Doctor Who Review: Aliens of London/World War Three

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.

Doctor Who Reviews: Rose

It was a monumental occasion when Doctor Who returned to British television on 26 March 2005, some 16 years after its original run ended under something of a cloud. Back then, BBC bosses saw the show as a burden, as tired concepts eventually made for rather trivial viewing.

Yet its status as a national treasure was undeniable, and the loyal fanbase remained hopeful over the intervening period that the long-running programme may make a comeback. Audio serials and novelisations kept the flame ignited, but it was only when Russell T Davies made his successful pitch to the BBC in 2003 that those apparently fanciful hopes became reality.

It was an incredible feat for Davies to convince the BBC to resurrect a show that was both loved and maligned in equal measure, and had such a chequered history, but his presence ensured that it was now in very safe hands. His prowess as a writer, and the budget laid down at his disposal, helped bring together a terrific and richly talented crew, and a fine cast would soon follow.

Securing Christopher Eccleston for the role of the Ninth Doctor was a masterstroke. He perfectly suited the profile of a character ridden by guilt and grief in the aftermath of the Time War; a tormented soul with the most brilliant of minds that had to carry on in the knowledge that all of his fellows had perished.

Throughout the opening episode and the series as a whole, Eccleston conveys these feelings perfectly, but also embodies the mystical spirit of the character by showcasing a softer side, helped along by companion Rose, whose gutsy nature and very human levels of empathy guide him on a journey to redemption.

Rose is portrayed magnificently by Billie Piper, who at the time had very little acting experience following her career as a teenage pop star. She takes the character of Rose and uses the material she’s been given to create someone who the audience can immediately identify with, and we’re all too happy to enjoy the ride with her.

As for the episode itself, it relaunches the programme in a highly satisfactory way. The first and most obvious change from the original series is that it’s the 21st century, and the way people live their lives has changed, and also that it’s the responsibility of television dramas to provide a fulfilling visual experience to the viewer.

The opening shot shows the Earth from space, and the camera quickly zooms in to Rose’s home, a humble flat within a friendly, if fairly run-down estate. We get a general picture of her life; we see her single mother fussing over her; we see her laughing with her boyfriend, Mickey; we see her on the bus travelling to work. It is obvious already that there will now be greater emphasis on the companion than ever before.

It doesn’t take long for danger to arise, as Autons begin to rouse in the creepy basement of the shop in which Rose works. Then comes the Doctor’s entrance, containing just one word: ‘Run!’ Their ensuing escape gives way to a massive explosion, the first of many impressive effects that The Mill would produce during the series.

The Doctor is treated as a mysterious figure, possibly even dangerous, and Eccleston wonderfully delivers on that, shifting deftly between moments of priceless comic timing to feelings of loss and hopeless vengeance.

What is particularly impressive here is that as Rose gradually comes to trust the Doctor after initial reservations – unperturbed by the eerily apocalyptic warnings of obsessive shed-dweller Clive – the audience does so too, even after he shows relish in the act of beheading Auton Mickey.

The Autons act as frightening, threatening villains, while the showdown beneath the London Eye reveals the Nestene Consciousness as a menacing presence. In its ability to animate plastic such as a wheelie bin, and create a copy of Mickey which a momentarily dim Rose cannot see to be a forgery, its power is unmistakable.

But in the final reckoning, Rose saves the day with a marvellous – and pretty daring – piece of athleticism. It begins an occasionally irritating trend of someone other than the Doctor proving to be the enemy’s downfall, but in this instance it’s handled well, as it allows the Doctor’s faith in humanity to be somewhat restored – having taken to referring to us as ‘apes’.

And then Rose decides to ditch her life and her rather useless – for now – boyfriend, in order to travel with the Doctor. The TARDIS set is dark and unearthly, yet at the same time strangely welcoming. However, what adds to the intrigue ahead of the stories to come are that we still don’t know who this particular Doctor really is, as he continues to suffer from some form of PTSD.

On the whole, Rose was a very solid first episode for a unique series that was making a comeback after so many years away. Davies’ script wound everything together nicely, providing a significant enemy threat while introducing the characters and adapting the show for the 21st century. It was the premise upon which the last 12 years of Doctor Who have become a major success.

Top 10 random facts I learned in 2016

As a lover of random facts and general knowledge, I am always looking to pick up pieces of trivia which could come in useful for answering quiz questions I may be faced with in the future. Even if such facts are only needed once in my life, retaining them would have been more than worthwhile.

