The Great 'Doctor Who' Rewatch: Aliens of London

Aliens-of-London.jpg

Aliens! In London! (Photo: BBC)
 Previously, on Doctor Who:  Rose and the Doctor take their first journey to the past together, meet Charles Dickens and investigate some creepy gas aliens who are animating the bodies of dead Cardiff residents in the late 1860s.

This week, it’s our first adventure in modern-day London, as you might have guessed from the episode’s title, and the story is basically what it says on the tin. It’s also our first Doctor Who two-parter, so dun dun dunnn, cliffhanger time!  So sit back, relax, and come leave your thoughts, snark and general thoughts on Aliens of London in the comments. 

Home Again, Home Again. Kind of. Rose and the Doctor have popped back to modern-day London for a visit following the zombie-filled events of The Unquiet Dead. Rose seems happily shocked when the Doctor tells her that only twelve hours have passed in her actual timeline, while she’s been off seeing the future and the past, and she pops upstairs to see her mother.  The Doctor, who is apparently not to be trusted to behave on this particular visit, is wandering the courtyard aimlessly when hesuddenly finds a flyer listing Rose as a missing person. Yikes! Rose is suitably confused when her mother freaks out upon seeing her before she notices that their flat is also covered with the same flyers the Doctor saw downstairs. Nine bursts in – just a couple minutes too late, naturally – and informs Rose that she’s actually been gone twelve months instead of twelve hours. Awkward. 

Jackie is Not a Huge Fan of the Doctor. While a young boy spray paints “BAD WOLF” on the outside of the TARDIS (here’s your warning that that’ll come up again later), Jackie has called the police and is busily yelling at  the Doctor and Rose for leaving her alone for a year (Rose) and letting her think her daughter was dead (Nine). They try to explain that she’s been travelling, but Jackie’s not buying it. The Doctor watches these proceedings like it’s a Wimbledon match and pipes up that he’s sort of employed Rose as a companion. Both the police officer who’s taking notes about the situation and Jackie automatically assume that their relationship is inappropriate and Jackie yells at the Doctor some more before slapping him. This is all kind of hilarious and super awkward. Rose apologizes and cries but still refuses to tell her mother where she was. Which, let’s be honest, if Jackie were your mother you probably wouldn’t want to tell her about time travel either.

But Then The Aliens Happen. Rose and the Doctor retreat to the roof, where Rose laments the fact that she can’t even begin to tell her mother the truth about what she’s been doing. The Doctor asks if she’s going to stay behind now that Jackie’s so upset and Rose says she doesn’t know. The Doctor says Jackie’s not coming with them, that’s for sure, and they both laugh (because can you imagine). The Doctor admits that in 900 years of travelling no one’s mother has ever slapped him before.  Rose complains that she often gets confused when she’s talking to the Doctor but she says that she can’t talk to anyone else because she’s the only person on Earth that ‘s seen spaceships and aliens and knows about the vastness of the universe and blah blah existentialism. That, of course, is the exact moment a giant spaceship whirs overhead and crashes through Big Ben (alright, Elizabeth Tower) and lands in the Thames. Of course. Oh, well. Maybe they can tell Jackie the truth now! 

First Contact Craziness. The Doctor looks crazy excited and the two of them dash off after the alien ship. Before they get very far though the roads are blocked off and guarded by soldiers. The Doctor doesn’t want to take the TARDIS into the middle of this situation so Rose says they’ll have to do what everyone else does, which is watch events unfold on TV. They end up flipping channels in Jackie’s flat and the Doctor gets more and more annoyed as more and more of the Tylers’ neighbors and friends arrive. They learn a body has been found in the alien ship and has been taken to a nearby hospital, though the government won’t confirm anything. (Shocker.)

We follow some military looking officials into St. Albion’s where they look at a body under the sheet. The officer looks shocked and says that experts are being flown in.  We also learn that the Prime Minister has been missing since the “incident” and no one will say where he is. Ominous! 

Again, We Must Repeat, This is a Children’s Show. A few seemingly random people - a Cabinet member, an MI-5 agent, and a “transportation specialist” are all called to Downing Street, ostensibly to run the government since the Prime Minister has gone missing and apparently there are literally no higher ranking government officials in easy reach. Of course, these random people are not precisely who (or what) what they appear to be, and are actually lamentably flatulent aliens who wear people costumes as a disguise. The ill-timed gastrointestinal issues of said aliens are a running “joke” throughout this two-parter and I wish I could tell you that this gag gets funnier. It doesn’t. But let us remember, this is ostensibly a kid’s show, and bodily humor is apparently something everyone assumes children find funny. Who knows.  Know that if you’re rolling your eyes a bit, it’s okay, because this particular bit of toilet humor gets old real quick.

