Sunday, April 24, 2005

Two Nil Down In The Second Half

Prefect SlogIt's not something you'd ever expect to hear yourself say about World War Three, but to be honest I found it a little... disappointing. And it's not as if I had a great many expectations riding on it. I was just hoping for an improvement on the last one. By which, of course, I mean not World War Two but "Aliens of London", the previous episode of Doctor Who, with its none too cleverly undermined cliffhanger. Unfortunately, it is like coming back to the second half when your team is one nil down, it's always going to be that much more of a struggle. First of all, one of the main things that struck me as the credits rolled was, frankly, how bloody good next week's episode looks. But after that, it did occur to me that, at last, with WW3, they seemed to have addressed the problem of the long-drawn out 'action' finale where nothing much happens, which has plagued pretty much all of the episodes so far to one extent or another. Here, instead, they have a long drawn out 'action' second part where nothing much happens. Fair enough there's a lot going on on the screen, superficially, but it feels more like something out of World War One - lots of cost and effort for very little ground gained. It begins with ten minutes of running around, followed by thirty minutes of the Doctor stuck in one room, and there was something 'the wrong way round' about that. The Slitheen, sorry, I found as unconvincing as before, if anything undermined some more by the contrast between their CGI versions and their wobbly headed man-on-a-suit versions. And what with all their getting dressed and undressed in between all the running around from room to room, you might have thought you'd tuned in to one of the rarer *sci-fi* Brian Rix farces. Okay the Slitheen, still looking like the stars of an extraterrestrial Huggies commercial, are dropping their skins instead of their trousers, but in the midst of all this there's still room for more fart gags. Including the good old farting in the elevator gag - taking the show ("Going up!") to new heights of sophistication. And after taking what seemed like hours to clamber out of their skins last week, these aliens seem to climb back into them with remarkable speed as the Doctor brings the troops running. I'm not averse to a bit of nonsense and daftness - I enjoyed "The End of the World" - but for too many reasons, including more poorly paced action, this one wasn't working. It's all, I think, a bit too much of a panto, not a quality I admired in the original series in its latter years, and not one I can admire now. As the female alien corners Rose and Harriet in one room and sing-songs, "Where are you?" they *might* have been aiming to evoke the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (one of the scariest things from my childhood), but here it just came across as a troll or something out of one of those big budget pantomimes, of the sort that usually star Jim Davidson as Buttons. Still, it all gallops - in so far as an episode in which the Doctor and co are stuck in one room for the greater part can gallop - to a conclusion, in which the Doctor gets Mickey to summon up a sub-launched Harpoon to take out 10 Downing Street. Setting aside the effective range of Harpoon missiles (no, really, it is possible to be *too* picky :) ), this kind of indirect action seems at least as weak as some of the solutions to previous episodes. I know dear old "Seeds of Doom"gets criticised for its weak ending, having the Doctor call in the RAF, and every week I hear some feeble justification for new series flaws in the form of some lambasting of the original series: e.g. "Well, it's no worse than they did in {insert name of episode here}". And I'm sorry, that doesn't wash. It's like the current government fending off criticisms by pointing out all the problems we had under the previous administration. Or rather, especially given the timespan involved, it's more like them saying, "But look at how bad things were when we were last in Number 10." Making the same mistakes on a bigger budget is not the most persuasive policy to put in your manifesto. Still, political analogies are entirely apt here, because amongst all the rest there is the biting and blatant bit of satire and there are other more mature and highly successful elements. Penelope Wilton is great as Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North, and there's a nice sense of closure to the story with which this whole thing began - the 'domestic' side of Rose's decision to go time travelling. Mickey snapping a photo of the Slitheen on his mobile, and the Doctor's "You kiss this man?" line to Rose when they're going through the contents of his kitchen cupboards has to be the funniest line in the whole two episodes. And there's a genuine sense of walled up emotion and maybe even a few dark secrets when the Doctor is confronted with the question of whether Rose is safe in his company, and later, when he faces risking Rose's life to save the world - albeit from one of the most ludicrous schemes for global destruction in the history of Who, but surprisingly and thankfully that doesn't detract from the potency of the scene. With some more convincing aliens, it might have worked. With some better pacing, it might have worked. And with a little less silliness, it might have worked. As it is, between the two parts, the story earns the first genuine thumbs down from me. No great shame in the scheme of things, and perfectly in keeping with a season of Doctor Who, to have a let down or two along the way. But overall, I was reminded that when watching "Rose" I could have wished it had been a two-parter, to allow for more of a story, and so a major chunk of the disappointment in the "Aliens of London" and "World War Three" combo is down to wondering why this flimsy little romp couldn't have been limited to a single episode, while "Rose" got the full attention it surely merited. Sadly, if these were being named in similar fashion to episodes of Friends, I can't help thinking this would be known as The One With All The Farting. And along with The One With The Belching Wheelie Bin and the (really very good) The One With The Gasy Aliens, anyone might think there was a theme developing. What it should have been, to my mind, was The One Where Rose Faces The Consequences Back Home Of Her New Time Travelling Lifestyle, and it would have been ample to have a relatively simple single episode sci-fi adventure woven into this excellent bit of time-and-space kitchen-sink drama, which would have benefitted this story immensely and had the added side effect of giving the Doctor, Rose and the Nestene invasion the introductory outing they deserved. So whilst "Aliens of London" and "World War Three" are perhaps not quite the failures I make them out to be here, they do represent - for me - something of a wasted opportunity, and get marked down for that alone. And next time I sit down to a two-parter, I'm definitely going to reach for the remote as soon as the Next Time... bit flashes up after the cliffhanger. But for now, Yay! Daleks!

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