THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Unquiet Dead
Aliens of London
World War Three
AoL/WW3
BBC
Boom Town

Story No. 171 Blaidd drwg, not dwrg
Production Code Series One Episode Eleven
Dates June 4, 2005

With Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper,
Noel Clarke, John Barrowman
Written by Russell T. Davies Directed by Joe Ahearne
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner, Mal Young.

Synopsis: The Doctor encounters an enemy he thought was dead.


Reviews

A Review by Jamie Beckwith 14/6/05

The worst episode of the new series so far, I'd go as far as to call it a real dud.

But having said that we can take that as a compliment of the series as a whole, of the 11 episodes screened so far this is the only real clanger. Oh sure there have been some episodes not up to scratch, but even the poorest episodes (Aliens of London/World War Three) are rewatchable and above all else entertaining.

Boom Town is instantly forgetable. The tone of the piece is all wrong, endless pinky plunky piano music and endless silly technobabble of the type that chokes episodes of Star Trek: Voyager. It sees the return of a not so old enemy, and said old enemy is using a plot device from yet another episode... I've nothing against a coherant season with interlocking continuity but Boom Town seemed entirely like a filler, and one with a dearth of originality in its villain and motivation at that.

Even the ending was silly and just plain stinks. The Doctor didn't even do anything! He might has well have zapped the baddie with the sonic screwdriver. (Indeed it wouldn't have been out of place in this episode where it's whipped out for a pointless "comedy" scene.)

Lazy, lazy, lazy. On the whole, the new series has been of a consitently high standard, it's been must-see television. To have such drivel especially towards the end leaves a slightly sour taste in the mouth and that isn't helped by a rather poor trailer for the next episode. (But more on that later.)

If you thought the ending to the 1996 Paul McGann movie was a cop-out then be sure to skip this episode.

To further confound the lack of plot, Eccleston and Piper are missing their usual sparkle, seemingly sleepwalking through this episode, and the addition of Captain Jack to the TARDIS crew is redundant as he too does nothing. It's certainly saying something when Rose's drippy ex-boyfriend Mickey is the only good thing in the episode.

And so the trailer for the next episode and perhaps it was my general dislike of this episode extending past the end credits, but this made me cringe. The Doctor in the Big Brother House. An android version of Anne Robinson (And one that fit the wobbly prop cliche of 70s Doctor Who). It's only redeemed in the last few seconds when we see... well I won't spoil it for you but there's a nit even in the last second of the trailer too. From the Doctor's point of view this revelation will be a shocking twist. It seems a shame that we the viewer have had the secret blown a week earlier than him.

A massive disappointment.


Everything's that's bad about Doctor Who in 45 minutes... by Antony Tomlinson 15/6/05

Wow. This was a truly dire episode. In fact it was an incredible demonstration, in one handy 45-minute package, of everything that has ever been wrong with both the old and the new series of Doctor Who. I will now list some of the numerous elements that made this such a prime slice of embarrassingly cack Who...

  1. Deus ex machina resolution
    Obviously I can't give away the ending, but I can say that it stinks (it also has a striking resemblance to the conclusion of the TV Movie - hmm, you'd think they'd have learnt from that one at least).
  2. Needless return of an old enemy
    Oh look, it's the Thargs from five episodes ago. I'd hoped we'd seen the last of them. No, I really had. They were crap.
  3. Continuity obsession
    Oh, a casual viewer has just turned on. On the off-chance that they might understand what's going on, lets fill every line of dialogue with references to the TARDIS chameleon circuit, TARDIS telepathic circuits, episodes from six weeks ago (The Unquiet Dead, Rose, World War Three) and "bad wolves". That should make them switch over...
  4. Political correctness gone mad
    Look, for God's sake, can we have some baddies who are just plain bad? We've already had to deal with a lonely Nestene and a tearful Dalek (though, admittedly, that was well done). Now, we have to understand the isolation and painful upbringing of yet another slavering killer alien. Imagine if it had been like this in the old days - "I might wipe out the Zygons - then again, they are just the product of broken homes resulting from Thatcherite social policies on the planet Zygonia..." Urg.
  5. Nonentity development
    We've already had The Long Game - an episode which seemed to exist merely to get into the head (sic) of Adam, a character who no one gave a toss about anyway. But I felt a chill down my spine at the beginning of this story when Mickey reappeared. "Oh God" I thought (correctly), "another ten minutes of discussion between Rose and her boyfriend about the direction of their relationship". Why does RTD think anyone gives a toss about characters like these? This is not a soap (and if it was, it wouldn't be a very good one). I guess that RTD is philosophically wedded to the idea that all people in the world are important, no matter how dull they seem. But in a dramatic context, I'm afraid, some people will always be ciphers, no matter how much time we spend analysing them...
  6. All talk and no trousers
    There really is almost no action in this episode (it's even worse than The Long Game). It is just a load of people talking self-important crap in restaurants. But I (and most of the population, I guess) want some sci-fi action adventure fun NOW from Doctor Who (indeed, after the non-stop excitement of Rose, The End of the World and The Unquiet Dead, I'm starting to think that we were sold this series on a false prospectus).
  7. Taking the Doctor too seriously
    Sometimes it is a nice idea to stop and reflect on what the Doctor does, and the consequences of his actions (scenes in Genesis or Remembrance of the Daleks for instance). But you can't spend every week going "ooh, who are you? Are you a Godlike being? What about the consequences of your actions? What gives you the right?" For (a) this means nothing to casual viewers; (b) most weeks the Doctor actually seems to mess things up (Rose - or some other incidental character has to sort things out) and so doesn't seem Godlike at all to anyone not familiar with the old series; (c) it is simply boring to be stuck with someone so self-obsessed. Half the fun of the great Doctors (Hartnell, Troughton, Baker) was that they didn't take themselves too seriously, and often even lacked self-awareness - so they just got on with the job-in-hand, in a devil-may-care spirit. The new Doctor, on the other hand, seems unable to do anything without getting all weepy. Pull yourself together man, for heaven's sake.
  8. Lack of vision
    Look, the TARDIS can go anywhere in time and space. SPACE. That means ANYWHERE IN THE UNIVERSE. So, how come (with the exception of Dalek's bunker) we have had to spend every episode of this series in one of three locations - London, Cardiff or a space station orbiting Earth? Even a trip to the countryside would constitute a slight change of scene. Furthermore, the time element is not getting much of a look in either - we've only been back about 150 years. Quite a lot of interesting stuff happened before that, though, as a matter of fact. And the return of an old alien race adds further to the lack of vision apparent in this series. I mean there is a whole universe of aliens out there and (excepting the plethora in The End of the World) we've only met about three.
  9. Running out of jokes
    Aarg, this story gave us more jokes about mobile phones and a hell of a lot of very, very hackneyed bits of repartee between the Doctor and the Captain. And if Rose smirks any more, I'm going to puke ("I'm always prepared" she simpers like a maniac during one scene). I don't think I laughed once during this episode, and that's actually rather unusual for me when watching the new series (actually, I did like the "I'm sounding like a Welshman" line...)
  10. A terrible baddie plot
    I can't tell you what the villain's plan is here without giving too much away... but trust me, it is horribly contrived and rather ridiculous (still, at least this villain wasn't trying to get rich...)
  11. A dubious interpretation of the Doctor's character
    Would the Doctor really insist that the villain of the piece be tortured to death, as he does in this tale? What a bastard - surely there's something else he could have done with her? And how come he manages to cock things up so badly yet again? He makes Davison's Doctor look unwaveringly competent.
So that's it. Was there anything good about this story? Well, Annette Badland was quite good as the baddie (saving this story as best she could, as Simon Pegg did with The Long Game). But to be honest, I think reducing the series length to 12 episodes would be preferable to producing another load of soul-sucking garbage like this.

