A Mixture of Ozone and Sulphur (Aliens of London/World War III)

(81 comments)

But Mummy, I thought the television screens were in their
stomachs. And that they didn't kill people for fun.

It’s April 16th, 2005. That Tony Christie song is still at number one, with Will Smith, 50 Cent, Mariah Carey, and a variety of Elvis songs also charting. In news, Prince Charles marries Camilla Parker Bowles, Pope Benedict XVI was elected, and, most significantly, on the day World War III aired, YouTube’s first video, of co-founder Jawed Karim talking about elephants and how cool their long trunks are, was uploaded.

While on television, as mentioned, the first two-parter of the new series, Aliens of London/World War III. This is, if we’re being honest, probably the story most responsible for the wave of people who advocate skipping Eccleston’s tenure when getting into the series. Aliens of London/World War III is a profoundly awkward story, and the first point where the new series appears to falter. There’s a lot to say about the quality of the story, but I actually don’t really want to get into issues like quality on the new series for a while, so I’m mostly going to punt on that. Suffice it to say that any discussion of Aliens of London/World War III and its quality needs to first come up with at least some general theory of the opening two-parter, since in practice whatever this story’s flaws may be it was used as the template for the first two-parter of every subsequent Russell T Davies-era series, was recycled as the second two-parter for Series Five, and persisted in one-part form in Series Seven as The Power of Three. And that however dumb the farting aliens may be, they were deemed worthy of not just one but two comebacks. So we’ll deal with the basic question of why stories like this persist in Doctor Who on one of this story’s many descendants.

I also do want to briefly point out that this, more than anything else in the first series, is where you can really see that they’re still working on being good at making Doctor Who. There are mistakes here that are just down to still figuring out the format. Davies falls into an extremely lazy cliffhanger in the tradition of the classic series’ lamest: ones where a danger is spuriously invented and discarded after an episode’s worth of time. The mechanics of cliffhangers and two-parters are things that the new series keeps working on through to the present series, in which Moffat seemingly just gives up on them in despair. But before giving up on them he and Davies eventually developed the realization that you couldn’t just have a cliffhanger, you had to find a way to start the second half in a very different place than where the first half left off. And, on a very basic level, there’s the fact that the “next time” trailer comes before the credits, a wretched decision that got reversed for the very next two-parter. (As it stands it completely blunts the impact of the cliffhanger, which, given that it’s a soft cliffhanger to begin with, is deeply unfortunate.)

So there are mistakes that abound in this two-parter. But it’s easy to get more wrapped up in the week-to-week quality of the show than actually makes sense. The fact of the matter is that people do not suddenly abandon a television show after one bad episode. Fan fretting about quality tends to be based on the assumption of what a non-fan audience will do, which, for obvious reasons, fan audiences tend to be spectacularly bad at predicting. And while we might assume from the legacy of the wilderness years and Lawrence Miles that fans tend to assume audiences want Doctor Who to be more fannish, in practice they’re equally likely to assume that regular audiences will hate things that they merely don’t love. Which is to say that as much as Doctor Who fans bitch about the farting monsters, it’s not like any of us walked away and didn’t bother watching Dalek. And the general public? These episodes were the highest AI the series had reached so far. Which is to say that the supposed drop in quality of this two parter is, for the most part, an illusory fan construction. These episodes are perfectly serviceable television that continued the unfolding recreation of Doctor Who in the popular consciousness. Reviews beyond that seem vaguely superfluous.

So let’s turn to the internals of what’s happening here. One thing that is true about this story is that it marks the first place many of us noticed Bad Wolf. Certainly it’s the first place Bad Wolf presents itself in a screamingly obvious way, as opposed to in a fleeting bit of dialogue or as something that’s easily contextualizable elsewhere. The TARDIS says Bad Wolf on the side in big honking letters, and there’s nothing else going on around it to divert audience attention. Which is to say that this is the story where we start to see how the series is going to build towards its Season Finale. This is still a relatively new experience for Doctor Who. I mean, there had been season finales of sorts before, but as we noted previously, prior to 2005 nobody had ever quite successfully made the Doctor Who Season Finale work. And more than that, we may start to see it here, but we don’t know that we’re seeing it. Bad Wolf is a nagging mystery. Little of the key infrastructure of the finale is in place - we don’t even have Satellite Five or Daleks yet.

Nevertheless, Aliens of London/World War Three marks the point where Doctor Who starts moving towards long form storytelling in earnest. The previous three stories all developed Rose’s character, but they’re essentially stand-alones. Rose has an emotional arc in each one, but her arc is ultimately self-contained in each story and doesn’t have any major consequences that spill over into the next. At the moment she functions as something of a blank slate onto which a week’s lesson about the value of the alien and the strange can be projected. Which is fine - that’s a perfectly reasonable place for the character to be while we’re still in the “here’s what Doctor Who is” phase of the operation.

But Rose comes out of soap operas. And in Aliens of London/World War Three we open, in effect, with Rose asserting her narrative gravity over the series again. This is not immediately obvious looking at the story. After all, by all appearances it looks like “Doctor Who crashes into EastEnders,” or, perhaps more accurately at this point, some fictional show we may as well call EastPowellStreet. After all, the Doctor arrives on the Powell Estate and a very Doctor Who plot about alien invaders with preposterously baroque schemes plays out. And it would be easy enough to mistake this as exactly that, except for one tiny little detail, which is that Doctor Who has already crashed into EastPowellStreet, and, more to the point, it’s done it just three weeks prior.

Which means that Doctor Who can’t quite get the drop on EastPowellStreet throughout this story. Because in fact what’s happening is EastEnders has crashed into Doctor Who. And when this happens, as we’ve hammered home, it’s not a matter of iconography alone. It’s a matter of narrative logic and structure. What’s significant about EastPowellStreet crashing into Doctor Who isn’t just the Powell Estate and Jackie Tyler. It’s the fact that Jackie Tyler and Mickey have clearly had a year’s worth of plot lines go through, and, more to the point, that these plots continue out from Rose. It’s that, in other words, the Doctor is suddenly beholden to a bunch of ongoing story threads. Which is a big deal for him.

And the cheeky thing is, EastPowellStreet can subsume Doctor Who with no ill effects to Doctor Who simply because the soap opera structure already allows for characters’ plots to be left off for a while and then picked up again a few weeks later. So sure, Jackie and Mickey get left behind after this, but they’ll get another episode focused on them soon. (In fact, their appearances are spaced meticulously at three-week intervals over the season. Three weeks pass from Rose to this, Father’s Day is three weeks after World War Three, and Boomtown is three weeks after that.) That’s how soap plotting goes. This episode picks Jackie and Mickey up in one place (cleverly coming from some unseen episodes of EastPowellStreet) and leaves them off at a different emotional point that will have to be picked up and paid off in a future story. Jackie and Rose’s relationship is now strained, whereas Mickey and the Doctor are starting to warm to each other.

And watch also how indispensable EastPowellStreet becomes to the plot. The Doctor can’t beat the aliens without Jackie and Mickey, and the crucial scene of the whole thing is Mickey staring Jackie down and daring her to stop him. The solution comes out of EastPowellStreet, showing that Doctor Who isn’t just tethered to it, the relationship has become essential and symbiotic such that the two shows keep each other alive. Doctor Who teaches EastPowellStreet how to save the world.

But in doing this, Doctor Who has quietly hooked itself into long form storytelling. It’s a subtle influence of Rose on the series, but in bringing the Doctor back to the Powell Estate and all of its attendant narrative strands she has given Doctor Who a world it can never quite fall out of. The metaphor of a “rift” from The Unquiet Dead is telling - within the narrative space Rose has opened up a permanent door between the two narrative spaces.

