Doctor Who: "Aliens of London / World War Three" - questions for Brit-dopers

Okay, so I only just got around to watching the latest episode of “Doctor Who” (latest ep screened on the Sci-Fi channel in the States, that is) last night and have a few questions about it for Brit-dopers.

First off, the two-part story (“Aliens of London” and “World War Three”) was an obvious satire of the ‘war on terrorism’ (the UFO crashing into Big Ben = WTC on 9/11; real alien invaders enacting a hoax invasion in a scheme to panic the Earth’s population = fanning hysteria of terrorist attacks in order to advance reactionary political agendas). But I was unclear about some certain aspects of the story:

  • A point was made that the “Slythereen” (sp.?) was the name of the family / clan group and not the name of the entire race. The Slythereen family were a bunch of deceitful opportunistic schemers who were willing to cause the deaths of every living human being in order to make a profit selling off the planet’s ‘scrap metal.’ Perhaps I’m just reading too much into it, but was this meant to be a deliberate slam of the American Bush family (a clannish, politically powerful family - George Sr., Dubya, Jeb responsible for two invasions of the Middle East) What chiefly prompted this specuation was the fact that the matriarch of the Slythereen family seems to resemble a cross between Laura & Barbara Bush (Laura’s general style & hair on Barbara’s body).

  • The Slythereen could only disguise themselves as very amply-proportioned humans, and even so they needed the help of a machine that transmuted part of their mass into a gas state - which caused them to seem very flatulent. This doesn’t seem so much a jab at the Bush family specifically, as it seems (IMO) a jab at Americans in general who tend to be perceived by Europeans as fat, crude & obsessed with excretory functions. So, was this a deliberate jab?

  • The Slythereen taking over the U.K. Prime Ministry. Would this be a comment about the current P.M. Tony Blair? Admittedly, I don’t follow British politics very carefully, but my perception of Blair was that he was a fairly progressive/leftie-leaning politician until he abruptly became a pro-Bush warhawk and started aping the Bush administration’s war chants. The “Doctor Who” story seems to be hinting that American politicians have made a hostile takeover of the British gov’t.

  • And here’s for the stickiest question: I assume these episodes were aired in the U.K. before the bombings in the London subway. What was / is the reaction toward these episodes when they aired originally, and were they aired after the bombiings took place?

Granted, it’s only a television show, so I hope I’m not engendering some heated debate by posting this, but there were just some points I was wondering about as I watched it.

Strike 1.

Strike 2.

Strike 3. You’re out.

Dude, it’s a TV show, and following in the time-honored tradition of Dr. Who for years, it’s cheezy writing and cheezy acting, elevated to the point of camp.

Methinks you have let your hatred of Bush consume you completely if you read all that into the show.

I, too, think you’re reading waaaaaaaay too much into it. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and in this case, the aliens are just aliens.

The size of the humans taken over, for instance, was set up for two reasons: to explain why they didn’t just take over the Prime Minister, and to allow for a large alien to attack.

What they said. This was one of the sillier (2) episodes of the new season and you’ve taken it way too seriously.

Can I just say, they managed to come up with some really scary-looking aliens? The gray-green baby-face with the side-blinking, very good and creepy. Lots of fun.

Well as any good student of Lit Crit can tell you, authors aren’t always in control of their texts. It’s certainly reasonable to read the episodes on a purely surface level of “it’s a campy TV show and it has no deeper meaning,” but that doesn’t mean the shows can’t be correctly read at the deeper level of taking swipes at the Bush administration. I think perhaps the “take over fat guys because Brits think of Americans as fat” is stretching it, but some of the other parallels noted strike me as easily within the realm of possibility even for a cheesy campy TV show.

Okay, okay, geez… I didn’t say it was a political tract. I know it’s not to be taken too seriously. I even admitted in my OP that I could be reading some of the things into it. (No, I won’t deny my cynical view of the current Bush administration) But, in my defense, I don’t think it’s “all just a cigar.” This is a satire, but I do think there is some real world basis for it.

True, “Doctor Who” is primarily cheezy-puffs for the brain, but it does have actually have a time-honored history of incorporating satirical takes on politics. Take a look at the Sun-Makers (a curt comment on Britain’s unwieldly taxation), or the Happiness Patrol which satirized the Thatcher administration’s policies in the mid-80s.

In this specific episode, the Doctor, Rose & daffy-future-PM-lady are discussing whether the real aliens / bogus British officials will be granted authority to launch a pre-emptive strike against the bogus alien invasion. I forget the exact wording, but Rose does speak a line about it not going the same way it did “the last time.” To what is she referring, if not the ‘pre-emptive’ strike against Iraq?

So the “Massive Weapons of Destruction” weren’t a jab? :rolleyes:
I actually agree with you Art. For once. :smiley:

The OP said that the satire on Iraq was “obvious”, and nobody’s disagreeing. It’s the stuff about fat Americans and parallels to the Bush clan that seems a bit of a stretch. The programme was just a light-hearted sci-fi story that included a few topical gags, that’s all.

