Aired 23 April 2005
‘World War Three’ is tasked with providing a satisfying resolution to the intriguing events set forth in ‘Aliens of London,’ but the results are mixed to say the least. As with the first part, this is not an episode for those looking for a dramatic and tense story, but the fluctuating tone and gaps in story logic further hinder the overall experience despite a quick pace that sufficiently covers a lot of ground.
The Slitheen themselves proved to be a calculating menace in ‘Aliens of London, having arlready infiltrated top-ranking positions before staging a fake alien invasion, and here their physical menace is truly showcased. These are strong, powerful hunters that can move with surprising speed, and the danger they possess and exude contrasts nicely with the innocence that their wide-eyed and baby-like faces would otherwise imply. Unfortunately, the cumbersome physical models of the Slitheen simply don’t mesh well with the CGI effects of the blazing fast hunters, and the Scooby-Doo chase scene that ensues further minimizes their threat.
One of the things that the modern series of Doctor Who has done well so far is in basing its more ludicrous concepts in realism, but that element is sadly lacking here. So while the entire episode can be chalked up to an experiment in surrealism, with the continuing flatulence and the Slitheen’s vulnerability to vinegar- though the latter does lead to a fantastic scene as the Doctor is able to pinpoint the Slitheen’s planet of origin- as prime examples, there sadly is no realism to serve as a foundation. The United Nations and British government are portrayed in a less-than-flattering light, with some hit-or-miss satire along the way, and Mickey being able to take control of the country’s missile arsenal with one simply code word is actually quite frightening.
More than any episode so far, ‘World War Three’ delivers a lot of comedy, with plenty of one-liners and sight gags. Eccleston continues to impress with the range of emotions he can portray with just the subtlest movement or non-movement, and he’s certainly at the core of a lot of the comedy here. In fact, while previous episodes have gone out of their way to showcase just how alien the nature of the Doctor can be given where he comes from and what he has been through, ‘World War Three’ does the best job yet in showing a more human side to the character as well, obviously an essential component to keep viewers and his companions invested in him. So while the harsher side of this ninth incarnation continues, unwilling to accept blame for Mickey being under suspicion of murder for the last year because of the disappearance of Rose and coming down hard on the Slitheen for their scheme and its effects, the white lie he tells Rose in order to protect the way Rose thinks about Mickey is a much softer side of this Doctor than has been shown so far.
Still, the gleefully matter-of-fact manner in which the Slitheen go about their business, attempting to obliterate the Earth and sell it off for profit, is chilling and a nice twist on traditional conventions of alien invasion, and certainly adds an extra layer to the story even if the aliens themselves don’t fully adhere to those more serious notions. Against the alien threat, Billie Piper continues to impress as the resourceful Rose Tyler, and Noel Clarke has far surpassed his initial impression in ‘Rose’ to become a rather enjoyable, down-on-his-luck kind of guy. Penelope Wilton as Harriet Jones puts in a strong performance as well, and hints seem to indicate that the world has not quite heard the end of her next, perhaps as a future Prime Minister given the sudden upheaval in the British government and her pointed assumption of responsibilities during the crisis.
‘World War Three’ is certainly not a classic episode, and the fluctuations in tone and the Slitheen themselves will certainly remain a point of contention between fans, but as a concluding act to ‘Aliens in London,’ it certainly does its job. It humanizes the Doctor a bit more and shows some genuinely funny humour throughout, and for those who can accept a lighter piece of entertainment without needing to be dripped in tension and drama, this two-parter will certainly suffice well enough.