On one level this amounts to a permanent tie to Earth. It’s often been observed that Series One has no stories that take place away from Earth. But that’s mainly a matter of budget and storytelling. What’s more significant is that the Doctor is tied to Earth. This is, of course, in part an invocation of the series’ past, and one that’s been going on since Rose. That story built its central imagery out of a memorable Pertwee-era story. This time we have the reappearance of UNIT, who knock about ineffectually in the background of the story, but whose presence tacitly connects the events of this story to the previous time the Doctor had a persistent string connecting him to contemporary Earth.

But more significant than the fact that this change is decorated with the accoutrements of the classic series is the way in which this string subtly and inevitably ties the Doctor into a season long plot, coinciding neatly with the more visual arrival of “Bad Wolf” (which, of course, literally turns out to be Rose ensnaring the Doctor into a metaplot). And so just by her presence Rose subtly shifts the way the series works, long before we’ve actually seen the elements of that plot. This is where Doctor Who turns into thing where what’s meaningful are the seasons, as opposed to the classic series where stories are, for better or for worse (I’d argue worse) treated as bespoke entries in an anthology of tales.

There’s also, in Aliens of London/World War III, a more than slightly impish engagement with the contemporary world in the form of casually killing off Tony Blair. This has at least a bit of a tradition within Doctor Who - both The Green Death and Terror of the Zygons replace the Prime Minister in throwaway jokes - but there’s a kind of wonderful lack of respect implicit in the move. Doctor Who is willing to casually overthrow the government. I mean, that’s one thing - and it’s never explicitly stated that Tony Blair is the Prime Minister who precedes Harriet Jones, although they pointedly do have the body they find look like him. You’d almost, just about, expect Doctor Who to kill Tony Blair, or, at least, to joke about doing so. (Actually, you’d expect him to be a Zygon.)

But in that regard the real bit of cheek is Harriet Jones herself - an intrepid backbencher who remains dedicated to her constituents even in the face of increasing absurdity, and who we are told will lead Britain into a new golden age. It’s unabashedly sentimental - the idea that what amounts to a virtuous everywoman in Parliament would be the greatest leader the country could possibly have - but in its unchecked sentiment (and Davies is never one to check his sentiment) there’s a real charm. Even if it is naive in any larger political sense, it’s a nice idea. And perhaps we should stop treating, in political discourse, “nice idea” as an insult.

On the DVD set the rough edges rankle. Davies will learn to better translate sci-fi ideas into character plot lines, avoiding things like the somewhat tedious deduction sequence as the Doctor figures out that vinegar will explode the Slitheen. He’ll learn to play major emotional beats better than “I could save the world but lose you.” He’ll learn what a two-parter plot structure actually looks like. And he’ll avoid creating anything quite as childish as fart monsters again.

(Even here the ghosts of the past rattle on; Robert Holmes loved a good fart joke.)

But while Series One was certainly made with one eye on the DVD set, it is also the least DVD-minded season of the new series. Its first concern - the one it reliably allows to override all other concerns - is the immediate present of 2005. Aliens of London/World War III isn’t playing for “all-time great classic of television.” It’s playing as part of an ongoing, meticulously unfolding process of birthing Doctor Who into the schedule of BBC One. It makes concrete moves towards that, both in subtly shifting the body of what Doctor Who is and in terms of laying down some of its ethical principles. The secret of alchemy is material social progress. On April 16th, you could just smell the mercury wafting up from the world.

Comments

Abigail Brady 3 years, 11 months ago

I posted to my blog within a couple of hours about these episodes. I complain about the cliffhanger/preview thing, and:

> I especially liked the Andrew Marr appearance. No mention of the war this time, but a third appearance of "Bad Wolf". Hmm! Anyone thinking they are doing a little miss muffet?

This is a little obscure. "Little Miss Muffet" is a reference to the 3rd season Buffy episode "Graduation Day" which foreshadowed the appearance of Dawn as a character in the fifth season. So it looks like I imagined they were using cryptic phrases in plain sight to explain them later? Which is pretty much what that Bad Wolf arc is, so yay me.

But at this point it's a side-story - my main interest was in the slow eking out of the information about the war. Every little line was a delight.

Regarding the cliffhanger, I think you underestimate the difference that did make. Yes, it's a bit cheap. "Oh, it's about to kill the Doctor", "oh, he's OK after all!" But it /does/ change the nature of the story - although the Doctor survives the other alien experts are dead. And the Doctor has gone from dealing with a more traditional alien invasion style - which the title World War III rather indicates and I was expecting (and so was he! he thought the Slitheen were a race) - to hiding in the cabinet room for most of an episode.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 11 months ago

"Davies will learn to better translate sci-fi ideas into character plot lines, avoiding things like the somewhat tedious deduction sequence as the Doctor figures out that vinegar will explode the Slitheen."

Bit of a shame, I reckon, because soon the Doctor just steps out of the TARDIS and knows everything. He knows every alien, every creature, every history and everything about every planet, for convenience. This scene, noted above, is at least fun and fast, and shows the Doctor working things out. It's only a 2-minute scene, and it works.

Nice avoidance of the Slitheen. I await Boom Town with pleasure and excitement, and I'll no doubt defend and write about them under that post.

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David Anderson 3 years, 11 months ago

If the farts are jokes, they're black humour. The structure of the joke isn't, farts are funny; but Earth is being destroyed by monsters that think farts are funny.

This is where I begin to have problems with the Davies-era politics. There's a blatant allusion to the dodgy dossier. Which fine: the Iraq War was epically wrong. But because it's out of context and reassigned so to a bunch of crooked aliens, it loses its sting. It simply becomes a bad things happen in politics because the people in power are corrupt. We ignore any systematic reason why people in power might be pushed towards bad decisions despite good intentions. That ties in with the idea that all you need is Harriet Jones, who isn't corrupt, to take over and you'll have a golden age. (And then when you don't have a golden age, it must be because Harriet Jones was corrupt after all.)

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 11 months ago

"If the farts are jokes, they're black humour. The structure of the joke isn't, farts are funny; but Earth is being destroyed by monsters that think farts are funny."

In a nutshell, this. They're childlike, immature, and deliciously criminal. They don't care. It's almost like Davros and his 'consumer resistance' joke.

But many fans see the burps and farts on a surface level. It's cringeworthy, ew, get it out of this show, it's too silly. But that's sort've the point, in-universe. The Slitheen are happy to fart, exchange gases, kill people, even laugh in a childlike way.

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David Anderson 3 years, 11 months ago

The deduction sequence I feel combines the worst of both worlds. The Doctor doesn't work out that they're vulnerable to vinegar using scientific principles e.g. from the chemical composition of the gas they let off; he works out that they're from a particular planet that he already knows about, and therefore because he knows everything about that planet he knows they're vulnerable to vinegar.

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Alex Wilcock 3 years, 11 months ago

I’m slightly disappointed; if ever a story deserved a ‘redemptive reading’, it’s this. You make some great points along the way, but seem too embarrassed to delve much into the story itself, or why – you note the AI – so many people might have liked it. I think this is one of the few times when you’ve let your own standard-fan-embarrassment-reaction get in the way of your usual sort of analysis: farting aliens! Oh no! Move along, nothing to see here!

But not only does it have a lot to recommend it in context, I feel much more kindly disposed towards it in retrospect. Its tone may not be quite right yet – though it is striving to appeal to all ages, with comedy monsters but also with comedy politics – but its clearest descendants aren’t in later Doctor Who two-parters but in The Sarah Jane Adventures, which I loved and, being made explicitly for children, talked down to them less. Having not watched it for a few years, I still vividly remember when my other half and I saw Planet of the Dead and were disappointed at how shrivelled its ideas were, having expected more from two writers we loved (and from hints that it would be doing The Highest Science). So we put on Aliens of London at random a few days later, to see how an early ‘Russell romp’ compared, and were astonished at how vibrant and full of inventiveness and fun it seemed. So perhaps what’s needed is just to go back to it with a more open eye when everything’s not staked on ‘Doctor Who’s only been back three weeks and now IT’S FARTING ALIENS AND I WANT TO HIDE!’

