We’re back, continuing our New Doctor Who rewatch! This week, we’re continuing our review of Series One, with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor and Billie Piper as companion Rose Tyler. As a reminder, each season in the new show tends to have considerably more stories than the classic seasons; therefore we’re splitting each season into parts for the sake of length. Today we’re looking at episodes four, five, and six. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has never seen these episodes!
So far, we’ve traveled with Rose and the Doctor to the past and the future. Now, we accompany them on Rose’s most difficult journey yet: Home. In Aliens of London, she returns to her neighborhood, expecting that twelve hours have passed. Instead, she learns the hard way that it’s been twelve months. Jackie and Mickey have spent the intervening time searching for her, and posting flyers, and dealing with the police. The reunion is cut short, though, by an alien spaceship crashing into Big Ben, then landing in the Thames.
The Doctor and the others get caught up in the action, only to find out that the ship isn’t what it seems, nor is the body recovered from it. Instead, it’s a decoy; and the real aliens, in the guise of government officials, are already in power. They’re the Slitheen family, from the planet Raxicoricofallapatorius; and though they can convincingly disguise themselves as humans, they’re given away by the ineffective gas exchangers on their suits, which compress them to a manageable size. The Doctor and Rose also meet Harriet Jones, an MP from Flydale, who has a significant future ahead of her. The episode ends with a cliffhanger, as the Slitheen attempt to put all of Britain’s alien experts to death…and the Doctor among them.
We get our third Bad Wolf reference here, as a child paints it on the TARDIS. We also meet a doctor by the last name of Sato; this character will be prominent in Torchwood as Toshiko Sato. In that show she’s a technology expert, not a medical doctor; the discrepancy is explained offscreen, in that she was covering for Torchwood’s newly-acquired medical doctor, Owen Harper, who was hung over. It seems like an odd choice for a coroner, but who am I to judge? For the record, I love Owen and Tosh in Torchwood, and I wish they hadn’t been killed off. The scene with the fake alien escaping the morgue is very reminiscent—possibly deliberately—of the scene of the Eighth Doctor doing so in the television movie. The Doctor makes a throwaway line about Mickey’s real name being Rickey…but is it a throwaway? Next season will reveal something interesting about that, when the TARDIS crosses universes in Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel. UNIT gets a mention here, but the Doctor states that, although he once worked with him, they wouldn’t recognize him now. To my knowledge, the Ninth Doctor never works with UNIT. The TARDIS key, first seen here up close, has reverted to the Yale key of the early classic series; in the movie, it was the spade-type key favored by the Third Doctor. This is not new; however, this series will eventually establish that it’s not just a key, but a bit of linked technology; it glows when the TARDIS approaches, and has other properties as well. The Doctor claims to be 900 years old, but various materials indicate that he’s probably lying; he should be older than that. Note that various incarnations have claimed that age, and they can’t all be true.
From this point forward, all episodes set in the contemporary world are actually set one year in the future from their broadcast dates, give or take. This will continue until The End of Time, when the writers took advantage of the year without a full series to synchronize the timelines again. The net effect for Rose, of course, is that she just simply loses this entire year. Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, for what it’s worth, are also synchronized with Doctor Who. This episode, incidentally, is the 700th episode of Doctor Who; it’s also the first two-parter of the new show.
World War Three picks up right where Aliens of London leaves off. The Doctor escapes the trap—although the other experts don’t, sadly—and reconnects with Rose and Harriet. They find themselves trapped by choice in the Cabinet room of 10 Downing Street, which is protected by steel walls that keep out the Slitheen—but also keep them in. Cornered, he communicates with Mickey and Jackie by telephone, and saves them from a Slitheen; he deduces their homeworld, and realizes they are calcium-based, allowing Mickey to kill it with a mix of substances in Mickey’s apartment. He then gets Mickey to log onto UNIT’s network using the Doctor’s own credentials, and commandeers a missile. After some debate with Jackie—and an order from Harriet—the Doctor, via Mickey, does the only thing left to do: He fires the missile at 10 Downing Street, where the Slitheen are gathered…and also where he and the others are trapped. Thanks to the quick thinking of Rose, the trio survive…and the Slitheen are destroyed. At the Doctor’s suggestion, Harriet takes charge of the situation, which will soon lead to her election as Prime Minister, with three terms ahead of her; the Doctor states she will initiate Britain’s golden age. Privately he offers Mickey a place in the TARDIS; Mickey refuses, stating that life is not for him, but he asks the Doctor to not tell Rose it was his choice. The Doctor honors the request, and tells Rose that he won’t let Mickey join them. Despite Jackie’s objections, Rose leaves again in the TARDIS.
Jackie gets a lot of flak, but her demands about Rose—to know she’s safe—are really not unreasonable. Although she’s flaky on the surface, beneath it she truly cares about Rose, and is willing to fight for her, and I give her credit for that. Mickey, as well, in his own way does the same; he only refuses to travel because he knows when he’s outmatched. In his own depth, he’s far more loyal and competent than Rose ever appreciates. Harriet Jones is presented here as something of a fixed point, though that term isn’t used; but later episodes will indicate that it is far from fixed, as the Tenth Doctor destroys her career almost on a whim. The calcium-based life form that the Slitheen prove to be, stretches real-world credibility quite a bit; but they’re decent enemies anyway, getting several reappearances here and on The Sarah Jane Adventures. In fact, one Slitheen—Blon Fel-Fotch Passameer-Day Slitheen, to be exact—will be seen again this series in Boom Town.
This episode and its prequel got a lot of criticism for the low humor, especially in regard to the Slitheen’s artificial flatulence. It’s been argued that this is because the series was just beginning to find its voice and tone, and that’s a fair assessment. I would also say that I think the show is well served by having a wide range with regard to tone; a show with this loose a grip on continuity and its own rules would be tanked if it became too serious.
