World War Three

Doctor WhoThe Doctor escapes the Slitheen, but of all the experts on alien life forms called to 10 Downing Street, only he survives. Rose and Harriet Jones, an MP who was among the first to witness the aliens’ true nature and survive, also barely escape the Slitheen, while Rose’s connection to the Doctor even makes her mother and Mickey targets for Slitheen elimination. Unable to escape 10 Downing Street, the Doctor, Rose and Harriet manage to fight their way to the most secure room in the building and lock the Slitheen out – but that also means that help can’t reach them. And when Mickey and Rose’s mother manage to kill their own Slitheen pursuer with advice phoned in by the Doctor, humankind’s first contact situation may become its last.

Order the DVDDownload this episodewritten by Russell T. Davies
directed by Keith Boak
music by Murray Gold

Guest Cast: David Verrey (Joseph Green), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Penelope Wilton (Harriet Jones), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Rupert Vansittart (General Asquith), Morgan Hopkins (Sergeant Price), Andrew Marr (himself), Annette Badland (Margaret Blaine), Steve Spiers (Strickland), Jack Tarlton (Reporter), Lachele Carl (Reporter), Corey Doabe (Spray Painter), Elizabeth Fost (Slitheen), Paul Kasey (Slitheen), Alan Ruscoe (Slitheen)

Reviews by Philip R. Frey & Earl Green
LogBook entry by Earl Green

Earl’s Review: Following straight on from Aliens Of London, World War Three spends the bulk of its time on advancing the plot. That’s not to say that it has little in the way of character development, but what there is in the way of character development is simply a logical progression from the previous episode. If anything, the real development here goes to Jackie Tyler and Mickey. Jackie evolves further away from her portrayal in the first episode and her “concerned mother” side comes to the fore; Mickey also shows a little bit of guts, and a lot of honesty when he has to admit to the Doctor, upon receiving an invitation to travel in the TARDIS, that he hasn’t quite got the guts for time travel. (Probably just as well, considering what Mickey would have encountered in the next episode…) Harriet Jones is also developed into a likeable character that, hopefully, means the Doctor will have friends in high places in future earthbound adventures. Apparently he’ll need them in the absence of UNIT’s best and brightest, who are all apparently eliminated in this story; it’s a little disappointing that they’re suckered into such a trap, but on the other hand…it was the perfect set-up.

Actually, I do need to backtrack and give Christopher Eccleston kudos here for his deadly serious stare as he promises that he, even though he’s trapped within the strongest four walls in Great Britain, will single-handedly bring the Slitheen’s plans to a halt. For that moment, it’s almost easy to imagine it’s Sylvester McCoy making that promise – the dangerous Doctor is back. And it won’t be the last time, either.

The one real problem I find with World War Three is that there seems to be a bit of a dichotomy: are the Slitheen a comic foil, or a force to be reckoned with? There are times when they’re almost silly, and times when they’re the most terrifying things the new Doctor Who has given us up to this point. In their human disguises, the Slitheen are almost comical, as if the audience needs to have it telegraphed to them that something’s up; the Slitheen characters grumble a lot about liking it better when they’re “naked,” and I have to agree with that much.

World War Three is also quite a topical little slice of Who, with the ersatz Acting Prime Minister demanding that the U.N. allow Britain to fire nukes at a fictitious alien invasion force whose “massive weapons of destruction” could be ready to devastate Earth “in 45 seconds” (in reality, the nukes are intended to destroy all life on Earth). Harriet wonders if anyone will fall for this gambit, and Rose replies, “They did last time.” These barely-disguised references to the still hotly-debated case made by the U.S. in favor of going to war with Iraq lend the episode a bit of a sharp sting, but in any case, the topicality of World War Three extends no further than that.

Add to all this a quiet – and yet disquieting – ending, and World War Three is quite an episode, and a satisfying resolution to Aliens Of London.

Philip’s Review: World War Three brings the first two-part story of the new Doctor Who series to a conclusion. Despite some decent plotting and character development, it is dragged down by baggage brought along by the writer (and show-runner) Russell T. Davies.