But while it’s easier to appreciate out of that context of desperate fear of the series failing or, worse, people laughing at you again for being a fan, in context it’s got a lot going for it too. Some of the tone’s not right, some of the humour too childish, some of the direction too clumsy… But so what? A lot of it is very funny, and in a way that nothing else but Doctor Who could do. The Doctor and Rose have a massive row, both in their different ways frustrated – and they’re snapped out of it as Rose complains she’s the only person on Earth that knows aliens exist by a crash-landing spaceship, which is a hoot. Or the Doctor being further frustrated by only being able to see the story on telly rather than investigate. Or the whole Pigs In Space gag! Which at the time seemed like it was spoofing the TV Movie with its mortuary scene, and now seems to be pre-spoofing both Torchwood and all those later Who failures of imagination where aliens just look like Earth animals. But here, it was saying to the viewer, ‘Of course it’s a pig. You know it’s a pig. Use your eyes and your brain. Think about what that means’.

And as for that crash landing itself – the most cheekily memorable image of that first new year was surely the spaceship crashing into Big Ben, what we now know as Russell T Davies entering his vocation to destroy ever major landmark in London. That’s got to be a major reason why people loved it, and I know it’s why I do. I’ve been counting down my fifty great scenes spanning the whole of the TV series so far to illustrate why it’s the most marvellous show ever made – distinctly behind, having been more ill than usual – but, when I drew up my list of fifty, it obviously came to more than two hundred. So I started with some runners-up, and if it didn’t quite make it into the Fifty:

Here’s why at least one scene in Aliens of London is among the most entertaining the show’s ever had.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 11 months ago

Ooh, hadn't looked at it that way. I know what you mean. It's a drawn-out way of "the Doctor knows everything", then. But, still, I like it because it gives us a little build-up, rather nothing. It just wouldn't have the same impact if the Doctor had gone "yeah, they're Slitheen from Raxicorico and they're vulnerable to vinegar, let's go!"

Also, the whole idea of that short scene is the lengthy name of the planet. You're waiting for a relatively normal sci-fi planet or name, and then you get Raxacoricofallapatorius! It wouldn't quite work without the "narrows it down" bit.

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Alex Wilcock 3 years, 11 months ago

[continued]

I’d not thought before that this is both the story that makes “Bad Wolf” obvious and the one that does a micro-version of what Rose as the Bad Wolf, which is an intriguing insight. I’m not sure I’d call the opening three episodes either “essentially stand-alones” or just ones that “developed Rose’s character”; I’d follow on from your persuasive argument that Rose was an initiation for the audience and say that it didn’t stop there. Those three have always come across to me not as the long-form storytelling you’re talking about here but as a long-form introduction to the audience, across them saying as brilliantly as anything ever has ‘This is Doctor Who’. And once it was done once, it became so obviously right that look how many subsequent seasons have started with that mix of ‘Past / Present / Future’. What’s new and brilliant about Aliens of London is that, having deftly set out where you can go, for the first meaningful time in the show’s history it then says ‘And here’s how that can all be a problem when you come home,’ having deliberately not made Rose a companion with the ideal previous background for travelling and not returning which I’ve rather flippantly previously labelled ‘My daddy was a lord but now he’s dead’.

So I do like your contrast of “Doctor Who crashes into EastPowellStreet” with “the Doctor is suddenly beholden to a bunch of ongoing story threads”, too. And it’s not just story threads but character evolution for Jackie and for “Mickey the Idiot” – one changed from comedy character to dangerous by looking for short-term safety, the other from comedy character who was criticised at the time of Rose into the person who saves the world, without having instantly to become a ‘hero’ (yet).

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 11 months ago

Although, actually, there is some very brief talk of chemicals and "science" (in the most basic way):

HARRIET: Wait a minute. Did you notice? When they fart, if you'll pardon the word, it doesn't just smell like a fart, if you'll pardon the word, it's something else. What is it? It's more like, er
ROSE: Bad breath!
HARRIET: That's it!
DOCTOR: Calcium decay! Now, that narrows it down!
ROSE: We're getting there, Mum!
DOCTOR: Calcium phosphate. Organic calcium. Living calcium. Creatures made out of living calcium. What else? What else? Hyphenated surname. Yes! That narrows it down to one planet. Raxacoricofallapatorius!

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Alex Wilcock 3 years, 11 months ago

[and now, the conclusion]

On character evolution, what about the Doctor suddenly being played by a forty-something who suddenly sports a leather jacket and gets a young woman along for the ride by impressing her with what his vehicle can do? The only surprise was that the thousand-and-several-year-old stayed nine-hundred-and-something rather than being sheepishly revealed to have knocked several hundred years off his age as yet another glaring symptom of mid-life crisis.

Another feature of the mid-life crisis is that the man wants to run off at the first opportunity: and I love the moment when Rose has exactly the measure of him and asking exactly the right questions to cut through all his bluster and force his respect and his commitment. It’s another bit that sneaks in at the edges of my ‘Fifty Great Scenes’:

Rose’s cocky confidence in asking the natural sequel to the Doctor’s more famous “D’you wanna come with me?” I love it.

And while I mention The Trip of a Lifetime, I was surprised you didn’t mention that in your piece on Rose – in Britain, it was certainly the piece of Eccleston’s Doctor seen by the most people, most often, and it was quite incredibly inviting. Best trailer I’ve ever seen, and surely a great part of the show’s relaunch success.

All right, so after all that, Aliens of London’s far from perfect. It’s one of the weaker stories in the season for me – it’s just that the whole Season 2005 was so bloody strong, as far as I’m concerned. You’re absolutely right on the cliffhanger – it’s always come across to me as having been deprived of cliffhangers for so long that it overdoses on them with several together that go on forever, and none of them very interesting. But they learn to do better. It’s interesting that both showrunners learn an immediate lesson and impose it on the show afterwards: as you imply, I think this is the only time (until his final story) that Russell ever writes a two-parter as a movie split in two, and from this point on writes each of his two-and-three-part stories with each part almost a new story and a new jumping-on point; while legend has it that Steven Moffat saw this go out and instantly said ‘Please don’t do that with the Next Time… on my one,’ at which everyone realised he was quite right and never did again.

The politics is naïve – much as I enjoyed the mockery of the Labour Government – and weirdly makes me side with the Slitheen over Harriet Jones at one point, through an uncharacteristic lack of emotionally resonant writing from Russell. If she’d been barrelling into Downing Street because her local hospital was about to be closed and she had figures that could save it, or because her poor old mum was about to die and she had a plan that could save her… But instead, she demands to be heard during an alien invasion for what sounds like a minor and impersonal change of bureaucratic classification: “…Cottage Hospitals need not be excluded from Centres of Excellence”. Where’s the urgency, or the connection with the viewer? So even though we know she’s being written as The Nice One and he’s being written as The Evil One, it’s very difficult not to think she’s self-absorbed, petty and callous of anyone else’s needs, while he’s got a point in crying, “By all the Saints, woman, get some perspective!” Then there’s “You’re so gay,” but I’ve written enough already…

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 11 months ago

DOCTOR: Calcium, weakened by the compression field. Acetic acid. Vinegar!

