Doctor Doctor Who Guide

I should warn you at the beginning, if you’re a big Russell T. Davies fan: he’s not going to come out of this well.

Pathetic I know, but sometimes I feel personally hurt by this story; having spent almost all my life defending the show from my friends, who thought of it as a complete joke, Russell T. Davies comes along and proves them right. How could he do this to me? It stings doubly because this was also the first time where the bubble really burst and I realised the series wasn’t going to be the perfection I had been hoping. Maybe you could turn it round and say that I’m better off for seeing it and consequently getting a bit of a reality check, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve just had to sit through the bloomin’ thing again in order to review it.

I suppose it is good that some thought has gone into what Rose has left behind when the Doctor took her away, but it’s spoiled by the lack of thought that seems to have gone into other areas, like why everyone seems to have forgotten that shop window dummies suddenly sprang to life a year previously and killed a lot of people. That’s a big problem with Davies: he focuses on one area of an episode so that everyone coos over how intelligent and thoughtful he is, but then lets it down by neglecting some other area. The pre-titles sequence is at least quite well done though, linking between Rose in her flat and the Doctor in the yard outside.

The policeman asking Rose if her relationship with the Doctor is a sexual one is a very interesting moment as it shows Davies talking about sex in a way that seems totally appropriate to the narrative and not at all gratuitous; that is the kind of question that a policeman genuinely would ask her, so not only is it appropriate it’s quite correct. Davies brings innuendo into the series all too often, and it’s very rare that I end up praising it. Rose’s later line of “it’s so gay”, however, is quite different. It was included in the script simply to stir up trouble and get a reaction; it caused controversy at the time but I gave it the benefit of the doubt as I thought that Davies would have some kind of agenda, but when I found out that the agenda in question was simply to cynically provoke a reaction I lost all patience with him. The line is just presented starkly with no attempt to give it negative connotations, so an anti-homophobic agenda is a bit of a non-starter. Although I suppose if the Doctor had rebuked her for it people would react to that too, thinking Davies has turned the Doctor gay, so you just can’t win.

Forget my opinions about Davies for a moment, or even to an extent Keith Boak, as the spaceship crash looks absolutely great. It has a few flaws, like a lack of reaction shots from the crowd, the actual landing which isn’t the show’s best piece of special effects and the fact that nobody hears it coming until it zooms right over their head, despite it not only having roaring engines but also having a foghorn. Still, it’s still a great set piece and the shot of Big Ben getting smashed looks wonderful although it is spoiled by a totally unnecessary angle change from Boak, to whom fast, random, dizzying cuts are a particularly bad speciality. One thing to note is that the clock reads 10:55 when the ship strikes it but 6:10 when it appears on the news later: good old British workmanship eh? Big Ben keeps going even when an alien spaceship uncaps it like a boiled egg.

The party at Rose’s flat features some Goths as guests; maybe this is just my skewed perspective but they strike me as being somewhat incongruous in a council estate setting where such people would have a short life expectancy (oh, I’ve alienated a lot of people saying that, haven’t I? Never mind, so has Davies). The Goth girl is also the one who yells out to the Doctor “oi gawjus, come back an’ join da par’ay”, showing that Davies knows as much about Goths as he does about politics. The scene with the baby is daft but okay, but cutting to a cake spaceship is a classic example of the clever-clever metafictional elements that Davies scatters throughout his episodes that totally destroy the illusion. Rumour has it that he’s in a future episode carrying a billboard saying “this is just a TV show!”

After this the silliness comes thick and fast. Politicians are given comedy jobs; Harriet Jones is comic relief initially spouting her catchphrase “MP for Flydale North” again and again and again until people start saying it in their sleep; then of course there’s the farting, which is the moment that Davies really shows how little he respects a family audience. It truly pains me that a programme that once had characters talking in iambic pentameter (and getting nine million viewers for it before anyone accuses it of elitism) is now reduced to not just one but uncountable fart jokes. Even at its lowest ebb the original series never disrespected its audience to this degree. Why Davies seems to think that anyone is going to respond to such infantile writing is beyond me, but what is even more beyond me is that they do, with World War Three actually topping this in the ratings. The guffawing aliens seems to be an attempt at keying into an older, cheesier style of villain, just like the Dalek flying saucers key in to an older design of spaceship, but this is so ineptly done that like in Delta And The Bannermen the episode becomes what it attempts to riff off: namely, bad science fiction. I admit I sound patronising there, but I hate the thought that someone who reacts badly to such coarseness is an automatic humourless snob. Believe me, I react very well to humour. It’s just that this isn’t it.

