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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “Aliens of London”

(tons of spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode! and no comments from party poopers — this is a love fest only / previous: Episode 3: “The Unquiet Dead”)

I’m rewatching the first series of the new Doctor Who with an eye toward looking where the show has gone since. (I previously wrote a bit about “Aliens of London” when it was new, over here.)
If the new Doctor Who is more about the Doctor, as a real person, than the original show ever was, then it’s more about his companions as real people, too. Forget about conspiracy theories from outer space here: the “alien of London” is Rose, finding herself suddenly disconnected from her life and the people she loves, and who love her. It seems like such an obvious question: Didn’t anyone miss Jo Grant or Sarah Jane Smith or Tegan Jovanka when they went off traveling with the Doctor? Surely someone must have noticed they were missing. Did they get evicted from their apartments for nonpayment of rent? Did their friends call the police? Were any of them — like poor Mickey Smith — accused of being responsible for their disappearances?

It’s absolutely brutal

how upset Rose is over how upset her mother has been. And how upset Jackie continues to be — and justifiably so — when Rose won’t explain her absence. Jackie can be a huge pain in the ass — Camille Coduri is great at making her annoying without making you hate her — but my heart just about breaks for her in this scene:

Do you know what terrifies me, is that you still can’t say. What happened to you, Rose? What can be so bad that you can’t tell me, sweetheart? Where were you?

What must Jackie be imagining Rose has been doing… or has had done to her? And how awful for Rose, because of course it’s been anything but terrible — it’s been the most amazing experience of her life.

I wonder why, though, Rose doesn’t just tell Jackie. Show her the TARDIS. She might not believe Rose (or the Doctor) but surely it would be better than torturing the poor woman.

Or else Rose is already thinking about trying to finagle the Doctor into going back in time so she can meet her father, and Rose doesn’t want Jackie getting wind of the notion…

We know some things Rose is not thinking about the Doctor (or at least not yet, at this early point in their relationship). She’s not — stupid girl — thinking about him in a sexual way. Because when the cop says, “When you say ‘companion,’ is this a sexual relationship?” this is her response:

That’s not a “no.” That’s a visceral ewww. (Billie Piper is so amazing as this pure id of a girl.)

And she’s not thinking about who might have come before her at the Doctor’s side on the TARDIS:

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 it exists.

Really, Rose? You think you’re the only person on the planet who’s been out there with him? Interesting…

What she does say about the Doctor, though:

He’s not my boyfriend, Mickey. He’s better than that. He’s much more important.

actually says a lot about Rose, and her relationship with men, or lack thereof. As in: she hasn’t had many. Her father’s long gone, Mickey is a useless lump: she’s probably hungry for a strong man in her life in a way that she may not even realize. If she’d known what a mess the Doctor is right now, she might have shied away from him… although probably not. Because they would require a lot more knowledge about herself than she probably has.

That’s a lot of complicated motivations — conscious and unconscious — on the part of the mere girl who’s bopping around spacetime with the Doctor. The companions have rarely been so multifaceted and intriguing.

Speaking of the Doctor and not being too well himself… He’s pretty stunned to discover that Rose has been gone for a year when they thought it was only a few hours:

Surprised, I mean, for a guy who fought in the Time War. And for a guy who’s been flying that dodgy old Type 40 time capsule around for the last few centuries. It’s like he’s never encountered the concept of time travel before. Or the concept of the TARDIS not bringing him where he wants to go. Because he may now have much finer control over when and where the TARDIS ends up, but he didn’t used to. (Maybe we can put that down to his repairing and revamping of the TARDIS since the Time War.)

I’ve always believed that the TARDIS is a little bit sentient, and a little bit in love with the Doctor itself (as much as it might be said to be prone to such a tendency), and that it likes landing him right into the midst of trouble because that’s when he has the most fun. What other explanation can there be for his managing to end up right in the middle of this crashing-spaceship fiasco?

Still, he’s awfully surprised, too, to hear of the body recovered from the ship in the river:

And how can he not know when the human race makes first contact with aliens? He seems to know lots of high points of Earth history, and this must be one of the highest. I’d say that he’s too excited about it:

Maybe this is it! First contact! The day mankind officially comes into contact with an alien race. I’m not interferin’, cuz you gotta handle this on your own. That’s when the human race finally grows up. Just this morning you were all tiny and small and made of clay. Now you can expand.

not to have already known when this moment occurs. Which means he should have known, too, that this wouldn’t be that moment… because we know from later episodes that we dumb monkeys manage to convince ourselves that it was all some sort of hoax. The Doctor should have already known that, shouldn’t he?