NEXT WEEK: The return of yet another old enemy, and a story that parodies modern television in a rather camp way. Hmm, is it just me, or is it starting to feel a bit like the mid-1980s...?


Wrong Turn by Mike Morris 20/6/05

Hmm. Well, I can really see what they tried to do.

Boom Town is not without its positive attributes, but it's really the first failure of this wonderful new series. I watched it and shrugged my shoulders - I mean, it isn't offensively awful or anything - but thinking about it now, it's bothering me a lot more. There's a serious intent here, but in my own resolutely humble opinion Boom Town is fundamentally mistaken about what Doctor Who is designed for.

Character-driven is the old debate here. This is supposed to be a "character drama". And while that may be a popular buzz-word, character-drama is something that Doctor Who isn't really cut out for. It's a plot-based show; I've gone over all this in my review of Emergency Landing (that's what I'm calling Aliens of London/World War Three now), so I'll try not to repeat myself here. But the major error that Boom Town makes is this - it presumes that the entire world getting torn apart and everybody dying, just because one alien is getting a bit of cabin fever, is less important than having a bit of a chat about how the Doctor does things. And it presumes in turn that the questioning of the Doctor is less important than showing us that travelling through time and space can lead to you having a tiff with your boyfriend.

And that's wrong. I mean, it's absolutely, totally wrong, as wrong as thinking that the finale of Big Brother is more important than the invasion of Iraq. The only argument I can see anyone making to the contrary is that boyfriend tiffs are, y'know, real-life, and hence more meritorious, whereas space-time rifts and planets getting torn apart are just silly science fiction. Bluntly, if you think that way, then I'm not sure why you watch science fiction at all, because it means by definition that you think it's silly.

It's an error that would be objectionable even if the plot of Boom Town wasn't such nonsense. It asks us to believe that a Slitheen survivor - who was previously supposed to be in MI5 - has become mayor of Cardiff (or something along those lines) and proposed, commissioned, designed, approved and partially constructed a nuclear power plant in the city centre, as well as killing off the entire design team with nobody even noticing... in six months. Now that's just ridiculous. It works initially for the rather marvellous pre-credit sequence (and oh look, it's that undertaker guy from Remembrance of the Daleks), but it quickly becomes totally implausible. The unfeasibly short timescale is one problem, and the "publicity-shy" mayor is another; it's implied that she tries not to be photographed, but you just don't become a politician without being photographed. And nor do you conceal your crucial piece of equipment in a model that's free to be viewed by the public, when you could keep it in your flat! Oh, and wouldn't a character from Emergency Landing, most notably the Prime Minister-in-waiting Harriet Brown, have noticed that such an important public figure was the nasty alien who wanted to turn the earth into radioactive waste?

There's actually something workable at the core of this story. I had suspicions about Harriet Brown in any case - Made in Britain, indeed - and had this been set further in the future, the story might have made use of that. It would also have made more sense from Margaret's point of view, as she seems to be going absolutely bananas when she hasn't been stuck on earth for very long. And many of the plot problems wouldn't have seemed like such a problem - the timescale wouldn't seem so ludicrous, and it might just be plausible that a nuclear power plant in the heart of Cardiff wouldn't lead to mass protests on every street corner. But then... well, we wouldn't have been able to bring Mickey back.

Oh dear. Dear oh dear.

Mickey is actually really, really well played in this story and Noel Clarke is emerging as a wonderful, modest actor who's not afraid to play someone who's faintly ridiculous. He is written as a character who isn't intelligent, or particularly brave, and is clumsy; but at heart he's smarter than he looks, and he'll put his life on the line for Rose. He is, essentially, a good man, and his ragging of Jack is as hilarious as his shy, awkward propositioning of Rose is touching.

But look; dude, I don't care. This is Doctor Who. This is a programme that can tell vast, epic stories of civilisations rising and falling, of regimes toppling, of good and evil battling throughout time and space. It's a huge programme. And in that climate, I can't pretend that I give too much of a toss about Mickey's relationship problems. Now, I'm not in a relationship myself, largely because I tend to ask everyone if they like Doctor Who after five minutes, and if they don't I'll spend an hour telling them why they have to watch it, and apparently that's more of A Third Date Conversation. But here's the bottom line, and wait for this; relationships are boring. Relationships are not special. I mean, okay all you oh-so-in-love people out there, I know they're special to you. But in the grand scheme of things, they're just not. People get together and break up all the time, usually for the same stupid boring reasons.

