Review: Aliens of London / World War Three

Last Alteration: Monday 19 September 2005

While 'Aliens of London' disappointed me (and is the first episode of the new series that I have actively criticised),'World War Three' was excellent Who, and ultimately superb television.

AOL failed for me because it was OTT. I was amused by the toilet humour at first, but the almost slapstick approach was not so much Carry On (which I love), but far more suited to a Krankie-style children's programme on a Friday afternoon. It was not what I would expect from Who. If I'd been a casual (adult) viewer, I may have been curious to watch the next installment, but it would not have instilled viewer loyalty or enthusiasm.

What disappointed me about AOL was that it should have delighted and enthralled me. I greatly enjoy contemporary Earth stories, love the military/UNIT connections, and one of my interests is politics/Government. So on paper, AOL would seem to have ticked a number of boxes. However, I found it to be the weakest of the episodes so far.

Although I respect - and appreciate - the structure of RTD's writing, I can't help but be distracted from my enjoyment of the action by unnecessarily crass dialogue. It's not that he doesn't get it right with lines about dodgy top-up cards and "well if you're a Doctor, stitch this", but for me it's very much a matter of hit and miss. I cringed at utterly unnecessary dialogue, such as the "hair-raising" line.

However, I think the main problem with the first episode of the two-parter was the direction. The pace was OK, setting the scene for a cliffhanger and a second episode, but I got the impression that Boak just didn't know how to use his actors properly in AOL, other than Billie and Chris. And it moves from drama to slapstick and back to drama. This is effective in other genre, but didn't seem to work here.

What did I like about it? Well, the crash landing, Jackie's reaction to Rose's return, the Blue Peter and Andrew Marr moments, the wonderful pre-titles sequence and the fantastic Penelope Wilton. But I disliked - intensely - the pig, the Slitheen (concept and realisation) and the crass dialogue. And fundamentally, for whatever reason, it just didn't gel for me in the same way as the previous episodes.

The cliffhanger was handled very well, however, and led nicely into 'World War Three'. Although my expectations were not high, I thoroughly enjoyed this well-paced and imaginatively executed second episode. The story finally gelled for me, and I enjoyed it immensely.

The plot was purposely simple and easy to follow. Many of Who's best stories are uncomplicated, and I think that in this case it allowed for better characterisation. Jackie and Mickey were superb, and the evolution of their respective relationships with the Doctor were a joy to behold. Noel Clarke's Mickey was a revelation - a really well-acted (and well scripted) performance, and the last exchanges with the Doctor were truly touching. The very real development of these characters is excellent, and I love the development of Rose's back-story. It really adds to the drama, without being over-sentimental.

In terms of the other guest stars, Penelope Wilton was brilliantly cast and really stood out as a character who will remain in viewers' consciousness for a long time to come. As with Simon Callow in The Unquiet Dead, this guest appearance was used to great effect, and I very much hope that she returns in a UNIT story at some point. I don't imagine that the references to her future as Prime Minster were just for dramatic effect.

And the character of Rose continued to thrill, with her blossoming relationship with the Doctor again a delight. On this occasion, his selfishness (or jealousy?) was in evidence, avoiding 'tea' with her Mum and seducing Rose - almost literally - with the prospect of further specacles.

All in all, 'World War Three' not only saved this two-parter from being my 'turkey' of the season so far, it was actually a very memorable episode which I'm sure kids will remember for years to come. The James Bond-style ending was magnificent, especially when Mickey and Harriet were in control, rather than the Doctor, and the Slitheen's last line of "Oh, Boll..." was outstanding. Truly outstanding. Brave, and exactly right.

Even though I have criticised AOL, in all things RTD and the team are pushing the boundaries, and because of this, I for one do not expect to enjoy every aspect of the new show. 'Doctor Who' is again aimed at a family audience, and I'm just very, very happy that although it will be most appreciated by 8-12 year olds these days, I can still enthuse and wax lyrical about my favourite tv show.

Andy Keast-Marriott

  • Read Andy's review of the episode Father's Day.