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Aliens of London - by Russell T Davies

First UK Transmission Date (BBC1)Scheduled TXViewers
16th April 200519:007.6m

Cast: Penelope Wilton (Prime Minister Harriet Jones), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Annette Badland (Margaret Blaine), Rupert Vansittart (General Asquith), Naoko Mori (Dr. Sato), Navin Chowdhry (Indra Ganesh), David Verrey (Joseph Green), Eric Potts (Oliver Charles), Steven Speirs (Asst Commissioner Strickland), Morgan Hopkins (Sgt. Price), Basil Chung (Chinese Man), Fiesta Mei Ling (Chinese Woman), Lachele Carl (Reporter), Jack Tarlton (Reporter), Corey Doabe (Spray Paint Kid), Andrew Marr (himself)

Writer: Russell T Davies, Script Editor: Helen Raynor, Director: Keith Boak

Doctor and Rose outside TARDISDoctor Who - Aliens of LondonRose's flatRose's MumAlien Spaceship over London
UFO London CrashAlien ship tower bridgeAliens of LondonAliens of LondonUFO crashes into Big Ben

Synopsis: After a flurry of adventures, the Doctor takes Rose back home to London to visit her mum. It’s a touching reunion, particularly when it becomes clear to a baffled Rose that she’s been "missing" for a year. In a neat coincidence, an alien spaceship crash-lands on the capital. An alien is rescued and becomes the subject of intense speculation. Soon, the call goes out to the Doctor for help. But meanwhile, all is not well at the heart of the Government — and there are some very strange people populating 10 Downing Street, as witnessed by a terrified provincial MP (the marvellous Penelope Wilton).

UFO Crashes into ThamesAlien Emergency on NewsAliens of LondonDoctor Who - Aliens of LondonDoctor Who - Aliens of London
Doctor Who - Aliens of LondonDoctor Who - Aliens of LondonDoctor Who - Aliens of LondonDoctor Who - Aliens of LondonDoctor Who - Aliens of London

'Aliens of London' Background and Summary: This story returned the Doctor and Rose to near-contemporary Earth and in doing so precipitated an ongoing emotional storyline revolving around Rose's family and boyfriend which was unprecedented in Doctor Who. Never before has a companion's travelling with the Doctor and its consequences been so deeply explored. Ian and Barabara's brief mention at the end of The Chase (1965) that they'd have to think of something to explain their two-year absense was the first and only on-screen discussion of this problem up until Ace returned to Perivale in Survival (1989), the irony being that it was a time-storm which randomly whisked Ace away from Earth rather than the Doctor, and it was only thanks to the Doctor that she ever returned. Aside from Rose's obvious continuity with her family, the 'Bad Wolf' reference makes its third and most obvious appearance in the series, hinting further at the storyline to come.

Russel T Davies' ambition with the character of Rose was to create a real-life companion who had all the problems of modern young woman. There is little doubt that in this he succeeds admirably and for the first time the audience seriously ponders the after-effects of a trip through time. And yet it is debatable just how important this angle is within the broader picture of Doctor Who, being as it is a series about alien adventures and far-fetched happenings. A believable emotional reaction to a situation is welcome, but upping the level of everyday realism does not neccessarily make a good science fiction story due to the plot often being entirely unbelieveable. Whilst on the one hand it brings a certain freshness to see the main characters in a council flat watching events unfolding on the news, (although not unprecedented - see The Daemons) it does generate a very ordinary feeling around the extraordinary character of The Doctor. The controversial use by Rose of the phrase "You're so gay" as a jibe at the Doctor sat as uncomfortably with many viewers as a stream of realistic swear words would have done, and yet a stream of swear words would have been equally realistic if uttered by an on-looker while Big Ben's clock tower is destroyed by an alien spacecraft. Strangely enough, The Doctor's dialogue echoes some cautious viewers' thoughts when he warned Rose not to turn the TARDIS into a domestic but a domestic is what much of this episode starts out as. This approach has divided opinion because although character-building is naturally a plus, the soap-opera feeling of a recurring location is like the homely UNIT H.Q. of the Pertwee era taken to a whole new level.