We’ll finish today with Dalek. Longtime fans had to be wondering if the Doctor’s perennial arch-enemies would reappear; and they did, in terrifying style. The Doctor and Rose find themselves in the year 2012, under the Utah desert, in the personal museum of Henry Van Statten. It’s not just any museum; it’s a space museum, one might say—and in fact, it constitutes a bit of a reference to the classic serial titled The Space Museum (one of my personal favorites). The Doctor and Rose are quickly captured; the arrogant Van Statten goes easy on them, however, when he discovers that the Doctor is more than he seems. He takes them to see the prize of his collection: a living Dalek. The Doctor’s reaction, however, reveals more than he would have liked; and Van Statten restrains him for study. Meanwhile, Rose, having made friends with a researcher named Adam Mitchell, goes to the Dalek—which she does not recognize—and talks to it. When she touches it, it incorporates her DNA—affected by time travel—and revitalizes itself, and escapes.
Van Statten is forced to accept the Doctor’s help as the Dalek goes on a rampage. It’s Rose, however, who ultimately is responsible for the Dalek’s defeat, or rather, its self-defeat. Having absorbed some of her DNA, it is developing a bit of human perspective, and is appalled by this change in itself. Still, it can’t destroy itself without orders; and it chooses to accept them from the Doctor, and annihilates itself. Van Statten, for his stupidity, gets his comeuppance; his own staff leave him in a public place with his memory wiped. They then choose to shut down the facility and fill it with concrete. The Doctor and Rose are free to go on their way, but they don’t go alone; at Rose’s urging, the Doctor reluctantly takes Adam Mitchell with them.
This episode is one of the very few places that establish Rose’s age. When the Doctor says they are in “Utah, 2012”, Rose comments that she should be 26. Given that it’s seven years after her point of origin in 2005, she would be 19; and the Doctor later directly states that that is her age. This episode also gives us a far more advanced Dalek than any we saw in the classic series; in addition to its hovering capability (which is not new, but may not be well known), it possesses enormous memory banks and capacitors, enough to absorb all the electricity on the west coast, and the entire content of the internet. It possesses shields that make it resistant to all types of projectile fire; self-repair systems that can generate new material out of pure energy; and a complex self-destruct system. It’s also our first view in this series of a Kaled mutant (and probably our clearest in the show overall to this point), and our first view of a Dalek shell that isn’t “flip-top”. The “EL-E-VATE!” moment in the episode had to come as a shock to many viewers, and it’s still suspenseful today. (Related: In The Tom Baker Years VHS clip show from the nineties, Tom Baker—while watching clips of his old episodes—commented that one had to work hard at pretending to be afraid of the Daleks, when you knew that all you had to do to defeat them was go upstairs. Hilarious commentary, but alas, Tom, things have changed!)
The Dalek’s erratic firing in connection with its fear sets the stage for the Series Nine revelation that emotion triggers the Daleks’ weapon systems (The Witch’s Familiar). It’s never really spelled out—anywhere that I can recall, not just here—what kind of energy is in a Dalek beam, but there is clearly an electrical component, as it electrocutes the security force under the sprinklers. For all the complaints by fans in later seasons that the Daleks aren’t scary anymore, I have to say, THIS Dalek is terrifying. Even the Doctor is terrified, and justifiably so, having recently (as far as we can be sure) come off the Time War, where “everyone lost”. His PTSD gets the better of him briefly, but he recovers well enough for now. He’s shaken by the Dalek’s comment that “you would make a good Dalek”; it’s a sentiment we’ll hear repeatedly. The Doctor is many things, but a soft man, he is not.
I’m going to voice an opinion that doesn’t seem to be popular among current fans: I prefer the lighter, humorous tone of Series One, especially when compared to the grim, tense, deadly-serious tone of the Capaldi era. Part of the issue, in my opinion, is that eleven years of this series have pushed the stakes higher and higher, with every series caught in the trap of having to outdo the previous series. When the stakes are universe-spanning in every episode, it’s hard to be lighthearted. Certainly there is a place for that kind of storytelling (in the series-long sense), and I’m not opposed to it on principle, nor will I mock anyone for preferring it; but I like this format better. As I mentioned before, Aliens of London and World War Three get a lot of flak for their low humor; but I’m okay with that. I wouldn’t want every episode to be quite on that level, but I enjoyed watching them; they were fun. Then, when you take episodes like that and follow up with a story like Dalek, you get an idea of the range of which this show is capable. Dalek is not a funny episode at all; it has its tense moments, and it’s full of action and death. But the very fact of having that variety in one series is what makes the darkness here acceptable; we can have that darkness, and then take a breath, and we’re not drowning in it all the time. I think that’s fantastic. (For the record, I consider Dalek to be, hands-down, my favorite episode of Series One. So I suppose it’s not the tone, it’s the execution.)
Some things I liked: The new Daleks are amazing. It had to feel almost a waste to audiences at the time to see the last Dalek destroyed; of course we know now that they’ll be back, but audiences then didn’t know that. Harriet Jones is an interesting character, but maybe a bit one-dimensional; I couldn’t help wondering if that’s why later writers removed her from office and from the series—all her stories had been told. The Slitheen aren’t bad villains, though I have yet to see what The Sarah Jane Adventures does with them; I feel like they would have been better accepted by fans if not for the fart jokes. I would love to have seen Diana Goddard—Henry Van Statten’s assistant and eventual judge—again, possibly in a UNIT story; she’s a frightening, cold-hearted, clever individual. Not bad episodes, overall.
Next time: Because of an upcoming two-parter that I would otherwise have to split up, we’ll trim it to two episodes: The Long Game and Father’s Day. See you there!
All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.