Oh, and we also meet Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North, who is amazing and awesome and played by Penelope Wilton, whom you may know from Downton Abbey. She’s been waiting for an audience with the Prime Minister and refuses to leave until she gets the chance to talk to the acting government.  She is also a plot point, but a fantastic one. 

The Doctor Sets Off to See History. The Doctor, who has had about enough of the apparently now dozens of people hanging out at Jackie’s decides to go “have a wander”. Rose is anxious that he’s going to just disappear on her, but he says she should go enjoy history, because if this is legitimately the real “first contact” scenario for Earth, it’s the moment the human race grows up. He also gives her a key to the TARDIS, by way of being reassuring, and says it’s time she had one anyway.

The Doctor heads off to the TARDIS and is immediately spotted by Mickey, who chases after him, but just misses the police box vworping off wherever it’s going. Of course, the TARDIS is vworping to the hospital so the Doctor can investigate the alien body, which has conveniently started making banging noises in the lab drawer where it’s being stored. The nice scientist- who-will-later-turn-out-to-be-Tosh-on-Torchwood looks terrified and the Doctor hears her scream from the hall. Nine barks some random sounding military orders at the guards outside and the search for the alien begins.  

Meanwhile, Back at Downing Street. Harriet Jones, MP, is still waiting for the chance to present her paper on hospital standards of excellence to the new acting government. Everyone kind of laughs at her, because, hi, aliens in the river, et cetera, but she is dogged. And awesome. She sneaks into the secret council room to leave her presentation among some important favors for someone important to find, but has to hide in a closet when she hears footsteps outside. Surely there must be security protocols involved to keep people from just sneaking into high ranking government officials officers and closets? Really?

But, we don’t have time to worry about that, because Harriet Jones, MP, has just discovered that the three “people” in charge of the government are actually large, gross aliens who are hiding inside human skin costumes and is busy freaking out.  She watches as they murder the General from earlier and then sees Charles (the former transportation specialist) swap “skins” with him. Gross. (And that’s not just because we have to sit through about a dozen more flatulence jokes at this point. Because, hey, that just gets funnier every time.)

The Alien in the Cupboard. Back at the hospital, despite the roughly 200 military personnel combing the building in search of the alien, of course it’s the Doctor that discovers it, hiding behind a lab table. The alien, which doesn’t look so much like an alien, as it does a pig playing dress up, runs from the Doctor in a panic. It dashes into the hallway, screaming and flailing, and is shot by one of the approximately 200 military personnel who appear to be loitering just outside the door and not doing a very good job of searching the rest of the building. The Doctor is furious and shouts at them, wanting to know why the creature was shot when it was obvious it was just scared.

They take the poor pig creature’s body back to the lab of the nice scientist- who-will-later-turn-out-to-be-Tosh-on-Torchwood for examination. It turns out the alien isn’t an alien at all, but rather an ordinary pig from Earth, surgically altered  to look like an alien, the same way that mermaid hoaxes were perpetuated using the skeletons of cats and fish back in the day. The Doctor is sickened and says that this was done on purpose, that someone tortured this poor animal and made it dive bomb London in a fake spaceship. He remarks that it must have been terrified, and looks infinitely sad. The scientist we might as well just call Tosh points out that even if the alien is a fake, the technology that was used to create him isn’t – and that tech is definitely not from Earth. She hypothesizes that actual aliens must have somehow created this fake alien, but she can’t figure out why they would want to do that, because honestly, it’s a lot of effort. She turns to question the Doctor further, to discover that he’s already vanished, and as she steps into the hall to look for him, the TARDIS vworping noise can be heard in the distance. Clearly, the Doctor’s already figured out whatever’s going on, but it does seem a shame that he’s apparently not planning to share this information with Tosh, who looks very confused. 

Awkward Reunion Time, Part Two. Rose is slumped in a chair in her mother’s flat, looking decidedly bored with proceedings (and the growing crowd of people in the living room), when suddenly Mickey shows up at her door and stares at her, looking shocked. Rose says she was planning to come and see him, and just hadn’t done it yet, which totally sounds like a huge lie, and he keeps staring and everything is awkward.

