Timestamp #165: Aliens of London & World War Three

Doctor Who: Aliens of London
Doctor Who: World War Three
(2 episodes, s01e04-05, 2005)

 

That one time that a family of fart monsters almost destroyed the world.

Rose and the Doctor return to her home at the Powell Estate, presumably a mere twelve hours after she left. When she runs up to the apartment, she’s surprised to find out that it’s been twelve months and that her mother Jackie has been searching the entire time.

The Doctor has never been a reliable TARDIS pilot.

As a tagger leaves the words BAD WOLF on the TARDIS, Jackie calls the police and berates Rose for her absence. I mean, she’s really running Rose through the wringer. When the Doctor takes responsibility for the missing time, Jackie slaps him before taking a moment with her daughter. Rose confides in the Doctor that she can’t reveal the truth and the Time Lord refuses to take Jackie on his travels. Their discussion is interrupted by a crashing spacecraft that sails over London, smashes through Big Ben, and splashes into the river. The Doctor and Rose run to the crash site but can’t get through due to the gridlock. The whole scenario is brand new to the Doctor, and Rose suggests that if they can’t see it in person, they can watch it on television.

The world is in emergency response mode, and as Jackie’s neighbors convene to watch live, the news reports that a body has been found and taken to Albion Hospital. It’s unknown if UNIT is still in operation, but the military has already arrived. General Asquith examines the body, noting that experts are on their way and that the Prime Minister is missing.

All sorts of important figures converge on 10 Downing Street, including Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North. In case you missed it the first time, she’ll remind you every time she says her name. The acting Prime Minister, Joseph Green, gets a hasty turnover while experiencing some gas problems, and once behind closed doors, he laughs with some associates in a mysterious (perhaps evil) manner.

The Doctor departs the Tyler apartment, leaving Rose a TARDIS key. Mickey Smith sees him enter the TARDIS and gives chase, but he doesn’t catch up before the TARDIS dematerializes. The ship gives the Time Lord a little trouble as he navigates it to the hospital. When he arrives, after a brief run in with a detachment of soldiers, he finds that the alien has awakened and escaped from the morgue. The Doctor spots the pig-like creature but cannot catch it before a soldier fatally shoots it.

Harriet Jones continues to work her way onto the agenda but is continually rebuffed. She sneaks into the Cabinet Room and takes a peek at the emergency protocols. She’s forced to hide in a closet when Green trio returns with General Asquith. The gassy trio unzip their foreheads, expose their true forms, and kill the general.

The Doctor examines the the alien corpse and determines that it is a fake. He takes the TARDIS back to the Powell Estate as Mickey finds Rose for the first time in a year. Mickey reveals that he was suspected of murder, and the word that the Doctor left shocks her. Rose, Mickey, and Jackie convene outside in time to see the Doctor return, which exposes Jackie to the truth. Rose invites Mickey and Jackie inside, but as Mickey and the Doctor spar, Jackie runs away. Moments later, she calls the hotline in fear and reports the Doctor to the authorities.

That sets off a whole new set of alarms.

As Mickey and Rose make up, the Doctor connects local radar signals to the console. They discover that the spacecraft originated from Earth and that the landing was faked. They also see that UNIT has been called in, but the Doctor decides not to contact them since they might not recognize him. Meanwhile, the aliens take over the general’s body before being alerted to the Doctor’s presence. The military surrounds the TARDIS and takes the Doctor and Rose into custody as Mickey escapes. Jackie is taken back to her apartment to be interviewed, but the official in charge is one of the aliens.

Rose and the Doctor are taken to 10 Downing Street to consult on the emergency. Everyone convenes in a briefing room except Rose and Harriet Jones since neither of them have clearance. The women uncover the truth about the aliens and their skin suits. The Doctor takes charge of the briefing and discovers the trap.

The police officer interviewing Jackie unzips his head. Rose and Harriet are confronted by Margaret Blaine. The Doctor watches Asquith and Green as they use the ID cards to electrocute everyone at the briefing and announce who they really are.

They are the Slitheen.

Since the Doctor is not human, the electrocution doesn’t work on him. He attaches his tag to the Asquith alien and the energy somehow affects all of the Slitheen. Rose and Harriet run, Mickey rescues Jackie, and the Doctor brings the soldiers to fight the threat. After Green stops the energy, he convinces the military to chase the Doctor instead. The Time Lord escapes into the elevator and the chase continues.

