Doctor Doctor Who Guide

‘Boom Town’ is a curious episode - gone are the thrills and spills of ‘The Empty Child’ and ‘The Doctor Dances’; gone is the notion that ‘Doctor Who’ is about monsters and screaming companions; gone, even, is the way that Series One was set up to be, or at least this is the case come the end of it.

For forty-five minutes, Russell T. Davies presents us with a ‘Doctor Who’ story concerned with questioning who the Doctor is and why he does what he does; it also addresses the strains on everyday lives which arise due to the Doctor whisking someone off the planet. For the first time in Series One as well, it hints at something greater building up- the question of what the words ‘bad wolf’ actually signify. However, this tone lends itself to a more character based episode than an all-action one as we have seen previously in Series One, so how does it work?

The plot itself concerns the TARDIS landing on top of the Rift in Cardiff so it can refuel- however, things soon take a turn for the worse as a member of the Slitheen family has become the new Mayor Of Cardiff. Soon, she is captured by the Doctor and put inside the TARDIS, where he shall take her back to Raxacoricofallapatorius the next day, However, she requests a final meal before being taken to her death (back home, she will be executed) and whilst this is happening, the Rift begins to open. Added to this, any possible reconciliation between Rose and her estranged boyfriend Mickey is looking unlikely as the full impact of Rose’s travelling takes its toll….

The overall ambience of the story reminded me in many ways of some of the earlier William Hartnell ‘Doctor Who’ stories. Back then, viewers had no idea who the Doctor was, why he was motivated or where he came from. In years to come, we would be told that he was a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey who ran away because he was bored (and later still, in the ‘New Adventures’ range of novels, we learn about ‘The Other’…)

‘Boom Town’ is in many ways a real case of going back-to-basics, and at this is succeeds admirably. One of the best things about Series One is how it has gradually introduced different elements of ‘Doctor Who’ at a relaxed pace, rather than spit it all out in a garbled rush of continuity, as per ‘The TV Movie’. In ‘Rose’, we are told he is an alien who has a spaceship that travels in time and space, named the TARDIS; in ‘The End Of The World’, we find out that the Doctor is a Time Lord whose planet was destroyed in a war; in ‘The Unquiet Dead’, we find out that the war was a Time War; in ‘Aliens Of London’, we find out that he is 900 years of age and used to work on Earth for a group named UNIT… and so on, and so forth. It takes until ‘Boom Town’- episode Eleven- to even give an explanation of why it is that the TARDIS actually looks like a Police Box; previously, we have been informed that it is a disguise, and that was a good enough explanation- we did not need to know anything else until now, and so adding details about the Chameleon Circuit to the knowledge fresh viewers have been steadily acquiring is a nice move. Also rather nice was the fact that the Chameleon Circuit it is also referred to as a cloaking device, nicely bridging the gap between ‘The TV Movie’ and the old seasons of ‘Doctor Who’.

There are also references to other ‘Doctor Who’ stories in the episode; notably mention of the Venom Grubs for ‘The Web Planet’, mention of the planet Justicia from the novel ‘The Monsters Inside’ and, of course, the rift from ‘The Unquiet Dead’ and the Slitheen from ‘Aliens Of London’, ‘World War Three’ and the aforementioned ‘The Monsters Inside’ (in that order).

The Slitheen were a bone of content for many viewers, and it is hard not to see why. They laugh a lot for no real reason (I hear distant cries of “Padding!”), they fart (ahem), and they generally spend most of their time zipping and unzipping, rather than doing anything actually constructive. At least, this is how it seemed from their first appearance, but deep down there was something better, something more intelligent. These are the family of Raxacoricofallapatorians who correctly deduce that the Doctor is making it up when he says that he’ll triplicate the flammability of a bottle of port, a line which made me laugh more than any other in the episode in question (‘World War Three’); they are also the only alien race to make an appearance both on television and in print in the NDA range thus far, and it is in ‘The Monsters Inside’ that they really came into there own, in my opinion. However, for those solely concerned with the television series, those ignoring the novels, I cannot help but feel that they were in for a shock as the Slitheen are finally exploited to all they are worth and show off just what a good creation they actually are. The Slitheen in question (Margaret Blaine, or to give her real name, Blon Fel Fotch Pasameer-Day Slitheen) is handled really well here; Davies gives her all the best lines (including a rather risqué one involving bondage and dinner), and her actual dinner with the Doctor is wonderfully handled.

