Doctor Who: World War Three (2005)

Fair enough - the joke is only sprung a few more times, rationalised scientifically (it's a clue) and there's even a sense in the dialogue ('pardon the expression') that this kind of bowel material is new in the Who format (it might even delight children, who are pleasingly included in the intended audience). I'm slightly less warm about the Douglas Adams-style funny-namery of alien worlds and beings, especially when coupled with this Doctor's amazing and apparently complete knowledge of everything which still has big gaps (he works out the aliens' home by a process of elimination, determining every planet in the universe they don't come from). The villains are well-conceived: with another never-done-before bit of business in that they aren't an evil race intent on invading but an evil family doing a dirty bit of business (perhaps a bit like Adams' Vogons in practice, though different in character - nastily chirpy rather than lugubrious) by triggering nuclear holocaust and selling off the radioactive slag cheap as fuel ('there's a recession out there,' the leader says of the larger universe).

In their chubby, smug earth disguises, the Slitheen allow for a lot of topical gags about British politics and the world situation, clamouring for access to the nuclear codes from the UN by invoking a phantom threat of alien weapons in orbit that 'can be deployed in 45 seconds'; this means a near-future in which the UN has to be consulted before a nuke can be launched, which seems utopian, but also a situation where the whole world becomes an expanded Britain, needing to be duped and lied to then dragged into a pointless war.

Outside the big plot, Davies is still working on the emotional arc with the Doctor and Rose, also Rose's mum and sort-of ex-boyfriend, which tends to mean intense personal scenes in the midst of huge crises that ough to blot everything out: here, Mum keeps harping on that Rose won't be 'safe' with the Doctor and he never reassures her, but it seems a non-issue in that the Doctor has saved the world (and thus Rose and everyone she knows, including her Mum) twice since they met - indicating she wasn't safe without him. What does work is the addressing of the issue of who the Doctor is and what he stands for in this oblique manner, expressed as much in his stern lecture to a kid who has graffiti-sprayed the TARDIS as much as his aiming a missile at his own location (10, Downing Street) if it can save humanity. Also unique is the argument of the backbench MP (Penelope Wilton) who comes to the fore in the crisis, that she's the only elected representative of the people around and the world-saving should be her decision; it's an expected punchline, but still moving, that the Doctor knows her destiny is to become the three-term PM who ushers in 'Britain's Golden Age' (though there's a sting to that, in that she at once replaces Tony Blair and becomes PM with the kind of promise he's squandered).

On the downside, it's still infernally busy - and the story-so-far precis doesn't quite jog the memory of the trifold cliffhanger enough; the get-out clause that saves the Doctor from the Slitheen trap (he's not human and can't be killed the way humans can) has been inherent in the premise since 1963 but still seems such a cheat that it's no surprise it hasn't been used before (indeed, it's the sort of thing that used to trigger a regeneration). Nevertheless, it's a witty idea to defuse the immediate threat before the credits, then show that the Doctor's escape has made it even harder for him to cope: with anyone who might support him officially dead (perhaps cutting more possible links with the old show), he instantly gets blamed for the massacre and is on the run because, after all, he is an alien on Earth too.
KIM NEWMAN

First published in this form here.


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