable, dare I say it human touch is finally there, and I can now start warming to Eccleston's performance the way I have the last eight doctors.

Other plusses include the ingenious, and chilling motive behind the slitheens' brinkmanship - to reduce the earth to slag, and sell it off. As well as being a clever idea - a nice change from the normal invasion storyline - it was an unsettling thought to say the least. It reminded me of the chill that went through me when I first watched 'The Pirate Planet' and realised what the captain's planet had done to all the other worlds - literally drained them of life. In World War III I got a similar chill when the Doctor notes the genocide this would entail and the slitheen replies "bargain". There was also, in this episode, a high quality of acting from the trio of Billie Piper, Noel Clarke and Penelope Wilton. What seemed to be wooden (translation=bollocks) acting has now, in the case of Noel Clarke as Mickey, been revealed to be an effective portayal of a lovable but hapless guy, his moments with the doctor at the end and his tentative comforting of Jackie particularly worthy of note. Penelope Wilton was, as usual, excellent, but - while we're talking about her - is it me, or did every Doctor who fan watching almost certainly shout 'she's the next prime minister' in response to the Doctor's 'where have I heard that name?'. It must be all those years of realising that characters like 'Sir Giles Estram' were actually the master in disguise....

So I suppose when all's said and done I enjoyed, on repeat viewings at least, this episode quite alot. It's got alot going for it -it's funny, it's imaginative, it's got a great ending. But I suspect when we look back at this first series of new Doctor Who it won't be the Russel T Davies episodes like 'Aliens of London' and 'World War III' we deem to be 'classics' and 'gems' but the Mark Gatiss, Rob Shearman ones et al. But you know what? I'd watch this episode again anyday. And that's more than I can say for 'Timelash'.

Filters: Series 1/27 Ninth Doctor Television