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DOCTOR WHO: Season 1, Episode 4-6

ALIENS OF LONDON. Season 1, episode 4.
WORLD WAR THREE. Season 1, episode 5.

The first two-parter is here, complete with all the usual problems Doctor Who's two-parters have. We're back in modern London, to once again meet Rose's mom (ugh) and Mickey (poor guy).

Anyway, Rose and The Doctor pops back home after a trip to the 1800's - which reminds me that this first season is just time-travelling on Earth and they don't visit other planets until season 2. Good structural idea, but it's pretty dull to see it unfold; the unknown is much more interesting than the known. - and we get our first sign that The Doctor isn't QUITE handy operating the TARDIS; they've been gone a year instead of six days. Jackie's been awful(ly scared), Mickey's been suspected of murdering Rose and it's generally been fun times.

But that stops the moment The Doctor shows himself, as an alien spaceship crashlands in the Thames. This guy, huh? Everywhere he goes, there's aliens invading or being mean. Never an off day where he can just sit back with a cup of tea and read his books on genocide and morality.

And so we're pulled into a story with the campiest aliens ever on Doctor Who; the slitheen. But we'll get to them, and the plot, further down. It's time to talk about the Doctor Who two-parter problem.

Doctor Who have some of the most useless two-parters ever. The first episode is there just to build up the mysteries, characters and plot, before delivering a killer cliffhanger (usually a reveal or another turn in the story), and then everything is supposed to blow up and go crazy in the second episode, but it very rarely does. Most of the two-parters struggles with a single-episode plot that's stretched over two episodes, without enough of a turn in the story to sustain it. That's the problem here, even if I do enjoy the plot.

An alien spaceship crashes into the Thames, putting the world on red alert. Inside the spaceship is a genetically changed pig. The Doctor figures this out and comes to the conclusion that's aliens are behind it. But why? Why, to get the UN to release the nuclear codes, nuke the planet while hiding in the spaceship and then selling the land to the highest bidders. Again, a clever plot, with aliens not just here to invade and take over the planet.

There are a few holes here, though; if the aliens want to destroy Earth and stay in the spaceship, why do The Doctor destroy Downing Street? If he'd destroyed the spaceship, he could've ended it peacefully, even if it's not as neat and tidy as blowing all the aliens up. Then it's "how did the electrical charge reach all the slitheen?", which might not be a plothole but definitely is one of RTD's deus ex machinas. The third is, if the slitheen wanted to blow up the world with nukes, why not just go to the US and kill a person in charge of the nukes, then gun it? Seems much simpler than this convoluted plan. Lastly, how the fuck are all the slitheen going to get into the ONE spaceship?

The episodes' faults lie not with the plot, but rather with characters, creature designs, aliens and dialogue. Its emotional beats are usually great; Mickey and Rose's first scene together is good, though Mickey is still a pathetic character and Rose is an incredible bitch to him. He gets a nice little arc, and Harriet Jones, without the horrible running gag, gets to be a bit of a badass. Jackie Tyler is not having a good day, whatwith getting Rose back, not getting any answers, seeing the TARDIS and then getting attacked by an alien. (As much as I dislike her (and trust me, "dislike" is putting it gently), I do understand her reactions here. The trouble is that it gets us away from our other alien-related adventures and, much like The Doctor himself, I don't like domestics in the TARDIS.)

The best part of the episodes is Eccleston's Doctor, who really gets to shine here. He's in fine form, bumbling on and outsmarting everyone, before finding himself in a situation that's not really as good as he thought it'd be. He monologues himself into the lift and the safe room, then is trapped and has to figure out how to beat the aliens with limited resources. The episode also cements how much this Doctor suffers, as he yet again finds a violent solution instead of a clever one. There's quite a few of these early episodes where the solution is simply "let's kill the villains", and while that's nice for this kind of story, it feels a bit out of place in terms of what Doctor Who is supposed to stand for. Guns are bad, outsmarting people is good. Basically, "be clever and care", but here it's "find the most efficient way to kill your enemy". It also comes off weirdly if you think about the brilliant earlier scene, where The Doctor is shocked and angry over the way the slitheen have messed with the pig, "turning the animal into a joke". That's a great and strange way of making the villians scary by showing us the lengths they're willing to go to. It's like a science-fictional way of introducing a harmless and cute dog, then having the villain kill it three scenes later. (I swear, every time a dog appears on screen in any movie or television show, its days are numbered. Maybe even its hours.)

Which brings us to the villains. Here we have a classic example of evil villains that do silly things and end up undermining what's really going on. With lines like "VICTORY... SHOULD BE NAKED!" and "Rejoice in it. Your body is magnificent." It's so goddamn silly, and while there are legitimate great moments - the scene where they just smile creepily, knowing they have the upper hand is actually effective, but then they're back to farting and zipping their foreheads off while bathed in purple light. It's just too silly for its own good.

