Doctor Who #715: World War Three

"I could save the world but lose you."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Apr.23 2005.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor defeats the Slitheen by blowing up 10 Downing Street.

REVIEW: So they all survived the cliffhanger, which is hardly a surprise since the "Next on..." clips were shown immediately afterwards with everyone running around sound if not safe. This is a good a time as any to mention that, at this point, New Who hasn't figured out how to do the cliffhanger sting sound. I mean, they stick it on at the end of the teaser, but then it absurdly shows up again at the end of the episode, as a lead-in for "Next on...", regardless of any given ending's mood. Clumsy, and that's not something that goes away soon. As for the actual resolution of the new show's first cliffhanger, it's very poor indeed. The Doctor zaps one Slitheen's collar somehow and ALL Slitheen get zapped. We go from triple-cliffhanger to triple-cop-out in barely a few seconds. Don't worry, plenty more where that came from. Soldiers who never shoot when told to, letting the Doctor escape several times (the only shot they ever make is the one that kills the space pig). Mickey as super-hacker, launching missiles out of nuclear subs and pointing them right at 10 Downing Street. The Slitheen being vulnerable to vinegar (at least that's in keeping with the Whovian tradition of monsters' common every day Achilles' heels), though the real cop-out there is that Jackie murders a sentient being without any ramifications. In fact, it's played as a gross-out joke.

That said, the Slitheen's plan is fairly clever - even if it DOES hinge on somewhat nonsensical UK and World politics - the farting is kept to a relative minimum, and the production is pretty brazen about destroying real world institutions (is it me or is this Doctor doing the terrorists' job sometimes?). Most importantly, the episode is actually about the characters, so the plot holes are more easily dismissed. What's at stake here isn't so much the planet as it is the Doctor getting permission from Jackie to "go out" with her daughter. What does it mean to be the Doctor's companion? Is it safe in this more "realistic" Whoniverse where companions do indeed have a life and family to come back to? Because while companions occasionally died in classic Who, and more frequently were left a long way from home, they never really had people to go back to. There were no emotional consequences that we could see, either for the companion or for their families. Davies makes sure we see it otherwise, and keeps confronting the Doctor's "doesn't do domestic" policy to Rose's reality. The fact is, the Doctor can't do his job WITHOUT putting Rose in danger, and she's the one telling him to do it. She trusts him more than she trusts herself. The decision is taken out of his hands anyway when Harriet Jones steps up as a leader and commands him to. A great moment for her, a first step towards the "Golden Age" of her three terms as PM (if you've seen these shows already, this pretty much PROVES history can be rewritten, doesn't it?). As we discussed before, the ninth Doctor can't be the hero of his stories, he can only inspire others to be. Harriet is one, Mickey the Idiot is the other.

Because while the Doctor never does promise to keep Rose safe, Jackie still comes to accept him. He doesn't make it easy, and there's a nasty streak of selfishness in him when he manipulates Rose into leaving with him instead of having tea with the family. Rose tells her she'll be back in 10 seconds because "time machine!", but of course, it doesn't happen. I'm liking Jackie in these moments, her defeated attitude and worry feel very real to me. There's a similar moment with Alison's boyfriend in Scream of the Shalka. The Doctor's kinder to Mickey, actually inviting him in as a reward for saving the world, though Mickey doesn't think he's up to it. The Doctor covers for him when Rose asks too, so he's definitely thawing (something else RTD may owe to Shalka). The Slitheen are there to generate jeopardy, but are secondary to this story, and you know it every time the episode cuts to them talking about naked victory or their glorious bodies, undermining the emotional integrity of the script with every scene.

THEORIES: "Narrows it down." I don't want to spend too much time on this since I touched upon it in "Rose", but it's a scene that might raise a few eyebrows. How is the Doctor doing that? The clue, I think, is in "Rose" when the eponymous Miss Tyler does a Google search for the Doctor and is forced to narrow her search down. So is the Doctor mentally connecting to some kind of TARDIS-net to find Raxacoricofallapatorius (what's left of the Matrix maybe?) or does he actually know enough about the 5000 closest planets, down to the type of life found on Raxacoricofallapatorius, but NOT recognize the Slitheen's species on sight? It would help if he ever pulled such a trick again, but he doesn't really. Or does he? Note for example how he only knows the details of Harriet's political career AFTER the events of World War Three are cemented in history. Was he refreshing a page all through the episode until the new history reloaded? (With thanks to About Time for putting some of these notions in my head.)

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The character stuff is strong, but the monsters are silly and the plotting frequently goes for cheap solutions.


Randomnerd said...

Sometimes the solutions do seem a bit Deus Ex Doctor. They've woven that into the series a lot, so much that we almost come to expect it. Don't worry, the doctor will get out of it because...DOCTOR! He's a little like Batman in that way. Or at least the Batman in the Batman vs. arguments.

Siskoid said...

Definitely, and it only gets worse when Tennant gets the role.

Anonymous said...

Jackie doesn't get nearly enough credit for being a solid character who does her best under trying circumstances. No, she's not made for a TARDIS-y lifestyle, but I wouldn't be either, nor would most viewers.

The writers play her for laughs a little more than I like -- I understand they want to keep it light lest she become nothing more than the worrying mom, but they go out of their way to make her obtuse, and it's gratuitous.

Siskoid said...

In this particular case, I think she's not Obtuse Jackie. In some ways, the AoL/WW3's function was to redeem the Powell Estate supporting cast and take them away from the comedy stylings of their first appearance. Both Mickey and Jackie actually get in on the action and for the most part have realistic reactions. I don't think they ever go back to Rose-level comic relief.

LiamKav said...

I think that after this point, any episode with a cliffhanger ending gets its teaser bumped until after the credits, which makes so much more sense. I'm guessing that the final edit was done late, because it's pretty obvious when watching that "Everyone is going to die TO BE CONTINUED oh no they are fine" doesn't work at all.

Siskoid said...

My understanding is that the structure was changed on subsequent episodes because of audience complaints.

Craig Oxbrow said...

Steven Moffat suggested it according the commentary for The Empty Child, as he didn't want to happen then.


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