The Slitheen gather in Downing Street as the Doctor fights valiantly to ensure that this fairly terrible storyline doesn’t keep going through into a third episode.
The Ninth Doctor’s relationship with humanity is quite stop-start, with the character willing to make some positive choices for those around him but also proving to be extremely stubborn when it comes to offering his trust or respect. That’s one of the things which comes across so strongly in the second part of the Slitheen two-parter, “World War Three”. Just as the previous episode started with the strongest aspect of the series so far – the human drama – so this episode concludes with some more of the same thoughtful content, as the Doctor comes to some sort of deal with Micky which gives both characters a more appreciably warm relationship.
It’s something that’s been needed for Eccelston’s Doctor since the first episode, giving a few more layers to his treatment of those around him. To start with, he developed a tentative friendship with Rose which became very intense very quickly – to the extent that in this episode he worries that his plan might only work if it means sacrificing Rose, and pausing as a result. That relationship with Rose, however, did not duplicate to her friends or family. He arguably treats the Slitheen leaders with more courtesy than he offers Jackie in this episode.
He continues to try to pull Rose away from her community in this issue, turning down the chance to have dinner with Rose and her mum and instead asking that Rose go travelling with him instead, right that minute. And Rose starts to pack! On previous times watching the show, I wasn’t keen on the idea of using romantic terms to describe the duo, but here you can see already that Jackie believes there’s a romantic element to things, and she calls Rose out on them sharply. Rose denies it all, but her body language (and, y’know, the willingness to leave home again already) gives the clearer picture. She’s tangled up in the world of the Doctor now, and she’s starting to lose her connection to home which had been so reinforced over the last few episodes.
So when Rose packs her stuff and prepares to leave, it’s Micky who takes the Doctor to one side to try and create an understanding between them. Micky’s already proved himself a little more through his handy hereto-unseen ability as a master computer hacker, and that seems to give him an in with the Doctor. Rather than using that to push himself into the Tardis, though, he instead opts away, but with the understanding that Rose is to be kept safe and protected – not the Doctor’s definition of those two words, though, but Micky’s definition instead. For everything else that feels off about the character, Noel Clarke is able to emphasise Micky’s protective nature in a positive way. Rather than being possessive of Rose once more, he differs here from the Doctor and copes with her deciding to leave.
Micky isn’t dealing with having just been through a Time War, of course, which perhaps plays into that a little.
Elsewhere, we have more of the high-camp, low stakes fluff that came through in the last episode, with most of the Slitheen coming across as villains from a Carry On movie rather than as any kind of coherent creation. Their presence here is as a second-hand embarrassment more than anything else, as though a group of gleefully out-of-touch grandparents just got turned into killing machines and decided to use their power to make weird pop-culture references and have dance parties. It’s absolutely crazy: with a stronger coherency to their collective traits established, you’d be able to just about deal with some of this. But witnessing them throughout the episode is fairly humiliating.
There’s no understanding of what kind of story the actors are meant to react to. The Slitheen actors are clearly being told to go for kid-friendly comedy, while Rose and The Doctor are acting like this is a straight political thriller and Penelope Wilton’s Harriet Jones character goes all over the place. Having treated this as a horror story in the first episode, here she heads closer to comedy, before suddenly taking an about-turn, immediately finding feet for her character, and marching off to become Prime Minister. She convinces in each phase of her character’s evolution, but the evolution itself doesn’t make much sense by itself.
That sums up the episode itself. It can’t decide what it wants to be, much like the Slitheen themselves. They’re more compelling when in human form (in part because the show is overreaching on what it can pull off, CGI-wise) but then the CGI creatures provide the shock and awe for the show. But then the human form can do comedy whilst the CGI can do action. And the show wants to do everything at once so it doesn’t really do anything at once? Future seasons will stick to people in costumes, and you really can see why they made that choice. You need a little more expression in your villains, especially when the scripts don’t know what to do with them.
Doctor Who Series 1 Episode 5: World War Three
Written by Russell T. Davies
Directed by Keith Boak