The plot’s major failing is in its conclusion- the main bulk of the episode is a study of the Doctor’s actions, and his conversations with ‘Margaret Slitheen’ are well-written and interesting. However, the main question raised by all this- will the Doctor really take her to her death?- is dashed by its ending, where ‘Margaret Slitheen’ is turned into an egg and given a new lease of life after she gazes into the heart of the TARDIS. Now, I can just about accept the idea of this as an ending, and the fact she thanks the Doctor before her regression implies a sign of redemption of her behalf, but the trouble is that this is not a good ending for this story. It could have been worse- she could have just become a totally reformed character and they all live happily ever after- but it does rather stop the question being asked dead in its trail, and I would have preferred to have explored this avenue further.

Another flaw, though more minor, is the small on-screen presence of Captain Jack, who is great when on-screen but forgotten about by all bar the viewer when he is relegated to the TARDIS for the most part of the story. It is a pity that this is the case, as he is a great character that screams out for more time on screen.

The acting in ‘Boom Town’ is universally great, with the regulars impressing as much as usual and the guest cast being above and beyond brilliant. Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper and John Barrowman have a wonderful on-screen rapport, as seen so perfectly in an early scene in the TARDIS where they quickly explain to Mickey what has been going on in Series One thus far: they slap hands, they smile, they slap Mickey- it’s a brilliant moment, and for me one of the highlights of Series One.

As Mickey, Noel Clarke puts in his best performance to date and really makes you care about the character. At the end of ‘Boom Town’, when he walks off alone, you cannot help but feel very sorry for him, and it hits home just how arguably selfish Rose has been to travel with the Doctor. Also, Clarke blends in just as well with the cast members other then Piper; an early scene in a café with them all listening to an anecdote by Captain Jack is handled rather nicely, and his new friendly relationship with the Doctor comes as a pleasant and rewarding progression following the events in ‘World War Three’.

Unsurprisingly though, the highest praises from me must go to Annette Badland, who makes ‘Margaret Slitheen’ as memorable as they come. From pleading to the Doctor in a bid to save her own skin, to smiling after gazing into the heart of the TARDIS, to threatening to kill Rose (quipping “Surf’s up!” in a very vicious manner), she brings every scene to life, with perhaps only her comic reaction to having her tongue spayed by the Doctor seeming a little out of place.

The Directing by Joe Ahearne is quite simply excellent. There is a wonderful moment early on where ‘Margaret’ in speaking to the TARDIS crew, gazing slightly off camera. She stops speaking and there is an agonising silence before she resumes; a lesser Director would have shortened this, but Ahearne milks it for all its worth and is rewarded with a captivating moment. Only one part of ‘Boom Town’ lets him down, and that is with the escape of ‘Margaret’, and her subsequent recapture by the Doctor via his Sonic Screwdriver. For me, the joke just wears thin soon enough- we are treated to no less than three shots of her attempting to run away, and it is just one shot too many to prevent it from being funny; instead, it just seems a tad unnecessary. Other moments easily stop this one from being any real problem though; all the scenes in the Mayor’s office are great, from the reveal of the mobile phones held by all the TARDIS crew plus Mickey, to the great exchange of dialogue between a clerk and the Doctor regarding ‘Margaret’ jumping out of a window. Even Mickey getting his foot caught in a bucket did not make me cringe like perhaps it should have, though as visual gags go, this one could be seen a mile off.

Another brilliant moment is the revelation of ‘bad wolf’, where the Doctor and Rose realise that the two words have been following them- everything suddenly gets a sinister undertone, and it sets the scene nicely for next week’s episode.

The music by Murray Gold is his best score yet, showing off his chameleonic nature by providing some nice music to accompany the happier moments at the start of the episode, and then neatly contrasting them by its conclusion, where everything gets moodier.

In all, I really enjoyed ‘Boom Town’. It is undeniably different to the rest of Series One, but for me this struck as a welcome break. That’s not to say that any such break was necessary, but it was certainly a pleasant thing to experience.

Not everyone I know was as happy- my Sister remarked that the best thing about it was the ‘Next Week’ trailer showing glimpses of ‘Bad Wolf’, and my Dad nearly fell asleep during it. However, for me at least it hit all the right buttons, despite the episode’s slightly silly name.

There are flaws- jokes running of there humour, an out of character moment from ‘Margaret’, an ending which betrays that which has been set up, but in all it is a breath of fresh air, and a very enjoyable one at that.

Filters: Series 1/27 Ninth Doctor Television