The first two-part story of the new era of Doctor Who is bold, ambitious, and almost totally lacking in subtlety. It all begins when Rose is brought back home to the Powell Estate a year later than intended, confronting a stunned and traumatised Jackie as a police investigation into her disappearance ends abruptly, though not before difficult questions are asked regarding her relationship with the Doctor.
The sight of the Doctor being challenged in this way, and being slapped by a companion’s mother, is unnatural and unfamiliar territory, but in creating this scene, writer Russell T Davies is providing a wider perspective of the influence that travelling with the Doctor can have on the lives of others.
Before such goings on can be dwelt upon for too long, a rooftop conversation between the Doctor and Rose is rudely interrupted by the whirring of a beautifully realised spaceship that flies erratically across London before crash-landing in the River Thames, but not before running right through Big Ben. Hats off to the special effects team for pulling this one off.
It turns out that an augmented pig was piloting the spacecraft, but the real villains cleverly use this as a distraction as they – in an uncharacteristically sophisticated manner – to infiltrate and take control of Downing Street with embarrassing ease. The Doctor and Rose watch the television news coverage, but with the help of a panicked Jackie, are eventually escorted to the centre of the action.
Aliens of London does a great job of building the tension, and again we see Eccleston as his juggling best. On the one hand, we see him unable to contain his excitement at the sight of the crash-landing spacecraft, yet in another scene we witness a brilliant depiction of compassion and disgust at the shooting of the squealing pig at Albion Hospital.
When the Slitheen are revealed – albeit still in human form – they are quite unlike any alien race seen in the history of the programme. They converse and laugh like over-excited children, they are lavatorial, rejoicing at each expulsion of wind, and the thought of removing their gruesome skin suits.
But they are also shrewd operators who are refreshingly not here to invade, but to ruthlessly extend their illegal interstellar business operation. They soon realise that General Asquith (Rupert Vansittart in his element) is a threat, so they take the opportunity to kill and impersonate him, too.
Vansittart completes the excitable main trio that also comprises of a terrifically sinister Annette Badland and a larger-than-life David Verrey, whose performance is not one you’re likely to forget in a hurry. All the same, they’re a serious threat, as curious MP Harriett Jones observes to her terror.
Penelope Wilton is perfect for this particular role. A highly accomplished actress, she personifies spirit and patriotism, proving a good foil for the scheming Doctor and becoming a handy ‘sub-companion’ in the process.
Aliens of London does a very good job of building the tension, which is admittedly lightened by some hilarious exchanges of dialogue such as this beauty:
The Doctor: Do you mind not farting while I’m saving the world
Joseph Green: Would you rather silent but deadly?!
The cliffhanger at the end of the episode would have been highly effective, only for the ‘Next Time’ section to come up almost immediately before the closing credits. So we knew that World War Three may see the end of a ‘brave new world’. We also know that Slitheen would sprint surprisingly quickly through Downing Street.
What does materialise is an interesting second part, which focuses as much on Rose’s future with the Doctor as it does on defeating the Slitheen, who continue to plod around a little too excitedly in order to be taken 100% seriously.
We see Jackie and Mickey burst a Slitheen masquerading as a police officer with a jug of condiments, we see the Doctor reciting the history of Downing Street, while there is also the understated sub-plot of whether the United States would agree to release the nuclear codes, culminating in Joseph Green (Jocrassa Fel Fotch Pasameer Day Slitheen) delivering an unforgettable speech to the assembled media.
The rhetoric contains more than a hint of satire from a crafty Davies, who also gives then BBC Political Editor Andrew Marr a memorable cameo. But ultimately, it is down to the Doctor making the decision to conduct a missile strike, with the encouragement of Rose and Harriett.
The sequence is tense, but again the special effects department earns its money with a highly convincing denouement. As Harriett moves on to the campaign trail, we see another neat emotional scene between Rose and Jackie (great acting performances), again emphasising the thrill of travelling with the Doctor.
It turned out that we hadn’t seen the last of the Slitheen, and nobody can deny that they left their mark. The two-parter as a whole makes compelling viewing, although it could have done with being a little more polished in some areas for it to have been a classic.