Character-wise, things in World War Three continue in the vein of Aliens of London. Characters that were previously barely tolerable have gained an air of respectability. Mickey (much derided for his uselessness in Rose) has come full circle to the point of being a true hero. He becomes more sympathetic than even the Doctor and Rose, both of whom continue to base their view of the world (and Universe) on their own personal needs more than those of others.

The story picks up where Aliens of London left off and develops pretty well. The ultimate goal of the aliens and the scheme by which they attempt to implement it are clever, if not particularly original, ideas. The Doctor gets a few moments of actual brilliance in World War Three, particularly the scene where he deduces the aliens’ origins and their weakness. (Pity it’s completely forgotten almost immediately.) His ultimate solution to the situation, however, is in perfect keeping with what we have seen so far from this Doctor. While it is nice to see him take a very personal risk, one wonders why his vaunted need to find a peaceful solution (so heavily emphasized in Rose) disappears. For such a peaceful guy, the default solution tends to be to kill all the bad guys (story-wise he’s four for four).

And it’s hard to ignore the political overtones of World War Three. I suppose, if you are in lock-step with Russell T. Davies’ personal political compass, it might be something you could miss or gloss over. But I somehow doubt it. The obvious references to the current political climate are unfortunate. Not only because they serve to alienate anyone who does not agree with said position, but also because (like so much else in this series) it hopelessly traps it in the present day. A writer who took his job less personally than Davies seems to do could have made his point in a less obvious, and therefore more effective, way. (And don’t get me started on the villains being capitalists who care more about getting out of a recession than human life.) This kind of thing makes the modern references in The Scream of the Shalka seem positively sublime.

Davies’ political correctness and personal bias harm the story in other ways, as well. He wants to reward Harriet Jones (not only for being on the Doctor’s side, but for being on the right side of that “other business”) by making her a three term Prime Minister who leads Britain to a “Golden Age”. This is despite the fact that at the end she is apparently point man for an alien invasion that everyone seems to think is a hoax. Hardly Prime Minister material. Also, Davies doesn’t seem to have much of a grasp of the nature of international politics. Despite his constant reference to the current world situation, he has a Britain that can plausibly act on its own (with barely a reference to the United States) and a U.N. that can actually deliberate and come to a decision in a matter of minutes (which I’d pay to see ever actually happen). Davies also suffers from a kind of “humanity’s guilt” complex, so common in science fiction these days. We’ve gone from a time when “homo sapiens” was admired as “indomitable” to just about beneath the Doctor’s contempt. Rather than seeing the good in people, it takes monumental effort for him to admit that someone like Mickey isn’t an idiot. Is it too much to ask for a modern science fiction show to portray humanity in a positive light? (And people wonder why I’m gravitating ever further towards the shows of the seventies..)

Still, despite all this, World War Three (which never actually happens, so false advertising there – should have stayed as Number 10, Downing Street) does answer many of the plot questions raised by Aliens of London, but leaves a few things still dangling. (For instance, what happened to the alien ship? I know the paper says an expert doubts its origins, but what of the government? Perhaps the ship is how Harriet Jones brings about Britain’s “Golden Age”.)

Effects are still, unfortunately, a weak point. The aliens are not particularly effective. They move completely differently depending on whether they are CGI (quite boisterous and mobile) or men in suits (slow and awkward). And the CGI shots are further marred by the locked-down nature of the camera. For the most part, this series has a very active camera. It tends to follow the action or spin and zoom around giving everything a feel of constant motion. In World War Three, the sight of an obvious static establishing shot is a dead giveaway that a CGI alien will be bounding in soon.

I can’t say I completely disliked this two-parter, but the overbearing sermonizing, sub-par effects and condescending tone ruin any chance to truly enjoy it (and there’s still too much farting). The problem with this story (and the series as a whole so far) is that it wants to be absolutely everything. It wants the fun of the old show, but the relevance and “depth” of modern television. It wants big explosions, but a politically correct worldview. It wants an edgy lead who’s emotive and moody, but likable and charismatic. The series and Aliens of London / World War Three simply can’t pull all these strings together to make a satisfying whole.