The Doctor brings Rose back to Earth, promising that as far as anyone there is concerned, she’s only been gone for 12 hours. As it turns out, though, the Doctor’s control of the TARDIS is somewhat erratic – Rose has, in fact, been gone for 12 months, making her mother’s life a living hell and making her boyfriend Mickey a murder suspect. Just as things seem to calm down after her arrival, an alien spaceship plummets through the skies over London, crashing right through Big Ben and coming to rest in the Thames. The Doctor seems optimistic at first that perhaps this is humanity’s first contact with aliens, but his curiosity takes him to a hospital near the crash site, where the body of the ship’s pilot is being kept. He quickly discovers that all is not as it seems, and that aliens have, in fact, been on Earth for some time, but even the Doctor doesn’t suspect how deeply they’ve entrenched themselves into society until the Slitheen reveal themselves.
written by Russell T. Davies
directed by Keith Boak
music by Murray Gold
Guest Cast: Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Corey Doabe (Spray Painter), Ceris Jones (Policeman), Jack Barlton (Reporter), Lachele Carl (Reporter), Fiesta Mei Ling (Ru), Basil Chung (Bau), Matt Baker (himself), Andrew Marr (himself), Rupert Vansittart (General Asquith), David Verrey (Joseph Green), Navin Chowdhry (Indra Ganesh), Penelope Wilton (Harriet Jones), Annette Badland (Margaret Blaine), Naoko Mori (Doctor Sato), Eric Potts (Oliver Charles), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Jimmy Vee (Alien), Steve Spiers (Strickland), Elizabeth Fost (Slitheen), Paul Kasey (Slitheen), Alan Ruscoe (Slitheen)
Reviews by Philip R. Frey & Earl Green
LogBook entry by Earl Green
Philip’s Review: Since it is the first of a two-part story, there are a lot of aspects of Aliens Of London that I’m not quite ready to comment on. Just as the first ten minutes of this episode are deceiving (I was afraid it was going to degenerate into pure soap opera) the first part of a two-part story can’t really tell one enough to know if the whole thing works. The final analysis will come with watching the next episode, World War Three, when the work can be viewed as a whole.
That said, Aliens Of London starts off pretty good. The opening joke is set up very well and leads to a solid delivery of the punchline. But as soon as the credits end is when we find ourselves deep in soap opera land. It’s been a longstanding tradition in Doctor Who that the Doctor seldom takes people exactly where he says he’s taking them. But it’s also a long-standing tradition that we don’t dwell on these things. Small amount though it may be, the two or three minutes that Aliens Of London spends on Rose’s distraught mother is time wasted. Am I watching Doctor Who or Eastenders? It spoils the fun of a show like Doctor Who if you take the time to look at the realistic ramifications of the storylines. They didn’t waste time showing us how Ian and Barbara explained being gone for two years after following a young girl who was never seen again. I’d hate to see that scene written by Russell T. Davies.
Things pick up as soon as the main plot begins, which (thankfully) is pretty quickly. A very CG spaceship crashing through the air and smacking into Big Ben helps stop the episode from deteriorating into navel gazing (which this series so far has a tendency to do).
Unfortunately, once we actually start to see the ‘aliens’ things start to go downhill again. Given his nature within the story, I will say little about the “pig alien” except that the Doctor should have been glad it was put out of its misery rather than irritated. (And, by the way, if Davies wants realism, why do so many of the soldiers listen to the Doctor without question? Why wasn’t he arrested and locked away immediately?) The actual aliens (in human disguise) aren’t much better. I know it’s very common these days, but did we need a scene with thirty seconds of virtually non-stop farting in Doctor Who? I suppose that’s Davies’ attempt at bridging the gap by playing down to kids’ senses of humor, but justifying it doesn’t make it less repulsive.
There are no stand-out performances in Aliens Of London, but I will say that Noel Clarke as Mickey does come off better than he did in Rose. His indignation at the way he’s been treated since Rose left is well played. He actually comes off as sympathetic. He, unlike the Doctor, seems to be learning things from life.
The actual plot of Aliens Of London is decent, but for once, I thought they weren’t doing enough with their allotted forty-five minutes. The script takes so many breaks for its “all important” character scenes that I felt that without them the story could have been told in fifteen minutes. I actually wanted to know what happened next and I felt cheated I had to sit through so much emotional claptrap when the plot was lying around unattended.
And, finally, there is an honest-to-goodness cliffhanger at the end, leading to the next episode. It’s not exactly the slam-bang stinger we used to get on the old show. The slow reveal of the aliens in three different locations under three completely different circumstances takes some of the edge off. The fact that the aliens look so silly and the effect of them shedding their ‘skin’ looks so phony doesn’t help. Still, it sets up the next episode fairly well. So well, in fact, I’ll end on a cliffhanger of my own.
Will World War Three explain everything revealed in Aliens Of London? Will we see more gratuitous references to the Time War and the ‘Bad Wolf’? Will more characters get all weepy? Will the aliens inhabit any skinny humans or will they all be conveniently portly? Tune in next week to find out!
Earl’s Review: One of my very favorite shows of the first season – actually, very possibly my favorite, period – Aliens Of London goes a long way toward addressing, head-on, what it means to be the Doctor’s companion, and more importantly, what being the Doctor’s companion means to the companion’s own family. This has never really been addressed before, and it’s always been a very convenient plot device to have a succession of orphans (Victoria, Adric, Nyssa, Tegan, Peri), people who were lost/missing to begin with (Ace, Steven, Charley), and/or targets of ostracism (Turlough, Erimem) travel in the TARDIS. In short: nobody that anyone would miss, whether on the intimate level of family or in the broader picture of history. Aliens Of London and, to a lesser degree, World War Three hit that issue dead-on center, with emotional repercussions aplenty.
Aliens Of London also features an intriguing new take on the old alien invasion trope, and builds very firm links to Doctor Who’s past by showing us the modern face of UNIT (the covert agency for whom the third Doctor spent a lot of time investigating extraterrestrial threats in the early 1970s). This is accomplished smoothly, without bringing the story to a screeching halt to try to feed the audience a truckload of continuity from the original series – if you know that Jon Pertwee’s Doctor worked for UNIT, that’s fine and it adds a nice layer of background to the proceedings, but if you aren’t aware of the series’ long history, that’s fine too. It’s also interesting to see that his UNIT associations can now get the Doctor swept off to 10 Downing Street.
The guest cast gets a lot of screen time here, and there really isn’t a badly-cast actor anywhere to be seen. Penelope Wilton as Harriet Jones (MP, Flydale North, in case you didn’t know) is especially effective, though the performers playing the alien invaders are remarkably creepy when it comes right down to it. Noel Clarke gets to show Mickey as something other than a clueless coward (though he really gets to shine in World War Three) and Camille Coduri gets to add some much-needed non-comedic elements to Rose’s mother. And we get the new show’s first honest-to-God cliffhanger, and it all adds up to something that just feels right. Overall, a fantastic episode.