World War III Reviewed

For those of you who tuned in and wondered about the sudden shift between the cliffhanger of last week and the opening of this week’s Doctor Who episode, the CBC screwed up, and cut off the episode’s teaser, which recapped the cliffhanger and provided the immediate resolution. Shame on you, CBC. Let’s not make this mistake again.

What happened was this: while everybody’s writhing around, the Doctor plucks the deadly ID device from his chest, says “Deadly to humans, maybe”, and plants it on the emerged Slitheen’s translator unit (that box around its neck). The resulting shock carried over to all of the Slitheen, including the one that was menacing Rose Tyler and Harriet Jones, and the one menacing Rose’s mother.

World War III was the weakest episode of the new program’s run, I fear — although this Doctor Who on a bad day is still better than just about anything else on television. The story settled into a typical monster thrash and pulled back from the quirkiness that made Aliens of London work. It seemed as though the script lost interest in the invasion, and cracks started to appear in the otherwise fine acting we’ve enjoyed so far (Harriet Jones, much as I liked her, came off a bit over-the-top trying to address the nation in her best Thatcher impression).

Still, there were plenty of things that I liked about the episode. Even the alien plot itself still had flashes of cheek — like the fictional weapons of mass destruction that could deploy on London in “45” seconds, or the fact that the Slitheen was not a species but a surname, and that the aliens were in it to sell a whole lot of rocks.

But the highlight of this episode came in the interplay between Rose, Rose’s boyfriend and Rose’s mother. I cared much more about the strain the Doctor puts on their relationship, than I did about the Slitheen’s plan. We’ve never dealt with the pain a companion character leaves behind by just leaving with the Doctor, and it’s new and interesting territory, well played by the actors involved. I also liked the growing, grudging respect the Doctor and Mickey develop. It is remarkable how much care Russell T. Davies has taken in fleshing out these minor characters, and the show is the better for it.

The direction was competent, with one especially notable scene where the Doctor talks Mickey and Rose’s mother through the process of attacking a Slitheen with vinegar. The pacing here is top-notch, and the balance between the fear and the one-liners is wonderful. It’s all capped off with an explosive moment that produces a good belly laugh, and could be the high point of this story.

So, on the whole, not bad. But if you haven’t gotten into this show, yet, you need to turn it on next week. You really need to turn it on next week. Cancel dates if you have to. Next week’s episode is not one you should miss.

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