nuWho 1×04: Aliens of London

I said:

Such are the deep questions that this episode invites, ultimately bringing us to examine the nature of our reactions to those who are different from ourselves yet claim to be similar. Whereas within the previous few years, need I remind you, Star Trek had been getting men pregnant, peeing on sacred trees

This episode replied:

dur hur, you said “peeing”

Yeah, this Doctor’s a showoff. He delivers Rose back to her own time and place and immediately leans against the TARDIS in a Joe Cool pose, anticipating her adulation. Maybe he took being off by nine years in the last episode personally. Rose jogs off to check in on her mum, in the process heading up a stairwell that has been insulated against foley. The Doctor, having nothing better to do, heads over to check on a Missing poster that the camera thinks is important. Turns out Rose has been reported missing for a year. When she gets home, her mum acts horrified, like she’s seen a vengeful ghost. Not shocked. That is a horrified expression on her face. Mickey never mentioned the disappearing blue box thing to anyone? I can understand why he wouldn’t mention it to the police, because super-fishy explanation is more suspicious than no explanation, but not even her mum? Maybe he did, and people assumed that the box’s owner was behind the killer mannequins because Occam’s Razor, and her mum gave her up for dead.

A little boy spray-paints BAD WOLF on the side of the TARDIS as if completing an errand. Meanwhile Jackie is scolding Rose for running off and vanishing. She’s convinced the Doctor spirited Rose away for pervy purposes, and slaps him. The relationship between Rose and Jackie is laid out here, as Jackie gets Rose alone and chastises her for never checking in with her. Jackie is most hurt that Rose refuses to tell her what she’s been up to. This is clearly a fundamental breach in their relationship. Both of them are in tears.

Rose and the Doctor are now on top of a building. Rose isn’t sure she wants to keep traveling if it will cause her mum this much grief. The Doctor asserts that Jackie is not coming along, and they both have a chuckle over that idea. In hindsight, one could try to tie in “I don’t do families” with Time War angst, but I’m pretty sure the Doctor is letting down Rose gently. The slap is only an excuse to avoid pointing out that Jackie is not suited to be a Companion. (And that he has no desire to put up with Tyler family friction.) An alien tractor trailer blows its horn to warn them off the road as it zooms by. The CGI in this sequence looks a bit model-y at times, notably with the bridge, but it’s fine. The ship smacks Big Ben in the face before crashing into the Thames. Rose, on being freed from the burden of thinking she’s the only human alive who knows about aliens, mutters, “Oh, that’s just not fair.” The Doctor laughs and takes off after the ship with her. I do like his eagerness for adventure, I just wish it didn’t resonate with his angsty darkness such that it resembles morbidity. People screaming for their lives? Sweet! Someone just crashed into a planet? Fantastic!

UNIT (I’m guessing, given their fatigues, caps, and Lethbridge-Stewart mustaches) has blocked off the crash site, to the extent that Rose expects all of London is gridlocked. The Doctor says that this is what he travels for: to see history happen. Rose suggests that, since they can’t get up close themselves, they could watch it on TV. The Doctor gives her a funny look. Two-dimensional audiovisual transmission? How quaint!

BBC coverage reports looting, unrest, and a national state of emergency. Also, apparently the UK uses eleven-digit phone numbers. Also, apparently the UK went digital before the US did. Also, unsurprisingly, Rose and her mum are both wearing pink.

I can’t imagine how these reviews run so long.

The Doctor fends off a little boy in time to learn that a body retrieved from the spaceship has been brought to a particular hospital. Inside that hospital, a military officer expresses shock at being shown the face region of the body by a doctor (Sato).

Inside 10 Downing Street, the guy in charge of overseeing the export of sugar finds out that he is acting Prime Minister and that the Cabinet is isolated from London. (We also meet Harriet Jones, currently a Member of Parliament representing Podunk.) Further conversation reveals that a car carrying the P.M. and his Cabinet has in fact disappeared entirely.

Clearly this is time for flatulence humor.

Anyway, he gets alone with another man and woman, and they grin smugly and cackle evilly at each other for like ten or fifteen seconds, because that is what villains do. I do hope gas isn’t going to be the clue to uncovering this conspiracy.

The Doctor makes his excuses and leaves the apartment. He feels a little hemmed in with Jackie bragging about getting hit on, the boy wanting to watch a cooking show, and everyone else chatting about top-up cards, which sounds like petrol rationing but apparently is a cell phone thing. He’s chuffed that this could be The Big Day, when humanity grows up and goes interstellar. Rose is worried he’ll disappear on her, so he gives her a TARDIS key. Contrary to reports of looting and such, the other dwellers in this apartment seem receptive to the aliens. It’s a nice, quiet little bit.

Mickey leans over the railing and sees the Doctor heading toward his graffitied TARDIS. This alarms him. He runs after the Doctor, but can’t catch up before the TARDIS dematerializes. He runs into the corrugated wall behind where the TARDIS was and knocks himself flat.