The rest of the episode just keeps on annoying me, from the incredibly twee use of David Bowie’s ‘Starman’ on the soundtrack to Mickey’s embarrassing pratfall when the TARDIS dematerialises (which incidentally takes too long, so the visuals don’t match the sound effects), to the Doctor using a mallet on the console. Sorry, I know I’m being harsh, but they put someone in charge of the show who is simply not taking his job seriously, at least when it comes to this episode.

At least Navin Chowdry is a good actor, transforming a scene with his reactions when in the background. In fact a lot of the guest cast are very good here, such as David Verrey, Penelope Wilton and (particularly) Annette Badland, but their characters are so annoying (Harriet Jones to a lesser extent, bit still a little bit) that it counts for naught. At least Noel Clarke’s on hand to save the day, maintaining some charisma in the face of idiot pratfalls.

The escape of the space pig is dramatic at first, until we actually see the pig. Possibly this was an attempt to replicate the success of Mr. Sin from The Talons Of Weng-Chiang, but instead of being creepy it just ends up ludicrous. It could have been creepy if it was better done, but unfortunately Jimmy Vee in a pig suit just doesn’t convince. The dry, rubbery mask just doesn’t convince and no attempt to make anything other than the head and hands look like a pig has been made. In short, it looks like what it is: a small guy in a pig suit. And then Davies expects me to get emotional over it.

The scene where the three Slitheen line up and fart in front of Asquith while grinning inanely is my candidate for Doctor Who’s worst ever moment, which even now makes me cringe even though I’ve watched it several times. I’m just thankful that I’ve never seen this episode in the company of others – that’s definitely a moment to get the dog to “accidentally” tread on the fast forward button. The head zips are more tweeness that help shatter the illusion, although the bright blue glow helps obscure it a bit.

Note that the handrail in the TARDIS wobbles when Rose grabs it – I love stuff like that happening in the new series, as it counteracts the smugness of people who laugh at the original.

The scene where Jackie grasses up the Doctor shows that this is actually quite a well paced episode (just a shame that the content being paced is so naff), with the Doctor’s trip to the hospital neatly leading on to the next stage. The mystery of what the aliens have been doing is also good, but highlights how disappointing the story is as it has a very strong core idea and could have been very good.

The “wife, mistress and young farmer” line is Davies again at his most smarmy – the policeman’s question earlier on was appropriate to the story but when an innuendo is devoid of any relevance to the plot it becomes mere attention seeking. The gas exchange explanation for the farting doesn’t quite cut it with me – okay so there’s an explanation for it, but why can’t the exchangers just work properly? Then the Slitheen could at least claim to have a veneer of credibility. Apart from that is the fact that green aliens hiding inside human suits it taken wholesale from City Of Death, where it was done much better and the DVD of which ironically features Steven Moffatt talking (correctly) about the importance of taking the monsters seriously. I know City Of Death raises the question of how the Jagaroth can fit inside human skins but if the answer to that involves them breaking wind at every opportunity then I can live with the dramatic licence, thanks.

The Slitheen, when they emerge, look dreadful – stupid comedy monsters with baby faces, pot-bellies and bad posture. I’ll take the underrated Zarbi over the Slitheen; they may look dated now, but at least people where actually trying back then instead of hurling money at the show until it makes itself. What galls me also is the fact that the new series is capable of making such fantastic monsters (the Reapers), so these look like they do deliberately. When monsters failed in the original series at least you could put it down to budget constraints, but the Slitheen look exactly as they are intended to look and I find that very sad. I have to say, while I’ve seen praise for them on the Internet I’ve never met anyone in the flesh who actually liked the Slitheen. The special effects of their emergence from their skins look awful and fake, although like the wobbling handrail this does at least provide me with some ammo against people who laugh at the effects of the original series. The three Slitheen emerging at the same time in separate places show a completely artificial set up for a cliffhanger, which when it happens is distinctly ordinary. The “next time” trailer has been criticised so much I don’t need to go into it here.