So as we look back on 2016, here are 10 of the most obscure facts I obtained during the previous year:

  1. Despite its name, the Spanish flu pandemic of 1919 did not originate in Spain. It actually started in the US state of Kansas, but due to Spain’s neutrality during the First World War, the press was free to report on the illness while it spread there.
  2. The inspirations behind the fairy tales Rumplestiltskin and Beauty and the Beast are at least 4,000 years old.
  3. The 18th president of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, was once fined for exceeding the speed limit on his horse.
  4. Protmusis is a type of pub quiz game which originated in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, and is popular among students.
  5. The first country to allow women to vote was New Zealand, in 1890.
  6. The term ‘Cyberspace’ was coined by the author William Gibson in his 1982 book Burning Chrome.
  7. Cormoran is a giant associated with the folklore of St. Michael’s Mount in the English county of Cornwall.
  8. In 2001, Argentina was in such political turmoil that they had five presidents in the space of two weeks.
  9. The longest winning run by a top-flight football club is 27, by Welsh side The New Saints. This run is still currently ongoing.
  10. DNA was not first discovered by Francis Crick and James Watson. It was actually discovered by Swiss biologist Johannes Friedrich Meischer in 1869

Over the next 12 months I hope to be a few steps further on the way to becoming a top quiz player.

Happy New Year!

My 2016 – Writing

This calendar year has been one of major transition in terms of my writing exploits. Whereas in previous years I have had a basic agenda which has followed very consistent, unchanging structures, 2016 has seen me embrace new styles; explore new avenues; sample new media, and handle a parting of ways.

I had decided late in 2015 that I would finish my regular contribution to A Different League after three years of dedicated and indefatigable service, in order to have more time to myself, and focus on other writing pursuits. It was a choice which hadn’t been taken lightly, but one that I was sure would benefit me in the long run.

I owe that website an incredible amount. They gave me my first opportunity to write for an online audience about one of my greatest areas of expertise and bestowed all kinds of responsibilities upon me regardless of my previous lack of experience. Within months I was writing various different articles, and was even able to upload them using its Content Management System.

Then came the route into magazine writing and eventually the greater creative freedom afforded by the migration to a Fanatix-powered web host in May 2015. It was through this where I truly developed my skills and became the expressive writer I am now, and as such the standard of what I was producing increased immeasurably.

I had always gone the extra mile for the site since beginning in May 2013, but I decided to take things an extra step further for my final flourish, completing preview articles for all 380 Premier League matches during the 2015-16 season – which amounted to a minimum of 6,000 words per week.

Then I took on the responsibility of writing a whole batch of season review pieces, singly doing work which would ordinarily be done by a team of four. I then took sole ownership of A Different League’s Euro 2016 coverage, writing 29 articles of at least 500 words throughout its month-long duration.

In my humble opinion, the quality of those articles are incredible when compared to the material I was producing when I started out. When I left A Different League it was with many good wishes, positive feedback, and a sense that it was mission accomplished.

Despite this particular separation, I remain a contributor to the Soccer 360 magazine, a publication whose production values never cease to amaze. The articles I have been assigned this year have occasionally sent me away from my comfort zone and I often wonder whether I’m as good as my fellow writers, but seeing the finished product is always extremely reassuring, while it serves as a massive degree of vindication for the work I produce.

I look forward to hopefully contributing to Soccer 360 for many years to come, but it is now just one of many writing ventures I’m working on. My main one is a book about football, where I take on the role of modern historian and look back on a five-year period just past the turn of the century with the help of childhood memories. It has become a forensically detailed account of events, with no shortage of personal touches. Now over 50,000 words long and counting, I expect for it to be completed by March or April 2017.

Although exceptionally happy with what I have written thus far, I am still mindful of the fact that I need to find a clearer definition of its purpose, and whether or not the sheer detail I have incorporated into the book will appeal to a wider audience. Those who prefer to see short snippets of information will be sorely disappointed.

And of course there is this blog. The blog that I began back in February, then gave up on, and later decided to return to with open arms. I may never master the art of running a successful blog, with regards to the number of page views, likes or comments it receives, but it provides an ideal platform to document my many musings, pointless or otherwise.

Returning to this blog reminded me of the need for freedom. Back in September I tried to give myself a new online identity called Everyday Literature, where I was required to become a literary expert almost overnight. Lessons were quickly learned and the project was soon shelved, so in this way, 2016 has taught me to show a greater appreciation of what I’ve already got, and what I’ve already achieved,

Academia, Love Me Back

TIFFANY MARTÍNEZ

My name is Tiffany Martínez. As a McNair Fellow and student scholar, I’ve presented at national conferences in San Francisco, San Diego, and Miami. I have crafted a critical reflection piece that was published in a peer-reviewed journal managed by the Pell Institute for the Study of Higher Education and Council for Opportunity in Education. I have consistently juggled at least two jobs and maintained the status of a full-time student and Dean’s list recipient since my first year at Suffolk University. I have used this past summer to supervise a teen girls empower program and craft a thirty page intensive research project funded by the federal government. As a first generation college student, first generation U.S. citizen, and aspiring professor I have confronted a number of obstacles in order to earn every accomplishment and award I have accumulated. In the face of struggle, I have persevered and continuously produced…

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Victims of the Vote

A few days ago a friend of mine witnessed an angry confrontation between two men. One of them was foreign, and for that reason alone the other felt that he had every right to hurl verbal abuse and use language which clearly suggested that he felt he was superior in his environment solely because ‘This Is England’.