This isn't me saying that Doctor Who shouldn't touch that character stuff with a bargepole. Of course it should. It already has. It does it most overtly and least successfully in Emergency Landing, but more notably in Dalek and Shell Shock (that's the gas mask one, remember). In those two stories we see drama that's essentially based around two characters, but they're clearly charged with meaning and come to represent far more than themselves. Whereas Rose and Mickey are just any old couple, really, and dammit, I'll even start to care about any old couple in some programmes... but not like this, because their argument is a "you-don't-spend-time-with-me-and-you-fancy-that-bloke" quarrel that's not remotely interesting, and because I can't empathise with someone getting arsey because their girlfriend goes off time travelling with alien. The premise of Doctor Who is fantastically, ridiculously far-fetched; it's not one that bears this sort of examination. One thing or the other comes across as plain daft; actually, the daft moment to me is when Micky throws a hissy fit just because Rose has run off to the Doctor when Cardiff starts falling apart. Because where else is she going to go? Who else is going to be responsible? Jesus mate, have some perspective!

The examination of the Doctor's motives is more interesting, mainly because it's clearly been much better thought out. The point has already been made about Emergency Landing that all the characters in it, at some point, evaded responsibility for their decisions - including the Doctor. In The Long Game he notes that he "doesn't like cleaning up," which is something that's always been true, but it's pretty much the first time he actually comes out and says it. In many other stories, it's actually been other protagonists who have doled out natural justice. So here, it's good to see the Doctor being forced to face up to his responsibilities; and while the comedy scenes lead to more stupid plotting (why is Margaret trying to kill the Doctor when the bracelets mean it wouldn't do her any good?), the performances are excellent and the concept is clever. The discussion about Margaret sparing the reporter is particularly good.

However, it's not related to the plot in any way, and it goes nowhere; at the end, the problem for the Doctor gets sorted out in the same way as before. So we're getting no growth, no movement. And the TARDIS-based finale is bizarre, a technobabble conclusion giving way to a Deus Ex Machina ending that's beautifully filmed and acted, but remains risible in terms of how everything is magically sorted out.

By means of comparison: recently, I bought Blake's 7 Series 2 on DVD. It's an uneven season, not as good as Series 1, but what sustains it is the wonderful interaction between Blake and Avon. Over the course of the thirteen episodes, we see Blake becoming more fanatical and unreasonable, while Avon grows in stature and edges closer and closer to taking over the ship. There's only one episode that might be called a character piece - Trial - but even that's debatable. Anyway, the backbiting happens as background to the disparate plots, until the final episode when an injured Blake hands over power to Avon and says "For what it's worth, I have always trusted you. Right from the very beginning." And instantly, the viewer realises - yes, he always did. Because he had to, and because he could. You could always rely on Avon; he never lied, he never misled anyone, he never got anyone killed and he was always honest about his motives. And you realise that the only person you couldn't trust was Blake. You realise that, for the whole series, Avon's been tightening the rope, he's been getting closer and closer to taking command, and that it's the right thing to do because he's a better bloody leader - and even Blake knows it, deep down. You realise that the entire series has been about these two people, and suddenly you know them both, you know what they represent, and you know whose morality is superior - against all appearances and assumptions.

That's real character drama. And it doesn't need plodding storylines with badly-executed plots to happen.

Anyway, one bad episode isn't too much to get worked up about in this marvellous, marvellous television series, but feels like filler and badly-conceived filler at that. This kind of toss is usually perpetrated by SF series that think they're more than just a silly old SF series. But I've rarely seen it work then and it doesn't work now.

And so, Boom Town marks the first big mistake this series has made. It had to happen eventually.


A Review by James Taylor /6/05

After the real horror of The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, the light-hearted opening to Boom Town feels strange. The overall tone is inconsequential for most of the episode; banter flies back and forth between the five main characters (including the villain) in a trivial way which belies the potential deadliness of the surviving Slitheen and her plans.

The main point of the episode is a test of the Doctor’s moral consistency. He’ll kill his enemies (often indirectly) in the heat of the moment, but can he cold-bloodedly transport his prisoner back to her home planet, certain torture and death?

We remember that the Fifth Doctor baulked at the chance to execute Davros; but this Doctor has a much more rigid worldview. I see this Doctor as Time’s Vigilante; isolated and scarred, he regards his moral code as the highest authority available. He will (thankfully) still show compassion, but he will not hesitate to carry out a sentence if an adversary is beyond redemption – acting with cold certainty (remember Cassandra's preventable demise in The End of the World?). In contrast, there’s some absolutely superb dialogue between the Doctor and Margaret as he shows that her mercy towards the occasional victim signifies nothing; even that indulgence is a selfish act. This Doctor will not be fooled; he acts with absolute self-confidence and passes judgement with a certainty that permits his enemies no escape.

The challenge to the viewer is – where do we stand? Most would expect others to do the ‘right’ thing (in this case, shipping Margaret off to her doom), but would we be willing to see it through, faced with her pleas and human appearance? I think that many of us would dodge the issue; showing mercy not from a deep moral centre but from personal weakness. The Doctor no longer has this weakness - his experiences have seared it out of him - but his moral certainty is frightening in turn.

The rest of the episode is fairly forgettable; but the restaurant sequence alluded to above is worth the episode on its own.


A winner! by Joe Ford 3/7/05

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. It's 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 forty 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 RTD's 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 a 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's 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 Margaret 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 Margaret 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 RTD's writing, he actually manages to make something this absurd work, he writes the scene so well that you are soon feeling sorry for Margaret 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, muscley 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 Margaret 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 Margaret 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 Margaret 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 Margaret 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, it's 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, forty 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!


A Review by Michael Hickerson 9/9/05

Having an entire season of your television show filmed and in post-production before the first original episode airs can be a duel edged sword. It can be a good thing to have the entire season arc locked, set and complete and thus free from interference from outside forces such as a network or fans. But then again, there are times when maybe having a bit of feedback might help you avoid certain pitfalls a second time around.

Certainly it would be interesting to speculate that had Russell T. Davies known the fan reaction to the Slitheen would be so lackluster would he have wasted yet another hour on an episode entirely focused on them?

Because I think the fan reaction to the Slitheen cropping up yet again here was probably the same reaction fans had back in the early 80s when the Master showed up again in season 19 in Time Flight - "Oh no, not again."

Honestly, I'm not sure what point there was to bringing the Slitheen back. Davies' script seems to want to humanize them a bit, to make us feel a bit more sympathy for them and their plight as characters. But since Dalek did this earlier and better this season (add in that we've had 40 plus years of development and backstory to the Daleks), I can't help but wonder just what the point of Boom Town was.

