World War III
– My mother's cooking.
– Good! Put her on a slow heat and let her simmer.
And here we are, with World War Three. The second part of the first New Who two-parter, following Aliens of London. An episode I like even less than the previous one. (Don’t worry, we’ll soon get to much, much better episodes! I’m wondering if you can guess which are my favorites in this series, by the way.) When I was rewatching it and making notes for this post, I noticed that while it has some good comedy in it, most of its attempts at seriousness fall flat for me. The goals of the Slitheen are revealed now, and it turns out that the whole story is just a heavy-handed metaphor for the (then-recent) attack against Iraq, with the “massive weapons of destruction” which clearly parodied “weapons of mass destruction”, a phrase which became a meme. In my opinion, episodes which allude to events current at the time of airing are very risky – it is hard to predict if those events are going to be considered important in a decade or two, and the allusions may become difficult to recognize. While this is certainly not the case with the “War on Terror”, it seems that after twenty years it evokes much less emotion. (Well, it’s possible that my perception is skewed by the fact my country was not much ivolved in it.) Don’t get me wrong – a war is still a war, and I am sure the memory of it is much more important for those whose relatives and friends died in it. And although I wasn’t following it then – at the time, quite a few very important events in my personal life occupied my mind – it seems that at least a part of criticism is justified. Still, this whole story is just weak. (It doesn’t help that when writing this post, I searched the Internet for other people’s opinions. I really should not have done this – it just ruined this episode for me even more…)
So, let’s do this. Let’s ignore the fact that the Doctor, who previously was furious about a soldier killing a non-sentient animal, now had no problems with firing an actual missile into the center of London. Let’s forget that Mickey was the one who performed the act and didn’t show a trace of PTSD. Let’s disregard the cheesy line about the Doctor “saving the world but losing Rose” (note that at this point he only knew her for a few days!). Let’s not think too much that a system driving missiles was prone to hacking in from any computer connected to the Internet, using (repeatedly!) a simple 7-character password possible to crack with a simple dictionary attack. Let’s not pretend that this episode can teach us a lot about life. It can’t.
Instead, let’s concentrate on little things that make this episode at least bearable – small nuggets of comedy, good acting and good writing.
– And how do we get out?
What was his name?
Names are very important to the Doctor. After all, he keeps his name a well-guarded secret, and makes a point of learning other people’s names, too. So the scene when the Doctor, Rose and Harriet Jones find the corpse of Indra Ganesh and the Doctor asks Harriet about his name – to which she responds, “I don't know. I talked to him. I brought him a cup of coffee. I never asked his name.” is particularly sad. Even worse is what isn’t said – that Harriet Jones only brought him coffee to help achieve her goals, not for any altruistic reasons. It’s really nice that near the end of the episode, she seems to have grown – she was ready to sacrifice her life to save Earth, for example. (Admittedly, she was ready to sacrifice Rose’s and Doctor’s lives, too, but the alternative was much worse. I suspect that given the available options and very little time to think of any other way, she chose the best course of action.)
What was his name?
Wish I had a compression field. I could fit a size smaller
Rose making that joke was hilarious, but I admit that I’m a bit on the fence about it. On the one hand, it made me laugh – but on the other hand, Harriet Jones was not wrong when she said “people are dead! This is not the time for making jokes”. I like dark humor, but there are things one should not joke about. (To be fair, Rose was not joking about Prime Minister’s death, but about the Slitheen and their ridiculous human costumes.) On yet another hand, I already mentioned that I consider the human ability to laugh even in the most dramatic situations to be something positive. I think the part which really bugged me was not Rose cracking jokes, but her reply that “you get used to this stuff when you're friends with him”. Getting used to people dying is not the right thing to do. In fact, it doesn’t even seem the Doctor got used to it – spoiler for series 1the ending of The Doctor dances is probably the best example – and I would argue that Rose did not, either, even if she does seem a bit insensitive at times.
They're big. They need to fit inside big humans.
Is my daughter safe?
As I said above, I do sympathize with Jackie, who for all she knew lost her only daughter (and that after losing her husband). But doing everything to keep Rose safe, while understandable, is not right, either. Rose was adult and responsible for herself. In fact, even younger children can be taught responsibility by not shielding them from the unpleasant consequences of their actions. (Well of course, if those actions are playing with matches and trying to burn the house, I would obviously do my best to shield them from consequences of that by immediately taking the matches away, but you know what I mean;-).) That said, Rose was evidently lying claiming that she’d be back “in ten seconds”. Not surprisingly, Jackie did not believe that even for one second, judging from her reactions, and it was only poor Mickey who waited for who knows how long… On the other hand, one of the things I liked about Jackie in this episode was that she seemed to finally accept the fact that Rose chose to travel with the Doctor.
Mickey the Idiot
Speaking about Mickey, his character growth continues. Ignoring the whole thing with the missile, he was ready to give his life to save Jackie (and going out of his way to help her was far from obvious for him!). I also loved how the Doctor started to appreciate him. It began in the previous episode, and culminated in this one when the Doctor offered Mickey a chance to join him and Rose in the T.A.R.D.I.S. What’s more, when Mickey refused but asked the Doctor not to tell Rose he did, the Doctor went with that and kept the secret. Well, he did lie to Rose – which didn’t sit very well with me – but at least he respected Mickey enough not to make fun of him in front of her. And in fact, one could even argue that the Doctor wasn’t even lying in the first place – if Mickey himself told the Doctor that he couldn’t travel with him, then the Doctor had every right to assume that Mickey would indeed be a liability.
– We're just idiots.
– Well, not all of you.
On a very slightly related note, there is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment when the Doctor tells Mickey on the phone that he needs him. If you watch it carefully, you’ll notice the wide grin on Rose’s face, which is incredibly cute!
(On the other hand, a few minutes later, when Commissioner Strickland – er, Sip Fel-Fotch Passameer-Day Slitheen – tries to kill Jackie and Mickey, Rose says “That’s my mother”, but not a word about her boyfriend…)
Last but not least
As I mentioned in the Supporting the author page (and by the way, go and read it – I need your support to continue writing here, and “support” does not only mean money!), I am going to write a summary of the whole series when I’m done analyzing individual episodes. I haven’t written it yet, but I imagine that part of the summary can be “top five” lists of the funniest, saddest etc. moments. I think this episode has a good contender to the “saddest moments” list. When Mickey fired the missile, Rose and Harriet immediately started to look for a way to survive the hit. Meanwhile, the Doctor was just standing there apathetically. He would probably regenerate, but he seemed to just accept that Rose would be dead in a few seconds… Good thing that he went to this cabinet with both ladies!
Nice knowing you both.