After their adventures in time and space the Doctor
returns Rose to London in the present day. Those of us who remember the original
series know that the Doctor would often try and return his companions to
their own time, but more often then not he would get it wrong; it’s nice
to see that RTD is staying with tradition for as the Doctor and Rose soon
find out they haven’t been gone twelve hours but in fact have been gone for
Where the new series departs from the old is in how the effects on
those left behind are explored. Rose’s mum, Jackie, is beside herself
with grief over her daughter’s disappearance and Mickey, has been a suspect
in a murder investigation.
Whilst the Doctor and Rose have to explain themselves to the police,
a boy from Rose’s estate scrawls ‘Bad Wolf’ on the side of the TARDIS.
This act of vandalism has attracted a lot of attention in fan quarters;
as well it might, as it is part of a developing theme in the series. I
am grateful to the author of one blog who was obviously a lot more observant
than myself, who had noted the previous occurrences of the ‘Bad wolf’
theme. In episode two the Moxx of Balhoon mentions it in passing whilst
talking to the giant head (something I only picked up by going over the
episode with a toothcomb) and in episode three Gwyneth, who is reading
Rose’s mind, says ‘the darkness, the big bad wolf.’ I think this demonstrates
two things, firstly it illustrates why RTD is considered one of the best
writers in British television at the present time. Secondly it is a sign
of how this generation of Doctor Who is obviously aimed at an audience
who have access to video technology and discuss episodes on the Internet.
This may seem like a trivial observation, but it is worth reflecting on,
particularly when one considers how in the original sixties show it was
assumed that the audience would watch it once and that would be that. Having
a medium one can revisit makes television a bit more like reading a book;
one can pick up subtleties that were missed the first time around.
Rose and her mum find themselves at odds with each other, as Rose
cannot really explain to her where she has been. Whilst they are being
interviewed by the police the Doctor explains that he had employed Rose
as his companion. The Policeman pointedly asks whether this was a sexual
relationship, which both the Doctor and Rose vehemently deny. Jackie is
less convinced, pointing to the age gap between them both and accusing
the Doctor of seeking Rose out on the internet- the implication being that
he is some kind of pervert of course. She gives the Doctor a slap, which
causes him to remonstrate to Rose later on that ‘in 900 years of time and
space I’ve never been slapped by someone’s mother.”
It’s interesting to see that the Doctor hasn’t aged much since Colin
Baker’s time; for Rose this is an ironic confirmation of what her mother
was saying about the age gap between them. She feels very isolated from
her friends and family, no one else as seen what she has seen, no one
else knows of the existence of extraterrestrial life. Right on cue a large
alien space ship comes whizzing past the tower block where the Doctor
and she are standing and flies out across central London, clipping Big
Ben before crashing into the Thames.
So after a brief interlude for domestic consequences we are back
in the realm of fantasy, the Doctor and Rose rush to the scene, only to
find the roads blocked and the centre of London in chaos. The Doctor is
very reluctant to move his TARDIS at this stage, given the heightened
state of security. Rose suggests they go and watch it on TV instead.
We therefore return to the domestic as the Doctor tries to make sense
of the news reports whilst Rose and her family and friends crowd around
in the flat. This being the BBC they cannot help but plug themselves, using
actual BBC News 24 reporters to relay the fictional reports of spacecraft
crashing into the Thames. This reminded me of a similar science fiction
show made by the Fox network that only seemed to show Fox news reports
on the impending disaster. As if one would stick to a single channel when
something that big was happening, but hey, it’s only television!
Shameless self-publicity aside this is actually a very funny scene
and serves to illustrate the gap between the Doctor and his human hosts.
Jackie seems remarkably tolerant of her daughter’s enigmatic friend at
this point; one would have thought she would have barred him from the
house. The Doctor comments to Rose that ‘history’s just happened and they’re
talking about buying dodgy top-up cards’. Exasperated the Doctor disappears
off to the TARDIS, his movements being watched by Mickey.
Mickey didn’t do to well in the first episode and to be sure in this
one he is still portrayed as something of a prat. However, he has been
to hell and back since we last saw him, a target of unwarranted suspicion
and victimised by others on the estate who believe he did away with Rose.
Not only that but he has been looking for the TARDIS, for any sign of Rose,
for the last year. He has plummeted the same depths of the Internet that
she did in episode one to try and find out about the elusive Doctor. In
one very pointed bit of dialogue he tells Rose that ‘if you look hard enough
you’ll find him, followed by a list of the dead.’