Things get even more awkward rather quickly, as it comes out that while Rose was away, Jackie basically accused Mickey of abducting her or something, and he was taken in for police questioning five separate times. Apparently, Jackie might also have basically campaigned around the estate spreading awful stories about Mickey and making his life miserable. Ouch. So, it seems that Mickey’s next decision is an understandable, if epically tacky one – which is to whine at Rose about how he’s been waiting for her for a whole year, and to rub it in her face that she’s stuck with them now because the Doctor’s left her. He says he saw the blue police box disappear and insists that the Doctor must be the worst boyfriend ever to just ditch her like that. Basically, Mickey is a huge jerk right now.  Rose is shocked and runs off to look for the TARDIS.

Mickey and Jackie follow her, and Mickey continues to whinge on about how he hopes Rose knows how it feels now to get left behind, blah blah blah. Shut up, Mickey. Rose gets annoyed and says that the Doctor’s not her boyfriend, he’s more important than that, and that he wouldn’t leave her because he gave her a key to the TARDIS. Jackie looks confused, Mickey looks smug and Rose looks defiant, as the TARDIS key suddenly starts glowing in her hand.  Rose tries to get her mother to go back into the flat, but Jackie refuses to move, so she just stands there and watches the TARDIS fade back into existence in shock, as Rose puts her hand to her forehead in the universal facepalm sign for Oh, Good Lord, I cannot believe this is happening to me

Enter the Domestic Drama. (Or: Jackie Continues to Make Poor Choices.) The TARDIS reappears and Rose rushes inside. The Doctor immediately starts talking – admitting that yes he’d lied about going off to investigate the alien crash landing, but it turned out it wasn’t even an alien in the first place and he just has so much news.

Rose announces that her mom is there. The Doctor tells her not to bring her domestic drama into the TARDIS and Mickey starts going on and on about how the Doctor ruined his life because he ended up being a murder suspect. (Seriously, isn’t that Jackie’s fault, really?) Jackie, having looked around inside the TARDIS for a few seconds, runs away without saying anything. Rose shouts after her that she’ll be up in a minute, but returns to the Doctor’s side as they start speculating about what could be the reason for actual aliens faking a UFO crash and putting the planet on red alert.

Turns out, however, that Rose probably ought to have followed her mother inside. Jackie, after a few moments of looking anxious and tortured in the bedroom, decides to call the emergency alert tip line that’s been set up for people to report anything that they might have seen that could be connected to aliens. Jackie proceeds to tell the alien emergency helpline dispatcher everything, that she’s seen an alien, that she doesn’t think her daughter is safe with him, that he has a blue box and his name is the Doctor. This tip (of course) trips a loud alarm in the emergency alert system, complete with sirens and flashing red lights and a giant RED ALERT banner on what appears to be every computer in Downing Street. Well done, Jackie! 

The Order of the Alien Experts. After doing some tinkering with the TARDIS radar, the Doctor figures out that the alien spaceship that crashed into Big Ben actually came from somewhere on Earth first, so whoever the aliens are, they’ve been on this planet for some time.

Mickey of course, chooses this moment to tell Rose he’s missed her, and isn’t seeing anyone else, and to ask whether she’s going to stay now that she’s come back. Shut up, Mickey.

Harriet Jones, MP, is still trapped in the closet at Downing Street, watching the aliens masquerade as fake humans and complain about their flatulence problems.  You pretty much have to feel sorry for her at this point. Harriet Jones, MP, sneaks out as the aliens start to leave, and makes it close enough to eavesdrop as the new heads of government are given a debriefing about the Doctor and how someone’s reported he’s been seen on Earth. The overeager Downing Street Assistant says that he’s supposed to be an expert on aliens, so obviously, he’s who they need to find now they’re having an alien crisis.

Back in the TARDIS, the Doctor, Rose and Mickey are watching the news and see UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Commanders). The Doctor admits that he knows them, but says he can’t go see or help them because they won’t recognize him anymore, since he’s changed a bit over the years. (This is the first real nod towards regeneration we get in this series, even though it’s not particularly overt. Also a lovely sort of indirect shout-out to the Brigadier, a beloved classic character who ran UNIT way back when.) The Doctor declares they need to go investigate, but since he’d rather keep the TARDIS out of sight, he declares that Mickey can just drive them. The three of them head out of the police box, but are immediately surrounded by police cars, helicopters, spotlights and men with guns. Mickey, somehow, manages to hide behind some crates, and though Jackie appears and starts shouting, it doesn’t stop Rose and the Doctor from being bundled off in a squad car. In the backseat, Rose comments that this is very posh and perhaps she ought to have tried getting arrested sooner. The Doctor points out that they aren’t being arrested – they’re being escorted. To Downing Street. The two of them look at each other and start laughing like Sherlock and John in a Sherlock episode, and it’s kind of adorable.  The two of them arrive at 10 Downing Street and pose for the paparazzi for a minute. The Doctor waves at them. Some of them wave back. Too cute.

