Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Despite the most wafer-thin and implausible ostensible plot possibly ever in the series (alien disguised as MP plans to set up nuclear power station in Cardiff town centre), one which makes a bus full of Adventure-Game-style aliens traveling to a 1950s Welsh holiday camp (Delta & the Bannermen) look comparatively believable on paper, this peculiar episode managed to shake off initial absurdities and Rent-a-Ghost-style shenanigans (Margaret going back and forth via the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver-cum-transmat device) relatively early on – thankfully the Slitheen’s gustatory problems were restricted to just a stomach gurgle this time round. Scatological elements thankfully toned down since the atrocious Aliens/War III, we were however still treated to one scene in which the Slitheen, fully revealed and far more convincing in its tangibility (courtesy of a mask rather than CGI), sat on a toilet as it talked through the door to a woman and wept on her mention of being ‘with child’ – strangely this scene was actually fairly well done despite its lavatorial location (is RTD going to finally reveal what Davros has been sat on in his Dalek seat all these years?). What ensues in this episode, finally, after all the token faffing around between the Doctor et al is finished with, is a quite engaging face off between the Doctor and the Slitheen in a restaurant. Annette Badland gives a genuinely powerful performance in this scene, delivering her probing of the Doctor on his dubiously catalystic lifestyle with impressive intensity and gravitas – this performance of Badland’s is a far cry from her pantomimesque portrayal in Aliens/War III. We get an equally intriguing steely glint from Eccleston’s eye in this scene too. The rest of the episode continues this moral examination of the true nature of the Doctor and his time traveling pursuits and more particularly on the general philosophical question of crime and punishment, more specifically capital punishment, and the responsibility of those who assist the administration of moral law – quite interestingly and unexpectedly, the Doctor brushes off Margaret’s protests with a curt ‘Not my problem’, placing himself in a position of moral impunity from the inevitable result of his transporting his prisoner back to her home planet; his speech about the caprice of the psychotic mind (in terms of the Slitheen’s doing good or evil simply on whims) is a convincing and incisive stance, and indeed this meditation on the God-like power of giving or taking life is contrasted nicely by Margaret deflecting the issue onto the Doctor’s own exercise of power through time travel. Another good touch was the Doctor re-educating the audience on the nature of the Tardis and how the chameleon-circuit got stuck as a police box in 1960s London.

The downsides to Boomtown? Well, being an RTD script, one has come to expect inevitable troughs among the all-too-few peaks: the ludicrously inappropriate banter in the Tardis at the beginning, chiefly the Doctor saying to Jack when he complains of not getting a hug from Rose, ‘Give me a drink and you might get one’, or something similarly puerile; the stupid run-around after Margaret in the non-descript streets of Cardiff (they might have at least found better locations such as the old arcade there or the castle grounds); the irritating and inept banter of the Tardis crew in a completely non-descript café; and the ludicrous suggestion by Margaret that she and the Doctor are on some sort of date. There are other annoyances but I can’t be bothered to list them – life’s too short.

Summing up – customary RTD irritations aside, Boomtown is a surprisingly ‘all right’ episode by and large, with some fairly deep meditations on morality which in places are reminiscent of the far more sublime meditations on the darker side of Gallifreyans in Edge of Destruction, the third story in the original cannon. In terms of script and execution this is in my opinion RTD’s best contribution to the series so far, having the edge over The Long Game by a whisker; and this did come as a surprise for an episode I was absolutely dreading.

Filters: Series 1/27 Ninth Doctor Television