Aliens of London
"Aliens of London" is the fourth episode of the Series 1 of the British science fiction television show Doctor Who that was first broadcast on 16 April 2005. Written by Russell T Davies and directed by Keith Boak, it is the first in a two-part story, concluding with "World War Three".
In the episode, alien time traveller the Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) takes his companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) back to the time she left with him, but accidentally arrive a year later. While Rose is dealing with the consequences with her mother Jackie (Camille Coduri) and her boyfriend Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke), a spaceship crashes into the River Thames, triggering a worldwide state of alert.
This episode introduced the character of Harriet Jones, played by Penelope Wilton, who became a semi-recurring character until 2008.
Intending to return Rose to Earth twelve hours after her original departure, the Doctor miscalculates, arriving twelve months after they left. Rose's mother Jackie is furious with her, believing that Rose had been abducted and murdered. Rose's boyfriend Mickey is also upset, as he was suspected of murdering Rose. As Rose expresses her frustration to the Doctor of not being able to tell the truth of where she's been, they witness a spacecraft crash through Big Ben and fall into the River Thames. Central London is shut down while the population become excited at the possibility of first contact with an alien species. The Doctor suspects trickery, and uses the TARDIS to land inside the hospital where the alien pilot has been taken. The Doctor discovers that the alien craft was launched from Earth, and that the pilot is really a common pig that has been modified by alien technology.
The government is unable to locate the Prime Minister due to the confusion of the crash, and MP Joseph Green is named acting Prime Minister. Green is revealed to be a member of the Slitheen, a family of aliens that compress their bodies into large human "suits" resulting in frequent releases of flatulence. Two other high members of the government, Margaret Blaine and Oliver Charles, are also revealed to be Slitheen. The Slitheen secretly celebrate luring the humans into their plan, but are unaware of their conversation being witnessed by Harriet Jones.
When the Doctor returns to Rose, they are surrounded by soldiers and escorted to 10 Downing Street. The Doctor is asked to join a panel of alien experts including UNIT, and Rose is escorted into the building by Harriet. Harriet tells Rose about the aliens, and together they discover the Prime Minister's corpse. Before they can reveal their discovery, they are caught by Blaine, who begins to unzip her human suit to attack them. As the Doctor attempts to convince the experts of the forgery of the events, Green sends an electrical shock through the assembled group. The episode ends on a cliffhanger, leading into the episode "World War Three".
UNIT, the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, is mentioned amongst the experts on aliens, its first appearance on television since the 1989 serial Battlefield. The Doctor mentions having worked with them in the past, but says that they wouldn't recognise him now, alluding to his regeneration.
The Doctor calls Mickey "Ricky" to annoy him, a reference he repeats in "Boom Town". In the episodes "Rise of the Cybermen"/"The Age of Steel", the alternate universe version of Mickey is named Ricky.
Dr Toshiko Sato, the government pathologist in this episode, returns in the Doctor Who spin-off series Torchwood. The events of this episode are briefly mentioned in a conversation with Toshiko and Owen in the Torchwood episode "Exit Wounds". In Torchwood, Toshiko is a computer expert not a pathologist and it is explained that because Owen was hungover from the night before Toshiko covered for him and said that she was a doctor and examined the space pig.
The Cardiff Royal Infirmary was used as the set for Albion Hospital. The exterior of 10 Downing Street was a similar house in Central London, while the interior was filmed in Hensol Castle, Vale of Glamorgan. Mickey's flat is the same set as Jackie's and Rose's.
The role of Harriet Jones was written specially for Penelope Wilton by the series' lead writer and executive producer Russell T Davies. Wilton was drawn to the role because of the quality of the writing; she had previously worked with Davies on Bob and Rose. Lachele Carl, the American reporter Trinity Wells, reappears in many invasion stories of the Davies era. Rupert Vansittart later appeared in the Eighth Doctor audio drama Dead London where he played Sepulchre.
The episode's 'Next Time' trailer aired before the credits, directly after the cliffhanger which threatened most of the main cast. Following heavy criticism, further trailers for two-part stories were shifted to the end of the credits, starting with The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances through to the most recent two-parter, 2011's The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People.
