Doctor Who #714: Aliens of London

"Excuse me, do you mind not farting while I'm saving the world?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Apr.16 2005.

IN THIS ONE... Pig. In. Space! And of course, first appearance of Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North, of Toshiko Sato, and of the Slitheen.

REVIEW: When I try to get people into Doctor Who using the new series, this is the one I have to apologize for, telling them if they can get through this story, things get better. I bet I'm not alone in that either. And if RTD didn't make every single episode a part of a larger story, I could just tell them to skip the whole thing. But it introduces several recurring characters, really starts you asking questions about Bad Wolf (it's a very odd thing for someone to graffiti on the TARDIS), and is a pretty important piece of Rose's journey. But yeah. It's got farting monsters. I can get behind making Doctor Who for kids, and that they might love this kind of puerile, gross out humor, but he might be losing sight of his all-important Buffy demographic, and those fart jokes don't sit well with the more adult humor, like implying one of the Slitheen had sex with his host body's wife, mistress and a farmer, or the politically incorrect "You're so gay". I'm personally less than comfortable about the show equating obesity with evil - as all fat people in this are suspect, and indeed, either Slitheen or Slitheen-bound. It's not a great thing to say about body image, and I think far more egregious than any relationship The Unquiet Dead may or may not have with immigration policy.

Between the Slitheen sniggering and passing gas, the space pig they produce as a hoax (the Jim Henson estate should send an angry letter or something), the Mickey slapstick and the 9th Doctor speaking one of the character's most embarrassing lines (above) in the character's entire history, regardless of incarnation, Aliens of London very nearly derails the whole enterprise. That it doesn't may be a testament to its "part 2", or to what actually works here. Chief among these is the emotion. Rose has only been gone a few days, but to her friends and family, it's been a whole year. They were worried sick, with Jackie calling the cops on Mickey (and later, on the Doctor), and old Mickey doing plenty of research on Rose's new companion. This all plays pretty realistically, whether it's Jackie slapping the Doctor, the police asking if "companion" has a sexual connotation, or Rose a bit too willing to forgive Mickey if he'd found someone new. These dynamics make sense, and I find myself liking Mickey a lot more for letting his resentment of the Doctor show. Jackie isn't allowed to be much more than "the mum", but as someone who was raised by a mother hen, that's probably all SHE allows herself to be.

The other thing Aliens of London gets right is its use of the media (which will become a cliché in New Who, but for good reason). Not only do we see real journalists and BBC graphics applied to fictional events, making this "first contact" as ubiquitous as any crisis on our own 24-hour news channels, but the Slitheen are USING the media frenzy to their advantage, getting all the experts who could stop them into one room by staging a spaceship crash worthy of a Roland Emmerich movie. It looks very cool (the CG only falters when trying to depict Slitheen slipping out of their skinsuits), and that was the whole point. Now the Doctor's stuck watching this very public event on TV, as we would, and more than a little disappointed. Naturally, he gets closer to the action, and Rose does too, the latter befriending a comic relief backbencher played by the wonderful Penelope Wilton whose Harriet Jones could have been another step too far into comedy, but makes it all work. We believe her earnestness AND her horror. She's definitely the best thing to come out of this serial.

THEORIES: The scientist examining the space pig, played by Naoko Mori and credited as Doctor Sato reappears a year and a half hence as a Torchwood operative. This was strange for the longest time because Toshiko Sato was a computer/tech expert, NOT a medical one. Exit Wounds revealed that she was covering for Owen Harper who was recovering from a bad hangover that day. Clearly a retcon, which is fitting for Torchwood. But looking at her premiere episode now, it doesn't feel right. Tosh shouldn't be THIS freaked out by an alien pig, or that competent to do an autopsy, and well, shouldn't she know who Captain Jack's Doctor is if she participated in this mission? It's just a bit off. Then there's the fact that Torchwood is never ever involved in any alien intervention before Series 2. If they'd been founded by Queen Victoria, they would have been around during the Doctor's exile and so on. No mention until they start getting mentioned A LOT. My personal theory is that Torchwood doesn't exist until Tooth and Claw. History is changed by those events, the Doctor becomes persona non grata in the Empire, and this secret organization starts hoarding alien tech. So in this version of history, Sato was very much what she claims to be. When history changed, her role in these events were tweaked. Wait, that doesn't quite work either, because The Christmas Invasion very clearly has a Torchwood working behind the scenes, two stories before T&C. So I'm going to blame the Bad Wolf. Though never acknowledged on screen, when Rose became the Bad Wolf in The Parting of the Ways, she affected history in more ways than we thought. Not only did she send herself messages her personal past, and destroy Daleks etc. in her present, but she also changed her future. It should be no coincidence that her visit to Victorian Scotland featured a literal bad (were)wolf, and a castle (and soon organization) named Torchwood, a name she heard in a Weakest Link question/answer. It got into her head and suddenly, Torchwood is a thing, a thing that becomes host to Captain Jack which she's just resurrected, a thing that will ultimately be responsible for shunting her to a parallel dimension. I'll wait until we get to Rise of the Cybermen, but that parallel world may well be one of the Bad Wolf's creations too! Definitely more to come!