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 11 months ago

Alex, I personally just wish to say, brilliant response to the post. Especially with your brief listing of what makes it good. I'd completely forgotten the scene with the Doctor having to watch events unfold on TV. It later became a tired template, but it was fresh and exciting here. And crashing into Big Ben is surely one of the show's most iconic images.

Nice shout to "Trip of a Lifetime" too. Fantastic trailer with the fireball. I wonder if Phil will touch on other trailers over the course of the blog. There have been so many great ones.

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Jack Graham 3 years, 11 months ago

This strikes me as a very detached and apolitical reading of a story that is the new series' first attempt to openly and explicitly engage with contemporary politics... and from a standpoint that clashes vigorously with some of the basic assumptions underlying the beginnings of the new series, i.e. reverential envelopment within the media, New Labour style optimism, etc. I think this is very significant, given how Series 1 will eventually arrive at a partial (and rather savage) negation/repudiation of some of its own initial underpinnings. AOL/WW3 seems like the launching point for the extremely ambivalent politics that will culminate with The Weakest Link as a charnal house which worships the media savvy utility maximiser, with market fundamentalism lurking in the background.

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Ross 3 years, 11 months ago

but its clearest descendants aren’t in later Doctor Who two-parters but in The Sarah Jane Adventures, which I loved and, being made explicitly for children, talked down to them less.

Right with you on SJA being fantastic.

Though I note: Even when the Slitheen come back in The Sarah Jane Adventures, they dropped the farting.

(Though they kept the whole "Wearing hollowed-out dead people" thing. Creepy. That got dropped too by their last appearance, and frankly, I liked the Slitheen-Blathereen much better than I ever liked the Slitheen.)

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Ross 3 years, 11 months ago

There's something about the whole exchange that makes me almost expect that they're going to burst into song when the Doctor finally says "Raxacoricofallapatorius"

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Wm Keith 3 years, 11 months ago

It's a mistake to think of this quite extraordinary story in terms of realistic drama.

It is different things at different times - a grotesque body horror black comedy, a pantomime, a satire not so much on politics but on the news media (Phil, I'm not sure you realise just how much emphasis was put, in Britain, on the importance of Iraq's 45-minute WMDs as the justification for war. The laughter at the 45-second MWD line was a true catharsis of spurious morality).

Once within Downing Street it is, quite literally, a Whitehall Farce.

As for "What would you prefer, silent but deadly?", it is a brilliant culmination to all the jokey farting that has been going on throughout the episode. A truly great set-up for the first cliffhanger in 16 years.

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Sparhawk 3 years, 11 months ago

Alex, you speak the truth and it brings joy to my heart.

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Froborr 3 years, 11 months ago

On rewatching... okay, it's less dire than I remembered. I still have issues with the sense that the Slitheen are lower-class infiltrators sneaking into the houses of power and thus dooming the world because of their crass material interests. Also, between this and the Adipose RTD seems to have a problem with fat people.

Rewatching, I realize that this is actually where I realized Rose was supposed to be working-class herself. Until I started reading this blog, however, I never realized the Doctor was supposed to working-class too, which does mitigate the class issues I had with the story quite a lot.

I still find the fart jokes incredibly obnoxious. I don't care that they're there to make the Slitheen seem obnoxious, that doesn't make the fact that I have to sit through their unfunny fart jokes any less annoying, and they're already as unlikeable as they need to be.

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Jesse 3 years, 11 months ago

A flying saucer crashes, 9/11-style, into Big Ben: I realize that this is the UK, not the US, so there's some extra distance, but I was still staggered to see this on television in 2005. And then to reveal that Britain's leaders are, David Icke-style, really reptilian aliens in disguise -- now that was cheeky. Davies & co. took an iconic terrorist act whose reverberations were still shaking the world and turned it into a story that was (a) deeply suspicious of the country's rulers and (b) a bit of a farce. I doff my hat in respect.

The farts are brilliant, of course. Strange, unsettling, and alien. I'll take the Slitheen over those silly pepperpots any day.

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Froborr 3 years, 11 months ago

I think the apolitical reading is justified, because it's 2005 and it doesn't really say anything that wasn't already blatantly obvious in late 2001, and bordering on common wisdom by the time the episode aired. The WMDs were a myth, the powers that be opportunistically used a crisis to start a war for their own personal/political gain at ruinous cost to the country and world... frankly, in terms of political readings the next episode is much more interesting.

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Froborr 3 years, 11 months ago

The farts are brilliant, of course. Strange, unsettling, and alien.

WTF? In what way is standing around laughing at farts alien? In what glorious wonderland do you live that you do not regularly encounter humans who fart? For that matter, in what glorious wonderland do you live that you do not encounter crass, cultureless humans who think farts are funny?

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Froborr 3 years, 11 months ago

Actually, let me correct that. I don't find the fart jokes obnoxious, because this episode doesn't actually have any fart jokes. It just has farts.

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Froborr 3 years, 11 months ago

One additional thing: The Slitheen design is a complete failure. I'm not saying "it's a bad special effect," because it's not; for the time the CG is excellent. What I mean is that the design itself is a failure, unable to decide whether it wants to be cuddly or menacing and ending up neither, when it ought to be both.

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dm 3 years, 11 months ago

I agree with just about everything you've said here, Alex. In a way, for me, this is the episode that (cliffhanger aside) felt the freshest and boldest of the first batch of stories. The farting, as I mentioned in the comments on Unquiet Dead, can definitely be redeemed as a sort of grotesque putrefication, a classic bit of body horror. The politics engage (however simplified they may be) with the Iraq War and its relation to 9/11 (basically making the utterly skewed nature of any causal link between the two so blindingly obvious as to render it absurd).

I know we're apparently not engaging with him any more, but Lawrence Miles's critical voice was really a big deal for some fans at this stage. From memory, and I can't find it now so I may just be confusing it with something else, his initial post on this was a short and decidedly drunk sounding bit about being in love with the world and this being one of the best things on telly. Which also happens to be very much how I felt after seeing it.

It only really slightly bothers me that you can access the military defence network from a home computer using a one-word password, and that the missiles appear to already be aimed at number 10.

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Jesse 3 years, 11 months ago

Releasing gas as a consequence of occupying someone else's skin is pretty alien; giggling about it in the midst of plotting world destruction is pretty unsettling; and violating audience expectations inserting it into this sort of story qualifies as strange. In a good way.

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Multiple Ducks 3 years, 11 months ago

As an aside regarding Tony Blair, I believe he does get a mention by Rose in 'Rise of the Cybermen' when parallel universes are being explained where his election serves an example where timelines could potentially diverge, which to me serves a reminder that despite the fictional political landscape in 'The Chistmas Invasion' Rose, Mickey and the show as a whole are still primarily shaped by the politics of our world.

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 11 months ago

This is what I meant in some of our earlier discussions about this particular Davies hobby-horse: the damage that petty minds can do when they have cosmic-level powers. The viewer is supposed to find them contemptible, and too immature to really be worthy of the mantle of Doctor Who Villain (especially Recurring Doctor Who Villain). I find the only real problem with the Slitheen is that they're too contemptible. Until we get a few quiet minutes to sit down with Margaret, they're just too damn much: too stupid, to thuggish, too crass.

I hope the blog, in the recurrences of the Slitheen (or more properly Raxacoricofallopatorians), explores why they might have been considered worth returning to. At the time, I remember thinking Russell T Davies had wanted to make his mark on the stable of Doctor Who monsters with his own original creation, promoting in the press of the time them higher than their initial quality suggested, but that he was just off the mark. But by the end of the season, I wasn't so sure. Boom Town was too much of a character story to have been solely about trying to lock down a new Monster Race.™

I'm really fascinated, though, to hear that Phil thinks the story structure of the two-parter remains frustratingly unchanged for a long time from this model. That sounds like an intriguing analysis, because I don't see any of the signifiers that lead him to that conclusion. However, I'm quite interested to learn what he thinks those signifiers might be. After all, what drew me to the Eruditorum in the first place was that Phil was delivering interpretations of Doctor Who like nothing I had seen before. And I expect that to continue.