I thought the “fat aliens” thing was mostly an excuse for some (ill-advised) fart jokes, to be honest … and the Slitheen (which is the right spelling, btw) were mostly caricatures of British political types. Though of course neither your nation nor ours has a monopoly on creepy sleazy politicians, and I imagine they sound much the same the world over …

Okay, I concede that point. Truth be told, my original reason for that speculating about the fart jokes was why the show continued to labor on with a joke that obviously wasn’t that funny in the first place. The producers must have realized by the end of the first episode that it wasn’t working out - so why’d they continued doing it in the second part? I thought maybe this was supposed to be making a specific comment about somebody or some group of people in particular. And I guess I leapt to the conclusion that it was a dig at the American people in general who (as evidenced by the popularity of “South Park”, Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider, and “American Pie” movies) love jokes about bodily functions. I retract the speculation of fat farting Americans. :slight_smile:

Anyway, I feel I should mention that the point I was chiefly interested in was the last one. I know this episode must have been broadcast months before the actual bombings in London, but when I watched the scene in which 10 Downing Street was reduced to rubble, I couldn’t help but think that that was a horribly ironic touch - especially since, as folks have pointed out, it was meant to be cheekily humourous. I was wondering if the show sufferred any fallout for that inadvertant bit - was the rebroadcast any time after the attacks? Did any kneejerk critics lash out at the show for it’s inappropriate content? That sort of thing.

I suppose you can plausibly argue that the story as a whole has an element of this, but the more specific elements do seem to be stretching things:

The Bush family doesn’t have much of a profile over here – I don’t suppose most people would remember either Laura or Barbara’s names, let alone spot a subtle satirical reference to them. If the audience doesn’t recognise the target of the satire, what’s the point of it?
To me, the fact that the Slitheen were a criminal family rather than an alien race (we’re left to assume that most Raxacoricofalipatorians are, if not necessarily nicer, certainly more law-abiding) was more likely intended to overturn the expectations of an audience who’ve come to expect monolithic Star Trek-like alien cultures. After all, there’s no more reason to expect every being from a planet on the other side of the galaxy to be hell-bent on domination than there is to expect everyone from Earth to be.

Wait – are the Slitheen meant to be the Bushes, or are they Americans in general?

Yes, Americans are often seen as being overweight. Crude and obsessed with excretory functions? Not so much.

We have fat people of our own – you saw some of them. Fat people are funny. If there was a deeper and more significant level to the humour then Russell T. Davies must be kicking himself for making it so subtle that it escaped everyone but yourself. Perhaps the farting put everyone on the wrong track?

The issue of successive PMs toadying to US Presidents has been a matter of concern in the UK for decades now – if RTD had meant to comment on the matter, he would have done so more openly (as he does in the Christmas special, which I assume you haven’t seen yet).

They were aired before the London bombings, yes – April of last year. They were generally seen as good family fun. The more po-faced Doctor Who fans were dismayed by the flatulence, but the kids in the audience mostly had a giggle. They’ve both been shown several times since – I haven’t heard of anyone’s opinion of them being changed by events.
[Added on preview: It might be that because London has suffered many terrorist bombings over the years that we’re not so quick to draw a connection between a real life outrage on public transport, and an entirely dissimilar fictional explosion in Downing Street. It’s not that long ago, after all, that the IRA were firing mortars at the place. If the programme had been broadcast on or near the same day, perhaps some might have had a few qualms, but as it was, I don’t think anyone really made the connection.]

I think (as you suspect) that you are trying a little too hard to read things into this – there is satire in this run of Doctor Who, but it’s generally obvious, throw-away stuff. The later episodes contain more food for thought, but it’s more on the level of character and moral/ethical choices than commentary on contemporary politics.

It has been rebroadcast several times since the July bombings, without controversy.

The July terrorist attacks weren’t seen as an attack against the British government, particularly, so images of missiles hitting Downing Steet in a TV drama do not especially call to mind those attacks. If the programme had prominently featured buses or tube trains being blown up, it might have been a different story.

Besides, the London attacks were not on the scale of 9/11 and have not left the scar on the British psyche that 9/11 did on those of America and other western countries.

The programmes aren’t recorded week-by-week, of course – or even in broadcast order. “AoL”/“WWIII” were shot together, as only the second story to go before the cameras, immediately after episode 1, “Rose”, and with the same director, Keith Boak.

No-one on the production team is telling tales out of school, but enough’s been said to make it clear that they weren’t entirely satisfied with Boak’s handling of these episodes, but since it was so early in the process, the producers didn’t feel secure enough in their roles yet to pull him into line.

In fairness to Boak, Doctor Who’s often been seen as a tough gig for a director – it’s a mix of action/adventure/comedy/horror/romance/thriller/suspense (with, as you point out, occasional satire and other elements) in a scifi/fantasy setting, aimed at a family audience, and the balance changes from story to story – so perhaps the fact that he failed to nail the tone first time out on a new production ought not to be held against him.

Nethertheless, he hasn’t been asked back for the second series.

The Brits were enjoying fart jokes long before 1776.

pssst. you learnt that from us

As others have said, there is a level of Satire in the episode but its a very family-orientated unsubtle one.

I did wonder how this episode would go over when it finally made it over here :smiley:

I liked the episode except for the obscenely handy “Launch Nuclear Missiles” website. Apparently unleashing large-scale destruction isn’t any more difficult than ordering a CD off

B-b-b-but didn’t cold-war-era films teach us that all it took to launch a nuclear strike was pushing two red buttons at once?

AND turning keys! Don’t forget that part!

Nah, if it had been Amazon, they’d have been waiting 2-3 weeks for the missile to arrive.