nuWho 1×05: World War Three


I guess I forgot to mention last time that the aliens call themselves the Slitheen. One of them was polite enough to mention it at the end of the episode. That’s how aliens talk. “We are the Slitheen.” “I am Klingon!” “We are the Blarghy-blarg, and you are our prisoners.” Humans never introduce themselves like this. They’re always “I’m the guy from Roto Rooter,” or more likely, “Hi, I’m George.”

Anyway, unsurprisingly, the Doctor is the first to get out of his inescapable mortal peril. “Deadly to humans maybe,” he says as he rips off his badge. Then he sticks it on one of the aliens, which somehow causes all of the aliens to get caught up in their own little electrical superstorms, because who knows why. Rose must have managed to crit her Intelligence roll, as she realizes that not only can she run around the distracted alien and escape the room on her own, she can even drag Harriet Jones with her. Harriet runs back to get the emergency protocols, which turns out to just give up their head start on the alien who had them cornered. Let’s call that one Alien Lady. Mickey comes in, busts a chair over the head of the one tormenting Jackie to get it to step aside, and drags her out, getting a mugshot of the alien (Jackie Alien?) on his cell as he does so. This is never important to the plot, but style points for him.

The Doctor brings a bunch of troopers back to arrest the aliens, but they’re back in disguise now and order him to be arrested and killed. He escapes via lift. The two aliens in charge (Green and the high-ranking officer) order the building quarantined, the upper floors super-quarantined, and the Doctor shot on sight. Very sensible plan.

Now the Alien Lady starts hunting through the room where Rose and Harriet are hiding. Her brothers join her, and they start exulting in how humans smell when they’re scared. Harriet is flipping out a little over the gruesomeness, but when they “find” Rose, she jumps out to offer herself first. Then the Doctor comes in and distracts the two male aliens with a fire extinguisher, giving Rose a chance to clumsily bring a curtain down on Alien Lady. The chase is back on, with the Slitheen striking another nice action pose or two.

The Doctor manages to call a stalemate with deliciously flammable booze and gives the aliens a chance to explain themselves. Slitheen is actually their surname, so hey, they’re more like humans than I realized. His bluff is called, so the Doctor triggers safeguards that surround the room with three inches of steel. The Slitheen are content to have him contained, figuring that it’s now safe to call in their family and resume the plan.

Jackie and Mickey have slipped away and are now holed up in Mickey’s apartment. Mickey makes sure to mention where they are, because he’s learned the importance of setting the scene since last episode. He also mentions that Jackie can’t hold her liquor. Not surprised. He repeats that the Doctor seems to bring death wherever he goes, but adds that the Doctor is the only one who can deal with the alien threat. They make up a little.

The Doctor inquires as to the name of the secretary from the first part, whom Harriet brought coffee to and who is now dead. Harriet can’t say. The Doctor simply tells the secretary “Sorry” before moving on to business. No fuss. I don’t mean to harp, but this is much more palatable than when he got all high-and-mighty about Rose caring about Mickey in the pilot. He says that the neck thingy the aliens wear compresses them to fit within the human skins they inhabit. I had figured it was a vocal thing so they’d sound like their victims, but this does seem a more important function. Harriet rebukes Rose for trying for a bit of gallows humor in response (and it’s not very good anyway), the Doctor tries to remember where he’s heard her name before, and she announces that the emergency protocols are useless, since all the people they require are dead already. The protocols basically listed all the people who would be the biggest threats to the aliens, so the aliens rounded them up and electrocuted them. If you’re gifted the names of your enemies, you may as well take advantage.

Rose brings up the possibility of a nuclear strike. Harriet says that the necessary codes are all in the UN’s possession. This gets the Doctor thinking, because this could be a plot point, and he needs plot points. He still hasn’t figured out why these aliens would bother with a planet that they don’t seem interested in.

Rose’s superphone gets a ring from Mickey. Rather than say, “Hey! We’ve got a contact with the outside world, let’s make something happen!” the Doctor spits out, “Oh, tell your stupid boyfriend we’re busy.” I just . . . this is bordering on childish. Mickey and Jackie start venting about their terrible experience (amusingly, Rose warns Mickey not to let her mum get hold of the phone), but the Doctor grabs the phone, calls Mickey “Ricky” AGAAAIN, and then asks for his help while making it clear that he finds the idea of treating Mickey as a sentient being entirely repugnant. Seriously, ugh.

Speaking of ugh, let’s talk top-secret government security. Mickey accesses a UNIT website — you know, UNIT, super-secret squad for dealing with aliens that the government doubtless denies the existence of — which displays a reasonably informative-looking page while demanding a password. All you need is a URL to confirm the existence of this thing? Easiest conspiracy theory ever. The password turns out to be a common English word, “buffalo”. I won’t fault the Doctor for telling Mickey how to spell it, since they were potentially short on time, but maybe he should have specified capitalization as well? Unless case wasn’t important, which given the overall shoddiness of the security seems plausible enough. Mickey runs into more password requests, all of which are answered with buffalo. This isn’t even treated as a joke. I’d happily give it a pass if it were funny enough, but no.