No pressure.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 11 months ago

"Also, between this and the Adipose RTD seems to have a problem with fat people."

Even when he himself recognises he's not exactly Mr Thin?

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 11 months ago

More generally, though, I think the best part of Aliens of London/WW3 was the first fifteen minutes of the story. We don't get into any alien invasions or spectacular crashes or any of the typical Doctor Who Adventure™ plots yet. The really innovative aspect of the story was a serious explanation of what Doctor Who before had always taken to be just a recurring joke.

The Doctor can't fly straight. Hilarious! But instead of accidentally dropping Sarah Jane off in Croydon and taking a whole season to get a gobby Australian back to Heathrow ("Why?" "Beats me."), we end up with a traumatized mother, a betrayed ex who had to suffer through a serious criminal investigation, and having to translate this weird sci-fi predicament into terms that the Powell Street cops are going to understand. It really did take it that long for the Doctor to get slapped by someone's mother. And he pretty much had it coming.

There was a wild new world that Doctor Who had never explored before. The material world he usually leaves behind rearing up and slapping him with some consequences. Just about any alien invasion would have failed to measure up to this.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 11 months ago

Then there's the whole element of the RTD universe always being a year ahead of ours (til it caught up, IIRC, in Series 4/the Specials). That allowed RTD to take our world and shape it to how he wanted, because it was always slightly removed after this adventure.

Rose gave us Doctor Who In Our World. From now on, we have Doctor Who In A World Very Similar But Not Quite Ours.

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HarlequiNQB 3 years, 11 months ago

I think, personally, that the farting and weirdly creepy-cute aliens from this were a stroke of genius. Not from a "will this be a well respected episode in 5 years time?" perspective (it clearly isn't), but rather from what the show is trying to do - gain viewers and hold onto them.
It's a great point Phil makes about how no-one who's made it this far is going to stop watching because of a few missteps, but it is entirely reasonable to presume that younger viewers (Who, we should remember that the show is at least half for) have just had an episode likely to scare their pants off and might never watch the show again if they aren't lured back. So this one is perhaps intended to be the counterballance.

Kids love fart gags (adults do too, it's the only way to explain the success of a certain type of movie, but especially kids). Of all the episodes so far this is the most kid friendly; the most "children's television", yet it's done using politicians, the military and an alien invasion with people taking over others bodies in a very visceral and gross manner (they aren't shape shifters, they're wearing someones *skin*).
If Doctor Who is about taking disparate things and mashing them together with The Doctor to see what happens then this two parter has to be considered a resounding success.

Do I like it? Not particularly, though it has some wonderful likes and scenes. Will my son like it when he can finally make it through the walking shop dummies, ghost-zombies, killer robo-spiders and paper thin face people? Oh heck yes, he'll think this is the greatest show on earth and be hooked for life, which I think was likely the point to begin with.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 11 months ago

I think, also, it's fair to assume RTD wanted these to be recurring baddies. It seems like they're being set up for a future return, and they do return in SJA along with cousins.

It's somewhat ironic that he doesn't get his iconic creations til Series 2 (the Ood) in a story which was originally going to feature the Slitheen!

Perfect.

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Froborr 3 years, 11 months ago

Even when he himself recognises he's not exactly Mr Thin?

Today's Washington Examiner had an editorial by a black man arguing that cities with large black populations tend to have a lot of poverty and crime, and also tend to be more likely than other cities to have black, liberal mayors and councilmembers, so clearly they need to elect more white conservatives.

Also, have you looked at pictures of RTD? He looks like a pretty healthy weight to me--certainly nowhere near the obesity of the Slitheen, which I read as another signifier of their lower-class status.

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Galadriel 3 years, 11 months ago

Has anyone else here watched the Sarah Jane Adventures? The second story, "Revenge of the Slitheen," grows directly out of the events of World War III/Aliens of London. Specifically, Sarah Jane has to deduct the Slitheen's weakness just as the Doctor does, but it's more a matter of scientific analysis than previous knowledge.
(One of the Slitheen had previously taken a cold chip sandwich from Clyde)
Sarah Jane. What was on those chips?
Clyde: Just salt and vinegar.
Maria: Salt. Must be it.
Luke: If the Slitheen are made mostly of water, it would dehydrate them, like slugs.
Clyde: No, they put extra salt in everything. Bread, butter. It's got to be something else. It's got to be the vinegar.
Luke: Vinegar, that's acetic acid. It reacts with calcium.
Clyde: Slitheen are made of calcium. I'm right. It's the vinegar.

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Froborr 3 years, 11 months ago

Sorry, doesn't fly for me. The behavior is still very human, even if they're doing it for a different reason.

It doesn't make them seem like aliens, it makes them seem like particularly stupid humans. Which don't, as a general rule, make very interesting villains.

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cardboardrobot 3 years, 11 months ago

"...prior to 2005 nobody had ever quite successfully made the Doctor Who Season Finale work."

To be pedantic, hardly anybody really did "season finales" in the 60s, 70s, or 80s on non-serialized TV shows, at least not in the U.S. In many cases, a TV season would just peter out unceremoniously. Sometimes a season would end with a backdoor pilot for a spin-off, like the original Star Trek's second season, or a clip show, like the ST: TNG second season finale. A few did big finales, but not many.

Then came the cliffhanger at the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation's third season in 1990, which stirred up a ton of buzz and hype, and seems to have inspired more TV shows to stage big, explosive season finales.

On the other hand, I suppose "Star One" at the end of season two of Blake's 7 (1979) is pretty explosive and counts as a real season finale. Was this common in the UK then? Is there any indication this was a thing that Doctor Who's producers would have even thought to try?

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spoilersbelow 3 years, 11 months ago

I believe that's intentional.

We're conditioned by television to expect total monsters and easy answers to things. That our villains are some lower-class alien con people who don't seem to understand the implications of all the horrible things that they're doing, or to understand them fully and find the situation hilarious, causes a delightful cognitive dissonance, an asking of "How could that happen? How are THEY capable of this?" (Insert here standard criticism of George W. Bush as an idiot who managed to get us into how many horrible situations and cause how many deaths simply by assuming what he was doing was right and not considering the consequences)

Compare and contrast with the Empress of the Racnoss, a character no less dangerous and no less theatrical, but ultimately less effective (in my view) for her mustache twirling imperial evil. Davies cares about the little people: they can by the heroes or the villains. We haven't seen the likes of the Slitheen since Sabalom Glitz.

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jane 3 years, 11 months ago

I don't have much to say about this one -- it's the least interesting from a visual perspective, and that makes sense given its place in the production order.

But even here, we see the huge influence of Buffy -- once again, the Monster is a representation of the underlying psychology of the characters. Rose and the Doctor are dealing with family issues; the Slitheen are a *family*. So not only has the narrative logic of Rose's soap opera taken control of a Doctor Who story, giving us those wonderful first few minutes of having to actually deal with real-world consequences, it's gotten so deep into the DNA of the show that shapes the narrative logic of the monsters themselves.

On top of it, Rose is dealing with knowing things about the world that the rest of the world doesn't know, and >boom< suddenly the rest of the world is in on it... only by the end, it's clear that Rose's willingness to accept the Otherworld is what sets her apart from so many other people; she's not going to stick her head in the sand.