Maybe it was to tease the fans a bit. I mean, we do have Jack, Rose and the Doctor sitting around telling Mickey about all these fantastic adventures on other planets they've had. And sitting there watching it, I honestly wished we'd skipped this adventure with the TARDIS refueling for an episode and seen some of those adventures on ice planets and dangerous worlds as opposed to large chunks of screen time devoted to the female Slitheen sitting about debating the Doctor's morality.

As I've said before, it's more shocking to hear a Dalek debate morality with the Doctor than it is a Slitheen . For one thing, we've known the Daleks for over 40 years, thus giving us some sense of history and understanding of just where each side is coming from. Also, it's a bit more chilling for a Dalek to tell the Doctor that his morality has become skewed based on what we know about them as killing machines than it is an alien who runs about with faulty gas regulators that make it sound flatulent.

Or maybe the point of the episode was to show just how far Rose has grown apart from her old life in her travels. Or just how left out Mickey really is from Rose's life now. Again, these are things the series has dealt with before and in a much better way in previous installments. I'm not sure why we had to bring Mickey back on screen again, other than to remind fans that he is slowly becoming the Adric of the new series. I guess we do learn that Mickey wants to move on but can't because he still has strong feelings for Rose (which you have to wonder if this is becoming a one-way street and a bit pathetic for Mickey really since Rose seems to flirt with a new guy in every episode and we get the feeling she's only been away from Mickey a few weeks or months in her timeline as opposed to years for Mickey). Maybe this is setting something up for the final two episodes where Mickey becomes the Master or some such other plot twist. But I honestly doubt that is going to happen.

Instead of feeling like an episode in which season-long continuities were brought together, this one felt like a primer in case you'd missed any of the episodes leading up to it. The phrase "bad wolf" is following the Doctor about... check! Rose left Mickey and he's mad about it... check! We faced an alien race called the Slitheen who are not the nicest aliens about... check! There is a rift in time and space in Cardiff... check! But instead of doing anything interesting, new or different with these season-long elements, Boom Town is more content to tread water. Indeed, my great fear from last week - that Boom Town would be little more than a space holder until the big season finale came to pass here.

I have to admit the preview for next week's Bad Wolf did more to excite me and have me on the edge of my seat than all of Boom Town did in 40 plus minutes.

Indeed, there is no "boom" in Boom Town. I kept waiting for something to blow up, explode or do something. Instead, we got a lot of sitting around and talking, ending up with the nature vs. nurture debate for the Slitheen. Can Bonn be redeemed now? The TARDIS has aged her backward to before she hatched and she'll be dropped off with a different family. She gets a second-chance, but will it make her a better Slitheen?

But here's a note for season 28 for Davies - I don't care. Please do not have an entire story that takes place on the Slitheen homeworld in which find out if Blonn turned out for the better this time. I think we've driven the character and the Slitheen into the ground about as much as we can and, honestly, I can't imagine spending another 40-plus minutes with her.

Overall, my reaction to this one wasn't that it was especially good or that it was especially bad. It was just sort of there. Interesting how the last couple of Davies stories when surrounded by stories by other writers, have just been sort of OK. He started off well but with The Long Game and Boom Town his writing has been a bit off. The stories aren't necessarily the weakest of the series (I mean, let's face it, this is still light years better than Web Planet will ever be), but they aren't exactly thrilling me down to the very last fiber of my being like Empty Child/The Doctor Dances and Dalek did. Instead, these stories seem content to fill time and take up space while big, exciting events happen in the stories around them.

In the end, Boom Town lack the "boom" I'd hoped for. It was widely different than what the preview made it out to be which may be part of my disappointment. I was expecting a good old "Doctor takes on an evil alien with a megalomaniac plan" story and instead got a debate about the death penalty and the Doctor's morality. It might have worked better as a novel, quite frankly. Indeed, looking at the story, I wished this one had been a novel and we'd got to see rather than hear about one of the TARDIS crew's fantastic adventures on a strange, alien planet instead.


A Review by Ron Mallett 26/9/05

Russell T. Davies once again took the scriptwriting reigns on Doctor Who tonight... and it showed. Once again the annoying distractions of interpersonal conflicts became the entire show. What was an attempt at a more psychological episode of course turned out to be anti-Who wank entitled Boom Town.

Did you take the opportunity to catch up on relationship between Rose and boyfriend Mickey? Yes, "Whoenders" has just so much to offer the emotionally stunted. This really is just a program called Doctor Who... I'm sad to say Doctor Who died in 1989 and this proves it.

There was so little story, the entire episode was virtually plotless. The "story" was based on reheating a very questionable concept called the Slitheen (which in Davies little world he probably thinks are the greatest creation in the history of Who), and resulted in the serving up of an emaciated version of The Green Death. Annette Badland put in another good performance as Margaret but the dialogue was so undeliverable, her performance came across as stilted.

It must go down as the worst new Who episode yet and there have been some clunkers. How exactly would Margaret surf her way out of the solar system? How could Jack know how to tinker with the TARDIS? Wouldn't trousers have been a better choice for Rose than a miniskirt and legwarmers? All these problems could have been overlooked if there had been a bit more quality to the script. As for the idea that two words are following the Doctor around in time, it's just ludicrous! Thumbs down for what amounted to nothing more than a bit of season padding!


"Have you seen yourselves? You all think your so clever don't you?" by Steve Cassidy 1/10/05

So exactly what is the plot of Boom Town?

The Doctor docks in Cardiff for repairs and meets an old enemy, captures her, and imprisons her aboard the TARDIS awaiting justice. She escapes and holds Rose unconvincingly prisoner and it's all tied up with a very forced deus e machina?

Next week - The Doctor and Rose discuss the paper bill while Captain Jack washes his socks.

Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to cut-price Who! Welcome to the pre-climax budget saver and what budget there is is financed by the Welsh tourist board and the Consortium of Cardiff architects. Actually, it's not that bad but a little painfully obvious. It's sort of a filler story. An indrawing of breathe before the end of season spectacular of Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways. However, it is so uneven - it veers from uniformly excellent (and without doubt the funniest scene in 13 episodes of new Who) to the truly dire. This schizophenic episode is just so uneven I really don't know where to start.

