Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor: World War Three

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Do you think I don’t know that? ‘Cause this is my life, Jackie – it’s not fun, it’s not smart, it’s just standing up and making a decision because nobody else will.

Yeah alright this is a weird one. It’s… it’s weird, okay. But weird is good! I like weird.

Anyways, I tell you what I want to talk about. Ferengi.

I’ve always thought the Ferengi were kinda like the Slitheen – profit-driven, often a family business, that sort of thing. But there’s also another similarity – the Ferengi were originally going to be villains, like the Klingons. That was the original pitch for the big eared, profit-driven little guys. But eventually they realised that the Ferengi were just a bit ridiculous, so they were changed to more comic characters. Which was good! Quark was one of the best characters of DS9!

So, I’m just thinking… maybe that’s the way to treat the Slitheen as well? Not quite villains, but they’ve the potential to be something more interesting.

So, last week we left off with the Doctor, Rose & Harriet Jones, and Mickey all in different, dangerous situations involving Slitheen. We knew they’d get out of it – not just in a cynical TV watching way, but because there was a trailer. Whoops.

Anyway, the Doctor uses the Slitheen’s own trap against them, electrocuting the one in the room with him. And, in quite a clever conceit, this actually affects them all. It’s a pretty interesting idea (though not as central as I remember it) which brings up some interesting questions about the Slitheen.

What it leads into, though, is a sort of comedic scene with the Slitheen struggling to get back into its skinsuit (a pretty chilling bit of body horror if you dwell on it, but the episode never really does). And that’s indicative of a lot of this episode – it seems to jolt between two extremes, never being quite serious or quite a comedy.

But… you know, as it goes, I think that’s okay? What we don’t necessarily remember in retrospect is that Doctor Who was in a pretty precarious position at this stage. They had to make sure they appealed to as wide an audience as possible. And… fine, this doesn’t mesh all that well. The jokes for the kids and the drama for the adults aren’t as cohesive as they are in later years. But, you know, everyone is allowed to stumble along the way.

So long as you don’t expect this episode to be, say, Midnight, or Vengeance on Varos, you’re going to get a lot out of it. It’s a good episode!

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Having said that, there is a lot to like. If the episode swung one way or the other – full comedy, or fully serious – it probably would be a bit better.

There’s a sort of character arc for the Doctor and Mickey, for example. The Doctor treats Mickey in a rather horrible, dismissive way in the first episode – he doesn’t really care about what Mickey went through, likely because of what the Doctor’s just been through himself.

As the episode progresses though, both viewer and the Doctor begin to respect Mickey, to the point that the Doctor invites him to come aboard the TARDIS. And that’s the point of the way he was treated in the first part of the episode; it’s a very deliberate choice. Whether it was the right choice, or the most Doctor-like portrayal, is certainly debatable, but I liked it.

And on the other side of it, there’s some really, really funny lines. Personal favourite was this entire exchange:

Slitheen: Aaaaahhh, Excuse me? Your device will do what? Triplicate the flammability?

The Doctor: Is that what I said?

Slitheen: You’re making it up!

The Doctor: Oh well, nice try. Harriet,

[offers Harriet Jones the decanter]

The Doctor: Have a drink. I think you’re gonna need it.

Harriet Jones: You pass it to the left first.

The Doctor: Sorry.

[hands it to Rose]

Absolutely hilarious. Loved it.

It’s all the stuff like that which makes me wish it had meshed a bit better – you don’t need the Slitheen to be quite so farcical with all the one-liners like that. That would have struck a much, much better balance than what we got, and probably would have improved the overall quality of it.

Because, of course, you’ve still got some relatively heavy stuff, which might have made more of an impact in a slightly more serious episode – all of the stuff about Rose’s safety, for example. That could have been expanded a fair bit. (Ah, but should it have been? Could they have done that? Was Doctor Who safe enough at that point? Probably not)

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Also, two other things I loved: Christopher Eccleston’s ‘serious’ acting, and Harriet Jones taking charge of the missile strike. There are lots of little touches there, where Eccleston really sells that the Doctor is now a man who’s seen far more bloodshed than he would ever have liked to. It’s also particularly telling that he describes his life as being neither fun nor smart – it says something about the way he views his travels now, and the way the War changed him. It’s really, really impressive.

(Especially when you think about what he’s saying – I could save the world but lose you. It’s something of a microcosm-like depiction of the decision which he made to end the Time War – I could save creation, but isolate myself forever. It’s actually a really layered moment – I didn’t realise the connotations until a few hours after I’d finished the rest of this review, let alone whilst watching it. It’s probably something that didn’t survive the John Hurt retcon as well as it could have…)

Same goes for Harriet Jones – fantastic character. That moment where she takes charge is rather lovely, if sadly brief. It foreshadows some of her later decisions though, doesn’t it? You can quite clearly see that this is the same woman as in The Christmas Invasion, or The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End.

So… ultimate estimation of the episode?

Eh, I’m struggling. It could have been a bit more coherent, there could have been a better blend of the two aspects. That certainly drags it down. But there really was so much to love about it, on both sides of the court.

Hmm. Okay, whatever. 7/10. But it’s a very different seven out of ten to the other seven out of tens, because it’s a different episode. So there.

(Next week though, wow. That is an effective trailer. I got chills, and I’ve already seen the episode and know what it means. God, imagine it, back in 2005. That must have been amazing)

Related:

Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor Reviews

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