Our First Cliffhanger. The Doctor is immediately shuffled into a top level meeting about the alien problem at Downing Street. Over Eager Downing Street Assistant tells him that Rose can’t go in with him because she doesn’t have clearance. The Doctor insists that he doesn’t go anywhere without her, but Over Eager Downing Street Assistant isn’t having it. Rose says it’s all fine, and that the Doctor can just go in without her and she’ll be right outside. Harriet Jones, MP, pops up suddenly – somehow still managing to have kept herself sneaking around Downing Street all this time and introduces herself to the Doctor with a look of relief. Over Eager Assistant tells her she doesn’t have the clearance to make it into the top secret meeting either, so Harriet Jones, MP, offers to look after Rose instead. 

In the Alien Experts Meeting, the Doctor grabs a seat near the back and proceeds to speed read the report that’s been passed out to everyone. The acting Prime Minister tries to call the meeting to order and the Doctor jumps in, saying that the weird thing that happened wasn’t the discovery of the pig creature in the alien spaceship, but rather the fact that a satellite in the North Sea had picked up a blip of radiation in the ocean at 100 fathoms. Before it could be investigated though, suddenly the world is panicking about an alien ship crash landing and that’s all been forgotten and wasn’t that a convenient distraction.  Hmmm.

Meanwhile, the one of the creepy skin-wearing aliens shows up at Jackie’s flat to interrogate her about how Rose met the Doctor. She says she doesn’t know anything about aliens or spaceships or how the TARDIS was bigger on the inside. The police officer- who-isn’t says that wherever the Doctor goes, there’s trouble, and whoever knows him, well, they’re trouble too. He claims it’s his job to get rid of people like that, and he starts unzipping the top of his head. A weird blue light starts glowing out of his face. 

Harriet Jones, MP, escorts Rose to a quiet corner of the building (since apparently everyone else but the two of them and Over Eager Assistant had clearance enough to get in that meeting) and asks if her friend the Doctor is really an expert on aliens. Rose asks why she wants to know, and Harriet starts crying.  She tells Rose about her terrible awful no good very bad day, including learning that aliens are hiding themselves in human suits and that the people running the government aren’t people at all. Rose tries to calm her down, and tells her she believes her. Rose starts searching the office for any sort of alien technology and accidentally finds a body in the closet. Of course, this is the exact moment that Over Eager Assistant pops into the room. He looks shocked, but identifies the body on the floor as the previously missing Prime Minister. The alien who is currently dressed up as a woman also chooses that exact moment to walk in, cackling evilly about someone being naughty. She basically admits that they killed the prime minister before she too starts unzipping the top of her head and glowing. 

Back in the meeting hall, the Doctor’s still talking out his theory to the group. He wonders what aliens would get from faking an alien crash landing. Then he stops stock still and says that what they get is “us” – the alien “diversion” isn’t a diversion at all, it’s a trap to get all the people who are knowledgeable about aliens in one place and get rid of them.  We pause the Doctor’s theory for yet another ill-timed bit of flatulence humor before the acting Prime Minister starts laughing and the General unzips his forehead and starts glowing too. This episode must have spent a fortune on glowy blue lighting effects. 

We see the alien forms – green, large, with enormous eyes and huge claws – emerge from their human skin costumes, and our heroes all seem in very real danger of getting eaten.  The aliens announce that they are the Slitheen. Jackie starts screaming. Over Eager Assistant gets killed. The acting Prime Minister starts electrocuting everyone in the Alien Expert Meeting, by way of their ID badges, which have been conveniently wired with something like a taser system. The aliens are laughing. Jackie is still screaming. Nine is grimacing in pain. 

The credits roll. Our first proper cliffhanger! How will the Doctor and Rose and Harriet Jones, MP, get out of this mess? Who are the Slitheen? What do they want? How will our heroes get out of Downing Street? Tune in next week to find out.

The problem with cliffhangers is that they’re so often clunky – and each episode doesn’t have a defined beginning, middle and end. Aliens of London isn’t the best two-parter lead in that we’ll see this season (The Empty Child is much better), but it’s silly and fun, even with its overreliance on bodily humor.

Thoughts, folks? Let’s chat in the comments.