disastrous in the context of World War Three



TV God, I hate the Slitheen. I hated them on first appearance and I’ve hated them in every single revisionist attempt to turn them into a decent foe for the Doctor and his friends, on The Sarah Jane Adventures, in novels, comic strips. Even revisionist efforts like bringing in different but similar families like the Blathereen hasn’t helped much either.  Each and every time, they’ve been about as menacing as the actor hired to play their skin suit is capable of, but at soon at the giant floppy puppet lumbers into view they become symbolic of the short hand that comedians of a nineties vintage used to disparage the franchise, that it’s just about cheap looking rubber green aliens. Especially since the Slitheen are basically killable through a variation of precisely the kind of method later parodied by Ricky Gervais.

They’re especially disastrous in the context of World War Three which is supposed to be the first big global alien invasion story, the nu-Who equivalent of Dalek Invasion of Earth. While there is an intellectual argument to be had about whether their ridiculousness and matter of fact approach to the destruction of the planet’s inhabitants adds to their evil, outside of the context of a human form they’re just not scary, icky perhaps, but not scary, mostly funny too whenever they explode.  The massive zip affair doesn’t help much, something Julie Gardener picked up on as a mistake as early as the dvd commentary (though trying be ever so diplomatic about it bless her) or the inter-cutting with the rather more agile CGI versions.

Otherwise the episode is a rather clever twist on the base under siege genre of story in that special forces don’t know that the base is under siege and the Doctor has to save the day from within a locked room. The situation is somewhat similar to the later Tooth & Claw, but whereas with a wolf slathering on the other side of the door their main weapon was books, a library, everything here is from the Doctor’s intellect and the deductive reasoning of his companions. If you were being unfair, you could unfavourably compare Euros Lyn’s kinetic shooting of Tenth’s thought processes with the side on shots and bits of steady-cam Keith Boak affords Ninth as he narrows things down, yet Boak does manage to drags things back a bit at the close with the iconic shot of Eccleston gleefully realising the planet of origin.

It’s in these scenes as Eccleston jumps from goofy comedy to poignancy to the horror of knowing that in smacking a missile at the room he’s standing in he could be allowing Rose’s mother to listen to the death of her daughter, that us Eighth Doctor fans should probably consider ourselves a bit spoilt in comparison to Ninethers. True, our hero only received an hour of screen time, but we’ve dozens of novels and comics to read and ongoing audio adventures. Once Ninth left the screen, the merchandising teat stopped giving. Beyond the thirteen television episodes, the Tardis Index Files lists just six novels, four short stories and five comic strips and few cameos here and there. Post-The Christmas Invasion, a different face was appearing on book covers.

Why aren’t we able to buy new adventures featuring the Ninth Doctor? The “classic” Doctors are more visible now than they’ve ever been, and there’s enough good Tenth merch around to still be catching up even though he too has been rested in The Eleventh Hour. Even Hartnell is being serviced by Big Finish when the Eccleston version is lost. Essentially, since Big Finish are only licensed to cover the classic series and AudioGo and BBC Books are always focused on the present incumbent anyone desperate for some Ninth/Rose action are stuck rereading The Clockwise Man for the umpteenth time, which is a shame considering he was the most innovative version of the character and there must surely be enough publicity shots knocking around.

Or rewatching World War Three. The closing scene, opening as the Doctor hands Mickey the virus and offers to take him away from the Powell Estate only to be rebuffed is one of my favourite in Ninth’s whole era. Noel Clarke has clearly realised the understated approach which works best for Mickey and the mutual understanding between the characters is beautifully played. It’s the kind of non-plot character based scenes which found itself cut out in the last season – reminds me of the infamous marriage chat that didn’t appear in The Hungry Earth. As this next series seems to be tilting towards the “big revelations” model of storytelling, I do hope they continue to remember that often the quietest moments are the most affecting.

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