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - Between the beautiful crash, the real-ish public reaction to it and Harriet Jones, I can't quite pan this story. But the story's best moments are in World War Three, and the monsters are just embarrassing.


Craig Oxbrow said...

Bloody Torchwood!

Siskoid said...


CiB said...

And anyway Torchwood is just a Forge knock off.

For King and Country!

Randomnerd said...

Way to wrap your brain around the wibbledy wobbly, timey wimey stuff. My brain sort of just slides off of it anyway, or attributes it to the incestuous use of character actors in the BBC.
This wasn't my favorite episode either, but I do love Harriet. To me she was the redeemable portion of the episode and the only reason to rewatch it. I know for continuity's sake there are "things you need to know" in it, but apart from that it's kind of a mess. Of course, at the time none of us cared. It was "New Who", and we were just happy to have it around. Luckily this wasn't the benchmark of quality for the rest of the series.
When I'm introducing someone to New Who I make them start with "Blink". It's stand alone, it's creepy, and it has that dark sense of humor we all love.

Unknown said...

I agree with getting people to watch nuwho, and where to start.
I got my wife to start watching with me at MATT Smith, The BBC America version had an intro with Amy talking. She could get into it, She also has a thing for Matt.

Siskoid said...

That's actually a good idea. But anyone who gets hooked and goes back to 2005 will inevitably hit Aliens of London.

Randomnerd said...

Yes, but somehow they find it easier to swallow. Especially for those people who aren't heavily sci-fi inclined in the first place.

Siskoid said...

Important to build good will.

Pedro Cabezuelo said...

I agree this is probably the weakest episode this season - I think it was the first one filmed? Which might explain the hiccups. Also, surprised you didn't mention UNIT's appearance, its first in newWho. It was a nice link to the classic series and definitely made the episode a lot more enjoyable.

Siskoid said...

Yes, I think it was filmed in the first block along with "Rose".

LiamKav said...

It's also where UNIT received it's name change, I believe, because the UN weren't happy or something. I'm not sure of the story.

Are you going to address all the various related-media stuff going on at the time? Like how Clive's web-page was a real web-page, and that there was a UNIT site that you could log on to using Micky's password in this episode?

I have to say, watching it back Rose's "you're so gay" makes me wince a bit. Yes, it's how people speak, and yes, the show is written by a gay man so you get the whole "potential reclaiming of the word" argument. But I can't help but feel that in a few years time it will feel as dated and out of place as the use of words like "Paki" on 80s television. (Please put in some American/Canadian equivalent)

"And of course, first appearance of Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North."

Yes, we know who she is.

Siskoid said...

Yes, RTD revealed the United Nations asked not to be associated with UNIT in the new series (in Doctor Who Magazine, I think) so they changed it.

I didn't mention the websites (do they still work?) because the reviews are already fairly long and believe it or not, I end up casting a lot of my notes aside in favor of larger discussions.

I can't think of an instance where Paki has been used on Canadian TV, but the derogative is used here as well.

LiamKav said...

Yeah. As I said, I don't want to argue for or against the use of the term (because "is it a good or a bad thing when a minority group takes a slur and makes it into general language" is a bit heavy for a Doctor Who episode comment), but I do think it sounds really quite dated. I also can't see the BBC allowing it's use nowadays, and I do wonder if at some point it might get cut out of daytime repeats. Certainly I have a couple of gay friends who object to the term, and I'm pretty sure that they're not the only ones.

Siskoid said...

Rose has plenty of other bad traits not so easy to edit out. ;-)


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