Aliens of London/World War Three

The Doctor takes Rose home, but when an alien spaceship crashes into Big Ben is an alien invasion about to commence?

It seems strange to think how revolutionary it was in 2005 for a companion to visit home while travelling with the Doctor. By the time the series finished in 1989 the Doctor had pretty good control over the TARDIS, but the nearest he comes to a family reunion is in Survival. Sadly the opportunity is missed to have Ace meet her mum while not a baby.

Less than three-and-a-half minutes into this episode a young scally grafittis the TARDIS with the words ‘Bad Wolf.’ When I was at the Doctor Who Celebration on the fiftieth anniversary in November I played The Vortex Challenge, which was a sort of quiz. The question we crashed out on was about which episode the tagging occurred in, and we played Aliens of London and got it wrong! The quiz ‘master’ had it as World War Three. I imagine there will be a rather embarrassed silence when he reads this with his family. While I hate to think of his kids’ dawning realisation that their old man does a shoddy job and effectively gets paid under false pretences,  I looked like I didn’t know anything about Doctor Who.

I really like the scenes of the crashed spaceship in the Thames and the body being taken out, all played out through the news footage. It makes everything a lot creepier when we can’t quite see what’s happening. Just describing a body of non-terrestrial origin and showing a covered stretcher leads the viewer to imagine far scary and grisly alien bodies. Likewise, Tash’s encounter with the Space Pig is quite atmospheric until we see it. The news reports become a regular fixture of the series during the Russell T Davies era; but it’s more often used for exposition than to build suspense. Here it is used to show just enough to be chilling, while  depriving the viewer of information.

Dealing with the effect of Rose’s disappearance on Jackie and Mickey; then the sinister build-up of the alien crash give way to the disappointingly kids TV antics of the Slitheen. The Slitheen themselves look great when their CGI versions are tearing through Downing Street on the hunt for the Doctor, Rose and Harriet Jones. Less so when they are men in rubber suits. It might have better to have a power cut or emergency lighting to hide them a little bit.

There is a great foundation for a story here. Aliens and political intrigue, but it’s squandered very quickly. Russell T Davies would go on to mix these raw ingredients to far better effect in Torchwood: Children of Earth. The idea that the UN hold the UK’s nuclear codes is patently ridiculous and adds to the childrens television feel. I’m aware that Doctor Who is on some level aimed at children, but it’s at it’s worst when talking down to them and making up claptrap. As we all know from Terror of the Zygons, Great Britain holds the super powers’ nuclear launch codes, not the other way around.

The cliffhanger to the first episode seems incredibly long and drawn-out by today’s standards. The Slitheen in each of the three locations slowly shed their human disguises to reveal their true forms. The one that’s masquerading as General Asquith doesn’t even use his claws to kill the assembled alien experts, rendering the skin-shedding a bit pointless, other than to scare everyone before their deaths. It’s a bit like when Goldfinger reveals his plans to the gangsters only to kill them all minutes later.

The appearance of UNIT provides a nice, subtle callback to the old series. Likewise the system that picks up the keywords from Jackie’s phone call. We can see that the Doctor has a history on Earth without bogging down new viewers with continuity.


Order Doctor Who: Series One from Amazon:

Doctor Who – The Complete BBC Series 1 Box Set [2005] [DVD]

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