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jane 3 years, 11 months ago

I got the sense that the Slitheen giggle about their farts as, first and foremost, a way to obscure the reality of their gaseous emissions -- it's a coverup -- and secondly as a commentary on how people use this tactic to ameliorate the phenomenon.

That is to say, I don't think the Slitheen are genuinely amused by their farting. They're pretending, because that's what they've seen from mainstream culture.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 11 months ago

I thought the design was quite nice - maybe not totally effective, but definitely weird and new. Those baby-like faces and pot-bellies, the huge claws...I liked them. And I will say that it warmed the cockles of my fanboy heart to see those big rubber heads bobbling along as they chased Rose down a corridor. Just like old times!

Plus, the spoof on the City of Death / The Leisure Hive masks is pretty hilarious. Ah, but the director of Cold War apparently learned nothing.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 11 months ago

I loved this. Finally, a companion whose family wondered where she went, who had lives outside of the TV frame! It was a great rectification of one of the original series' great failures, and while I do feel like we got a little too bogged down in "the domestics" eventually, it's a stroke of genius to show the impact the Doctor's footloose lifestyle can have on those left behind.

Plus, Jackie's "don't go, sweetheart" and "ten seconds" at the end were just heartbreaking. Remember the troubled look the Doctor gives when Rose makes her promise? Great stuff.

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David Anderson 3 years, 11 months ago

They are genuinely amused. Not at the farting as such. They're amused by the outrage at their farting of the person who isn't aware that they're about to kill him.

Phil points out that all the villains in Brain of Morbius are pathetic taken singly. And I think that's true of most if not all classic Robert Holmes villains: they are at some level particularly stupid. That's most obvious in Carnival of Monsters. But it's true even of the Master.

The scene in which the Slitheen are laughing at their farts is about farts being out of place in that kind of scene. Firstly, you have the General's reaction that the acting Prime Minister shouldn't be laughing at farts while in the middle of a crisis. (Note that the Doctor has a very similar reaction in a similar situation.) Secondly, the villains are sociopathic in that they find farting at their unwitting victim funny. Thirdly, this is a relatively standard scene in which someone self-important doesn't realise that they're about to be killed off; but farts don't belong in that kind of scene. In critical jargon, this is called carnivalesque: the invasion of a higher genre by a lower genre that doesn't belong there, typified by jokes about bodily functions, and also obese bodies that the higher genre treats as signs of over-indulgence and lack of self-control.


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Chadwick 3 years, 11 months ago

I've noticed a recurring motif in RTD stories to do some kind of body-shock concept, whether it's a face stretched out as pure skin or a paving slab, being mutated into an Ood or in this case flatulence. RTD can do "icky" concepts but along with it goes attempts at humour. Recently he wrote a script for the children's show Old Jack's Boat where he departed from the show's format to tell a story about an old man turning into a merman. These are probably my least favourite themes of RTDs but he did indulge in them from time to time.

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Assad K 3 years, 11 months ago

I would ask, though, whether in the days that Doctor Who was being made, were such things even important in the narrative? Weren't the late 80s the time when characters 'off-job' lives and background began popping up in genres where it did not often intrude before, like cop shows - or space shows? Given where Ace was being developed, I am pretty sure that Who (had it remained in production) would also have seen some introduction of companions non-Doctor lives intersecting with their adventures. In a slightly less superficial fashion than a cousin suddenly appearing and then disappearing at the end of the story..

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David Anderson 3 years, 11 months ago

I think the Slitheen design is meant to be spectacularly wrong. The archetypal monster that belongs in an alien invasion story is the cybermen. The cybermen represent the triumph of reason over bodily function. And here we have a monster that is in every way the opposite of the type of monster that belongs here.

I think many sequences in the story don't quite work. But I'm not objecting to the Slitheen as such.

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David Anderson 3 years, 11 months ago

That the Slitheen are a family is the least interesting thing about them though. (Yes, they don't represent the totality of their species. Apart from that, one Slitheen is pretty much interchangeable with any other Slitheen.) If Davies had really wanted to run with that angle, the antagonists from Human Nature (novel version) would have worked better.

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encyclops 3 years, 11 months ago

When I watched Season 1 again recently (I'm in the midst of my re-watch, racing madly through Season 3 in fear that this blog will outpace me and I won't be caught up enough to remember what we're talking about), this is just what struck me about the story: the part that really spoke to me was all the Jackie/Mickey stuff. At the time I'm not sure I realized how important to me it was going to be, and I was still busy comparing the show to classic Who, against which (by those standards) I felt "The Unquiet Dead" and farting aliens came up short. Now I see it very differently, and as Scooby-Doo as this story can be, I'll always love it for the "year later" bits if nothing else.

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Wm Keith 3 years, 11 months ago

What indication is there in the televised story that the Slitheen family are in any way "lower class"? Why are we suddenly using this particular descriptor? Because they smell funny?

Look at the visual design. Quite clearly they are intended as white-collar criminals.

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Froborr 3 years, 11 months ago

Either here or on the previous thread I said that this may be a case of Watching While American, but to me their obesity and the crudity of their humor imply that they're a mockery of the working class. Fat might have meant upper or middle class in 1950, but in 2005 calories are cheaper than nutrients by quite a lot.

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Iain Coleman 3 years, 11 months ago

You don't cast Annette Badland speaking RP if you want to signify "lower class". I'm afraid this is very much a case of Watching While American.

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Pen Name Pending 3 years, 11 months ago

I read somewhere that the Slitheen are basically parodies of classic Who monsters. They're not men in rubber suits, but rubber suits in men. They don't want to invade the planet, they want to sell it. They aren't an alien race, but an alien family. The fact that they aren't taken that seriously due to their intentional silly appearance and the fart jokes is probably why they are hated.

Or you could just look at them as a political allegory of what aspiring politions are like.

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occono 3 years, 11 months ago

I don't think it was meant to be Tony Blair, it was meant to be whoever the next prime minister was, which wasn't decided at the time. Remember it's set a year after Rose because the Doctor messed up.

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jane 3 years, 11 months ago

That they are a family may be the least interesting thing about them now -- but it's a plot point nonetheless, as described in the dialogue, that they are a family, not a species, and that their motives are not representative of their monstrosity of being aliens, but who they are in particular.

Considering our psychological understanding of the Doctor, and his relationship to Rose and the kind of narrative logic that's taken over his show, it's not a trivial detail. The fact that Rose has family plays a major role not just in this episode (where family saves the day against a family of monsters) but in the ongoing series hits the Doctor hard -- he has no family, not anymore, just as he's the last of his species.

So the larger conflict -- Rose's family versus the Slitheen family -- serves as a metaphor for the Doctor's internal conflict, the fact that he needs some kind of sense of family having lost his homeworld, against his impulse to freedom, to running away, to embracing his own monstrosity, his own alienation. That Rose's extended family saves the day therefore serves to recognize that the Doctor's now accepted this new "family" of his, and that familial relationships are no longer monstered for him.

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Abigail Brady 3 years, 11 months ago

In that case it failed, because I can assure you as an audience member watching it in April 2005 my reaction was "hah, they actually made it Tony Blair!"

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encyclops 3 years, 11 months ago

On the subject of classic Who consisting of "bespoke entries in an anthology of tales," I had a much-belated epiphany on this subject myself recently: http://encyclops.com/time-flight-the-runaway-bride/

I think one of the reasons it took me so long to warm to the new series was that I was still looking for individual stories to fetishize. As you rightly point out in this essay, for the new series, it's not the islands, it's the stream. I don't know if it's better, but I no longer think it's worse.