The visuals in the two-parter are another thing entirely. The pig running down the corridor is great; funny without being too silly, and you really get to see how cute it is... before it's shot. (See? Just like a dog, I'm telling you). The slitheen designs, however, are way too cute to be scary. The sounds they make are terrifying, but once you see them you're like "oh. that it?" They're a great example of physical effects, and even most of the digital effects really work in this episode, but they look entirely too cute and act way too silly to be scary.


CONCLUSION: There are a lot of good plot-ideas, the emotional beats are good and the dialogue is fun (though not when the slitheen starts hamming it up), but the terrible silliness undermines most of it. World War Three does a good job with the emotional beats, and overall it's a stronger episode than Aliens of London, which runs mostly on mystery and fart-jokes.

ALIENS OF LONDON: 2.5 stars, 5/10 and C-
WORLD WAR THREE: 3 stars, 6/10 or C+.


- Doctor is HAMMERING (literally, using a hammer, maybe foreshadowing the later HAMM-y acting) at the control panels. He's really not good at flying his spaceship, is he?

- Mickey runs into a wall trying to catch the TARDIS. Poor guy.

- "It's not a diversion, it's a trap." I love it when The Doctor realizes he's in a middle of a trap.

- I have to say, Aliens of London is pretty relentless on giving a three-part cliffhanger, putting everyone in mortal danger after revealing the slitheen.

- BAD WOLF tagged on TARDIS, has apparently been in every episode but I've missed it completely. Whops.

- It'd be interesting to see The Doctor showing up at a terrific tragedy, like nine eleven or something, and then seeing "history happening in front of him". (HOLY GOD WHAT IF ECCLESTON AND SMITH SHOWED UP TO SEE NINE ELEVEN?! If that's not a hundred year anniversary-story, I don't know.)

- Doctor Sato's in this episode. And it is the same character now, not just the same actor! Torchwood's coming together from the sides...

- "You're a very violent young woman." You tell 'em, Harriet Jones.





DALEK. Season 1, episode 6.

Six episodes in, their time has finally come. And really, it was just a matter of time before the Daleks made their return. I'm surprised RTD himself didn't write the episode where they made their return, but leaving it to Robert Shearman was a wise move, as the silliness of Aliens of London and other episodes isn't present here, aside from some dialogue like "Mr. Van Statten owns the internet".

Dalek is an episode devoted to (re-)introduce the Daleks, simultaneously introducing some of The Doctor's past; the Time War. By comparing The Last Time Lord with the last Dalek, with the striking line "I am alone in the universe. So are you.", it nearly makes The Doctor go on an insane rampage, hell-bent on killing the single Dalek. Eccleston is at his best here, suffering from PTSD and spouting lines like "Why don't you just kill yourself?". He's sad, angry, hopeless and desperate.

The episode also shows us how dangerous the Daleks are by letting one single Dalek run about on a base, killing and destroying everything. Personally, I would've liked if it was more in the vein of Alien though, without as many cannon fodder soldiers, but more of a creepy "where the hell is it now?"-vibe. That way it would've been creepy and scary, not just "holy shit how will they solve this?".

It would've been an interesting turn for the latter part of the episode, after most of the foot soldiers are dead in the big electrical set-piece. Instead, it spins into an emotional finale by revealing its true colors as a reverse Frankenstein-tale. The monster does everything to survive and ends up taking too much for its own good, changing because of it. It wants to be a monster, but becomes human. Frankenstein wanted to make a human, but it became a monster. Here, the monster tries to fix itself and turns into the one thing it doesn't want to be. It's damn near poetic, and one of the best moments this early in the show.

In addition to being a good Dalek-introduction and story, it manages to be a good example of the classic "human messing with something we don't understand"-trope. Van Statten's alien artifact-collection is great, and the character profiting from technology and knowledge he keeps to himself is classic Doctor Who, especially when it leads to his downfall. It's another episode that does a lot with a little, by paying attention to minor characters and making its villains scary, instead of reducing minor characters to jokes and being silly like the two previous episodes.

The effects are brilliant this time around too, with great-looking and wonderfully slimy practical effects. The digital ones are used sparingly and are there to cement how powerful the Dalek is, with its flying and relentlessly effective killing.

CONCLUSION: A great episode, cementing the terror that is the Daleks and delivering insight into The Doctor's current psyche. A great monster tale with a poetic ending that only suffers from being a bit too repetitive, and once again leaving little for Rose to do until the end.

RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars, 9/10 or A-.


- I quite like how the intro takes us through the time-space-continuum, or time-tunnels or whatever. That's fun.

- Still doesn't reveal that The Doctor was the one to kill all the Time Lords and Daleks. It's hinted at, though, but the reveal comes later.


Alright, that's it for now. I'm gonna take a few days off, then burn through the rest of season 1 this weekend... Probably. Look for the next post on Friday or Saturday!

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