General Asquith orders the upper levels to be quarantined before escorting Green into the elevator, ditching their skin suits inside. They meet with the Margaret Blaine alien and nearly get Rose and Harriet before the Doctor rescues them. The Doctor stops the Slitheen with a bluff of port in order to interrogate the aliens, who are actually the Slitheen family instead of members of the Slitheen species. The Doctor notes that they are standing in the Cabinet Room, which was outfitted as a panic room. He triggers the blast doors and locks the Slitheen out, but in the process locks him and his companions inside.

More of the Slitheen (in skin suits) arrive at 10 Downing Street while Jackie and Mickey end up at his flat. In the Cabinet Room, the Doctor apologizes to the bodies of the Prime Minister and his assistant Indra Ganesh before looking for an escape. Rose discovers how the Slitheen fit into their skin suits – their collars generate a compression field (maybe something like the Master‘s technology?) that causes gas to build and escape – before receiving a message from Mickey on her souped-up mobile. While the Doctor ponders why Harriet’s name sounds so familiar, he helps Mickey access the UNIT database for information.

Harriet explains that the UK’s nuclear launch codes are in the United Nation’s hands, so the Slitheen can’t be looking for the missiles. The UNIT site reveals a signal coming from the North Sea, but the Doctor can’t interpret it before the police officer Slitheen invades Mickey’s flat. The Doctor, Harriet, and Rose use the facts to deduce the destination of the Slitheen signal – the planet Raxacoricofallapatorius – and help Mickey and Jackie defeat their invader with vinegar – the acetic acid reacts with the creature and causes it to explode.

Acting PM Green senses the death of his brother and speaks to the media, telling them a story of invading aliens to get access to the nuclear arsenal. The Doctor releases the blast doors and confronts the Slitheen outside, knowing that once the Slitheen decimate the planet’s surface with nuclear holocaust, they will sell the remnants for raw fuel. As the Doctor vows to stop them, he triggers the panic room once more, a sinister darkness crossing his face that shakes the Blaine alien.

As morning dawns, the Doctor reveals that he has one option, but he can’t guarantee Rose’s safety. Jackie pleads with the Doctor to keep her safe, but Rose knows that the world’s safety is worth more than her life. Harriet steps in as the only elected official in the room and orders the Doctor to act. The Doctor and Mickey access the Royal Navy’s systems and launch a Harpoon missile toward Downing Street.

The United Nations releases the nuclear codes to the Slitheen, but the incoming missile prompts the evacuation of Downing Street area. The Doctor, Rose, and Harriet ride out the ensuing explosion in the cupboard of the panic room, but the Slitheen are not so lucky. When the panic room door opens, Harriet takes charge, and the Doctor remembers how he knows her: Harriet Jones is the future Prime Minister, elected for three consecutive terms, and architect of Britain’s Golden Age.

Rose returns home to her mother as the Doctor returns to the TARDIS. Rose convinces her mother that the Doctor isn’t so bad after all, and Jackie offers to cook a proper sit-down meal for the three of them. The Doctor cancels the Slitheen signal and refuses dinner for the wonders of the universe. He extends the offer to Rose, prompting her to pack a bag much to Jackie’s dismay.

As the boy who tagged the TARDIS scrubs his handiwork away, the Doctor gives Mickey a virus to remove the Time Lord’s presence from the internet. Jackie accompanies Rose to the TARDIS, and Mickey turns down to chance to travel (for which the Doctor takes credit to save Mickey’s reputation). Jackie demands that the Doctor take care of Rose, and Rose says she could be home in ten seconds.

The TARDIS dematerializes and Jackie waits ten seconds, but they don’t come back. She walks away sadly as Mickey stands watch over the street.

 

This episode has a high body count, and while that’s not particularly great for Doctor Who, it does show us a hint of what darkness the Ninth Doctor is capable of. Especially when he’s backed into a corner. He’s still the Doctor, and we still get that sense of exploration and compassion that the show is known for, but we also get more clues here about how broken he is over the Time War.

I also want to highlight Camille Coduri and her portrayal of a worried mother. Jackie Tyler tends to fluctuate between compassionate and irritating, and here she absolutely sold the heartbreak over her concern for Rose’s safety. That last scene – ten seconds – was heart-wrenching.

The character moments alone keep this set of stories firing on all cylinders.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Dalek

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

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