Doctor Who and the Terror of the Terrorists

I’m still enjoying the new Doctor Who series. It’s a shame I can’t watch it on TV like a normal person and instead have to download it off the internet, but that seems to be the way the Powers that Be Be See want it.

We just got our first two-part story. “Aliens of London/World War Three” dealt with an interesting premise. An alien spacecraft crash-lands in London, whacking Big Ben in the process. Of course this causes panic and concern, because despite aliens attacking Earth once a week in the early seventies/near future, Earth still hasn’t made official “first contact”.

(SPOILERS follow from here on out.)

This alien encounter soon becomes an alien threat, and the new Prime Minister (the old one having disappeared) takes initiative to strike at this menace before it’s too late. He goes on TV and reveals that this alien ship is merely the first in an invasion and he happens to know that at this very second an attack fleet with “massive weapons of destruction” that could be released “in 45 seconds” threatens the Earth. He appeals to the United Nations for no less than war to defeat these unearthly foes.

As it turns out, the invasion is a hoax. The purpose of the war the PM is trying to start is to turn the nuclear arsenal on the Earth itself, reducing it to nuclear slag. Why? Because nuclear slag can power starships. The PM, actually an alien in disguise, really just wants to tap a vast fuel resource to make a profit.

The Doctor solves this problem in an fairly unsatisfying and unsubtle way, and at the end of the story Mickey (Rose’s boyfriend, who has redeemed himself) is amazed to see that somehow, through the press, the world has convinced itself that there never were any aliens and the whole thing was a hoax.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Doctor Who has walked in these footsteps before. “The Sunmakers” was a critique of British taxation, for example. And the 1986 spin-off novel, Turlough and the Earthlink Dilemma is rumored to have political commentary woven through it, but no one’s ever made out who the villain, “Rechtaht,” is supposed to represent. This is the first time, though, that I’ve been aware enough of current events to recognize them in the show. (Also, it’s the first time I’ve been able to watch the show in “real time”, seeing the episodes more or less when they come out.)

The allegory is unsubtle, of course, and there are some problems with it. For example, while Big Ben might be as recognizable a landmark as the World Trade Center, there weren’t 3000 people in Big Ben when it was struck. And the attack on September 11th wasn’t a hoax, it was real (unless you subscribe to certain conspiracy theories.) The problem wasn’t that the attack wasn’t real, just that the response wasn’t legitimate. Of course, one can simply say “well, this isn’t supposed to match those events, it’s a fictional teleplay merely using elements from them for entertainment,” which is true. I’m not criticizing the story for not sticking to What Really Happened, just pointing stuff out here.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this story is that it did go into an area that is new to the show: fart jokes. The aliens, when disguised as humans, are compressed into “human skins” and the compression gas apparently results in constant flatulence. This element, oddly, didn’t bother me nearly as much as I would think it would if I had heard about it second hand; I’m not sure why. (Lord knows the single fart joke in The Phantom Menace bugged the crap out of me.) This is clearly an attempt to get more kids into the show (the usual excuse for humor of this type.) But it’s interesting how an element that’s so lowbrow would accompany a story about a trumped-up war threatening global security merely to profit in fuel sales based on actual events, which is pretty high up there in the serious stakes.

So the show continues to entertain. Rose is shaping up to be one of the best companions ever, and Eccleston is making a great Doctor. These stories featured one of the best scenes in the show’s history, where Rose’s mother asks the Doctor if he could guarantee Rose’s safety if she travels with him, and the Doctor not only is unable to answer, the look on his face is devastating. The most recent episode features a surprise return of one of Doctor Who’s classic enemies. It’s called “Dalek” and I can’t wait to see which villain is in it!

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One Response to Doctor Who and the Terror of the Terrorists

  1. Lanf says:

    Micky asks the Doctor, “How could they do this? We SAW it, it was REAL!” And the Doctor replies, “Oh that’s simple really. You’re thick.” That’s it in a nutshell, I guess.