DOCTOR WHO (2005) series 1, episode 4
"ALIENS OF LONDON"
WRITER: RUSSELL T. DAVIES
DIRECTOR: KEITH BOAK
AIR DATE: April 16 2005
After their adventure in Cardiff in 1869, the Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) intends to return in the TARDIS with Rose (Billie Piper) to London twelve hours after their original departure, but mistakenly arrives twelve months after they left. Unaware of the error, Rose goes back home where her mother Jackie (Camille Coduri) is shocked to see her. Having believed that her daughter was abducted and murdered, Jackie is greatly relieved to find Rose alive but exasperated when no proper explanation for her disappearance is forthcoming.
Rose retreats to a rooftop overlooking London where she tells the Doctor that she cannot possibly begin to tell her mother the truth about her time-travelling adventures and encounters with aliens. As they talk, they witness an alien craft overhead, spewing out smoke and flying haphazardly over the city. The stricken craft smashes into Big Ben before plummeting into the River Thames. Central London is shut down by the military and the Doctor and Rose retire to watch events on television. A news reporter announces that an alien body has been recovered from the wreckage of the craft. The Doctor sets off to investigate and lands the TARDIS inside a hospital where the body of the alien pilot is being examined. There the Doctor uncovers a deception, discovering that the alien craft was launched from Earth and that the pilot is a common pig that has been modified by alien technology.
Unable to locate the Prime Minster in the chaotic aftermath of the crash, the British Government names Joseph Green (David Verrey) as acting Prime Minister. Green, however, is revealed to be a member of the Slitheen, a family of aliens who are hiding in plain sight by compressing their bulky forms into suits of human skin taken from their murdered victims. Two other members of government, Margaret Blaine (Annette Badland) and Oliver Charles (Eric Potts), are also revealed to be Slitheen. Behind closed doors the Slitheen celebrate their deception of humanity, unaware that they have been overheard by MP Harriet Jones (Penelope Wilton). Harriet secretly watches in horror as the aliens reveal their true forms before killing and appropriating the skin of a top military official, General Asquith (Rupert Vansittart).
When the Doctor returns to Rose, they are surrounded by soldiers and escorted to 10 Downing Street. There the Doctor is asked to join a panel of experts on aliens. Harriet, having overheard that the Doctor is a top authority on alien matters and seeing that Rose is connected to the Doctor, latches onto Rose and takes her for a walk. As they walk, Harriet breaks down in tears and tells Rose about the aliens. In a meeting room, they discover the dead body of the Prime Minister, but before they can reveal their discovery they are caught by Blaine who unzips her human suit and attacks them. Back at Rose’s home, a Slitheen sheds his policeman skin and corners Jackie in the kitchen, where she cowers in terror. As the Doctor attempts to convince the assembled experts that events have been faked, Asquith reveals his true Slitheen form as Green begins electrocuting and killing all of the humans in the room. The episode ends on this cliffhanger.
and a friend
After the two dazzling episodes which preceded it, this episode feels like a bit of a let-down. "Aliens of London" has a similar feel to series opener "Rose", with London once again subject to extraterrestrial invasion, and the fact that these two episodes share the same director, Keith Boak, perhaps explains some of the tonal similarity. That said, it’s not a bad episode.
For a start, the opening sequence with Rose returning home to her mother Jackie is quite brilliant. Camille Coduri is magnificent as the distraught mother whose daughter, it seems, has returned from the dead. She runs through a wide gamut of emotions from tearful relief to burning anger, the latter of which she channels into a ferocious slap across the Doctor’s face, shaking his eyes in their sockets and scorching his skin for a week (at least, one reckons from the sheer force of the blow). It’s a glorious moment that never fails to entertain no matter how often viewed.
Other highlights include a self-assured performance by Penelope Wilton as the plucky but vulnerable Harriet Jones. The moment where she loses her composure in front of Rose is a memorable piece of good acting, coming across as emotionally authentic given the circumstances. Other confident performances are offered up by Annette Badland and David Verrey as Margaret Blaine and Keith Green respectively, who, as Slitheen evildoers masquerading in human guise, mix venality and flatulence with great aplomb. Badland, in particular, shines throughout this episode, lighting up the screen with a level of malevolence and creepiness that undoubtedly won her a well-deserved return later on in the season.
Given the rich performances of the actors playing the Slitheen in human skins, it is a real shame then that the proverbial ball truly slips out of the glove when the skins inevitably come off. Frankly, the alien Slitheen is a howling mess of poor design choices, easily being a contender for the worst contemporary Doctor Who monster design. Bulbous ET-type heads and long clumsy arms that swish about in slow motion make for an ungainly creature that irritates far more than it scares. In addition, the special effects used during the discarding of human skins are sloppy and unconvincing, adding to the disappointment of the big alien reveal. Just awful!
That gripe aside, the proceedings are still entertaining enough. When the Doctor utters the immortal line, “Do you mind not farting while I’m saving the world,” his Time Lord indignation is hilarious. And that colossal slap! I’m still rubbing my cheek in sympathy. Do not mess with the awesome Jackie Tyler! You have been duly warned.