Monday, 25 July 2016

Story 160 - Aliens of London / World War Three

In which the Doctor returns Rose to the Powell Estate some 24 hours after they left following the attempted Nestene invasion. The Doctor waits by the TARDIS, and his eye is drawn to a nearby poster. In her flat, Rose is shocked by her mother's reaction to her presence. The Doctor bursts in and tells her that it isn't a day since she left, but a whole year. Rose has been reported by Jackie as a missing person. Neither she nor the Doctor are happy with the Doctor's story, and at one point Jackie slaps the Doctor across the face. He retreats to the roof where Rose joins him. The Doctor states that he does not like to get involved in other peoples' lives. A spacecraft suddenly roars overhead. It turns over the City and strikes Big Ben before crash-landing into the river close to the Houses of Parliament. The Doctor wants to know more, but refuses to take the TARDIS close to the incident. He watches events on TV instead. Mickey arrives at Rose's flat, and reveals that Jackie had accused him of abducting her daughter. He has been studying the Doctor ever since - having taken over Clive's website. On learning that a body has been removed from the craft and taken to the Albion Hospital, the Doctor sneaks away and uses the TARDIS to travel there. The alien proves to be a pig-like being, which is being investigated by Dr Sato. It is not dead, however, and makes off through the hospital. Soldiers shoot it dead. The Doctor realises that it is a real pig that has been technologically augmented.

In Downing Street, the Prime Minister is nowhere to be found. Margaret Blaine tells General Asquith that the PM is stuck in traffic somewhere. The most senior politician present is a junior minister, Joseph Green, so he becomes de facto PM in the absence of anyone else. Asquith is appalled at his handling of the situation. He is taken aside to meet with Green, Blaine and a civil servant named Oliver Charles. They are unaware that the MP for Flydale North, Harriet Jones, is hiding in a cupboard, having sneaked in to leave a proposed Bill for the PM. She is horrified to see Green, Blaine and Charles unzip their bodies - to reveal hideous alien creatures beneath. Asquith is killed, and the alien who was masquerading as Charles takes on his hollowed-out body. Jackie discovers the secret of the TARDIS when she follows Rose inside. Shocked, she decides to call an emergency help-line that has been set up. When she uses certain key words - Doctor and TARDIS - it triggers an alarm at Downing Street, and armed forces are sent to fetch the Doctor. On learning this, the aliens send one of their number, disguised as a police officer to silence Jackie. As it unmasks she runs to Mickey's flat. Rose and Harriet discover that the PM has been murdered, and find themselves trapped by the Margaret Blaine alien in Downing Street. The Doctor deduces the alien scheme whilst attending a special meeting at which UNIT are present. Mickey had earlier asked why the aliens would draw attention to themselves if this was an invasion. The Doctor realises that the ship took off from Earth and swung round the Sun before returning to crash-land. This event would bring all the alien experts together - as Green has achieved. This is so that he can destroy them all - their ID badges being electrified...

Not being human, the Doctor survives the attack, but finds himself accused of killing all the other delegates. He, Rose and Harriet are trapped in Downing Street as more of the aliens arrive. They give themselves away by all being fuller framed, and have a tendency to fart uncontrollably. This is because the neck-worn converter that allows them to fit into the flesh-suits isn't very efficient. The Doctor, Rose and Harriet seek shelter in the Cabinet Room, which is heavily fortified with metal shielding. The Doctor is able to make contact with Mickey and Jackie using Rose's boosted mobile. They are still under attack from the alien sent to kill her. The Doctor succeeds in working out where the aliens come from - the planet Raxacoricofallapatorious - and so comes up with a means of destroying them. He orders Mickey and Jackie to gather all the vinegar based products they can find, and use it against the alien. The mixture causes it to explode. The aliens are calcium-based, which is susceptible to vinegar. Margaret Blaine comes to the door, and from her they learn that the aliens are the Slitheen. This is a clan name. With control over Downing Street they are going to get the UN to release the launch codes of Britain's nuclear weapons - pretending that the planet is about to be attacked. They will really use the missiles to destroy the Earth - reducing it to a radioactive mass that can be sold off to fuel space-fleets. The Doctor has Mickey hack the UNIT IT system so that he can launch a missile at Downing Street from a submarine in the English Channel. They hope that the reinforced walls of the Cabinet Room will save them. The Slitheen are destroyed just before they get the missile codes, and Harriet emerges from the ruins of Downing Street to take charge. The Doctor recalls that she will become PM herself. Rose decides to continue travelling with the Doctor. He gives Mickey a virus that will remove all mention of him from computer systems across the planet.

