Doctor Doctor Who Guide

My, my, my... what a fascinating experiment Doctor Who in 2005 is turning out to be. For better or worse, what Russell T. Davies has presented is Doctor Who re-imagined, not as a science-fiction or adventure serial, but as a mainstream drama dressed up in the guise of escapist fiction. Classic Doctor Who (like most other ‘sci-fi’ series) is a predominantly plot-driven affair, where the big ideas dealt with in each story tend to be of the “what if” variety: “What would happen if (humans/likable aliens) in the (future/past) were doing (insert futuristic/historical activity) and (monster/villain/disease) X turned up?” In contrast, the Doctor Who of 2005 seems much more interested in asking the questions “What would it feel like to be one of those people, and just what are the emotional implications of living the life of the TARDIS crew?” Plot is not the driving force of RTD’s Doctor Who, but rather exists to serve the character introspection.

Nowhere in the series so far has this been as obvious as in Boom Town, where he all but lets the disguise drop. What little plot there is here is thin in the extreme, and is essentially a parody of fan expectations. Returning villain Margaret Blaine, the female Slitheen, has miraculously survived her apparent demise at the end of World War Three and has cooked up a typically apocalyptic mad scheme(TM). Davies even ups the fanboy quotient by gratuitously referencing a further piece of continuity in the form of the time rift from The Unquiet Dead. Make no mistake, Davies has done this deliberately (consider how the episode was promoted in the ‘Next Time...’ clip the previous week).

With his audience primed, Davies proceeds to purposely dash all these expectations. Instead of the dramatic reveal of the villain to the TARDIS crew halfway through the episode, she turns up on the front page of the local newspaper just a few minutes into the episode. (Why didn’t she choose to hide in some other body that wouldn’t be recognised? Because it’s funnier this way.) A nosy newspaper reporter unearths the plan and seems to be headed to an early death when she confronts Margaret (and come on, the evil villain is named Margaret!), but instead ends up having a heart-to-heart with her through the door to the loo. The traditional Doctor Who runaround is turned into a 30 second chase scene punctuated with another ridiculous use for the sonic screwdriver, the Doctor’s all-purpose plot device. The obligatory exposition and technobabble speeches usually given to the Doctor are ironically put in the mouth of new companion Captain Jack. The evil villain’s inevitable escape attempt makes for a 10 second gag over dinner. The plot is finally resolved at the end with an admitted deus ex machina, complete with a post-resolution explanation which is repeated twice, once by each of the companions, just to make sure you know it’s a joke. Even the now expected “Bad Wolf” reference is perverted. Instead of being subtly hidden, it’s blatantly brought to the forefront, and then ironically tossed off as a simple coincidence.

Having relegated the “plot” of his episode to about 10 minutes, Davies fills the rest of the time in an extended examination of life in the TARDIS. The real focus of the episode is not the abortive plot, but rather two parallel conversations about consequence, one between Rose and Mickey and one between Margaret and the Doctor. Mickey breaks the stereotype of the spurned jealous boyfriend and actually seems to understand that Rose needs to be with the Doctor, however much he may hate that fact. Crucially it is also shown that Rose still cares deeply for Mickey (which was not at all apparent in AoL/WWIII), and the obvious joy she feels traveling with the Doctor is now tinged with regret for the (perhaps irrevocable) damage that her absence is causing to her old life. She might be able to go back home to London, but it’s clear that things will never be the same. Meanwhile, Margaret pleads for forgiveness from the Doctor, while confronting him with the idea that he’s not so different than those he fights. (A chilling reminder of the darker side of the Doctor that surfaced in The End of the World and Dalek, and presumably a setup for the next two episodes.)

Ultimately, however, I think Boom Town doesn’t quite hold together but, unlike some reviews I’ve seen in the OG Forum, I don’t think this is due to the plot, or lack thereof. In fact, this is at least the third essentially plotless episode of the series. Father’s Day also had a razor-thin plot, and remove the fannish drooling over the resurrection of everyone’s favorite pepper-pot and Dalek is really just three long conversations as well (albeit with a pretty high body count). However, where both Dalek and Father’s Day succeed by keeping a consistent tone and fully committing to their emotional sentiments, the drama in Boom Town is undercut somewhat by the self-conscious irony which is thrown into the mix. The lighter tone to this story may help support the balance of the series as a whole, but doesn’t help the story stand on it’s own. One could worry that Davies seems to have set himself up for the same problem next week, which again looks to balance ironic parody with the darker drama that the return of the Daleks is sure to bring with it. On the other hand, he managed a similar balance quite well with The End of the World (still his best script to date) which began rather light, but gradually darkened and ended on a very somber note indeed.

So, in the end, I think Boom Town ends up being a bit less than the sum of it’s parts, with the juxtaposition of the parody with the drama just a little too jarring, making it difficult for the viewer to commit to either. On the other hand it does contain some important character development, particularly between Rose and Mickey. In the end, it may turn out to work better in the context of the season as a whole than it does as a stand alone.

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