Forgive me; I caught caught up in a Warren Zevon moment…
Having explored the present, the future and the past, having tried on the mantle of a comedy, a horror and a drama, the new Doctor Who returns to the setting that started the revival three weeks ago, and sets about playing with the materials it’s rediscovered. Aliens of London has many elements which should please a diverse audience. There’s the drama of a family separation. There’s the mystery of an alien plot. There’s the action of the Doctor taking charge while a lot of soldiers run about. And for the ten-year-olds in the audience, there’s fart jokes.
And it’s a testament to Russell T. Davies’ writing that all of this hangs together in a coherent whole.
After seeing the end of the world and Victorian Cardiff, the Doctor takes Rose home. He tells her she’s been gone twelve hours, but the distraught look on Rose’s mother’s face and the Missing posters scattered about the neighbourhood make it clear long before the Doctor bursts in with the revelation that Rose has actually been gone a whole year.
But before Rose, Mick (her boyfriend) and Rose’s mother can come to terms with the consequences of the Doctor’s mistake, an alien spaceship falls out of the sky, clocks into Big Ben and crashes into the Thames. Rose joins the rest of the world in front of the television set to see the events unfold, and the Doctor is content to let history take its course, until nagging doubts force him to investigate more deeply.
Of course, the Doctor finds that all is not as it seems. The alien crashlanding was faked — by real aliens hoping to throw the world into turmoil. Their plan works. As Britain struggles to organize, wondering where the heck is their missing prime minister, the Doctor and the military meet to talk about the alien arrival and what it means, only to discover that there are aliens in London, and they’re here to deliver the new series’ first cliffhanger.
Aliens of London could well represent the new Doctor Who at its most average, and if this is average, we’re in for a treat. After pushing the boundaries, the program has settled in to tell a decent tale, using all of the weapons in its arsenal. The mystery surrounding the alien plot is genuinely compelling, as is the distress from Rose’s loved ones as she returns home a year late.
I also must give kudos to Russell Davies’ sense of comic timing. The farting jokes and the reference to (believe it or not) Pigs! In! Space! offended a few Doctor Who fans who take their show too seriously, and their inclusion would seem bizarre, but the careful direction of Keith Boak cans the joke before it gets too silly, and Davies manages to justify their existence in the script. It’s really a remarkable job. When these elements appear again later in the episode, it’s in a muted format, and to more chilling effect.
The acting was as good as we’ve come to expect; it’s becoming boring talking about it, in fact. Every character with screen time, even the female Chinese pathologist came across well, and I especially liked Penelope Wilton as the hapless MP Harriett Jones, who I predict will come out the next episode as the prime minister of Britain.
I also appreciate the music. I complained about it in the first episode, but things have settled down since, with a number of scenes sounding very much like pieces from the original series. Likewise, the slower pace and thicker plot was much appreciated as well. Aliens of London gave me lots to savour and time to savour it in.
And in the background, more elements of the backstory get revealed. A second reference to the big bad wolf (creepily done too; what did the kid know in order to spray-paint that phrase onto the TARDIS doors?), and the Doctor’s refusal to call Mickey anything other than Ricky. Maybe we’ve entered a parallel universe? Maybe I’ve written too much fan fiction? Either way, Russell’s planning something this season, and he’s being very clever about it. Almost too clever, I think…
But the story isn’t perfect. Ironic though it may be to say this after complaining long and hard about the previous three episodes’ breakneck pace, the cliffhanger to Aliens of London was about a minute too long. As the aliens revealed their threat, the Doctor and the humans (three separate groups of them, no less) all just stood around gaping longer than I thought believable, making me wonder if people in the United Kingdom didn’t know how to run. But it’s a minor complaint. Aliens of London entertains, and promises a payoff for the next episode, World War Three.