Doctor Doctor Who Guide

WHAT IS RUSSELL T DAVIES DOING TO OUR BELOVED SERIES? WHEN DID DOCTOR WHO BECOME A SOAP? WHY ARE THERE PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS WHEN THERE ARE MONSTERS TO BE FOUGHT? MODERN DAY CARDIFF…WHAT IS THAT FOR A SETTING? WHEN WILL BE SEEING SOME REAL DOCTOR WHO WITH WOBBLY SETS AND GAMMY ACTING AND PLOT, PLOT, PLOT…?

…and so on and so on.

I had my lovely friend Matt over last week and being a fellow Doctor Who nut we decided to watch every single episode of the new series over two days. Boy did we argue. Its part of the fun of being a fan really, you all love different stories and it can be an incredibly rich experience to find a friend who you can debate the merits and demerits of such a diverse fourty year old show. We walked away from the visit with very different opinions, he loved Dalek, Father’s Day and The Long Game and I loved The End of the World, World War Three and now I can add Boom Town to that list. Matt despised the gratuitous bodily functions RTD is determined to put in his scripts and the overdone humour (“The telephone is actually red!”) and I got a headache watching Father’s Day. The Long Game aside, I have thoroughly enjoyed RTDs scripts for the series….whilst The Unquiet Dead, Dalek and Father’s Day were all brilliantly dramatic not one of them is half as entertaining as Davies’ work. The only writer who has come close to capturing the sense of whimsy and fun that comes with travelling with the Doctor and still keeps the deeper, emotional material is Steven Moffat. RTD understands television, he knows how to make a series a success and more importantly he recognises that Doctor needs a good sense of humour for it to appeal to the masses. I’m sure Doctor Who fans adored Father’s Day but I reckon the mainstream audience would rather watch World War Three…I know which ones my boyfriend, his mother and my mummy preferred.

Considering he has already written six aired episodes of the series it is astonishing that RTD is still producing fresh, entertaining material as it would be so easy to fall into the I’m writing every episode even if it does go stale (ala JMS over on Babylon 5 and Terry Nation on Blake’s Seven) where they start off well and end up running out of ideas and eventually running out of steam. Whilst The Long Game suggested RTD was losing it he has bounced right back to form with Boom Town, a triumphant 45 minutes of character drama boosted by some great jokes.

Doctor Who is clearly still finding its feet in series one and one of the joys of that transition is to try out new things and see what works. Much like the first few years of sixties Doctor Who this means it is period of imaginative experimentation with something for everyone but everything for no one. Some people will hate Boom Town, in fact I’m certain many people will consider it the worst of the season but rather than bury it for exploring new ground I will have to take the opposite reaction and praise it for exactly that reason. This is unlike anything in Doctor Who, before and since and as such it stands a unique little tale.

It’s all about consequences. Both the Doctor and Rose have to deal with the consequences of their travels and neither of them are particularly comfortable with the idea. It’s probably why Captain Jack feels a bit superfluous this week, being new to the team he has very little baggage yet and nothing to regret. It is RTD asking questions again that nobody ever bothered to before, just like dealing with Rose returning home in Aliens of London. Cleverly, Boom Town picks up two plot threads from World War Three, Rose’s relationship with Mickey and the Doctor’s plan which wiped out all but one of the Slitheen family and shows there are repercussions to these adventures of his. Does Rose have the right keep poor Mickey hanging on like a lost puppy? Is he a victim of their happy-go-lucky travels or a beggar to his own demise? Does the Doctor have the right to step into people lives, make a mess and walk away and leave them deal with it? Does he make a quick exit because he scared to look back and see what he caused? Can he look somebody in the eye and take them to their death?

It was almost as if RTD was answering all of Matt’s worst fears. The Slitheen are back and in the first scene Margret is farting and acting a bit OTT. Looks set to be Aliens of London part two. It only takes RTD two or three scenes to subvert viewer expectations with a wonderfully touching and silly scene in a bathroom between Margret and a journalist. It is faintly ridiculous for a huge, slimy, green alien to be sitting on a toilet and at the point of lurching forwards to kill a woman who threatens her plans but backs down and has a heart to heart instead, discovering the woman is getting married and having a baby. But that is beauty of RTDs writing, he actually manages to make something this absurd work, he writes the scene so well that you are soon feeling sorry for Margret and the fact that she is the last of her family on Earth. When she lets the journalist leave alive it is hard not to feel something for her, despite her icky, muscly visage.