The production team had intended to suggest that the murdered Prime Minister in this episode was current real-life incumbent, Tony Blair. On the DVD commentary for the following episode, producer Phil Collinson explained that they had hired an actor to play the dead body on the understanding that the man was a Tony Blair impersonator. When the resemblance proved disappointing, they decided to avoid showing the body clearly. The suggestion that the body is Blair's remains when Harriet Jones says that she is "hardly one of the babes", a reference to the large number of female Labour Party MPs who entered the House of Commons in Labour's 1997 general election victory, who were dubbed "Blair's Babes" by the British media. That Tony Blair was elected in Doctor Who continuity was confirmed in "Rise of the Cybermen".
Broadcast and reception
This episode together with "World War Three" and "Dalek" were the first released on the UMD format for the PlayStation Portable. The three episodes were then released on a DVD, then later with the rest of series 1 on a box set.
Rose's remark to the Doctor, "You're so gay", generated some controversy. Davies defended himself by saying he was trying to reflect how people talk in real life.
"Aliens of London" received generally mixed reviews. Arnold T Blumburg of Now Playing gave the episode a grade of C, finding the Slitheen, their associated humour, and the pig insulting. However, he was positive towards how the story showed what happened to Rose's home life in her absence. In 2013, Patrick Mulkern of Radio Times described the two-parter as "flashy but silly" and "disappointing", though the storyline of Rose's family worked because of the "vivid" characters. He also criticised the execution of the Slitheen, and found Eccleston's performance lacking. He particularly praised Wilton's performance, describing her character as the "persistent, inquisitive, heart-in-the-right-place Harriet Jones". The A.V. Club reviewer Alasdair Wilkins gave the episode a grade of B-. He found the problem to be more in the execution than conception; there was a possibility of satire in the fart jokes, but the direction and performances let it down. Because it veered close to being silly and not taking the Slitheen seriously, he argued that the televised version did not display its more nuanced parts, like each Slitheen having individuality, the exploration of the human race knowing about extraterrestrials, and Rose's home life. Burk and Smith? in Who is the Doctor were more positive. Burk noted that the story was "loved and hated by fans in equal measure" but it was a "delight" for him, though unexpected. While he found the Slitheen to work on many levels of humour, he stated that the domestic storyline was the best part, elevated by good performances. He also felt the pig worked. Smith? called it the closest the new series and Davies "ever gets to pastiching the Classic Series' most beloved writer, Robert Holmes." He also praised the domestic situation, though he found the political satire "one-note", the direction disappointing, and Eccleston "out of his depth" with lighter moments.
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- Burk and Smith? p. 19
- Blumburg, Arnold T (20 April 2005). "Doctor Who - "Aliens of London"". Now Playing. Archived from the original on 21 April 2005. Retrieved 1 December 2013.
- Mulkern, Patrick (7 March 2013). "The Aliens of London/World War Three ***". Radio Times. Retrieved 27 November 2013.
- Wilkins, Alasdair (1 December 2013). "Doctor Who: "Aliens of London"/"World War Three"". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 1 December 2013.
- Burk and Smith? pp. 20-22
- Burk and Smith? pp. 22-23
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- Aliens of London on TARDIS Data Core, an external wiki
- BBC Doctor Who Homepage
- "Aliens of London" / "World War Three" at Doctor Who: A Brief History Of Time (Travel)
- "Aliens of London" / "World War Three" at the Doctor Who Reference Guide
- "Aliens of London" at Outpost Gallifrey
- "Aliens of London" at TV.com
- Doctor Who Confidential — Episode 4: I Get a Side-Kick Out of You
- "Bong!" — Episode trailer for "Aliens of London"
- Mock report from BBC News 24
- "Aliens of London" at the Internet Movie Database
- "Aliens of London" reviews at Outpost Gallifrey
- "Aliens of London" / "World War Three" reviews at Outpost Gallifrey
- "Aliens of London" reviews at The Doctor Who Ratings Guide
- "Aliens of London" / "World War Three" reviews at The Doctor Who Ratings Guide