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Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Doctor Who: Aliens of London
Written by Russell T. Davies
Directed by Keith Boak

Back in the 60s some of the most memorable episode of Doctor Who were those that featured images of alien invaders stalking the streets of then-modern day London. Images of the Cybermen and the Daleks roaming the streets, attempting to conquer the Earth are some that have been burned into the collective memory of Doctor Who fans.

With “Aliens of London” the new Doctor Who attempts to burn images of alien invasions in modern times into the hearts and minds of viewers. But instead of seeing Cybermen emerge from the sewers, we have greater technology today. Now we can see an alien space craft flying over London and have the memorable moment of Big Ben being destroyed by an alien ship etched into our collective memories.

But is this alien invasion story one that ranks up there with those classic stories like “The Invasion” or “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”?

For me the answer is—no, not yet.

Mainly because right now we’ve only seen the first half of the events to unfold on screen, Imagine trying to judge “The Invasion” after only seeing the first four episodes and determining if it’s a classic or memorable. You couldn’t honestly do it. And I don’t think we can jump to conclusions about “Aliens of London” just yet. As the first half of a story, I think it succeeded in what it needed to do—set up events, characters and situations for the Doctor and company to resolve in the second half of things.

For the first time in the series, a storyline has 90 minutes to set up and resolve itself. And I think that Russell T. Davies took great advantage of the first half of the storyline to set things up.

For one thing, I loved the time spent examining the consequences of Rose’s decision to travel with the Doctor. To see her come back after vanishing for a year (she thinks it’s twelve hours) was nicely done. Her mother’s reaction, what happened to Mickey, etc—all of that worked well. To find out that Mickey was suspected of murdering Rose was a nice touch. This is one of those things that was never really given much time or thought in the original series—companions jumped on board and may or may not have returned to the time and place they left. So, to see some time devoted to this here was a nice little touch. Also, to see the effect it had on Rose—her dilemma of wanting to tell her family but not being able to for fear of not being believed was a nice touch to her character.

But then aliens fall upon London, crashing into Big Ben before sinking in the Thames. But it’s not an invasion with without. Instead, we find out the aliens are already among us. Borrowing a plot from the Cylons or the Dominion, Doctor Who shows us that aliens are walking among us, looking like us and taking positions in high ranking government offices. Why, we’re just not quite sure yet. I found we had some echoes of “Terror of the Zygons” or either of the early Auton stories with aliens that could look and sound like human beings. And were ready with a plan to take over the highest corridors of power for whatever reason they saw fit.

Of course, the difference between the Zygons and our new found alien friends is that our new found aliens have a side-effect of being in human form. Their gas-exchange systems result in them farting a lot, thus giving away that they are aliens. Now, I know a lot of Doctor Who fans out there are pretty upset about this and think it’s juvenile humor. But from where I sit, it honestly didn’t bother me that much. I found the flatulent aliens to work. You have to remember that it’s Doctor Who we’re talking about here. It’s supposed to be fun. And what could be more fun than farting aliens?

OK, so I could have done without their ring leader cackling like the Master every five or so minutes, but that’s just a personal quibble.

Meanwhile, the Doctor is on the outside looking in. So many times, we see the Doctor show up and immediately insert himself into positions of authority to thwart the aliens. Not as much here. There is mention of UNIT and it did make me wonder what happened to the UNIT passes the Doctor carried about. But I am beginning to wonder if the 9th Doctor is trying to be more low-key. To rush in and take charge of things wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing if he’s the last of the Time Lords. He could be on the run and wanting to maintain a low profile. So, he may be waiting to see who the alien menace is before he steps in and eventually helps defeat them.

I did like how the Doctor did finally get into the fray, not by his own actions, as much as having the role thrust upon him. He’s a bit of a reluctant hero in this one. He’d willingly save Rose, but he’s content to sit by and be an observer as all of humanity faces a crisis. Interesting.

I did like the scenes where Rose’s mother calls the alien line and reports that she’s seen the Doctor and his TARDIS. I loved seeing how the government rushed into action to find the Doctor in light of the alien invasion. Indeed, you’d think the Brig would leave orders in the files saying that if aliens arrive, your best bet is to find the Doctor and quickly.

Of course, there were some predictable things in this storyline. One was that the alien ship was a ruse. The pig-alien was evidence of that and I figured long before the Doctor and company did that it the meeting at Downing Street was a trap. But for what purpose, I asked myself? Apparently it’s to bring all the alien experts together and destroy them? But why? We don’t know just yet, but I can bet that next week, we’ll have a lot of the answers.

Also, I have to admit that it would have been nice to have a bit more throw- away continuity. Like the Doctor telling Rose that it wasn’t’ humanity’s first encounter with aliens, just the first one covered by CNN, etc. Also, it would have been nice had the Doctor gone to UNIT himself instead of sneaking around too much.

One small thing that struck me—why did the boy paint the graffiti of “Bad Wolf” on the side of the TARDIS? Significant? I guess we’ll have to wait and see…

But all that said, “Aliens of London” was still an enjoyable episode for me. It set up some things well and I can’t wait until next week to find out what’s really going on here. Yes, it was a bit predictable at times but you can’t fault it for not being a fun, enjoyable hour. Not every hour of Doctor Who has to be groundbreaking. Sometimes it just has to be fun. And, for now, “Aliens of London” was just that—fun.

posted by Michael Hickerson at 4/20/2005 10:26:00 AM | |
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