Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Once again, it had been a while since I’d seen a new Who episode – I was still reeling from the sheer brilliance of Cornell’s Father’s Day and Moffat’s Empty Child extravaganza. Like the first Slitheen story, I’d heard practically nothing but bad things about this episode, even from the most forgiving of fans, and the last RTD-penned episode I’d seen had been the passable but still forgettable Long Game… so suffice it to say, I was a little worried. Especially when the episode began with a cringe-inducing recap of Aliens Of London. Great. The last thing I wanted at this point was to be reminded of that thorn in this series’ side.

But then… six months later. And Margaret Blaine is again in a position of power, eating the threats to her master plan. But there’s a difference this time around, which is evident from the start. And that’s Mr Joe Ahearne, he of Dalek and Father’s Day. Ahearne has achieved what I thought to be impossible. He’s made the Slitheen scary. And, it seems, he’s made Cardiff look interesting, even from the establishing shots of Mickey arriving. Okay, it’s not Paris, it’s not New York, but at least it’s not sodding London again.

When Mickey knocked on the TARDIS door, it was flung open by a guy I didn’t recognise until I heard his accent. Oh yeah, there’s a new companion aboard! And as far as I could remember from the last story, he was terrific! Well, he was still pretty good, and his banter with the Doctor was brilliant, but… well, I guess I preferred him in a WWII setting. Too bad he didn’t keep the outfit. Or the haircut. Oh well. This scene is saturated with playful banter, continuity and exposition. I was oddly reminded of the early days with William Hartnell and his crew. Not such a bad thing.

The scene with Margaret and the reporter, Cathy Salt, was beautifully done. True, we’ve already seen one monster suddenly get human emotions in this series, but Annette Badland is just wonderful. And the image of a Slitheen weeping on the toilet, though it should be hilarious, is incredibly touching. Another masterstroke by Joe Ahearne. Meanwhile. the TARDIS gang has found out she’s around, and they’re out to get her. And they really are the TARDIS gang, the four of them. It felt a lot like Buffy, or the Davison years. I guess sometimes a crowded TARDIS can work. The chase around the building was handled really well, a great blend of slapstick and suspense – I was reminded of World War Three. Of course, she got captured, and we discovered her evil plan… but hang on! Barely twenty minutes have passed! What about the second half of the episode?

Well, this is a Russell T. Davies script, innit? So naturally, in among the 21st-century references and the cheeky jokes, we’re in for a bit of rumination on the nature of… stuff. Stuff that’s been lingering in the background of Doctor Who for years, but has never been fully explored. This time it’s about what happens to the monsters after they’ve been foiled. What if the Doctor can’t just run off without watching them burn? What if he’s stuck with them until their sentence is carried out? When I heard the plotline for the 1996 TV movie, I was intrigued – the Doctor is carrying the Master’s remains to Gallifrey, after all this time; how will he deal with that emotionally? – but in the end, that wasn’t even mentioned. So now RTD is tackling the issue head-on – the Doctor has to bring his captive to dinner. And yes, their “date” is peppered with witty banter and sight gags and the like (I loved what he did with the breath-freshener!), but primarily this scene illustrates the difficult ordeal faced by both the Doctor and his captive. The Doctor must finally look the monster in the eye, and even socialise with her. The monster must beg for one last chance at redemption.

Meanwhile, Rose and Mickey are off on one of their Rose-and-Mickey scenes. I expected this. In fact, I would’ve been disappointed not to see a scene like this in an episode where Mickey featured. Their storyline has progressed in a realistic way, from Rose’s abandonment of Mickey, to her sudden reappearance a year later, to the Doctor’s eventual acceptance of “Ricky”, to her decision to stay on as a companion. And Mickey is always waiting for her. And we know he always will. I don’t know if we’ve ever heard him say it, but really he doesn’t need to, because it’s obvious. He loves her, very much.

But there’s no time for that – the Gelth rift has torn open, and the TARDIS is going to be at the centre of Cardiff’s destruction. Surprise, surprise, “Margaret” is behind it all, and plans to use her extrapolator to surf along the shock wave to safety. (I’m not sure if I liked the idea of a cosmic surfboard, but hey, there was that question-mark umbrella…) Suddenly, the TARDIS console opens… what the? This has never, ever happened before. What’s that light? The heart of the TARDIS? Better idea than the Eye of Harmony, anyway. And it regresses the Slitheen back into an egg. People have criticised this deus ex machina ending, but I feel it works quite well. A second chance… what’s wrong with that? Rose seems to agree. And of course she’s talking about Mickey. Somehow we know their story isn’t over.

So there you have it. Boom Town. A quiet muse about the implications of the Doctor’s actions. Some great “TARDIS team” antics, a brilliant turn from Annette Badland, the continuation of the Rose-and-Mickey soap, and a bit of sci-fi drama at the end. All in all, a good little story, a terrific script by Mr Davies, and another masterstroke of direction by Joe Ahearne. Something occurred to me when the end credits rolled past – there were only two episodes to go. I was going to miss this. The Ninth Doctor, Rose, even Jack. Such a superb team. I knew they’d be gone soon… and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye just yet. So I’ve decided to go all the way back to the beginning, to the first episode, and watch it all again, before I get to my final two reviews. I want to get a clear view of the series as a whole before I bid it farewell. It’s going to take a while, but I have a feeling I won’t be disappointed…

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