Doctor Who - Aliens of LondonDoctor Who - Aliens of LondonAliens of London - Space PigDoctor Who - Aliens of LondonDoctor Who - Aliens of London

That said, Rose's mum's concerns over the Doctor's origins do actually serve a purpose as her suspicion drives the narrative towards one of its most triumphant moments - when a group of keywords including "TARDIS" trigger a red alert warning that the Doctor is in town. This glorious revelling in the goodwill generated by the character is one of the most enjoyable elements of the episode and it comes to the fore on other occasions such as when the Doctor commands a group of soldiers who've never met him before, and when speaks unchallenged at the meeting of experts. Also in this episode's favour was the fact this story looked very impressive, from the iconic crash sequence, to the miliatary hardware used throughout.

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The Doctor and Mickey in the TARDISDoctor Who - Aliens of LondonTARDIS screenDoctor Who - Aliens of LondonDoctor Who - Aliens of London

This episode sadly has a lot going against it. Keith Boak's directing took a lot of critism, as did the general tone of the episode. One moment it was emotionally charged, the next funny, the next embarrassing. Whist some cry out that this disparity is the hallmark of Doctor Who, those who defend the constant wind-breaking of the aliens and the awful acting were very much in the minority. Like the belching wheelie-bin in Rose or the Moxx of Balhoon spitting in Rose's eye in The End of the World, these moments are thrown in for the benefit of children and it's this fact which is trotted out as a defence against them, but it doesn't alter the fact that they are hopelessly out of keeping with the tone of the rest of the episode and frequently jar the audience out of their involvement with the drama. There is also a lack of consistency in the complexity of the concepts. At the high end there's the grotesque idea of the genetically butchered pig, at the low end there's the fact that the human skin costumes actually have visible zips. The episode never seems to decide which audience it is pitching at. Opinion is generally divided on the success of the modified pig scene and the build-up to the cliff-hanger but interestingly one of the biggest criticisms was once again in the format rather than the content of the program: Most people took exception to the fact that the first cliffhanger for sixteen years was instantly spoilt with the trailer for next week's episode straight after it. All ancipation of the concluding part evaporated as the audience learnt that all the heroes were safe.

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Doctor Who - Aliens of LondonDoctor Who - Aliens of LondonDoctor Who - Aliens of LondonSlitheen opens his disguiseSlitheen - Aliens of London

The story was not billed as a two-parter and the concluding part was given its own episode title in order to mislead. This was a deliberate move to ensure that the cliff-hanger was a surprise to as large a percentage of the audience as possible. With it being a two-parter however the build-up was noticably slower and some expecting a 45-minute story found the story's pace to be slow.

The viewing figures for this episode showed a drop from the previous week which was in many ways surprising after the good audience for The Unquiet Dead but it should be taken taken in the context that ITV had pulled out all the stops for Ant n Dec's finale. Generally though, this story was enjoyed much less then earlier episodes with only only 63% of fans polled saying it was "excellent" or "good" and a large 10% simply didn't like it at all. Compare this to the previous week's The Unquiet Dead for which 90% called it "excellent" or "good" and only 1.5% didn't like it. With the return to Earth and its domestic strife, plus the unfortunate juvenile elements and hammy acting, this story in many ways took a step back from The Unquiet Dead but a complete opinion on the story as a whole would rest on the concluding episode.

Doctor Who - Aliens of LondonDoctor Who - Aliens of LondonWe are the Slitheen!Doctor Who - Aliens of LondonDoctor Who - Aliens of London
Doctor Who - Aliens of LondonDoctor Who - Aliens of LondonDoctor Who - Aliens of LondonDoctor Who - Slitheen Slitheen  - Aliens of London

Classic Series Influences and References:

  • The Leisure Hive also featured aliens who had no chance of fitting inside human "costumes"
  • "I'm glad to see you're wearing the bracelet I gave you" is a line from City of Death and the bracelet is then used to dispatch its wearer. Very similar to the identity badges.
  • Obvious past references include UNIT (Troughton and Pertwee era mainly)

Buy the Complete First Series

This is an absolutely must for anyone who remotely enjoyed the new series of Doctor Who. Unlikely the previous individual releases of episodes, the box set has extras coming out of its ears. And whereas some box sets just have extras on the final disc, this brilliant package has a selection of extras on each disk, plus the entire set of Doctor Who confidential (cut down) on another disk.

Nothing much needs saying about the episodes themselves but commentaries on certain episodes are almost worth the price alone. The commentaries of Rose, The Unquiet Dead and Dalek are of particular note and the video diaries of certain members of the team are very interesting and fun. The TARDIS container is a nice package and overall, believe me this set of DVDs is well worth the asking price, or probably more!


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