I’d just like to point out that Mickey’s been slurped up by a garbage bin, he’s run himself at full speed into a metal wall, and furthermore he goes by Mickey, and he’s still being treated with more dignity than Peter Jackson allowed Gimli.

Harriet Jones is still trying to get in to see the Prime Minister. She seems a well-rounded character, being aware of the gravity of events but still wanting to get her work done. She besieges Sugar Man, whose name is Green, with a proposal involving hospital ratings, but he and his buddies brush her off. Left alone, she heads into the conference room to see if anyone’s there. There is a briefcase, which she starts to tuck the papers into, but then she notices the EMERGENCY PROTOCOLS and sticks around to read them.

Sato is alone in her workspace, it’s dark (and very blue), and the alien was very conspicuously tucked away into a particular death drawer that was then fastened shut. Naturally, now it starts to thump around. Fortunately, the Doctor has arrived, so she at least has a chance to survive this. Unfortunately, he walks straight into a room of soldiers who take him prisoner. The lighting on the death drawers is a little garish. #5 opens right in front of Sato, who screams. The Doctor takes charge, barking out orders, and the soldiers rush off in pursuit of the scream. The girl is alive but bloodied, and the alien has disappeared. Or has it? The Doctor actually waves in armed backup before going to check some rattling in the corner. Finally, the dreaded face of the scary, portentous alien comes into view around a corner, and it is . . . a pig. An oinking, pig-sized pig. No wonder the officer thought it might be a hoax. It runs away, straight into some soldiers, one of whom shoots it down. The Doctor scolds the shooter for firing upon a scared little pig.

Harriet Jones is still in the conference room when Green and friends come back. Desperately, she hides in a closet. A military official is upbraiding Green for not taking action in this crisis. Green starts to drop his guard, and all three start in with the gastrointestinal noises. Sigh. The official relieves Green of duty, at which Green and co-conspirators unzip their heads and do something horrible to the official.

The Doctor thinks he knows what’s going on: Someone juiced up a pig’s brain, put the pig in the spaceship, and let the spaceship crash into Earth. By the time Sato works through the details and turns to ask why someone would do that, he’s rushed back to the TARDIS.

Back at the party, everyone finally notices Mickey in the doorway, staring at Rose. Evidently he has not actually been at this party all along, which really raises too many questions for me. How did the Doctor come to park right outside his apartment? Why did Rose not recognize the surroundings and pop in to see him first, seeing as, from her POV, she had recently called her mum? Why did TPTB not bother to better differentiate one balcony from another? Perhaps by showing the actual building attached to each one? On the other hand, now BAD WOLF doesn’t have to mean anything special to Mickey, as he chased after the Doctor to ask about Rose. Evidently he didn’t tell Jackie about the Doctor because he figured Rose had run off romantically with the Doctor. Mickey has a big chip on his shoulder, and he enjoys Rose being upset over the Doctor “dumping” her.

This is something the modern show does much more than the old. There’s far more interest in how the Doctor disrupts his companions’ lives, and in them continuing to have “normal” lives that they sporadically return to, rather than just hanging out in the control room as the Doctor goes straight from one of his adventures to another.

Anyway, Rose insists that the Doctor is not her boyfriend, but then makes the mistake of saying he’s more important to her than that before the key begins to glow and the TARDIS returns. I guess that’s a handy feature if you aren’t sure where you left your spare key. She tries to shoo Jackie away, but Jackie is just as headstrong as her daughter.

The Doctor has just enough time to explain a bit to Rose before finding a couple of peeved humans have also entered his sanctuary. Mickey accuses the Doctor of ruining his life, and really harping on this theme could have sunk the show very quickly. Sucking the fun out of the premise and making everything dismal and gritty and negative to follow pop culture’s trend. But a little of it can provide new perspectives, as here. The Doctor tries to brush Mickey off by treating him like an idiot. I guess he’s in another of his “affairs of mere monkeys do not concern me” moods; when Mickey comments on the strangeness of starting an invasion by alerting your target, the Doctor quietly agrees with him.

Meanwhile, Jackie has rushed off because I guess it’s all too much for her, and Rose took off after her. A man on the TV requests that anyone with information about aliens call a helpline, and Jackie perks up. She phones in about the Doctor, making it clear in the process that she’s upset because Rose isn’t safe, and the word TARDIS sets off alarms on the other end.

Rose apologizes to Mickey, and he unloads to her about how he spent the previous year constantly looking for the TARDIS to come back. Just as they’re about to commence with serious domestics, however, the Doctor announces the results of his retro radar: the spaceship was actually launched from Earth.

One of the alien triad has put on the dead officer’s old body, and promptly . . . passes gas. Yes, this is going to still be a thing. Even the lady alien says it’s getting ridiculous. The previous person’s skin is tossed into Harriet’s closet (fun for her), and a flunky comes up to tell the triad that a certain word has been detected, “Doctor”, indicating a particular expert on aliens. The triad show no sign of recognition.

