Doctor Who, Television, TV Thursday

Doctor Who S1, E4-6: Exterminate (TV Thursday)

These episodes are very near and dear to my heart.

Episode 4: Aliens of London/Episode 5: World War Three
Directed By: Keith Boak
Written By: Russell T. Davies
Starring: Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper, Camille Coduri, David Verrey and more
Run Time: 45 Minutes, 43 Minutes
Release Date: April 16th, 2005 and April 23rd, 2005

For the first two-part story in the Revival Era, they sure picked an interesting enemy.

In these episodes, the Doctor must deal with the fallout of accidentally keeping Rose away from home for a whole year. But things are only getting crazier, because, you guessed it: aliens! Now he must deal with the mysterious Slytheen, creatures who steal human bodies and hide in plain site. Can the Doctor prevent the annihilation of the human race?

Take a wild guess.

The actual story surrounding these two episodes is… well, it’s just okay. It’s got your typical Doctor Who thrills, it’s decently paced, and it uses the language of cinema to deliver some excellent scenes with strong emotion, all communicated without dialogue. It’s got some gags of… varying quality, let’s say, and it has lots of strong drama to balance the humor out.

Though there are definitely issues. The villains are sorely lacking in any real threat, as their personalities are more those of gag characters than evil monsters. Sure, the gimmick of body snatching is creepy, and it leads to some great and creepy scenes throughout the story. But again: compare them to the Daleks, or the even the Nesteen from earlier this season! Body stealing goofballs are hardly the most intimidating or memorable aliens in Doctor Who.

They also ruin any potential terror through paranoia that could be found from their premise. Simply because every Slytheen person immediately lets out some uncomfortable gas, which is made clear early on to be a warning sign of the monster. The premise could have been an amazing hook for the plot! Anyone could be an alien! Any character at any point could or could not be a threat! They literally hide in plain sight! But all that was thrown out the window and made painfully obvious.

That one change could have escalated them from good to amazing! Hell, I believe they could have been some of the strongest aliens in Doctor Who had they gone all in on it! Right along with the Daleks, Cybermen and Weeping Angels! They could be the more terrifying parallel to the Zygons, one that could return again in modern episodes to great effect.

Along with a slight design tweak. They kind of just look… generic. Though the suits look fantastic!

This also suffers from what I like to call “The Who Cliffhanger Problem”. Or, for short: the WCP. See, most two-part Doctor Who stories end the first part on massive cliffhangers, only to have the opening of the second part prove horribly underwhelming. In this case, the episode leaves off with the Doctor being electrocuted to death by his name tag. But it turns out all he needed to do was… pull the tag off and hit the aliens with it.

Which saves literally every important character in the whole episode! HOW CLIMACTIC!

Luckily, that’s where my issues with episodes end. From here on out, it’s smooth sailing. It’s not the best two-part episode, but it’s still a worthy first for the new series. Now, onto the things I like about this story!

I kind of love how abruptly the actual conflict starts! Right after Rose and the Doctor manage to get away from Jackie, bang! An alien ship crashes in the middle of the city! No buildup, no foreshadowing, nothing! It knows you know how this show works, and it doesn’t waste your time.

There’s also a great scene that brings you into the Doctor’s head. As he’s desperately trying to watch the news reports on the alien ship, the humans all around him slowly build in number and noise. It makes watching the report hectic and annoying. Plus, it humorously brings the Doctor down to earth and puts him in a situation I think we can all relate too. It’s a cute scene that puts a smile on my face.

This also introduces one of my favorite characters: Harriet Jones. She’s a simple character, but she’s likable and interesting enough. Especially considering how drastic a role she’ll play later in the series. Unfortunately, that’ll have to wait.

On the subject of characters, let’s talk about the character dynamics! This episode has some of the strongest character writing in the season. From Mickey’s clash with the Doctor to Jackie’s struggle to reconnect with Rose, this episode is filled to the brim with some great interactions. The dialogue is golden, easily some of the best this season. It’s a treat to watch from start to end, in spite of it’s flaws.

Aside from that, it’s on par with the rest of the season. The special effects have aged, the lighting ranges from acceptable to poor, the cinematography is okay (save for one hilariously bad zoom in shot), and the music is fantastic. All the actors are giving one hundred and ten percent, and the script they have to work with is fantastic! All in all, a pretty good pair of episodes.

But they ain’t got shit on the next one!

Episode 6: Dalek
Directed By: Joe Ahearne
Written By: Robert Shearman, Terry Nation
Starring: Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper, Steven Beckingham, and more
Run Time: 45 Minutes
Release Date: April 30th, 2005

Oh fucking boy am I excited!

My most major piece of criticism leveled at these episodes thus far has been the villains. Simply because, in all actuality, they range from ‘meh’ to forgettable. But now we get to revive the quintessential Doctor Who villain. My absolute favorite Doctor Who monster, and the one that put the series on the map all those years ago.

Gee golly, I wonder what it is.

Following a strange distress signal, the Doctor and Rose find themselves in an underground vault filled with alien technology. Here, they run into the Doctor’s oldest enemy: the last remaining Dalek. Here, we gain insight on the Time War, as well as a peek into the dark side of the Doctor. Can he put an end to the Time War and destroy the last Dalek? And can he keep Rose safe from his deadliest enemy?

This episode is, in my opinion (which is what you come here for, I imagine), is downright masterful! Sure, the lighting still has issues and the special effects have aged. But the story, dialogue, pacing and tension are all the best this season has! The script is amazing, and the actors are giving some of their best performances they ever give! Hell, I’d argue this has one of the best episodes in the whole series!

Unlike the other villains, which are bogged down by lackluster villains that can’t muster any threat, we see first hand how dangerous, as well as unstoppable, the Dalek is. It goes from dying to murdering in the drop of a hat, and it’s murder spree is unstoppable from the moment it gets going! Between that and the Doctor’s reactions to it, the show perfectly sells the threat a single Dalek can pose. The whole episode is tense from beginning to end, completely blowing every episode before it out of the water!

The build up is downright perfect! With each passing moment, each scene of destruction, the Dalek only gets more and more terrifying! This all builds up to the perfect climax, leaving the episode off on an incredibly satisfying ending. One that explores both the Doctor’s character as well as the terrifying depth of hatred within a Dalek wonderfully! As an introduction to the Daleks in the new series, this story is downright perfect!

Rose’s character is also masterfully used here. She’s dull, but she’s courageous and kind. Even in the face of a Dalek, she can’t help but show kindness. This further sells the terror of the Daleks, as even Rose becomes terrified of the creature by the end of it.

Oh, and did I mention the score? Because this is the first episode where we get the Dalek’s theme. Or as I like to call it: “Murray Gold Masturbating and Creating Actual Gold”. It’s one of the best, if not the best, track in the first season, and one of the best in the whole series!

Good god I love this episode! It’s easily my favorite in the first season, and it’s well within my top ten episodes of Doctor Who! I’ll watch it again and again for years to come, and it never stops being amazing! Sure, it’s aged, and it’s only the first Dalek story among many in the Revival Era. But you’ve got to give credit where it’s due.

They sure as fuck knocked it out of the park for their first attempt!

Conclusion

These three episodes are definitely on a spectrum. Four and five are okay, but they definitely have some issues. Luckily, any and all slack is picked up by episode six! I was already excited enough to be revisiting Doctor Who. But now, I’m more stoked than ever before!

Because if you thought it was all downhill from here, then I’m afraid I must disappoint you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s