WORLD WAR THREE– 23rd April.
Written by Russell T. Davies.
Review and Commetary by Andrew Panero
Having set up a triple-decker cliffhanger the week before RTD resolves the threat in the most inane way possible. As the Slitheen chortle with joy watching Doctor and the assembled extraterrestrial life form experts writhe on the ground, the Doctor plucks his ID badge from his jacket and plunges it into the ‘naked’ Slitheen nearest to him. The result is that the electricity not only goes through that Slitheen but the all the others as well. This enables Rose and Harriet Jones MP to escape their monster, as well as letting Mickey rescue Jackie from the clutches of the flatulent policeman.
The Doctor rushes into another part of Downing Street to summon some soldiers, meanwhile Harriet and Rose are on the run upstairs and Mickey and Jackie have escaped to his flat. The Doctor brings the soldiers into the conference room, only to find that the Slitheen have crawled back into their disguises and all the experts are dead. The disguised Slitheen blame the Doctor for this and order his arrest, but the time lord gives them the slip and bolts upstairs. There he runs into Harriet and Rose who have been cornered in another room; using a fire-extinguisher to fight off the aliens they then make for the cabinet room. The Cabinet Room is apparently the strongest, most secure place in Downing Street, and the Doctor is able to bring steel shutters down on all the windows and doors. The Slitheen have been successfully locked out, but the Doctor is equally locked in.
Rose receives a photo-text from Mickey showing the Slitheen that tried to kill Jackie. Harriet Jones is surprised that she can get a signal in the secured office, Rose points out that the Doctor has supped up her mobile with alien technology. (We also have a repeat of the gag in the first episode when Harriet is told that the Doctor is an alien- ‘he sounds as if he comes from the north’-‘Plenty of planets have a north.’)
The Slitheen is not the name of this race of aliens but is the name of the family they belong to. They are a family business, a kind of intergalactic Del Boy Trotter and co. who are plotting to blow up the Earth and sell the radioactive rubble as cheap fuel. In order to do this they have assumed the identities of key human beings in the British Govt (but not the Prime Minister as he is too thin- their disguises need to be of corpulent people in order to conceal their bulky figures), and have set up an extraterrestrial threat. Joseph Green, the acting Prime Minister and disguised alien announces that they have detected a hovering mother ship in space with the capacity to unleash ‘massive weapons of destruction’ on the Earth ‘in less than 45 seconds’. Green therefore calls on the UN to release the launch codes for Britain’s nuclear weapons, which for some reason we had surrendered to the UN. There doesn’t seem any plausible purpose to this part of the plot, only to pad out the story and of course to draw transparent parallels with the whole David Kelly affair and the Iraq war. The ’45 seconds’ gag is a give away. There is quite a tradition of this in Doctor Who; The Curse of Peladon was a satire on Britain’s entry into the European Union. I don’t know if that was as unsubtle as this though.
Maybe I’m being unfair, but it does strike me that RTD has problems giving his villains plausible motivations. Like Lady Cassandra in The End of the World, the Slitheen seem to be driven by pure stupid, selfish, shallow greed, which is not bad in itself but does seem somewhat over used. One also wonders why an alien race would resort to such convoluted means to secure a supply of radioactive material; I’m sure space is full of radioactive rocks just floating around waiting to be harvested.
The people who seem to do best out of this episode are Jackie and Mickey and it is the latter who is the real hero of the day, hacking into a UNIT website on the Doctor’s directions and unleashing a conventional strike on the Slitheen. By another implausible plot twist, the Doctor, Rose and Harriet Jones survive the explosion in the reinforced cabinet room. Harriet Jones emerges from the rubble and informs everyone the crisis is over; the Doctor recognised her earlier and now he knows why. She is a future Prime Minister, due to lead Britain into (another?) Golden Age.
Having saved the world it is then left to sort out the ‘domestics’ as the Doctor calls them. Jackie has warmed to the Doctor now and wants Rose to invite him to dinner, equally the Doctor now as a grudging respect for Mickey (‘the idiot’). In a nice touch the Doctor actually invites him along on their adventures, however Mickey declines saying he wouldn’t be able to handle such a lifestyle. Mickey insists that the Doctor doesn’t tell Rose this (not wanting to appear a wimp) so the Doctor thoughtfully pretends its is for other reasons. However the Doctor is in no mood to hang around having dinner with the folks back home, so he cajoles Rose into coming with him again in the TARDIS. This time Mickey and Jackie see Rose off in the TARDIS, Jackie understandably very upset by her daughter disappearing again. Rose tells her not to worry because the TARDIS is a time machine and she could be back in ‘ten seconds’ if she wanted. (Judging by the look on the Doctor’s face while she is saying this we get the feeling this just ain’t gonna happen!) As the TARDIS vanishes again Jackie counts up to ten, looks at Mickey sadly and walks home. Mickey continues to sit on a plastic litterbin, keeping a silent vigil where the TARDIS had been.
In general I think it is the ‘domestic’ plot line that works best, Russell T. Davies does seem to excel at character-based drama more than the grand plot based science fiction. The only episode he has written so far where the aliens have had plausible motives has been ‘Rose’ where the Nesterene intelligence sees it as its right to destroy humanity for its own survival.
On the whole this two part story works best as a jolly political romp with lots of fart jokes and a touching sub plot about the effects of Rose’s disappearance on those closest to her. The special effects are on the whole very good, with perhaps the exception of the Slitheen themselves. I just don’t think the BBC does prosthetic and animatronics very well; I used to have the same problem with the ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ series where you would have a beautiful piece of CGI, followed by a less than impressive animatronics close up. In movies I think it works better, because they have bigger budgets for the physical effects and skilful editing. Imaginative and clever as the Slitheen are one knows they are just guys in rubber suits at the end of the day.
Which brings me nicely on to next weeks show; many years ago Terry Nation realised that most monsters in sci-fi adventures suffered from this problem. He therefore came up with a mechanistic life form that glided along in a manner reminiscent of Ukrainian folk dancers. These were of course the Daleks, and next week they are back on the telly again. It’s all I can do to stop myself from bouncing up and down with excitement!