DOCTOR WHO: EPISODE 4: ALIENS OF LONDON

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?ould you mind not farting while I? saving the world??/i>

The prospects for this one weren? good. Internet scuttlebutt suggesting that this first two-part story of the new DOCTOR WHO series, written by Russell T Davies in full kid? TV mode, was full of silly dialogue and farting aliens, was going to be a bit of a downer after the highs of Mark Gatiss? creepy Victorian episode the week before. What a relief then when this forty-five minute first instalment turned out to be a rich, invigorating, enervating alien invasion romp, an episode probably closest in spirit to the original TV series than any of the previous three instalments.

It all starts very promisingly with a quality pre-credits title sequence as the Doctor brings his new companion Rose back home to visit her Mum after a couple of hair-raising adventures in Time and Space. The cocky Time Lord assures Rose she? only been away for twelve hours – and he? horrified to find ?issing Girl?posters plastered all over the neighbourhood. As the recriminations fly about Rose? mysterious TWELVE-MONTH absence with this mysterious older man, a huge clanking spaceship overflies London, demolishes Big Ben and pitches up in the Thames. First contact!

?liens of London?is very much old school DOCTOR WHO with a sly, knowing modern twist. Davies? trademark quality dialogue runs right through the episode – from the glorious opening sequences back at Rose? Mum?, Rose? reunion with baffled boyfriend Mickey (Clarke) through to guest star Penelope Wilton? superb turn as fussy yet determined MP Harriet Jones, baffled and terrified by slimy aliens in the British Government (reactions we?e all shared at one time or another over the last few yearsUooops, little bit of politics there!). ?liens of London?benefits enormously by being the first episode of a two-parter – making it very much a traditional four-parter in all but its absence of a couple of cliffhangers. As such the pace is a bit less frenetic than we?e been used to these past three weeks. There? time for a bit of scene-setting before the Doctor and Rose rush headlong into another adventure. The slower pace benefits supporting players too and allows the story to blossom gradually, its plot unfoldling languidly rather than being rushed across your field of vision as we rattle towards the end credits.

A lot happens in ?liens of London?and so much of it is both memorable and quotable. The apparance of the spaceship above the Doctor and Rose and its flight over the London skyline, hooting and honking and spewing debris before it plunges into the river, is a masterpiece of special effects, the sort of sequence we dared to dream of in the original series. Mock news footage rapidly creates a very real sense of emergency as the authorities investigate the crashed vessel (in one small motorboat, apparently!) and rush the sole survivor to the nearby hospital (a hospital which, in reality, is nearer-by me than you, I? wager). The Doctor? curiosity is piqued and in moments of comic genius he? watching events unfolding on TV in Rose? flat, constantly interrupted by celebrating neighbours talking trivia and, in the best scene, a toddler who wrests the TV remote from the Doctor and forces him to watch a BLUE PETER presenter baking a spaceship cake. Genius!

Back at Downing Street the plot thickens. Having left London soon after the crash, the Prime Minister is missing but the ministers who stayed behind – a portly lot, one and all – aren? concerned. They?e too busy farting and giggling. The Doctor slopes off alone – hurrah! – to investigate the hospital and a close encounter with the spaceship survivor. It? an augmented pig in a spacesuit and it? terrified. It? a testament to Davies? writing talent that in a couple of short, apparently throw-away sequences, he can make his audience feel genuine sadness for the plight of a pig in a spacesuit.

Before long cans are open and worms are everywhere. Rose? Mum follows her daughter back to the TARDIS and discovers an unpalatable home truth about the man who seems to be Rose? new boyfriend. Fanboy frenzy fills the air as the Doctor recognises soldier boys on the scene as his old friends from UNIT – the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce – and before long the Doctor and Rose are being whisked off to Downing Street for a gathering of experts on extra-terrestrials. But as the Doctor discovers, they?e been gathered together for a reason. An outbreak of flatulence leads to the shedding of skins and the appearance of some bizarre, reptilian eight-foot monstrosities called Slitheen. A clever triple-hangar shows the Doctor in trouble, Rose in trouble and Rose? Mum in trouble.

?liens of London?is nothing if not lively. Eccleston and Piper are on top form throughout, a charismatic and formidable television partnership. Their performances here only serve to reinforce the frustrating tragedy of Eccleston? desire to just do one series of DOCTOR WHO. A second season might have given the actor the chance to tone down some of the in-your-face excesses of his otherwise faultless performance and if nothing else would have given his audience that sense of ?roprietorship?over the character that he appears to have wanted so much when he took on the role last year. But maybe that? why he baled out?n

If there? anything wrong with ?liens of London?- and repeated viewings seem to suggest that there? not much – it? that it? maybe just a bit too light. The script tries to rationalise the Slitheen and the flatulence problem caused by their human disguises – but in the end it just boils down to a couple of faintly-embarrassing sequences of grown actors pretending to fart and find it funny. I understand the need to make the series appeal to kids as well as their more sophisticated elders (which is the bizarre contradiction of much of the series considering the risqu?ature of some of the dialogue in this and earlier episodes) but farting? a toilet gag too far and kids are really a bit more switched-on than this these days. ?oL?would have rated much nearer a ?ive?with me if the farting had been replaced with something a little more dramatic. If fact?anything more dramatic.

But it? a minor quibble really. ?oL?is as fine an example of the new ?ouse style?for DOCTOR WHO as we?e seen or, frankly, are likely to see. If the remaining nine episodes are as downright entertaining as this one, I won? be complaining too loudly?
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