Huan Quayle did an excellent review on Outpost Gallifrey. In it he satirised Mr Russell T Davies waking up in his Cardiff harbour apartment (one of which features in the story, Quelle surprise!) wraps himself in his "Buffy" dressing gown settles down with a cup of coffee and then realises, blimey O'Riley, the BBC wants a new episode of Who by three o'clock. So he rattles off an episode incorporating lots of forced team bonhomie, a plot device of a previous episode, a production team favourite monster, and of course lots of emotional dialogue between Rose Tyler and her favourite puppy dog Mickey Smith. Oops still got a few minutes to fill so let's debate the nature of killers in a posh Cardiff restaurant. And throw in a CGI earthquake as well, that will fill a few minutes.

It was a very cruel review but also very funny and unfortunately rather accurate. This is the least imaginative episode of the series - it almost borders on lazy. I have no problem with this. Filling up an episode is a difficult business. I always thought Black Orchid, The King's Demons and the marvelous Sontaran Experiment were there to bridge a few gaps. But sometimes it's an idea to give someone else a go. Maybe someone else could come up with better ideas then this. But the executive producer is hanging onto the reigns. This could almost be a template RTD episode - all the jigsaw pieces are there. But is it really Doctor Who?

OK, OK, time for a abit of slack. I've mentioned before it does have a couple of excellent scenes as well as some real stinkers. The first fifteen minutes are very entertaining (once you've fast forwarded past the high fiving "adventures in time and SPACE..."). The Doctor's realisation that one of the Slitheen has escaped and is masquerading as the mayor of Cardiff is a wonderful moment. Eccleston's face as he delivers the lines is a classic. And even the "Gunfight at OK Corral" marching of Eccles, Piper, Barrowman and Clarke as they shoulder their way into Cardiff Town Hall is very enjoyable. The pursuit of Margaret Blaine/Slitheen is great fun accompanied by jolly music and culminates in a very good joke. If the recall of Annette Badland via teleport device had been in a French film by Jacques Tati it would be called "comedy genius". There is something very funny about fat people running and the fact that she runs into nothing is chucklingly good. But that's it, that's the episode highlight - you might as well switch off from here.

I really must commend Annette Badland. Probabaly the most memorable of the Slitheen from Aliens of London/WWIII. Certainly memorable enough in the production team's eyes for a return visit. Annette Badland is a veteran theatre/TV/Film actress. She knows her craft inside out and so produces a superb performance. The playing of sympathy is easy enough but we are not meant to trust her. The audience must grasp this without the character descending into a boo hiss villainess. Also there is a little bit of comedy there - only an experienced actress, which Miss Badland is, could pull it off. It seems strange to see Miss Badland middleaged - I still think of her as being in her twenties in Jabberwockey and several sitcoms of the early eighties. Her appearance in this could be called a success though having her return to her alien cocoon childhood is a bit of a copout. But mustn't frighten the kids too much I suppose.

Eccles doesn't put a foot wrong as usual. I like in particular his jocular greeting to Mickey when he enters the TARDIS. He is genuinely pleased to see him. And if the eyes are windows into the soul of actors then Eccleston is highly skilled in showing what he is thinking in the restaurant scenes and he has a nice rapport with Captain Jack as well. John Barrowman should be savoured as Captain Jack Harkness because he only had two more episodes to run before disappearing from our screens for a while. He has a good relationship with the Doctor even warning him "Don't answer her back. It's what she wants" as the two are policing their prisoner in the TARDIS. But this isn't really a Captain Jack story. There is no derring-do to be done here. In fact it is hard to pin down what kind of story this is.

It does veer into soap territory. RTD loves domestics and can write relationship dialogue very well.Thats why a huge chunk of this episode is given over to the Mickey/Rose relationship. Something which should have been dead and buried at the end of WWIII. But we have scene after scene of relationship discussion. And then suddenly, just as we are all nodding off, Cardiff starts to rock as the rift opens. I say rock but it really means a couple of extras screaming, a window smashes and the CGI boys go to work on the central square. Then we get lots of resentful acting from Noel Clarke and the audience swings behind him instead of his flighty girlfriend Rose Tyler. No wonder the poor boy is so messed up he now goes for fat birds at his Sainsburys' Local.

By the time of the deux a machina ending I had ceased to care. Something which has not happened to me during the new season (I usually reserve that emotion for Peter Davison episodes). Boom Town isn't bad television, it isn't even bad Who - it's just lazy and unimaginative. Who by numbers, Who without any effort, endorsed by the executive producer and the Welsh tourist board. There are places where it really works but these are countermanded by some shockers. Trying to blow up the planet so she can "space surf" back to her own people. I call that a really cruddy storyline - but worse was the come the next week with the Daleks/reality show combination. A plotline so bad that I am reaching for the bottle just thinking about it.

With Boom Town Russell T Davies proved that while most of the time he has the 'midas touch', occasionally, just occasionally, he has the average touch. There is something nonsensical about this one. There isn't much menace there and at no time do we believe any of them are in danger. Perhaps this was just a breather episode. A rest before the season climax. But, oh, it could have been so much better... given to someone else...

Boom Town? Nah. Pathetic squibtown more like...


...But With A Whimper by Daniel Saunders 19/3/06

Watching the new series for the second time I was pleasantly surprised to see that several stories I found weak when I first saw them seemed to benefit from a repeat viewing. The opening episodes did not have the disorientating culture shock of seeing Doctor Who updated so thoroughly.

I originally found Boom Town weak and frustrating, doubly so because even before transmission this seemed to scream "filler before the big finale." In retrospect, however, I can see that it was setting up several thematic and plot points for Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways. In some ways the season can even be seen as a thirteen episode epic. It was therefore with some trepidation that I took the DVD out of its cumbersome TARDIS case and put it in the player. Would I find hidden delights obscured the first time, especially if I watched it as New Series Part 11? Alas, no. Not only does this remain my least favourite story of the season and, indeed, one of my least favourite TV stories (the only new series story to gain that dubious distinction), but I found more problems than before.

There are huge lapses of logic and improbable plot devices. Would the people of Cardiff really let a nuclear power station be built in the town centre? Why kill all the people who could oppose the power station in a way that would just draw attention to what happened? Would "Margaret" have really made it obvious that she killed someone herself, even if she did pass it off as manslaughter? Did she expect people to believe someone slipped on ice and decapitated himself? Assuming she needed to keep the extrapolator in the town hall, wasn't there anywhere better than the model of the power station? Is there anything the sonic screwdriver can't do now? The real problem is many of these could have been plugged easily. Take the biggest plot hole, the deus ex machina ending. The scene where we find out that the TARDIS is being "recharged" could easily have gained a couple of lines. These could explain that the TARDIS needs charging from the rift because it isn't an ordinary ship, but uses the strange space-time-distorting power of things like black holes and time rifts and that the recharging process leaves the power source more exposed than normal, perhaps with strange, unexpected consequences. The ending would still depend on magical pseudo-science, but at least it would flow more naturally from the earlier stages of the narrative.