Random thoughts on “Aliens of London”:

• This is the “bad wolf” scenario…

• “Nine hundred years of time and space,” the Doctor says, “and I’ve never been slapped by someone’s mother.” Actually, I find that kinda hard to believe. I bet he’s done lots of things that earned slaps from people’s mothers.

• After the Doctor complains about how Jackie’s slap hurt, does Rose actually say, “You’re so gay?” I know kids today talk like that, but I’m really surprised Russell Davies would write that. Am I mishearing? Or am I not mishearing but overreacting?

• Then again, this is the episode that introduces the aliens who are defined by fart jokes. *sigh* (Still, kids using “gay” in a derogatory way isn’t quite as inoffensive juvenile in the same way that fart jokes are.)

• And it’s the first appearance of Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North:

(Yes, we know who you are.)

• “The body is being transferred to a secure UNIT mortuary,” the BBC reporter says on the air about the alien body pulled from the Thames. So, does “UNIT” mean something to the ordinary people watching? Oh, and later on, the Doctor does say that “UNIT” means “United Nations Intelligence Taskforce,” which is what it has always meant, though somewhere along the way, it suddenly and without explanation becomes “Unified Intelligence Taskforce.”

• Not Toshiko!

• There’s that symbology again, on the Post-it on the monitor on the TARDIS console:

(I love, too, how the Doctor responds to Mickey’s request about how many channels the TARDIS can pick up: Yes, it gets the football…)

• I’d love to know how the Doctor ended up fighting with the little kid for the remote control:

• Prime Minister Lloyd George used to drink the Doctor under the table? I think we need to hear more about this…

• All those reporters hanging around at 10 Downing Street, snapping pictures of everyone who goes in — including the Doctor and Rose — you’d think one of them would figure out, while trying to determine who they are, that Rose had been an official police missing person for the past year. And that could lead to other awkward questions that would bring down the whole top-secret house of cards. No?

(next: Episode 5: “World War III”)


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
  • Ryan

    Wow, this really made me remember how much I loved that first season of Doctor Who. Of course, then Tennant and his manic overacting arrived and Billie Piper left, but that was a great first season.

  • sf

    I think that IS supposed to be Toshiko, at least retrospectively. Isn’t there a reference in the Torchwood S2 finale to Tosh filling in for Owen when he’s hungover and unreachable? Obviously it’s backwriting because of the double-casting (and it doesn’t make a lot of sense that, as a Torchwood employee, she’s so freaked out by the relatively harmless pig pilot), but I think they *do* try to account for it later.

    Believe it or not, I finished rewatching this episode about 10 minutes ago. My roommate is catching up S1! :-) Thanks for the love fest here.

  • Mimi

    I had the same reaction re “You’re so gay” (that’s how I heard it too) — rewound it a few times, scratched my head, wondered about Davies’s thought process there.

    And oh, dear Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North, I will always have a soft spot for you.

  • Rob

    What sf said. Torchwood later “ret-conned” that it was, in fact, Tosh. What was most incredible was that this was revealed during the huge tragic scene in the season finale, when Owen and Tosh were talking on the phone (trying to avoid spoilers in case anyone who hasn’t seen this is reading it)…

    OWEN: You’ve saved my back so many times in the past. Right from the moment I joined.
    TOSH: Your second week I had to cover for you, pretend I was a medic, cos you were hung over and unreachable.
    OWEN: What was it…Space Pig?
    TOSH: Space Pig.
    OWEN: Yeah.

  • Gee

    Doctor Who: The Movie?!? Someone has been doing some sleuthing and found this enrty on the website of RTD’s agent:

    “Film

    DR WHO (BBC Films/BBC Worldwide) Current”

    Many proposed projects never work out, but just possibly, possibly …

    And DT *did* say that he’d been offered “a sci-fi thing” that he wasn’t allowed to talk about.

    http://www.theagency.co.uk/clients/clientdisplay.html?viewListing=MTQ1

  • Mickey is a useless lump…

    That seems like a rather cold way to put it, given the fact that (1.) Mickey actually seems to care for Rose and (2.) (SPOILER) he actually proves quite useful in future episodes.

