Doctor Who head writers reviewed #3 Russell T. Davies #3 Aliens of London
Doctor Who Head Writers Reviewed is a series I’m running on a weekly basis here, in-which I review each episode written by the three head writers: Russell T. Davies, Steven Moffat and Chris Chibnall. After viewing each episode, I give the episode a verdict of either success or failure, and explain how I came to that decision. A running score will be included at the end of each entry, showing how each head writer is doing in terms of episodes written to episode I’ve considered a success. And I don’t use information from anywhere other than the episode itself. So no TARDIS Data Core, no TARDIS Eruditorum, no YouTube Whovians. We continue with Russell T. Davies’ Aliens of London.
Three episodes in, and the ego takes control. Which is a shame, because there are a few ideas in Aliens of London that hadn’t been done before to success in Doctor Who, like reporting events of the episode on the real-world BBC News, and building a political thriller in Parliament. And if nothing else, Aliens of London also explores the domestic effects of travelling with the Doctor, and what happens if a companion’s family were to discover the truth about the TARDIS. These are all storytelling elements that, in Doctor Who, had never been covered. Unfortunately, they’re all but drowned-out by Davies wondering what would happen if aliens farted all the time. It’s something I call the George Lucas effect; once something becomes successful enough, nobody wants to say “no”, even if they really should. New Doctor Who had showcased three episodes so far, and all had worked, so now everyone was anticipating episode four, and there was little reason to assume it wouldn’t be consistently good: an alien invasion conspiracy storytelling in modern London, with meta-textual references to contemporary British culture. It made sense to be excited for Aliens of London, and why shouldn’t we have been? Davies had proven that his way of doing things was working for the general public. Farting aliens was an idea from the same person that proved Doctor Who could work again, and the person capable of that clearly shouldn’t be opposed. And I say this as someone who completely adores Davies. I think Davies’ career is something to envy and by-which to be inspired. But the difference between myself and a lot of other Doctor Who fans is that I’ll call things how they are: and means that Davies has written some episodes I like, and others I don’t. A big reason I don’t engage with other fans on-line is because this is a concept a lot of them don’t seem to grasp. I stopped following the Doctor Who Facebook page a long time ago, because the people there don’t seem to think on a spectrum. Generally, from what I’ve observed, the lasting legacy of Davies’ era is that everyone remembers the bad decisions and use that to define all the other episodes collectively. This isn’t a problem about-which Moffat currently needs to worry, because Moffat’s hasn’t gone quite yet – there’s still another fourteen episodes to go. But rest assured, once they’re gone, the memory of the average fan will either be praise or criticism, but it will be absolute, as opposed to real. Sure, the Slitheen aren’t the worst thing Davies created, but they’re up there. And they might at least be more tolerable if the acting were above the pantomime line (Michelle Gomez, take note). The first time the three Slitheen are gathered together, what do they do? They snigger and laugh melodramatically. Who exactly did they think they think the audience are? Yes, Doctor Who should be written for everyone, but I’d appreciate some consistency. What’s the point in setting-up a political thriller inside Parliament if it’s only going to ruined by laughing green sacks of gas? I’d quite like to meet Davies some day, so I could tell him just how fantastic I think Davies is, but make no mistake, I’d also be very keen to ask Davies just what Davies thought Davies was doing when Davies wrote Aliens of London. And the worst part of it is, it ruins what’s otherwise a good episode. The sub-plots established around Jackie and Mickey, and the way UNIT’s brought-into the New Series is what Davies does best; clearly, Davies understands Doctor Who better than anyone, and as a result can combine Doctor Who with modern television formats and standards. The domestic affairs and the science-fiction A-plot is happening parallel with each other, and as a result transforms the source material. Unfortunately, the science-fiction A-plot is in this case a group of green aliens that hide inside fat people and fart. Is it supposed to be a political satire? Because there are a lot of clues in Aliens of London as to the political agenda at play here. Make no mistake, the government seen is that of Tony Blair’s “New” Labour party. And, in a much less excruciating version of Aliens of London, I’d be able to talk on such subjects as to why this is the case, and what those clues are, and how it was all relevant to contemporary Britain. As it is, any intended satire that was there is so mocking, so unrelenting in its own self-confident and ego-centric satisfaction, that it becomes difficult to tolerate. And I say that as someone who thinks Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace is the best of the saga.
Russell T. Davies – 2 : 3
Next episode: World War Three, by Russell T. Davies