The biggest problems are with the story itself. If my recent article was an attempt to show how Doctor Who could work as a strange sort of soap opera, then this a clear example of how not to do it. The Mickey and Rose scenes fail in almost every way. They are desperately dull and cliched. Boy loses girl; boy gets new girl out of spite and loneliness; old girl gets angry; boy gets angry and confused - not the most original idea ever. Not only is it hackneyed, it is also unsubtle. Compare it with the complex relationship between Lamia and Grendel or the ambiguous one between Marriner and Tegan, both of which are more understated, but also more complicated and therefore more interesting and, frankly, more realistic and emotionally mature than anything in the new series. This sub-plot also has the unfortunate side-effect of making Rose (set up from the opening seconds of the season as the audience identification/wish-fulfilment figure, remember) appear tremendously selfish and uncaring. She leaves Mickey for more than a year to go travelling and flirting with the Doctor and Jack, but does not seem to realise that Mickey might feel upset by this! Worse, she seems feel betrayed when he says he has started dating Trisha Delaney, even though she knows he's waited a year for her between Rose and Aliens of London. Tired and boring, this might just be acceptable as a sub-plot if the main plot was exciting and groundbreaking.

Unfortunately, it has more problems here. Most obviously, the audience has seen it done, better, a month previously in Dalek. There is a slight progression in the Doctor's moral dilemmas across the season (in Dalek he is tempted to kill a murderous enemy; here it is an enemy who claims to have reformed; in The Parting of the Ways he has to decide if he can kill innocents for the greater good), but not really enough to make it look like like a developing theme rather than one that merely continues repetitively. Secondly, the moral discussions were just shoved in the middle of the episode, with some running around at the start and a standard technobabble world-in-peril bit at the end. The really frustrating part is that this is potentially a fantastic, original idea (original for TV Doctor Who anyway): the Doctor has to confront the consequences of his role as judge, jury and executioner. It would not matter that Davies is better at writing emotional, dialogue-based scenes than more typical Doctor Who stories, because that is what this should have been. So why did he seem to think he needed so many cliches of old and new Doctor Who? Imagine the story this way: the Doctor locks "Margaret" in the TARDIS about ten minutes into the story and rigs the door so that it will kill her if she tries to escape, but she takes Rose and/or Jack hostage. There then follows a tense psychological thriller as they each try and get the other to meet their demands, using force, ruses and eventually psychological pressure. This involves trying to get the other to admit to being murderous and in no position to judge others or complain about his/her lot. This would allow for the moral discussions we got on screen, as well as some action, but with more tension and without the need for so much running around, technobabble and Mickey. The contrived ending might still remain, but that is really the result of setting a problem which cannot be solved within the parameters of what is acceptable on a family show; the Doctor can not be seen to be responsible for death except in direct self-defence, but he cannot be indirectly responsible for it by letting killers go unchallenged.

Boom Town is not a complete write-off. There are some very funny jokes. The direction is good. The acting is excellent. But these can't save it. Ultimately, as with The Space Museum, this is destined to be remembered more for previewing the return of an old enemy in the cliffhanger/trailer for next week than for anything in the story itself.


A Review by Finn Clark 29/5/06

Boom Town's great, but it's easy to see how it wouldn't appeal to, for instance, small children or anyone else with a psychotically black-and-white worldview. The Doctor fights the least threatening villain of all time and unsurprisingly takes precisely three and a half minutes to capture her. I suppose in fairness there is a surprising aspect to this. The Doctor Who format means that traditionally bad guys: (a) keep fighting until just before the closing credits, and then (b) die. The Doctor may not carry a gun, but his foes don't have a good life expectancy. However here after capturing the villain, the TARDIS crew dilly-dally all night and nearly let her escape again. A deus ex machina saves them. The end.

That's a terrible plot, but fortunately Boom Town isn't about its plot. I even quite like the ending's elegance in wrapping up an ugly mess of pseudoscience. The script doesn't blind us with technobabble, but instead keeps things simple. The TARDIS is alive. It has a soul. That's its heart. No one could misunderstand that. The ending of Boom Town is at once harking back to the 1996 TVM and providing important set-up for The Parting of the Ways.

It's well played. I particularly enjoy watching Annette Badland, who even does well with the cheesy line "surf's up". The episode also holds up impressively to rewatching thanks to all that wit and byplay between the characters. We get to see them off-duty, simply relaxing for ten minutes until the Doctor sees that newspaper. Captain Jack doesn't get much to do, but it's not that kind of story. He can't be Flash Gordon since it's not an action-based episode, but he can't be Flesh Gordon since the only available characters are already paired off (Rose and Mickey, the Doctor and Margaret Blaine).

It's also very funny, with some of the season's best jokes. I laughed at Mickey getting territorial when he sees Jack, and also at "I sound like a Welshman" and "She's climbing out the window, isn't she?"

Again it's emphasised that Mickey's unsuited to adventuring. (At this point, anyway.) They make a joke of that, but once he's alone with Rose eventually his scenes almost feel as if they've been shipped in from a different episode. They're sombre, while ironically the "do we have the right to execute murderers" debate ends up offering plenty of laughs. One doesn't care what happens to Margaret, although the character is entertaining, but Mickey's story is sad.

As for Margaret Blaine, she's stranded, alone and short of resources. She can't build a spaceship and possibly can't even make a new skin suit. Of course the real reason for the latter is that Russell T. Davies wrote the episode around a good actress, but having a back-up identity might have been useful. She clearly likes being Margaret and has no reason to think that anyone's on to her, but nevertheless she's still dodging the cameras. The big question of course is whether she's changed. The Doctor claims she hasn't, but there are counter-indications. The biggest is letting Cathy Salt live. Margaret doesn't deny the Doctor's dismissal of that one, but at the time she did respond emotionally to the girl's story. More frivolously I could also cite one of the story's best jokes. "I sound like a Welshman. God help me, I've gone native." It's funny, but it's also at the heart of the story's themes.