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Anton B 3 years, 11 months ago

The family Slitheen are the dark mirror of the family Tyler. Despite their 'evil' intent they are actually working together as a family (unlike the Tylers)and their 'lunatic plan' will later be mirrored by Rose's dad and his crazy tech get-rich-quick schemes which help create the distorted reflections of humanity - the Lumic Cybermen on 'Pete's World', which is itself a dark mirror of Rose's Earth. Also, to observe that 'one Slitheen is pretty much interchangeable with any other Slitheen' is to precisely reflect the point about racism (or speciesism?) that RTD is making within the narrative. Maybe we can't tell the difference between them but we must assume they can. Any assumption that these aliens are representative of their entire race is as wrong as assuming that Weng Chiang is representative of all Chinese (who of course any racist will tell you all look alike).

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Pen Name Pending 3 years, 11 months ago

Supposedly on the DVD commentary, they say it was intentional and originally planned to hire a Blair impersonator.

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Ross 3 years, 11 months ago

If the joke is meant to be the discontinuity between "Here's world-destroying alien conquerers" and "they're making a fart joke," it's funny in principle, except that Freidberg and Seltzer have long since milked the "Big serious evil villain moment kneecapped by toilet humor" idea to the point where it's now a comedy black-hole where humor goes to die.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 11 months ago

Never heard that before, but it certainly fits. Nice.

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Ross 3 years, 11 months ago

@Assad: Yes, those things were just starting to crop up in the 80s, though it was very piecemeal and came slowly. It's possible Doctor Who would have jumped on it at the time, but it's equally likely that they'd have been among the shows that didn't start incorporating such things until much later.

If Doctor Who had to go away for a a decade and a half, it seems to me that it picked the right time to do it. The 90s were a time of great transition for the language of storytelling on TV, and the revival got to reap the benefits of that evolution without floundering about in the grimdark-eXtreme(!)-grunge-super-serial-you-guys nineties (I've recently come to realize that the 90s were, largely, a cultural wasteland where, in recoiling from the excesses of the 80s, popular culture spent most of a decade trying so hard to Be Grown-Ups Now that they were basically no fun at all. Unlike the 80s, which don't make a lick of sense unless you realize that for a lot of them, everyone seriously thought the world was going to end in nuclear holocaust any day now, so we might as well have fun)

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Ross 3 years, 11 months ago

@Wm Keith: I think, if nothing else, the fact that they're scrap merchants codes pretty strongly lower-class.

@Iain Coleman: You might if one of your important notions is "Earth is so backwater that even our loftiest are considered fit to be hollowed out and worn like a suit by a Space-Chav"

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Ununnilium 3 years, 11 months ago

Ah, but Freidberg and Seltzer's movies stopped mattering to the culture at large... well, right about when this movie came out.

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Ununnilium 3 years, 11 months ago

I don't think they're intentionally lower-class - they are running an insurance con, after all - but I think the standard iconography of pathetic, stupid people shares an unfortunate number of aspects with the standard iconography of lower-class.

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Ununnilium 3 years, 11 months ago

The thing is, there were two '90s. The edgy-grimdark one you cite, but also, one filled with color and confusion and people realizing that, hey, the world isn't going to end - we can do anything we want! Stuff that came out of that includes Mystery Science Theater 3000, Sailor Moon, and the Legion of Net.Heroes. (Then there's Batman: The Animated Series, which synthesized both remarkably.)

Doctor Who participated in this aspect too; the craziness of stuff like Timewyrm: Revelation points that way. And, of course, that was an essential Time's Crucible for Doctor Who to evolve into what it would eventually become.

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Ununnilium 3 years, 11 months ago

I think the big push towards season finales in American television came from M*A*S*H, didn't it?

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Ross 3 years, 11 months ago

M*A*S*H had a big series finale, but the individual seasons didn't end on big events. Event Series Finales probably became a thing because of that, though so many shows are cancelled unexpectedly that it didn't become really universal.

When I took up an interest in 80s tv a few years back, I was really struck by the lack of Big Event Season Finales. The big "event" episodes, when they had them, tended to be the season openers. The "Who Shot JR?" cliffhanger on Dallas is generally cited as the thing that made them become A Big Thing for drama, though The Best of Both Worlds probably cemented it for action-adventure (Note that the 2 seasons of TNG that aired in the 1980s don't end on cliffhangers; Season one ends on the foreshadowy but not actually cliffhangery "The Neutral Zone", and season 2 ends with a frakkign clip show.). My (limited) research suggests to me that clip shows were more common as a season-ender for much of the 80s, and a clip show is practically an anti-Big Event.

Keep in mind that until the 90s, it was common for US stations to show episodes out of the order the network intended -- the common assumption was that the order of episodes didn't matter, so no effort was made to keep them in the right one. So things like Big Event Episodes and season arcs were difficult-to-infeasible. (I can think of a handful of shows which seriously suffered from this, including one show that was practically incoherent as aired because two key episodes were flipped, one was pulled for content, and another got preempted because the game ran long (They ended up pulling a third episode because it didn't make any sense unless you'd seen the two unaired ones))

The idea of one particular episode being a "big event" was something that evolved pretty slowly through the 80s, and wasn't fully cooked yet even into the 90s.

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Alan 3 years, 11 months ago

The cliffhanger annoyed me beyond words. The bad guys stand up before the Doctor and a bunch of military personnel and say "Bwahaha! We're aaaallliiieeenns!" and then spend about five minutes slowly peeling off their masks before activating their trap. Forget the Doctor doing anything, why couldn't any of the UNIT people their be bothered to pull out their guns and open fire?

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Alan 3 years, 11 months ago

I thought the developments with Jackie and Mickey were fascinating and long over due. I remember wondering back in the 80's about things like this. Did the cops never question Tegan about how Auntie Vanessa disappeared forever, leaving only a parked car behind, after she was last seen driving her niece to work? Did Peri's mother die heartbroken at the thought that her daughter had been kidnapped by god-knows-who off of a beach in Lanzarote and probably sold into white slavery or something? I mean, Peri is exactly the sort of person whose disappearance would trigger "missing white woman syndrome." (Wiki it.)

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Wm Keith 3 years, 11 months ago

I don't see anything pathetic about the Slitheen - Meg Slitheen in Boomtown, yes. And there's nothing stupid about their scheme. If we're talking about standard iconography then just look at the "fat cat" capitalist or banker as depicted in cartoon form for the last hundred and fifty years. The Slitheen owe much more to that - though in a successful attempt to avoid one particular form of iconography they do not wear fur coats, have tiny noses, and none of them are called Solomon (but we'll leave Dinosaurs on a Spaceship for another time)

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Nick Smale 3 years, 11 months ago

the Slitheen are lower-class infiltrators

The Slitheen are businessmen, and clearly shown, I thought, as being middle-class.

In classic Doctor Who alien invasions are state or military actions; "Aliens of London", however, shows a private enterprise invasion. In the RTD-era, the fear of the Soviets is replaced by fear of the corporations.



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Steven Graham 3 years, 11 months ago

I'm always surprised to hear that people dislike Aliens of London/World War Three (even to the point of turning off the Eccleston era altogether). It's always been one of my favourites - partly because it's so daring. I mean - a spaceship hitting Big Ben, murdering the British Prime Minister, farting aliens, a pig in a space suit, blowing up downing street, etc. It's ridiculous but it's certainly not timid - an awful lot happens in these two episodes.

I also like how it brings Doctor who right into contemporary 21st century England, how it takes the time to develop Rose's relationships with her family - which were only briefly covered in Rose, and the fact that its also very funny - "don't stand him in front of the lift", "I think you'll find the Prime Minister is an alien in disguise", etc.

Finally, I don't get why people don't like the farting aliens - I mean, yeah, it's immature humour, but it's also cleverer than that - it's designed to make kids think anytime they see a fat adult farting that they might be an alien in disguise - and that's great! Not to mention 'Would you mind not farting while I'm saving the world" is a great line.

