‘So what’s so terrible about Perivale?’ The opening sets the tone: on a suburban street a man (living with his mum, we can all infer the rest) runs from something terrifying. The Curse of Fenric included a similar, typically Doctor Who moment – but normally it’s on a haunted beach or a space station corridor, not West London in broad daylight in the present day. This is the most domestic Doctor Who story, juxtaposing the local youth club, a playground, a corner shop, with alien cat people from a pink-skied planet.
It’s very funny because it’s so rooted in mundane, Sunday afternoon-ness. As Ace wanders around looking for the old gang, the Doctor notices worrying hints of something amiss: he’s not the galactic tiddlywinks champion, he’s just a clever guy who sees the truth of things. He’s also back to being the hapless clown, shooing away a naughty dog, pestered by curtain twitchers as he tries to save their neighbourhood. Ace’s eye-rolling reaction to his strangeness, wandering off to leave him in his own little world of cat-hunting, is perfect.
And Ace is perfect as well: presented with material that treats Ace like an actual young woman rather than some sort of angsty explosive wunderkind, Aldred rises to it to give her best-ever performance. She’s contrite when she learns her ‘mum had you listed as a missing person’, she’s annoyed by the changes to Perivale (which looks perfectly pleasant), confounded by the Doctor and initially entranced by the arrival of the cat person.
Everything about this is quality. Alan Wareing’s direction cleverly tells the story without a lot of expensive effects: the camera rising up to represent the arrival of a cat person on horseback (an image so striking they did it with the Sontarans in Flux – no-one mention Sunday is ‘the one day of the week you can’t even get a decent television programme’). The shot of the car washer’s nibbled corpse is horrifying without showing blood. Hale and Pace, the last knicker-fund guest stars of the 1980s, are ideal, their joke landing the story’s theme that “survival of the fittest” is a narrow philosophy. I’m not sure of the wisdom of another villain with glowing-green eyes the week after Fenric, but perhaps that was a serendipitous red herring.
Next episode: Survival – Part Two