Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Postclassical Who - "Aliens of London"

"They've taken this animal and turned it into a joke," says the Ninth Doctor, which is appropriate enough because that's exactly what RTD has done to Doctor Who with this episode. The absolute nadir of crass, populist trash peddled by someone with absolutely no sense of artistic value in the science fiction genre or respect for the very program he has revived, this first part of a two-part abomination is absolute dreck from start to finish. A poor excuse for RTD to make fun of fat people and crack fart jokes, the whole story is complete nonsense and makes the worst excesses of the show in the 80s seem absolutely tame by comparison. I'm not sure where to begin, so I'll start at the beginning, I guess.
The idea of exploring what happens when a companion returns home is interesting, I suppose, but as the Doctor himself states, it's also very domestic and not exactly what you're after when you sit down to watch Doctor Who. It also reinforces in my mind the growing unpleasantness of Rose's attitude, especially towards Mickey. Sure, Mickey may not be the strongest or bravest guy ever but he's clearly loyal and has a good heart, so it's fairly jarring to see Rose act so dismissively towards him compared to the Doctor. You know what? They could have done a story just about what happens when you get home, the response of friends and family, the Doctor's contrast to a normal life and the pros and cons of each; perhaps they could emphasise the warmth, safety and reassuring familiarity of home as a positive. But we have Rose as a young girl from the harsh and grey world of a London Council Estate with an annoying mother and a slightly pathetic boyfriend, so there's no chance of that. The world of fantasy, make-believe and escapism is good, the real world is rubbish, and that's that. So to make the story happen, we had better insert some of the worst villains the shows has ever encountered.
I can't even begin to fully elaborate on how poor and stupid the Slitheen are as enemies. They steal the bodies of fat people, they fart a lot and they genuinely have zippers on their foreheads. It's like something from a Roald Dahl nightmare of deliberate, pointless weirdness and scatalogical humour for its own sake. They take over the government and gather a bunch of experts together so they can electrocute them. Oh, but before that we have to have a really drawn out ending where for absolutely no reason several of them remove their skin to reveal their true forms purely for the sake of a dramatic cliffhanger. But they're not the only alien, are they?
No, there's the pig. I feel sorry for the pig, yeah, because he got shot, but you know what? He's a pig. They spend ages using shots that don't reveal his appearance, and the scientist and the general both remark on how unusual he is, and you become incredibly curious about what's going on, and then the big reveal is that... it's a pig. An anthropomorphic pig in shiny space pants. I don't care if this is even meant to be anticlimactic, it's still rubbish. Even though it's explained as from Earth and botch-potched together, it's still also the start of RTD's fixation on aliens which are basically 'people with animal heads'. It's unimaginative and feeble. Before his tenure is ended we will also see cat people, rhino people, fish people and, in the Sarah Jane Adventures, vulture people. Speaking of the spin-off series, the scientist in this episode is later retconned to be Toshiko from Torchwood, but I'm not going to talk about Torchwood because basically it's almost completely crap.
We do get the appearance of UNIT and they're named as 'United Nations' for probably the last time but there's no one familiar and they get killed off. At least it's a vague nod to the Classic Series, and particularly the Third Doctor's tenure.
Harriet Jones is annoying and the joke they make about her badge is totally overused. The mass panic is stupid and there's a reason it's never explored in Doctor Who and why the ramifications of widespread alien knowledge on Earth is never examined even in RTD's era with any sort of thoroughness - because it would move the context of any contemporary setting too far from the standards of the real world and that would terrify and alienate the kind of lowest common denominator viewer that this episode's fart jokes and literal green men appeal to. The acting's still as decent as ever and there's not too much gushing about the wonders of life or the marvellousness of the Doctor but the mere absence of these aspects does very little to redeem the story. Absolute garbage, pointless, smug and juvenile.

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