Indications that Margaret hasn't changed are, well, everything else. She's planning to nuke Cardiff [1] and at the end she nearly destroys the world again. Nevertheless she's a sentient being. She at least has the capacity for change.

[1] - insert your "she's a good guy after all" jokes here.

Regarding the main dilemma, I have sympathy for the Doctor's position. It's clear and defensible. "Not my problem" is a straightforward moral position and quite an interesting one from the Damaged Doctor. Significantly "send her home" was also his plan before they learned about Raxacoricofallapatorius's death sentence, at which point everyone complained that the Doctor was letting her off lightly. There are parallels to be drawn with The Long Game. Both Adam and Margaret nearly destroyed the Earth through greed and in both cases the Doctor's reaction was simply to take them home. What happened thereafter was their own problem. Adam's iris-valve forehead or Margaret's death sentence... that's up to them. They brought it on themselves. Their choice.

It's only fair to note that Boom Town was always going to be a cheap fill-in episode, tying up loose ends and giving the audience a breather between Steven Moffat's wartime epic and the Dalek-ridden climactic two-parter. That's partly why they reused the Slitheen, although it's interesting that this is the first season since the 1960s to use a monster twice in one year (both Slitheen and Daleks). Boom Town also picks up on some of the season's previously established themes, counterpointing Dalek, for instance. Both stories ask what you should do with a killer, but Margaret can change while the Dalek couldn't and chose death.

Incidentally if you bought the vanilla Eccleston DVDs, the second and fourth discs have all the ongoing monster episodes. Disc two has the Slitheen two-parter and Dalek, then disc four has Boom Town and the Dalek two-parter.

There are parallels with the TVM. I'm not the person who noticed these, but I like them so much that I think they're worth steali... er, repeating. The TARDIS becomes the focus of the end of the world but then saves everyone with its mystical powers of turning back time, as represented by a glowing swirly light. There's a theme of rebirth, albeit not in the TVM's literal sense of death and resurrection. The Doctor confronts an old enemy and chats up a girl, although here they're one and the same. More frivolously, Cardiff is shot to look like Vancouver and the TARDIS lands in its Millennium Plaza. Oh, and Rose says "cloaking device". The previous points may or may not be coincidence, but you can't tell me that's not deliberate.

It's easy to see how a writer might want to address the ending of the TVM, incidentally. It's the last story before Rose, but it ends with a huge cheat as the Doctor uses the TARDIS to turn back time, unhappen Earth's destruction and resurrect the dead. If he could do that on a regular basis, nothing would ever have any consequences. This is why Letts and Dicks invented Blinovitch. On a simple nuts-and-bolts level, the last three Eccleston episodes are basically about showing that when the Doctor tries that trick again, it kills him.

There's plenty to love about Boom Town, if you can forgive it for only having three and a half minutes of old-school Doctor Who. Because of that, I can even understand the "heart of TARDIS" ending. If you must (re)introduce a dirty great deus ex machina concept, then it makes sense to do so in an episode that's been deliberately constructed to be plotless. We even get the Doctor noticing "Bad Wolf" for the first time, which is cool. Boom Town is warm, witty and most importantly doing something that the old series never even thought to do. What's more, those aforementioned small children and psychotics have now watched an episode of an action-adventure TV series that asks whether it's right to kill your enemies. I think that was worthwhile.


"What did I ever do to you?" by Robert Smith? 20/10/08

"Boom Town is quite, quite brilliant sure to be rediscovered [...] in ten years' time."
- Robert Smith?, Enlightenment 129
Let's do it now.

I think I've finally figured out why so many Doctor Who fans don't like Boom Town. It's because we don't like consequences.

Editor's note: You can read the rest of this article in Time, Unincorporated, Volume 3, published by Mad Norwegian Press. For copyright reasons, we are unable to display the online version simultaneously.


Let's see who can look me in the eye... by Evan Weston 24/7/13

Oh, Boom Town. This is a pretty unpopular story among Whovians, mostly because it presents the Doctor with a difficult choice and then pulls the rug on the whole plot before he can even make it. It's also been charged with being, well, not that interesting. I contend that both of those indictments are completely, totally valid. But I kind of like it anyway. It's still probably the weakest episode of the exceptionally strong Series 1 (Rose is the only other story that grades this low, and it has its own context to be considered), but Boom Town is not bad Doctor Who by any stretch.

Let's confront the elephant in the room first. Boom Town sets up a wonderful quandary for the Doctor. Send Blon Slitheen to her death and break his moral code, or spare her life, perhaps undeservedly? Setting aside the Doctor's proclivity for killing his enemies - the biggest unanswered question in the Davies era is how the Doctor can be on such high moral ground after slaughtering both the Daleks and the Time Lords at the end of the war - this is a really interesting and rare situation, especially for the Ninth Doctor. This is probably the Doctor most likely to decide in favor of killing Blon, but even though he seems to go that route, we never quite believe him. This is a testament to Christopher Eccleston's wonderful performance as much as anything, but it's fascinating nonetheless. Then, suddenly, the Doctor doesn't have to decide. Blon reveals she tricked everyone and takes control of the TARDIS, it opens, some magic plot jiggery-pokery happens, there's a Davies ex Machina, and the Doctor is holding a Slitheen egg. What?! The ending of this story is a huge missed opportunity. I don't have much to add on this, except that I don't necessarily think the ending itself is that bad. Blon is messed up enough that her plan is totally believable, and the TARDIS has been established as a living being previously in the series. It just doesn't match up with the moral questions the story had been asking up to that point, and in my view, it's this incongruity that ruins the ending.

There are also little things scattered throughout that don't make sense. Why do we need to see Blon spare that journalist - the only out-of-character moment for the villain, as it were - if she's just going to end up being evil at the end? Why is the Doctor totally unfazed by Blon's attempts to kill him? And why would she try if she wants him to spare her? She's not going to escape. It's not like she can avoid the fate of the bracelet. And you're gonna tell me no one notices the mayor of Cardiff at a restaurant, especially after emphasis has been placed on her not appearing in public?

We could go on about how riddled with holes Boom Town is, but I don't think that's as big a crime as is the episode's lack of, for lack of a better word, fun. We have the mediocre capture sequence early on in the story, and then it's all talk the rest of the way. Mickey and Rose are chatting. Jack is fixing the TARDIS. Now the Doctor and Blon are on a date. Oh wait, Mickey and Rose are fighting! Jack is doing other things! The Doctor said something profound, oh my God are you watching this?! There's nothing in here that's supposed to keep my attention. And I'm not knocking it because it doesn't have action scenes; if the dialogue was better, I wouldn't care. This is Russell T. Davies' worst script for quite a while.

