World War Three doesn’t fully live up to the potential of its predecessor
Starring Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper
There are many words that could be used to describe “Aliens of London”, but uneventful is certainly not one of them. It rockets along from plot point to plot point like a freight train on uppers. As soon as it’s started exploring the repercussions of the Doctor’s TARDIS miscalculations, there’s a spaceship colliding with Big Ben, only to discover that the pilot is a mutated pig and the spaceship came from Earth in the first place. Within Downing Street, sinister, skinning aliens are infiltrating the government, and Jackie’s paranoia causes Rose and the Doctor to be arrested and taken directly to Number Ten, where the world’s chief alien experts are assassinated, and the Doctor, Rose, Harriet Jones and Jackie all find themselves at the mercy of the Slitheen in different ways.
“World War Three”, by contrast, stagnates. Once our lead characters escape from their cliffhangers, all through the convenient contrivance that the electrified badge that the Doctor was wearing is capable of incapacitating not just one, but all of the Slitheen simultaneously, the Doctor (Christopher Eccleston), Rose (Billie Piper) and Harriet Jones (Penelope Wilton) wind up locked in the Cabinet Room, safe from the Slitheen but unable to escape, while Mickey (Noel Clarke) and Jackie (Camille Coduri) are in Mickey’s flat, desperately trying to aid the trio from afar, and with their own Slitheen to deal with.
That isn’t to say that the episode isn’t without its tense moments. The Doctor, Rose and Harriet desperately working together to try to work out the Slitheen’s weakness while across London Mickey and Jackie are under threat by one in their house is nail biting, even if the audience is fairly certain that the show wouldn’t go down the route of killing off either Rose’s mother or her boyfriend while they’re on the phone to her.
The domestic elements still form a large part of the plot, once again making the stakes of travelling with the Doctor abundantly plain. When Jackie asks the Doctor if Rose is safe, he tellingly cannot respond. She is never going to be safe while travelling with him, but he still shows himself unable to make the difficult decision to save the planet but endanger her. With the context of the full Time War existing on rewatches, it is clear that the Doctor still holds onto this guilt at being the one responsible for the demise of both his own species and the Daleks, and his reticence and lack of ruthlessness comes from this spot, which allows for Harriet Jones, who up until now has been wonderfully blithering and quaint, proves her fighting spirit in making the decision on behalf of the human race.
Despite appearing wonderfully sinister in the first part of the tale, the Slitheen suffer from increased exposure. Firstly, this episode leans far more into comedic elements, having the Slitheen interact in much more amusing ways, such as talking about wanting to be naked. Physically, their computer-generated counterparts look far more intimidating than the tangible in-studio forms, which plainly appear like a man in a suit. There’s also an odd disconnect between the lithe, athletic creature that can bound across the room with ease compared to the lumbering, awkward sight of the non-computer generated Slitheen. It undermines their credibility as chilling, murderous beasts to instead a vaguely incompetent inconvenience.
Ultimately, “World War Three” is probably the weakest episode of Series 1 to date, featuring a great deal many plot contrivances to keep the story moving forwards. It somewhat beggars belief that not only do the UN urgently grant unilateral nuclear missile control to the UK on the basis of their falsified alien evidence, but also that Mickey is able to launch his own missile using only a password given to him by the Doctor. However, it is buoyed by compelling performances and helps cements the characters of Jackie and Mickey in the audience’s hearts. By the end of the episode, it is clear that Rose is committed to her travels with the Doctor, as the audience has a sense of just what it is that she is leaving behind.