While the others try to figure out what’s going on, Jackie takes the Doctor to task for all the chaos he’s brought into her life. Jackie is the embarrassing mother who you love and who loves you, but she does inappropriate social things and sometimes she sticks up for your safety when all you want to do is wail “Moooooom!” like a teenager. Which I guess Rose is. Jackie demands the Doctor answer her whether he can keep Rose safe, not just now, but always. The Doctor takes a long time thinking about his answer, with Rose looking at him intently, but is saved by Mickey, who has completed the arduous task of clicking on relevant-looking things and copy-pasting BUFFALO umpteen times. UNIT has picked up a message from the North Sea, and while the Doctor listens to it over the phone to try to decipher it, Jackie goes to answer the door.

Surprise, surprise, it’s the Jackie alien. The real surprise is that he lets her close the door in his face, but she doesn’t bother locking it so it doesn’t really matter. We know it could smash through the door like the others did in 10 Downing, yes, but the point is the Tylers are both kind of useless in the face of danger. Mickey prepares to defend home and Jackie with a baseball bat, and if the sound of him being noble doesn’t serve as a reason for the Doctor to stop treating him like dirt then I can’t conceive of what’s going through TPTB’s minds. Rose and Harriet rattle off attributes of the aliens, until the Doctor deduces that the aliens are living calcium (wut), specifically calcium phosphate, from the planet Raxacoricofallapatorius. This means that acetic acid will be super-effective against them. Jackie puts pickled eggs and other stuff into a pitcher and tosses it in the alien’s face. There’s a moment of anticlimax and then the alien completely blows up with a flatulent noise, tossing green nastiness everywhere. It’s just like humans have a lot of hydrogen and oxygen in them, see, so if you toss a lit match at a human it’ll explode. Logic at its finest.

Pickled egg and phosphate
Pickled egg and phosphate
Pickled egg and phosphate with a baseball bat

Harriet Jones mentions Hannibal dissolving boulders with vinegar when he crossed the Alps, which one ancient historian claimed did happen but with fire also involved.

Military Alien tells Green Alien that Jackie Alien is no more. Green Alien claims he sensed it, which really doesn’t diminish the deus ex machina nature of the electrical superstorms at the start. Electricity does not travel via empathy. Green Alien then makes a televised announcement that murderous aliens are among us, and he needs the nuclear codes back from the UN before the planet gets genocided, or worse, thrust into ID4. Of course we know that this is all far from the truth, not least because the Slitheen alone are more intelligent than the entire cast of that movie combined. The Doctor says this explains everything: the Slitheen wanted humanity to get scared enough to lash out. Lashing out can be a useful survival mechanism, but often, as here, when you don’t understand the situation clearly, it’s a bad idea. You know, like when you lash out with insults against the guy you need help from if you’re going to save a planet. The Doctor rolls up the metal walls and, as he will do, talks the plan over with the baddies. They intend to reduce “this beautiful planet” (Harriet’s words) to “slag” and then sell it off, because radioactive slag is much more useful than non-radioactive slag that you can reduce to radioactive slag at your discretion. The means are intelligent, but the end sounds stupid. Stupider than getting rid of your last star player for cheap before putting the team on the market (that’s another Blues reference). But there’s a galaxy-wide recession and the slag is to be used as fuel, so I guess maybe the used planet market is non-existent right now. Or this was supposed to be a very subtle parable about Alaskan oil or the like.

The Doctor warns them to leave or he’ll stop them. “What, you? Trapped in your box?” Alien Lady giggles. “Yes. Me,” the Doctor says firmly, and he holds her gaze as he deliberately reaches back over and seals himself in again. That wipes the smirk off her face, and honestly, Eccleston’s Doctor is the best one I know of to have delivered this scene with such menace.

We get a shot of the not-crashed-honest spaceship emitting smoke, then back to another news report. It’s an interesting thing to occasionally have news media comment on the goings-on in a sci-fi universe. It can bring things down-to-earth, show how the “mundanes” react when given a peek into what the protagonists get up to every week or movie. At the same time, it can provide some insight into what’s going on in society at large. Here, the media have generally been practical, to the best of my memory (still not going back to watch that last one again). They have been asking: What happened? What will happen next? What is the government doing about this? At the media level, at least, there has been tension, making it that much easier for Green Alien to incite a panic. All the civilians, the reporter says, are at home, waiting to see what the UN does.

The UN, naturally, immediately demands to know how the UK noticed massive weaponry in space that no US or other installations have detected. Hmm, I bet this is about the Iraq war actually. Haha, no, there’s no such demands, that would make sense. There’s just an anchor telling us that the UK “has provided them with absolute proof that the massive weapons of destruction do exist.” GET IT?

I’m noticing the 10 Downing environmental palette again. Consistently warm. Even the red phone (which Alien Lady spazzes out over) has Reeses Pieces next to it, because blue or green M&Ms would wreck the scheme. Or you can pretend it’s an E.T. reference. . . . Oh, right. Aliens and a phone. Well played.