Almost as if replying to fan reaction to the childishness of the Slitheen RTD instead takes the creatures on an entirely different path, using Margret to power a moral dilemma plot that puts the Doctor under the microscope. Maybe she was just using words to bide her time but some of what she says really strikes home, especially in the uncomfortable moment where she defies the Doctor, Mickey, Rose and Jack to look her in the eye knowing they will escort her to her death. Annette Badland has such an expressive face and she pulls off these scenes with great aplomb, convincing as the moral judge of the time travellers. It helps that Margret seems genuinely scared of the Doctor and as such is literally talking her way out of a death sentence. This is edgy stuff and throws a harsh light over the Doctor who seems determined to put an end to her menace. During the marvellous dinner date sequences the two characters knock dialogue back and forth like weapons and I was agreeing with each of them, pretty much all of the time. Is the Doctor the sort of person to condemn the death sentence? Isn’t that what he has always done to the monsters he fights? The Slitheen is talking through a dead woman’s lips, does she have a right to survive when so many others have died? Are the two characters much more alike than we thought, both sparing people from defeat to make themselves feel better? There are no easy answers and it is probably wise that the huge earthquake ruins their date and Margret reverts to villainous form because I fear there would be no right and wrong here. Just grey. Just how I like it. And just when you think RTD has taken the easy way out by proving the Doctor right about Margret she thanks him for the chance to go back and do it all again. There was a spark of regret in there, a trace of humanity. Oh is that Slitheenity? Whatever, its wonderful stuff, RTD wrong-footing us at every step.

Far more soap opera-ish but no less interesting is Rose’s reunion with Mickey. She contrives an excuse for him to visit her in Cardiff and like an obedient puppy he rushes up to see her. He tries to make her jealous by telling her he is seeing somebody else and she takes the bait. All the small talk and pretence drops away and the two lovers are left to face what is really eating away at them. In the most emotional sequence of the series yet (for me anyway…I genuinely had tears in my eyes) Mickey breaks down and tells Rose how useless she made him feel when she dumped him for her life with the Doctor and how pathetic he is clinging on to the hope that she will come home to him. It sounds awful doesn’t it? But Noel Clarke has come a long way since Rose and delivers a fantastic performance, packed with emotion and the look on Rose’s face when she realises how much she has hurt the man she loves is heartbreaking. Clearly there is a lot of emotional mileage in this what you leave behind stuff so score one to RTD for successfully introducing a spanking new element to Doctor Who, one which allows us to look at the show in a brand new way, fourty years on. Clearly there is still much more to learn about the series. Even more brilliant is the lack of a solution to this problem, Rose dashes back to help solve the latest crisis leaving Mickey rejected once again but rushes out to find him immediately afterwards. He spots her but she doesn’t spot him and he walks off, making his decision to walk away this time and move on with his life. Despite all the wonders she has seen and the fun she has with the Doctor and Jack she is still lacking something that Mickey can give her, her tear streaked face at the climax proves that. Fascinating stuff.

Increasing the entertainment of the episode tenfold is the marvellous comedy which had me and Simon roaring. The sequence chasing Margaret out of the Mayor’s office and into the grounds is hilarious, with the Doctor, Mickey, Rose and Jack all working wonderfully together. The sight of Annette Badland waddling away only to be zapped back right in front of them is like something out of a Woody Allen movie only very funny. The dialogue is fizzy too with RTD regaining his wit after a brief detour in The Long Game with some lines that had me in tears (“What have I ever done to you?” “Apart from trying to kill me and blow up this planet?” “Apart from that!?”) which some excellent quick fire scenes between the Doctor, Jack and Rose that marks the enjoyable chemistry between them. I love it when a writer gets the balance of drama and comedy perfect and scenes such as Margaret begging for her life whilst hilariously trying to kill the Doctor through various means shows potential writers how to get it just right. You’re laughing but you’re not quite sure if you should be laughing. I like that.

Joe Ahearne proves just as adept at comedy as he was at drama (especially Dalek) and balances the SF, soapy drama and humour just right. What’s more he convincingly stages an end of the world atmosphere on a TV budget with lots of glass smashing, lights exploding and ground cracking. It reminded me of the TV Movie somewhat, lightning streaking through a gorgeous location, the TARDIS central to the end of the world action and lots of shouting!

Boom Town surprised me a lot. It really didn’t seem to have a lot going for it one paper (even the DWM preview wasn’t as OTT complimentary as usual); modern day Cardiff and the Slitheen back but it proved to be far more thoughtful than I expected. Even with the deux ex machina ending it was a skilfully crafted piece of writing and beautifully executed and performed. It was a far more contemplative piece of television than I am used to, especially from Doctor Who and it worked as a drama far more effectively than some earlier attempts this year. And by God it was funny!

Oh and RTD had canonised the books! I could kiss you!

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