This two-part adventure was written by Russell T Davies, and was broadcast between 16th and 23rd April, 2005. It is the 700th individual episode of Doctor Who to be transmitted.
As the first two-parter of the revived series, it is the first to feature a cliffhanger ending since Part Two of Survival back in 1989. It is the first of the new stories to feature UNIT. Though we do not know it yet, it also introduces some recurring characters. The Slitheen will be back in the parent programme, before finding their natural home in The Sarah Jane Adventures. Harriet Jones will make two further reappearances. Dr Sato will return as a member of the Torchwood team.
We also get the first of the TV montage sequences as the Doctor channel hops in Jackie's flat. This includes one of two celebrity cameos - here Blue Peter presenter Matt Baker, and later we see BBC chief political correspondent Andrew Marr. Plus we get our first sighting of AMNN's news anchor Trinity Wells, who will have something to say about all the alien incursions throughout RTD's tenure.
Between now and The Eleventh Hour, all contemporary Earth stories will be set one year after transmission date, to account for Rose's missing year.
For the first time, we get to see what the effect is on a companion's family and friends of their decision to travel with the Doctor. Jackie has been traumatised, and Mickey vilified, following Rose's disappearance.
The tone of the story is mixed, to say the least. We have extreme body horror - the aliens using hollowed-out human skins - alongside fart gags and a comedy double act in Green and Asquith.
After the burping Auton wheelie bin in Rose, we won't get this more blatantly childish humour level again in the series.

The Slitheen are a wonderful design, their nastiness accentuated by their baby-like faces. They are mostly realised with physical costumes, but there is one chase sequence where they are realised using CGI. The contrast is jarring, but the production team will spot this and learn from it.
This was the first story to be recorded, alongside Rose. and they are obviously still learning the ropes as they go along. It was probably during this initial, stressful, filming block that Eccleston decided he would only do the one series.
Guest artists include Annette Badland as Margaret, David Verrey as Green, Rupert Vansittart as Gen. Asquith, Navin Chowdry as civil servant Indra Ganesh, Steve Spiers as Strickland (the policeman Slitheen) and, last but not least, Penelope Wilton as Harriet Jones.

The cliffhanger: A triple one, as Mickey and Jackie are threatened in his flat by one of the Slitheen, whilst Rose and Harriet are trapped in a Downing Street room by Margaret Slitheen. Meanwhile, at the conference, the Doctor is being electrocuted after Asquith Slitheen has revealed his true form...
Story Arc Items: A young boy paints the slogan "Bad Wolf" on the side of the TARDIS. Plus the soon to be recurring characters mentioned above.

Overall, not a bad story. The use of the spaceship crash in the series trailers would have helped bring people back to the series who only remembered it for poor special effects. It is a wonderful sequence. The monsters are interesting - a family rather than a race, and a bunch of con-men rather than invaders. As mentioned, the realisation doesn't always work. Great performances from the guest cast.
Things you might like to know:

  • The very first sequence filmed for the new series was the one between Dr Sato and General Asquith.
  • Christopher Eccleston's very first scene filmed was the chase of the "space pig" through the hospital corridors.
  • Was RTD recalling The Dominators when he came up with the motive for the Slitheen's actions?
  • And Robot, for all the world's nuclear launch codes being held by a "neutral" party?
  • The use of a motor launch on the Thames close to Parliament almost sparked a real security alert.
  • As with any Doctor Who story, there are elements of the plot that don't quite make sense. These might be production issues - such as the days being too long for London in March, but this story suffers particularly badly when looked at in hindsight. For example, why is a Torchwood agent from Cardiff present, when we know there is a whole building full of them just along the river? We'll look at Torchwood irregularities more fully at a later date.
  • At this stage Trinity Wells (Lachele Carl) isn't named. On Mickey's website she gets the name Mal Loup - Bad French for Bad Wolf.
  • The model shot of the destruction of the Big Ben clock tower was reversed to be in keeping with the shots either side of it - meaning that the roman numerals are clearly back to front.
  • The cliffhanger was somewhat ruined by being followed immediately by the "Next Time" sequence - which showed that everyone was okay. Of course, we knew they would be, but the production team noted the criticism and for future two-parters moved the "Next Time" to after the end credits, or omitted it altogether for some series finales.
  • The cliffhanger, as far as the Doctor is concerned, is actually resolved in the pre-credit recap sequence. When the story was shown in Canada, the recap was omitted - so the resolution was also not shown, naturally confusing the viewers.
  • The picture of Rose on the Missing poster is one of Billie Piper herself pre-dating her casting as Rose, rather than one specially taken for the show. The poster states that she went missing on 6th March, rather than the date of Rose's transmission (25th March).
  • It was only after he had the boy scrawl "Bad Wolf" on the TARDIS that RTD went back and inserted this phrase elsewhere in the scripts.
  • Green talks about Massive Weapons of Destruction. This is, of course, a reference to the WMD that Bush Jnr and Blair claimed Iraq possessed, as justification for their entirely unjustified war.
  • The dead PM was supposed to be Tony Blair, but the look-a-like provided did not look very a-likey - so specific mention that it was supposed to be him was dropped from the scripts.

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