    It seems like such an obvious question: Didn’t anyone miss Jo Grant or Sarah Jane Smith or Tegan Jovanka when they went off traveling with the Doctor?

    Jo Grant worked for a government agency that had full knowledge of her relationship with the Doctor. Sarah Jane Smith was a journalist who undoubtedly spent long hours away from home long before she met the Doctor. And Tegan Jovanka was a would-be stewardess–and thus a member of yet another profession whose members routinely spend long periods away from home–whose closest relative was killed in the same episode in which she encountered the Doctor.

    Besides, I suspect Rose is not so much based upon previous Companions as she is upon the title heroine of Russell T. Davies’ favorite show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Davies has admitted as much in interviews and the parallels between her and Buffy are rather obvious to anyone who has ever watched a few episodes of both shows.

    However, your mileage may vary.

  • Rae

    I absolutely love S1 of this show. I am also a huge fan of S2 and of David Tennant, but unlike many fans I feel there is a seamless transition and growth of all characters probably through S4. However, one thing that we lose a bit in S2 is this genuine girlishness of Rose. I do believe she does say, “You’re so gay!” to the Doctor and it made me blink, but I work with teenagers and so I know that is a very ordinary thing for her to say. I admire RTD for using that terminology because while it is slightly offensive it also is very true to Rose’s character at this time of her life.

    We see many instances of Rose being more selfish and childish in the first season than we see later. This is only natural for a teen developing into her womanhood. The thing that I enjoy most watching Aliens of London is how the Doctor is both vulnerable and scared of it. I think there are things about his relationship with Rose that are not like his relationship with previous companions. The slap by her mother…is also in some context. He might have been slapped before but maybe not for the reason Jackie slaps him. The ready assumption here that the Doctor and Rose are equals to the point where they could be having a sexual relationship is groundbreaking for Doctor Who.

  • NorthernStar

    The thing that struck me most about this episode is how perfectly this flows from Survival (the last classic episode) and highlights the changes in the emotional depth of the drama.

    Ace too was reported missing by her mum, but Survival merely mentions this and leaves it be. Here we see it for what it would be and the show is richer for it.

  • MaryAnn

    That seems like a rather cold way to put it, given the fact that (1.) Mickey actually seems to care for Rose

    Yes, he does. But that’s very far from the same thing as Rose actually caring deeply for him.

    and (2.) (SPOILER) he actually proves quite useful in future episodes.

    Yes, he does. But that’s in the future. Rose doesn’t know that he’s going to grow up so quickly and turn out to be so, frankly, awesome. That’s still to come.

    Ace too was reported missing by her mum, but Survival merely mentions this and leaves it be. Here we see it for what it would be and the show is richer for it.

    Ah, I’d forgotten about that. You’re right.

    When I finish with Eccleston, I’m gonna go back and start doing this same thing with classic episodes, though not in any particular order, because they’re not all available yet on DVD.

    Jo Grant worked for a government agency that had full knowledge of her relationship with the Doctor.

    And so she had NO friends at all outside of UNIT? That seems unlikely… or sadder than the old show ever indicated.

    Sarah Jane Smith was a journalist who undoubtedly spent long hours away from home long before she met the Doctor.

    True. But again: No friends at all to miss her?

    And Tegan Jovanka was a would-be stewardess–and thus a member of yet another profession whose members routinely spend long periods away from home–whose closest relative was killed in the same episode in which she encountered the Doctor.

    If all my blood relatives died tomorrow, there would still be people who would notice I was missing. *DW* never seemed to indicate that the companions were hermits with no measurable human contact.

    I’m not suggesting you’re wrong, Tonio — you’re not. I’m just saying the new *DW* is a lot more plausible in how it’s dealing with the companions.

  • Sammie

    RTD said somewhere that he knew people would double-take with the “you’re so gay” comment, but he’d written it that way because that’s how a lot of people speak; he didn’t want to write how people should speak but how they did.

    As for UNIT, apparently the UN no longer wanted its name attached to the fictional group, so it was changed for “Sontaran Stratagem.”

  • R

    Jackie slapping the Doctor! One of the BEST scenes in Doctor Who. She thought he was a pedophile or a rapist so:
    “Prove it! Stitch this mate!”
    SLAP!

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