The Good: Mood, Significance, Continuity, Some great lines.
The Bad: Mixed special effects, Very light on character development
The Basics: Doctor Who develops an alien invasion conspiracy surrounding first contact with aliens in “Aliens Of London.”
Every major science fiction program that has extraterrestrial characters interacting with human beings has to, at one point or another, address the concept of First Contact. First Contact is generally regarded as one of the most important moments in human history when humanity publicly, undeniably, encounters extraterrestrial life. In the Star Trek franchise, the idea was made explicit with horror film interpretation in Star Trek: First Contact (reviewed here!) and as a political allegory exploring the idea in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “First Contact” (reviewed here!). The two contrasting visions within one franchise is interesting and there is something funny about how long it took the Star Trek franchise to get around to the concept explicitly (it was the spinoff, not the original Star Trek that addressed First Contact. For the current run of Doctor Who, then, it is somewhat refreshing that the series gets to First Contact so very quickly. In the fourth episode, alien life reaching Earth is made explicit with “Aliens Of London.”
Believing they have only been gone for twelve hours, The Doctor and Rose nonchalantly return to modern day London. There, The Doctor discovers that they have actually been gone for a year, and after trying to smooth things over with Jackie (Rose’s mother), an alien ship crashes into Big Ben and then the Thames River. When the television reports declare that an alien body has been fished out of the Thames, panic ensues . . . especially when the British Prime Minister appears to have gone missing. With the Minister in charge of sugar subsidies being made acting Prime Minister, Rose works to enjoy the moment while The Doctor hunts down what is going on (this is not the version of First Contact that he recalls).
Infiltrating the military hospital, The Doctor encounters the “alien corpse.” It is not dead and, sadly, it is not an extraterrestrial (it’s a pig with an altered brain). At Downing Street, one of the back bench Ministers – Harriet Jones – witnesses the real aliens as they take control of General Asquith. When Rose is reunited with Mickey (whom Jackie accused of doing something horrible to Rose during her missing year), she is forced to tell her mother something about The Doctor. Realizing the space ship crash was a fake that utilized actual alien technology, The Doctor and Rose try to get to the truth. Unfortunately, Jackie’s motherly concern kicks in and she calls the authorities which become a roadblock to The Doctor thwarting the alien invasion and uncovering the real culprits behind the historic event!
“Aliens Of London” might have some soap operatic qualities - when it is not busy with reforging the relationship between Mickey and Rose, it takes time to complicate that by The Doctor treating Ricky, er, Mickey, poorly and Rose being more amused than offended by that – but the rest of the time, it is actually a surprisingly tense alien invasion episode. The episode breaks up scenes that are enough to make viewers intensely jumpy with humor. The Doctor has some great lines and Harriet Jones’s trademark introduction is repeated enough through the episode to be amusing. “Aliens Of London” explicitly references past Doctor Who by introducing the idea of UNIT (a United Nations alien task force) and it continues the long history of Doctor Who as somewhat campy science fiction through the Earth being invaded by the galaxy’s most flatulent aliens ever.
The sense of camp in “Aliens Of London” comes more from the special effect than the episode’s general tone. For sure, the Doctor is weirdly goofy as he and Rose are driven to 10 Downing Street, but the rest of the time, the episode is preoccupied with creating a realistic interpretation of an alien invasion that cripples the highest levels of British government. Unfortunately, some of the elements used to create that realistic mood and story are utterly ridiculous. The flesh suits of the discarded humans look silly and the aliens, when revealed in the episode’s climax are so goofy that until the next episode explains them, it is hard to imagine viewers not just turning Doctor Who off and not returning to it.
That said, “Aliens Of London” does work hard to take itself seriously. The Doctor in “Aliens Of London” goes from excited about exactly what is happening to humanity to deeply concerned when he realizes that it is a hoax. His quips in the episode are a bit more harsh – though his renaming Mickey and then berating him when Mickey only “thinks” he knows what his name is one of the most memorable lines of the series – than usual, but they keep the episode moving along at a good pace. The idea of how Mickey was a suspect in Rose’s disappearance and how Jackie and Mickey relate to Rose returning is pretty realistically handled. The realism of the human interactions and The Doctor’s investigation into the crash are contrasted by the ridiculousness of the three flatulent aliens in plus-sized human bodies.
“Aliens Of London” does not showcase anything incredible on the acting front. Noel Clarke is somewhat stiff as Mickey (he fails truly to sell his anger at Rose or Jackie) and Camille Coduri emotes like a soap opera actress as Jackie. Coduri drops her coffee mug well, but she does not play shocked to see Rose with any extraordinary or specific talent. Even Penelope Wilton is given too little to do as Harriet Jones to wow.
Christopher Eccleston handles The Doctor’s mood swings well and Billie Piper comes back from her mediocre performance in “The Unquiet Dead” (reviewed here!) with a stable performance that embodies well the mixed feelings Rose now has. Rose is torn between her feelings for Mickey and The Doctor and that is played out well in “Aliens Of London.”
The first of a two-parter (technically, a three-parter, though the third part comes much later), “Aliens Of London” is the set-up for a big conflict between humans and aliens and it does what it sets out to do well, even if the episode is not chock full of character development.
[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 Rupert Vansittart, please visit my reviews of:
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.
| | |