Fortunately the incident, which was a dispute over parking, didn’t lead to any physical violence, but it was one that added to the growing spate of attacks on the non-British population of the United Kingdom which have taken place over the past three months in the aftermath of the referendum that saw the people vote to leave the European Union.

The outcome of that vote appears to led a hateful minority to feel that they have a right to victimise immigrants in the most sickening ways possible. There have been murders, violent assaults, attacks on pregnant women and racist abuse among other things; the rise in such incidents only going to show that a section of British society feels that foreign residents have no business living in their country and are taking it upon themselves to harass them by any means possible.

Members of certain communities now live with the fear that they could be targeted in the near future. Ill feeling towards them hasn’t exactly been helped by the ongoing continuation of the migrant crisis and the growth of illegal people smuggling, but that is no excuse.

Immigration has been rife in the UK for over half a century, but in more recent times the numbers have increased, largely for the good of the country. The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) are partly responsible for fuelling resentment because of some of their deplorable propaganda campaigns, intended to scaremonger British citizens into believing that remaining in the EU would only serve to allow a greater influx of people from entering the country.

Indeed, scaremongering played a considerable part in the referendum campaign, on both sides of the debate. Along with the future of the economy, immigration was inevitably the subject which received the most coverage during a bruising few months which saw false claims bandied about left, right and centre, and numerous reminders from the likes of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson that voting to leave would mean that the UK would be able to control its borders.

The vote to leave the EU has had wide-reaching effects. How would it affect universities with regards to international student admissions? Would non-British people living off benefits suddenly become eligible for deportation? As for people who intend to move to the UK in the future, would they be forced to prove their credentials, in other words convince the authorities that they would make a worthy contribution to British society?

Three months on, there are still too many grey areas, but returning to the central theme of this piece, the scale of abuse that non-British people are currently suffering is just frightening. It makes myself and millions of others questioning whether our country is the fair, equal and harmonious society that it claims to be, while those from a foreign background are increasingly made to feel like outsiders.

It is very uncomfortable to see sections of society subjected to such horrific treatment by a despicable and discriminatory minority of people who are using the vote to leave the EU as a supposed excuse. Voting to leave was, in my opinion, a giant mistake, but the outpouring of abuse towards the non-British people is arguably the most critical consequence.

My Blogging Dilemma

Over the past few weeks and months I have learnt some very valuable lessons. I initially took a break from this blog in May to focus on a busy period fulfilling my other online commitments, but once that was all over I succumbed to a hangover effect, as well as nagging doubts over whether I was able to continue to provide strong and original content.

As someone who blogs, I naturally want my material to attract as large an audience as possible. Although there is nothing wrong with the existing content on this site, I felt that I wasn’t hitting the right notes in some areas, so in recent times I have attempted to re-brand myself with very little success.

If anybody had come across a WordPress site by the name of Everyday Literature, I was the man behind it. I felt I could create a new guise, a platform on which to showcase all forms of literature, even those well beyond my interest and level of knowledge.

Despite some interesting early posts that gained positive feedback, it was clear from an early stage that it was never going to work. I clearly didn’t know enough about what I was writing about. Almost every post took an age to write because of the amount of research I was doing to make my analysis seem moderately credible, and it was eating away precious time I could have spent doing something much more worthwhile.

Everyday Literature was a brainchild which unfortunately fell flat on its face, even after I tried to maintain its legacy by setting up a Twitter account with the same name. I simply don’t have the time to update it on a regular enough basis, certainly not in a way that lives up to the requirements I had in mind when creating it. The moral of this particular story is not to set oneself unrealistic targets, and stick to what you know.

I had lost confidence in this site due to its very rigid concept, and a bout of writer’s cramp along with a loss of inspiration hasn’t helped matters. But in the last couple of days I’ve come to realise that this site represents my best way of salvaging something from WordPress, which is a tool I don’t want to leave behind. Lots of you have read my posts and enjoyed them, so it would be sad for all parties if I turned my back on you.

In order to return to Stephen Writes, I have had to make some changes. I would like to think that many of my future musings will be about books, but I will also use it as a place where I can cover a wide range of topics. I now have a new lease of life, so it is time that I go ahead and make the most of it.