Sunday, April 17, 2005

Doctor Who - Aliens of London

After two episodes of danger and excitement and far flung times it's something of a disappointment that the Doctor and Rose land up back in contemporary London for this fourth episode. There are some nice ideas here ... the handling of Rose's twelve month departure (rather than the twelve hours the Doctor claims at the start) is well done, although the lack of any credible explanations from Rose to her mum and to the police seemed somewhat strange. I also feel that the Doctor would at least have been strenuously questioned or even arrested by the police as a potential suspect to kidnapping rather than sitting in Rose's mum's flat drinking tea! But after the initial reunions, we are treated to the best piece of effects work I have yet seen ... probably anywhere! A spacecraft comes down low over Rose and the Doctor's heads ... leaking black smoke and on its way to central London. The shots of it flying through the air, as well as the point of view shots are exceptional, and it's initial clipping of a building before taking out the top of the Big Ben clock tower are amazing. I loved this sequence ... it's awe inspiring and breathtaking and blows everything else out of the window. I feel that this sequence sets the standard for the series - the space station in The End of the World was good, but this is awesome. Of course the Doctor's reaction to it ... one of a child setting off to chase the ice cream van ... is likewise very typical of this Doctor, and brings an air of giddy excitement to the whole scene. Some of the ensuing news footage, although well done, did not ring as true as I would have liked - we don't put dramatic music over live reportage news footage in the UK, and the main reporter seemed a little false to me. Good to see Andrew Marr there though as he is an increasingly familiar face on television, and has even been parodied on Dead Ringers. Unfortunately the phone number to contact if you have any information on aliens does not work (it was 08081 570 980 if you're interested). I half expected this to be a number with a recorded message on it about the 'alien invasion'. A shame that this minor element was not carried through. We're then introduced to the main characters in the ensuing drama: the portly politicians Green (he of the chronic flatulence), Blaine and Charles; the nervy Harriet Jones (MP for Flydale North); General Askwith (presumably of UNIT although I don't think this was stated); and the nervy secretary Strickland. Something is obviously amiss with the three overweight honourable Members of Parliament as no sooner are they in a room together that they start giggling and laughing and metaphorically rubbing their hands together like Doctor Evil. Unfortunately, we switch back to the emerging soap opera as Rose has to contend with her mum and Mickey, her erstwhile boyfriend, as the Doctor heads off in the TARDIS to do some investigating into the strange alien body retrieved from the wreckage. The lead up to the revelation of this creature is very well handled, and its escape from the morgue seems to be a sly nod to the Doctor Who television movie where the Doctor does the same thing after regenerating. Doctor Sato (played by Naoko Mori) is very good, and everyone plays it dead straight as the alien is revealed to be a somewhat amusing pig in a spacesuit (played by Jimmy Vee - he seems to have drawn the short straw to play alien creatures who end up dead ...) More scary are our portly politicians who seem to have zippers in their foreheads and blue light hidden within - but why do all the lights go out when they unzip? Is one of the aliens perhaps standing by the light switches ready for the unveiling? I guess one explanation could be that the effort of shedding the human skin draws energy from the local power supply, thus causing the lights to fail. It would in part explain the crackling blue energy that is seen as the skins are shed. But then we're back to Doctor Soap and Rose's mum and Mickey enter the TARDIS to the dismay of the Doctor who does not want a 'domestic' ... and nor did I. I can understand in part why the series is focussing on Rose and her family, but these aspects tended to drag everything down for me. I almost wish they hadn't been in the episode and that Rose and the Doctor could have got on with the bigger plot without the weight of human relationships to contend with as well. But then Rose's mum reports the Doctor as another alien and the government are alerted to the fact that the Doctor is there ... so they send what seems like the whole army, including a helecopter, to get him. Back at number 10 Downing Street, we rapidly approach the end-game. Rose, Harriet and Strickland are trapped in an office by Blaine who unzips herself before them ... meanwhile Rose's mum has a visit from a strangely corpulent and flatulent policeman who sheds his skin in her living room ... while the Doctor and all the visiting UNIT officials (none of whom say a word, even to the Doctor) witness the revealing of Askwith (whose body had been taken by the alien previously posing as Charles) before Green starts to electricute them all with something hidden in their ID badges ... ... and cue the closing credit scream and we have our first proper cliff hanger of the series ... but then they go and spoil it all with a 'Next Time' preview ... no, no, no! This was not necessary. Now, having seen that, we all know that the Doctor escapes, more of what the monsters look like and so on. The whole point of a cliff hanger is that you don't know what happens next, and the joy is to wait a week to find out, discussing possible resolutions with friends. I would far rather they had left the 'Next Time' section off this episode altogether. My whole family cheered at the cliffhanger, and then simultaneously erupted in dismay at the 'Next Time' section - this including an 11 year old who hid his eyes during the hunt for the pig-alien in the lab, and who also hid when the Slitheen were unmasked at the end ... great reactions and exactly what was needed from the series. Even my brother's 4-year old son loved the monsters at the end - having been a little bored during the lead up to their revelation. The Slitheen - as they revealed themselves to be - are a classic monster. A brilliant vocal performance (sounding like a belch), great nictitating eyes, some neat squishy sound effects and more impressive CGI as they reveal themselves as powerful, green and large, and somehow hidden within the hollowed out skin of human hosts (there was talk of compression fields and gas exchanges to explain this ... at least they looked far more believable than the Foamasi). So on to next week's episode, where hopefully there'll be more explanations, more monsters and more death and mayhem at number 10 Downing Street. I suspect, however, that we'll have to wait for more explanation of the boy who spray paints 'Bad Wolf' on the side of the TARDIS ...


The Co-ordinator said...

David, I totally agree with you about both the "Next Time" trailer, which totally destroyed the suspense built up by the cliffhanger, and the "domestics".

My biggest gripe about the whole series is that we are getting bogged down with Rose's mother and boyfriend and the trouble is there is more to come in "World War III", "Fathers Day", not to mention the final two-parter.

We are spending far too long on earth, and I really hope that this summer David Tennant will find himself filming in a quarry in Dorset!

Penelopecat said...

I agree about the trailer as well. I mean, showing the Doctor's survival, yes, that's not a shock. But everyone else's fate should have been left up in the air.

Having said that, I actually disagree with both you and the Co-ordinator about the stuff with Rose's family and friends. I actually wrote a bit about that on my own blog, Sinister Urge. The short version: I like that we see how Rose's adventures not only affect her, but the people she knows and loves. This is something we haven't seen in Doctor Who before, not like this, and I suspect it's going to be more of a problem for older fans than newer ones.

Oh, and again, not to be contrary, but I'm not sure how much extensive interrogation the police could/would have done, considering that, at the end of the day, they had no evidence that a crime had actually been committed.