The list of the dead is about to grow as the Doctor unravels the
mystery of the crashed alien spacecraft. He does use the TARDIS in the
end and travels to Albion Hospital where the body of the ‘alien’ has been
taken. Arriving at the hospital he finds himself confronted by a room
full of soldiers, luckily a scream distracts them and the Doctor is able
to assume authority instantly (‘defence pattern delta-move!’). The so-called
‘dead’ alien had escaped and was running through the corridors. Those of
you who can remember the Muppets on TV will know what to expect at this
point. I won’t spoil the surprise, suffice it to say that the alien turns
out to be a common terrestrial animal with cybernetic augments. The unfortunate
animal is shot dead by a trigger-happy soldier, leaving the Doctor with
an even bigger mystery- why would aliens fake an alien landing?
Meanwhile the Prime Minister has disappeared and because of the gridlock
in London a junior minister (whose responsibilities include ‘sugar standards
in exported confectionary’) called Joseph Green assumes responsibility.
Green obviously doesn’t seem cut out for the job and what is more seems
to have a bad case of flatulence. Aiding him are Margaret Blaine from MI5
and Oliver Charles of ‘transport liaison.’ The military in the shape of
General Asquith are not impressed with Green’s apparent inaction and threaten
to relieve him of command. Green chooses this point to reveal himself to
be one of the Slitheen, the race of aliens behind the hoax. Asquith is killed
and replaced by Charles, who is also an alien impostor.
These are all well worn themes in alien invasion stories and to a
certain degree RTD does his best to send them up. The Slitheen use human
skins with zips on the forehead, in their true form they look a bit like
ET on steroids and have to squash themselves down to fit in their disguises.
They have problems with their ‘gas relays’, which is why the disguised
aliens are always farting. A number of fans have complained about what
they see as a puerile sense of humour, and of course it is puerile. However,
as the episode progresses it also becomes a signal that an alien is around,
admittedly a very silly signal but one as to remember that the target audience
are eight to twelve year olds. Fart jokes are also an integral part of British
culture, like the Germans we have a national obsession with what comes out
of the rear end.
I suspect what many of the fans are getting at here is the kind of
cognitive dissonance that Russell T. Davies’ writing is creating in the
mind of the viewer. With other sci-fi shows, such as certain parts of
the Star Trek franchise and The X-Files we have (for the most part) a consistently
po-faced approach; in others such as The Hitch-hikers Guide and Red Dwarf
we have a consistently humorous approach. The new Doctor Who is going
for a kind of middle ground in much the same way as Farscape and Buffy.
This is a hard trick to pull off and as good a writer as RTD is I don’t
know if he succeeds all the time. In this episode I’m afraid he doesn’t,
rather than deflating tension the humour tends to annoy the viewer instead
(in my opinion). It’s interesting that the most successful episode so far
has been written by Mark Gatiss; those of you who are familiar with The
League of Gentlemen will understand what I mean when I say he has a proven
track record of writing excellent dark humour. But I digress.
Finally we come to the element of the show that has been missing
from the series so far, the cliff-hanger ending. Here RTD goes a little
over the top, instead of serving up one cliff-hanger we have three at once,
with Rose, the Doctor and Jackie all being threatened by the Slitheen as
they unzip themselves from their human-skins. For long term fans we also
have the reappearance of UNIT, minus the Brigadier, as well as lots of continuity
references to the Doctor’s previous appearances on Earth. (Lloyd George
could apparently ‘drink him under the table’- didn’t the third Doctor like
a drop of wine every so often?)
The Doctor unravels the aliens’ true intentions- to summon all the
extraterrestrial experts into one place so that they could be killed
off prior to invasion. The aliens reveal themselves and use the dastardly
ploy of live-wired ID cards to electrocute everyone. Meanwhile Rose and
Harriet Jones (‘MP for Flydale’) have discovered a dead prime-minister and
are being menaced by the Slitheen in Margaret Blaine’s skin. To cap it all
we have Jackie being threatened by a flatulent Police chief.
I have mixed feelings about this episode; it demonstrates some of
the best and the worst of the new series. On the plus side there is the
character development and the use of ‘grown-up’ emotional content that helps
to ground the show in reality. On the negative side there is a tendency
for over-egging the mixture in terms of humour and the triple cliff-hanger
back-fires in many ways. Rather than raising the viewer’s anticipation, (will
the Doctor/companion survive?) we are instead overloaded with three versions
of the same threat.
I hope the Daleks get better treatment than this!