Fortunately, World War Three is a bit better than the dreadful Aliens Of London and (just about) saves the story from a bottom rating. The resolution of the cliffhanger makes no sense though – so all the power transmits to other Slitheen through gas exchangers, does it? This demonstrates Davies penchant for grabbing whatever random sci-fi device comes along and turning it round to suit him regardless of it’s plausibility – see also The Christmas Invasion, where the Sycorax leader happens to be standing on the exact spot on the ship that can be collapsed by a carefully thrown satsuma. Funny thing though, but doesn’t Christopher Eccleston sound like Paul McGann when he says “deadly to humans, maybe”? Listen and hear it for yourself.

We get to see the Slitheen for all their rubbishness: the costumes look as rubbery and artificial as the pig’s and the CGI versions look too cartoony, as well as failing to match the costume-versions’ movements. Both, I should say, are largely down to the way Boak shoots them as the look improves dramatically when Joe Ahearne shoots them for Boom Town. There is no dignity to this episode at all, especially when they wobble about trying to get back into their human suits – and it’s all deliberate. It is quite unbelievable. However, I do like the look of anger that Verrey flashes Rupert Vansittart as Asquith when he tells the guards to take their orders directly from him.

The Doctor defeats a Slitheen with a fire extinguisher, Rose drops a curtain on one of their heads and Harriet Jones screams “noooooo!”. Yes folks, we have something falling somewhat short of the show’s most dynamic action scene. However, the fact that the Slitheen are a family answers a question about why the Slitheen have no nuclear weapons of their own (it doesn’t forgive ripping the plot off The Dominators though). However, Harriet’s rebuke to the Doctor for passing the port to the right is actually a good joke, having a bit of style at odds with the rest of the story (my word, I’m such a snob. Oh well, nobody’s perfect, but at least I know a good episode of Doctor Who when I see it). For every god moment though there’s a bad one to cancel it out, such as the unfunny moment where human skins are hung on coat hangers.

The Doctor’s quiet apology to the dead Indra Ganesh is a good moment though, as understatement is the way emotion should be done. Having said that I do like Father’s Day and emotion is hardly understated there so let me put it another way – it should be understated when done by Davies as he has a tendency to splatter his scripts with trite and cheesy platitudes, such as in the café scene in The Parting Of The Ways. Here, though, it works well. The “buffalo” password on the UNIT site is unbelievably stupid plotting, and when the Slitheen explodes through having picked eggs thrown at it I have to ask myself how thick Davies thinks his audience is.

The Doctor gags at the port (despite claims to have drunk earlier with Lloyd George), which is a great little moment of characterisation, helped by the fact that it’s so fleeting because of a quick cutaway. Keith Boak does good camerawork in the same way that someone playing Pin The Tail On The Donkey will occasionally, quite by chance, hit it right on the spot.

“Massive weapons of destruction”. Please, someone make it stop.

The resolution is, you guessed it, rubbish with Mickey hacking into (for the purposes of new viewers) a random fictional website and launching a missile at 10 Downing Street from his home computer. Davies’s strengths, such as his skill in characterising Rose, just don’t cut it in the face of such ridiculousness. Also annoying is the hint of a swear word from the Slitheen, because of the continued “tee hee, we’re doing this because we can get away with it” attitude of the writer. I’m glad it’s nearly over though (what if Margaret Blaine teleported into a chip shop? There’d be no Boom Town so we’d all be better off.

At least the ending, with the “ten seconds” moment, is pretty good in a sombre and sad way that contrasts with the silliness of earlier. The cover-up idea is implausible though – so what, a student prank? And they murdered the prime minister just for an extra hint of realism. It’s not relevant to anything, but I’ve got the same coffee mugs as Jackie (bet that caught you off guard).

The fact that World War Three isn’t quite as dreadful as Aliens Of London just saves this from a one-star rating, but only just. It totally sums up everything that is wrong with Davies’s writing: it takes all the shaky plotting, silly comedy characters, annoying satire, smut and innuendo and multiplies them; in short, despite not being the worst episode of the series (that thorny crown goes to Boom Town) this is still a poor, poor example of Doctor Who.

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