The Good: Decent acting, Good pacing
The Bad: Mixed special effects, Light on character development
The Basics: “World War Three” reveals the plot of the alien invaders in the second part of the arc that is very preoccupied with answering questions from the first part as opposed to telling a strong Doctor Who story.
On Doctor Who, the new continuation of the franchise, the stories are largely serialized. Even so, there are some stories that cannot be contained within a single episode. The very first explicit two-parter is “Aliens Of London” (reviewed here!) and its second part, “World War Three.” “World War Three” is a continuation of the plotline which finds Earth under an alien invasion in the near future (or what was the near future when the episode aired in 2006) and it is impossible to discuss without revealing some spoilers from the first part.
“World War Three” has some of the same basic problems as the first part – minutae like The Doctor listening to a signal and trying to translate it while Rose shows none of the same ability (though both should be tapped into the TARDIS telepathic translation matrix) – and the episode is similarly plot-centered, though it is not bad. What it does illustrate is how curt The Doctor can be and, unfortunately, how plot-focused the show could be for some of its arcs. “Aliens Of London” dug the characters into a sufficiently deep hole; “World War Three” takes a lot of focus to get the characters out of their predicament and save the world . . . with little time for character growth and development.
When The Doctor turns the Slitheen weapon on his captors, it incapacitates all of the Slitheen on Earth. This allows Rose and Harriet Jones and Mickey and Jackie, separately, to escape their respective Slitheen captors. Rose, Harriet, and The Doctor escape to the most secure room in Downing Street where The Doctor works to formulate a plan. The Slitheen, which is a family of aliens, congregate at the upper levels of the Prime Minister’s office.
Using Rose’s boosted phone to contact Mickey, The Doctor tries to narrow down where the Slitheen are from. Deducing from the technology, size and composition of the aliens that they are from Raxacoricofallapatorius, the alien-inhabited acting Prime Minister makes an appeal to the United Nations for the nuclear codes that will allow the Slitheen to destroy the ship they crashed in the Thames. Believing there is an alien invasion imminent, the UN debates releasing the nuclear codes, while the Doctor appeals to the Slitheen and is forced to make a decision which endangers Rose. Working with Mickey over the phone (Mickey having gotten into UNIT’s controls over the internet thanks to the Doctor), the Doctor tries to avert nuclear destruction and stop the Slitheen from making profit off the Earth’s burnt-out remains!
The thing is, Rose is an adult and she is old enough to make her own decisions, so her willingness to be put in peril in order to save Earth from the Raxacoricofallapatorians is hers to make. So The Doctor’s moral dilemma of the episode seems especially forced and melodramatic.
Arguably more important to “World War Three” is the progression of guest character Harriet Jones. Harriet Jones acts as a Companion to The Doctor in the episode and she is an interesting addition to the team. Indeed, she is a natural leader and she makes for a good Companion for The Doctor, even if only for the episode. The Doctor’s revelation about Harriet Jones near the climax of the episode is an interesting one and it promises the character’s return, which adds to the sense of a larger story being told in the first season of Doctor Who.
The Doctor is much more curt in “World War Three” than in prior episodes. He’s pleasantly goofy at some points, but he’s just mean to Mickey (until the very end of the episode) and the way he dismisses Jackie out of hand when she tries to cook for him is off-putting. On the plus side, The Doctor is characterized more as a thinker than any sort of omniscient being in “World War Three.” He uses deductive reasoning and rational thinking as opposed to suddenly divining correct answers (and keeping them from his Companion and the audience) until it is plot-convenient.
Despite the plot-heavy nature of “World War Three” and the occasionally gruff nature of The Doctor in the episode, the acting is wonderful. Billie Piper, Christopher Eccleston, and Penelope Wilton all interact flawlessly with CG versions of the Slitheen. While some people take issue with the cheesy look of the Slitheen, they are a unique alien life form in science fiction and they look decidedly more real as big rubber suits than in their computer generated forms. Piper and Eccleston continue to build on their character’s chemistry, though there is less flirtatious banter in “World War Three” than in any of the prior episodes.
“World War Three” ends up being a necessary conclusion to the first two-parter in the new Doctor Who, but it is not a stellar episode of television. It suits its purpose in an enjoyable-enough way, but it is not particularly substantive or satisfying outside the resolution it brings.
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sole season with the Ninth Doctor here!
For other works with Penelope Wilton, please visit my reviews of:
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Pride And Prejudice
For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!
© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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