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David Anderson 3 years, 11 months ago

Show not Tell. If Davies is making a point about speciesism in the narrative he's telling not showing. The closest we see to any difference of opinion between the Slitheen on screen is that one of them wants to hunt down Jackie Tyler before gathering at Downing Street. As far as non-human characterisation goes, it doesn't get as far as The Silurians. (In the Silurians, there's a difference in personality between the Young Silurian and the Scientist, let alone that between the Old Silurian and the Young Silurian.)

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SK 3 years, 11 months ago

The Slitheen are businessmen, and clearly shown, I thought, as being middle-class.

Not at all. A family firm, trying to turn a quick profit on dodgy merchandise that their have dubious claim to?

They're not middle class, they're Trotters Independent Trading in space.

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Pen Name Pending 3 years, 11 months ago

I don't mind it, but I don't like what the Big Ben thing did in the long wrong. Now all of humanity is aware of aliens and how the Doctor saves them! (See "Voyage of the Damned"). It just kept getting bigger and bigger, and took away some of the mystery and "fall out of the world" aspect of the TARDIS. So I'm glad the cracks in time fixed that up. The Doctor got too big, as he says.

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Ross 3 years, 11 months ago

I think Classic Who had its share of "Evil Corporation" stories, didn't it? Though I guess the big difference here is that in Classic Who, the Evil Corporation stories typically derived their tension from the idea "Here is why it's a bad idea to let corporations have as much power as governments," which is a kind of 1970s sort of tension (Not saying it wouldn't be an even better justified tension today, but after Reagan and Thatcher, there's a very strong competing narrative that we'd somehow be better off if corporations were running everything.)

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Ununnilium 3 years, 11 months ago

Ahhhhh, the Dallas connection makes sense. And you're right that the very existence of season finales is a byproduct of getting rid of the old episodes-at-random syndication-package-rerun model. (Which itself was a step up from the never-rerun-anything model.)

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Scurra 3 years, 11 months ago

My favourite part of this story is still the whole idea of the Doctor saying "yes, and I'll defeat you despite being locked inside a metal box for the duration." Whilst this isn't strictly true, it's a neat encapsulation of the central idea that everyone is, ultimately, scared of The Doctor because he will defeat them regardless.
(Also, it's a magnificent way to enable Mickey to step out of EastPowellStreet and into the Whoniverse; he takes his second chance - just like Rose did - whilst Jackie still can't quite bring herself to do it.)

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David Thiel 3 years, 10 months ago

Coming late to the conversation, but wanted to offer a further defense of the Slitheen.

As was pointed out upthread, they're "rubber suits in men," but the parody runs deeper than that. They've literally built zippers into their human "costumes."

And I always took the farting as more than an attempt at kid-friendly humor. Fictional aliens disguised as humans often have what in terms of poker is called a "tell." In the '60s TV show "The Invaders," it was that their pinky fingers stuck out at an odd angle. In the ST:TNG episode "Conspiracy" it was the tiny gill on the back of the neck. The Slitheen's "tell" is serial farting, surely a piss take on the trope itself.

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Henry R. Kujawa 3 years, 10 months ago

"the “next time” trailer comes before the credits, a wretched decision"

An American influence, no doubt. Mind, here, we have (traditionally) 5 commercial breaks during a show (after the teaser & opening credits, after acts 1, 2, 3 & 4, the last one coming before the coming attractions and end credits-- if there are any coming attractions). FAR worse was the Sci-Fi Channel running a coming attrractions-type commercial at EVERY commercial break DURING the episode you're watching now! And compounded when you're watching the first half of a 2-parter, and they're ALREADY blowing Part 2 for you long before Part 1 is even over. How can you focus on the episode you're watching right now, when they keep loudly (commercials are always louder than the shows) shoving the NEXT episode at you? I got into the habit of shutting the sound off at every break, and averting my eyes. This was the ONLY way I actually managed to make the cliffhanger near the end of the 2nd season a TOTAL SURPRISE. ("Daleks!!!!!" --oh, see, I've gone and BLOWN it for anyone who hasn't watched it yet.)



"people do not suddenly abandon a television show after one bad episode"

In HUNTER's 7th (and final) season, it was the episode with Denise Crosby that made me stop watching. But keep in mind, that was halfway thru a season in which, up to then, EVERY SINGLE EPISODE had been unbelievably TERRIBLE on EVERY level! It was more a case of "the straw that broke the camel's back". I was delighted to read that only 2 weeks later, NBC pulled the plug. I guess I wasn't the only one.


"(Actually, you’d expect him to be a Zygon.)"

Are we sure he wasn't? (Or maybe one of those duplicates from "RESSURECTION"???)

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Henry R. Kujawa 3 years, 10 months ago

Wm Keith:
"a true catharsis of spurious morality"

I was just watching that the other day. As a follow-up, the next night, I dug out "THE MIND ROBBER".



Cardboardrobot:
"Then came the cliffhanger at the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation's third season in 1990, which stirred up a ton of buzz and hype, and seems to have inspired more TV shows to stage big, explosive season finales.

On the other hand, I suppose "Star One" at the end of season two of Blake's 7 (1979) is pretty explosive and counts as a real season finale."

Have you noticed that B&'s 2nd season and ST:TNG's 3rd season endings are the SAME ending? The Captain disappears off the ship, tyhe ship is surrounded by enemy aliens, the 2nd-in-command leans forward and yells "Fire all weapons!", and the end credits roll. ST3 had already swiped the 3rd B7 season ending (crerw trapped on a planet as their ship disintigrates in the upper atmosphere). And I'm pretty sure ST swiped B7's 1st season-ender somewhere (I just forget where), while it was DYNASTY's "Moldavian Massacre" that swiped B7's 4th season cliffhanger. ("What kind of a way is that to end a show?" someone once asked me. I tried to explain, it was a cliffhanger, except, the show got canned so they never did the "2nd half" of that story.)

So, yes, we can blame TERRY NATION for all this crap. I lost count of how many shows had season-ending cliffhangers, or moreso, got CANCELLED in the middle of a season-ending cliffhanger. (The WKRP revival was one of those.)

"The Best Of Both Worlds", I found most ST:TNG fans failed to noticed, swiped equal parts BLAKE'S 7, DOCTOR WHO (the Cybermen), and, in the 2nd half, a big chunk near the end of the 2nd season of STAR BLAZERS. Except, SB did it 10 times BETTER than ST:TNG.

I wish they would just have season-ending 2-parters without the damnable cliffhangers being spread out over months instead of just 7 days.



Ross:
"practically incoherent as aired because two key episodes were flipped"

Examples that come to mind include ROBOTECH (The Macross section of it), NIGHT COURT, and certain parts of KUNG FU: THE LEGEND CONTINUES, including the series finals, which was aired before 2 or 3 other episodes.

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daveodgers 3 years, 4 months ago

there is another possibility about the first two-parter not quite getting how to do a two-parter, though, having never rewatched these episodes, i'm going to struggle with detail here. as i remember watching it the first time, nothing really gave away the game that this would be more than a single episode story and, as it approached the end, it still felt like it might just have a very rushed ending (already a possibility at that stage). the cliffhanger then, to an extent, was that there was a cliffhanger and this works to really emphasise to the audience that this is a possiblity and another of the things that doctor who does (alongside wacky creatures and history in the previous two episodes). it also makes sure the story isn;t actually quite a two-parter so that it can concentrate on repositioning some of the powell estate mechanics in the second half of part two (as i remember it). might it's status as another 'introducing things doctor who does' and 'setting up for a season finale' be as much an aspect of how it plays out as 'template for future monster/action two-parter'?

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