The Doctor is pleased to see UNIT on the case. Mickey mentions that he’s read up on the Doctor, and every time his name appears a list of dead people follows. One may suppose, then, that Mickey had a noble motive in not telling Jackie about the Doctor, so that she wouldn’t have cause to worry about Rose scooting around spacetime with a dangerous man. The Doctor retaliates by patronizingly calling him Ricky again. This is not the Doctor playing the buffoon, it’s not accidental in the slightest, it’s a deliberate attempt to build himself up by tearing Mickey down. For shame, Doctor.

The Doctor wants to stay away from UNIT, as he wouldn’t be recognized anyway (and could probably have a freer hand alone). So they step out of the TARDIS, ready to work incognito, and head right into a helicopter’s spotlight. Busted! Mickey gets the wind up and runs away from the attentions of the guns and tanks and police cars, and Jackie tries to run to her daughter, who not only is still with that scary alien but also has a lot of weapons pointed in her direction now.

The Doctor treats this as a lark, and Rose catches his attitude. He figures he’s being brought in as an expert on aliens. “Don’t you just love it,” Rose retorts. Yes, he does. In fact, he takes a moment to smile and wave for the cameras before he enters 10 Downing Street. The ego is probably my biggest surprise about this Doctor so far. Not that it’s a bad thing, or that other Doctors haven’t had egos just as big, I just wasn’t expecting it here. Meanwhile, Jackie is questioned about the Doctor by an alien who’s disguised as a human being.

Harriet Jones comes downstairs. She tries to approach the Doctor, but has to settle for Rose. The Doctor is being treated like anyone else, suggesting that nobody there actually knows who he is, which is odd because I figured someone would be up on their UNIT history. Is UNIT just completely off doing their own thing elsewhere? This episode has some serious disconnects for me, and I don’t think it’s all on my own end.

Meanwhile, Harriet Jones has a bit of a breakdown in front of Rose in a yellow-and-pink shot, as the scene from the conference room hits her. She explains to Rose as best she can, and they find the Prime Minister dead in another closet in the same conference room. Not every planet provides convenient storage units to stuff incriminating evidence into!

The Doctor quickly takes control of the meeting as he pieces together the circumstances behind the spaceship launch. He realizes that this was a trap, to bring all the alien experts together. Because 2000-era Earthlings know so much about defeating aliens, after all!

The female from the triad finds that the P.M. has been discovered. Meanwhile the disguised alien prepares to do away with Jackie, and the two aliens in the expert meeting (I guess there are at least four total, not three) drop the pretense and prepare to make with the killing. That’s three out of four leads in mortal peril. We finally see the aliens, and they are very alien, although the child-like faces keep them from entirely falling into “scary alien” territory. It’s a fun design, really.

“I shall now demonstrate the hula dance of my people.”

The ID cards worn by the alien experts turn out to be electrocution devices. As the episode ends, the Doctor is being helplessly zapped, Jackie is cornered in her own kitchen, and Rose is cornered with only a pencil pusher and an aging politician as her allies, and not a vase in sight.

As you might have guessed, I’m not fond of the toilet humor. To be fair, it’s supported by a legitimate underlying idea, that not every alien is going to magically fit snugly into some random human being’s skin. Still, there were also several points where what seemed to be going on was not in fact what was going on, due to either a lack of clarity from the creators or a lack of competence from me. There’s also a lot of the human side of the story, with some important and worthwhile scenes involving Jackie and Mickey, but I’m not currently invested enough in them or their relationship to give that as much weight as maybe I should, within the scope of the episode.

Ultimately I feel like the actual action is crowded out somewhat by administrative work, with all the relationship development and Rose’s feelings and the graffiti and establishing the Doctor’s imprecise control and introducing Harriet and UNIT, and of course, the Doctor spends a significant fraction of the ep either watching TV or mucking about with the central console. And insulting Mickey for daring to stand up to him. All of which is good enough stuff individually, aside from the Ricky bits, but it does add up in runtime.

It has fun moments, the alien design is neat, and Harriet Jones shows promise, but I have no desire to watch this again.

Rating: 1 Harriet Jones cunning plan

Favorite Dialogue: Rose: Every conversation with you just goes mental. There’s no one else I can talk to. I’ve seen all that stuff up there, the size of it, and I can’t say a word. Aliens and spaceships and things, and I’m the only person on planet Earth who knows they exist.
[An out-of-control spaceship passes right overhead and flies all over London in broad daylight]
Rose: Oh, that’s just not fair.

Most likely to be pointed out, thirty years later, as an example of how badly this series will have aged: Jackie’s outfit. Or the whoopie cushion aliens, but I’m going with the outfit. I’m sure she just threw on whatever she had lying around, and it isn’t eye-gougingly ugly, but dark blue stripes above and faint pink below . . . you aren’t representing your decade well, Jackie.

This was originally posted August 20, 2014.

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