There’s a nice little scene between the protagonists, where the Doctor insists that there’s always a way out, but the one he’s found would put Rose in danger. But the alternative is that everybody on Earth dies. Jackie continues to insist that Rose stay safe, but Rose is willing to go along with it. Some nice character moments (unfortunately, Rose’s involves being bland) and the Doctor has a good line here. Harriet steps up and orders the Doctor’s plan to be carried out, taking the responsibility upon herself.

“Victoryyy . . . should be nakeeed . . . ” Green Alien now says, because there’s totally a way to deliver that line that won’t break the tension.

Meanwhile the Doctor explains to Mickey that “buffalo” will override everything and I’m sorry, I know world governments can be pretty stupid, but I think they’re better at guarding their precious weapons than that. Jackie informs Mickey that she’s thinking about being a complete tool but will refrain from it for the moment.

The Doctor has no such reservations. “Mickey the idiot, the world is in your hands,” he says without the slightest hint of apology or humor. Mickey meanwhile has some disgusting sweat lathering his face. It becomes apparent that the plan involves hitting 10 Downing Street with a non-nuclear missile.

The military evacuates the vicinity, and the guy in charge hurries up the stairs to warn the PM. He opens the door, finds himself facing a bunch of weird aliens, says “Sorry”, and leaves. I’m not saying it’s hilarious, but it’s sure funnier than all the flatulence “humor” combined.

Rose gets everyone into the closet to survive the missile strike. Harriet tells the military to tell the UN to calm down. The Doctor and Rose suggest she could be the new PM, which she brushes off as ridiculous — she only represents Flyspeck, after all — and then she strides off to get things organized. I already know she’s going to be PM, but this episode makes her leadership qualities clear. The Doctor says she’ll be known as the architect of Britain’s Golden Age, however that would be measured. I guess picking the time when Britain ruled the waves will be too un-PC to praise in the future because of all the colonialism involved. I don’t even think it’s possible to have a political Golden Age anymore. There’s always someone ready to pop up and point out fifty things they think are wrong with the country. Anyway, Harriet delivers a ridiculous little speech for some eager cameras in which she praises humanity. Because the aliens totally weren’t stopped by another alien at the last moment in their plan to exploit humanity’s weaknesses!

After their happy reunion, Jackie and Rose discuss things. Jackie thinks Rose should be knighted for saving the world . . . and the Doctor can get credit too, if Rose insists. Rose says the Doctor doesn’t bother with any fuss, he just moves on, which is accurate enough in that sense. But he does like impressing people, don’t try to deny that. This is a pretty okay conversation, as Jackie shows that she’s willing to bend and get to know this scary Doctor who seems to be so important in her daughter’s life. It’s a welcome depth to her character. Rose gets a call from the Doctor, however, who bluntly tells her he has better things to do than hang around for dinner with her mother. No fuss, just move on to the next adventure. Rude maybe, but not going out of his way to make me roll my eyes again. He wants to surf a plasma storm in the Horsehead Nebula and see where he ends up.

Jackie comes back to find Rose packing her backpack. She begs Rose not to go. Personally I would have blown off the storm, in Rose’s place, for Mum’s sake.

The Doctor has caught the boy who graffitied the TARDIS in part 1 and made him clean it off. Mickey is there, asking him how people can already be writing off the whole thing as a hoax. The Doctor tells him that humanity is still too thick to accept the reality of aliens if they don’t absolutely have to. He makes peace with Mickey in his practical way, hinting that Mickey maybe isn’t an idiot, admitting that Mickey is right that he is dangerous and, if Mickey is so afraid for Rose, he could come along maybe? Mickey doesn’t think he could stand the way of life, but he does accept a virus that will remove all mentions of the Doctor from the Internet. Meanwhile Jackie is promising (like a teenager, no less) to clean up her life if Rose will stay, but Rose tells her that travel with the Doctor is too wonderful to let the dangers keep her home. The Doctor does Mickey a favor by insisting that Mickey can’t come along, saving Mickey the embarrassment of looking like a scaredy-cat.

This is better than the first part, but there are still a few dumb parts in it. It’s a shame the two-parter isn’t up to the aliens’ standards, because they’re visually well-crafted and quite competent opponents. Another bright spot is that Jackie has become a somewhat likable, relatable character, rather than just a thing to pull out for plot complications or a laugh. When she calls the Doctor out, when she pleads with Rose, it’s as a human being, not a caricature, and I really feel for her. I still don’t particularly care for her, but at least she has some dignity now.

That wasn’t much of a world war.

Rating: 2 Cab’net walls of three-inch steel

Favorite dialogue: Doctor: [to the Slitheen] Who, exactly, are the Slitheen?
Harriet Jones: They’re aliens.
Doctor: I got that, thanks.
Alien: Who are you, if not human?
Harriet: Who’s not human?
Rose: He’s not human.
Harriet: But he’s got a Northern accent.
Rose: Lots of planets have a North. [repeating the Doctor’s retort from “Rose”]

Goofiest newspaper headline: “Don’t get the Colly wobbles” on the back of Mickey’s paper at the end, bold as brass. Oh, Britain.

This was originally published September 8, 2014.goloden

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