There are plenty of good things here. The performances are uniformly good, particularly from Noel Clarke and Annette Badland. Yes, I said Noel Clarke. I ripped him to shreds in my Rose review, and for good reason. His performance in Aliens of London/World War Three was much improved from that debacle, but Clarke is on another level here. His performance is far more restrained, and his off-hand "I'm dating Trisha Delaney" is so shocking yet utterly perfect. Mickey is tired of being the lap dog. He doesn't want to hear about Rose's time with the Doctor, but he understands that the Doctor is her life now and that he isn't enough for her anymore. When he lets her go, Clarke shows the character's pain in his eyes wonderfully. It's a stunning and impressive turnaround for the actor. Badland is great as Blon, too. She was the most interesting Slitheen back in Aliens of London/World War Three, and while I'm not sure it was entirely necessary to bring the character back - she's just not that interesting - Badland plays the role with relish, dipping each line in a mixture of contempt and sadness. Also worth noting: John Barrowman is already much better here than he was in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances.

There are a couple of excellent individual scenes in Boom Town that show off the potential of the episode. The bathroom scene, while jarring in tone compared to the rest of the story, is really well done, with the CGI Slitheen making a grand re-entrance while at the same time humanizing Blon just enough for the rest of the story. More interesting is the dinner table scene between the Doctor and Blon. Both funny and tragic, Blon's attempts to kill the Doctor and his effortless deflections make you laugh and emphasize the moral conundrum facing our hero. It's really a great exercise in dialogue interacting with plot, and Eccleston and Badland pull it off flawlessly. If Davies put as much effort into the rest of the episode has he did into this scene, we could have had something really special.

As it is, Boom Town is an average story with above-average potential. It's not exactly interesting throughout, but it is intriguing for most of its running time. It also has some fun with an old villain, and the development of the Mickey-Rose relationship was some necessary heavy lifting that the episode handles pretty well, thanks in large part to Clarke and Billie Piper, who I somehow haven't mentioned in this review yet (much more on her in Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways). It's still a decent entry into the canon, and if this is the worst episode Series 1 produced, the season as a whole is absolutely fantastic.

GRADE: B-


"A life sentence" by Thomas Cookson 4/10/17

This story at one time seemed so innocent. The Black Orchid to Bad Wolf's Earthshock. A small 'human' story serving as an interlude before the big action spectacle.

It turned out to be an opening to an unending, pretentious, pseudo-debate about the Doctor's morality and whether he's really that better than his enemies. A debate with no end because it has no actual substance to reckon with. Much like Moffat's story arc mysteries being without end or solution.

In fact, partly why I gave up on Capaldi was the realization this vacuous "Am I a good man" nonsense was still being debated ad nauseam right when I thought the 50th anniversary special had finally done and dusted the matter.

Series 8 had done nothing but further stifle the Doctor's character into what Susan Jeffers, in her book "Feel The Fear, And Do It Anyway", would call 'the chatterbox of negation', just like Eccleston was.

Moffat even said, with foot in his mouth as usual, that Capaldi's Doctor is like a little boy who feels the need to always insult Clara to hide how he actually fancies her. (Oh piss off, Moffat! And I'm saying that as a former Clara/Eleven shipper).

So why are we having this debate now? Well, because the story's got nothing better to do.

Also, RTD's jealousy is at work. The same jealousy behind his appropriating of Big Brother and Weakest Link into Bad Wolf because he coveted their ratings.

Whenever he sees one of his guest writers doing something impressive, rather than leaving a good thing alone, he muscles in, like Jackie Tyler wanting a piece of the action, wanting to outdo them. Like when he tried mimicking The Doctor Dances' "everybody lives" ending in New Earth, or seemed so jealous of Human Nature's fan plaudits that he openly stated he'd decided they weren't going to be the way forward (and even tried lumping his own Master Returns travesty in with them) and taunted us to "complain if you want to". Even Midnight, despite being RTD's better attempt at outdoing Moffat, feels a bumpy ride because the story is trying a bit too hard.

Here RTD is looking back on Robert Shearman's Dalek and Jubilee and how they managed to frame the Doctor through a Dalek's eyes, and show him to us as a hateful, intolerant monster of their species' collective nightmares. Russell's now trying the same with the Slitheen.

It worked in Dalek because they're the one enemy that makes the Doctor abandon all reason and become determined to destroy them without compunction. Because they are beyond reason and stand for everything he hates and cannot tolerate. Occasionally, as in Genesis of the Daleks, they remind him what he isn't. But even in Davison's era, his history with the Daleks couldn't be erased. As Philip Sandifer highlighted, the problem with Resurrection of the Daleks wasn't the Doctor's homicidal characterisation but the attempts to play this as a sucker punch.

In any case, with Gallifrey destroyed, the Doctor had more reason to hate the Daleks than ever.

But the Doctor at his best (until JNT started neutering and puppeteering him) has always operated and acted upon a sense of instinctive morality. Hence why it feels so wrong and upsetting seeing him in Dalek acting on instinctive raging hatred instead. It's a perversion that emphasises the beauty of the norm through contrast.

There's many problems with RTD's attempts to imitate this. There was something thrilling and stomach churning about Dalek showing the Doctor presented as a sadistic mad dog in a family show.

This just isn't.

Why the Slitheen? Did anyone want them back? And there's something disingenuous about charging the Doctor with their destruction, after having played their final moments for laughs with nudity gags and a curtailed "Oh bollocks!" Demanding we feel tragic now over what was portrayed as comedy then. That Russell has to tell the audience how to feel just smacks of bad writing. It's like when he cast the Sycorax as bloodthirsty invaders and then, after humanity responded to their provocation, claimed that somehow the humans were the worser monsters against 'poor innocents'.

Surely if you're doing a Cardiff-based story that puts the Doctor on trial, the obvious race to bring back is the Gelth, whom the Doctor condemned to extinction. That's a moral thread I actually wanted to see followed up, over whether there were any survivors or ways the Doctor could still help them. See, Lawrence Miles, that story didn't brainwash me into being an anti-asylum seeker bigot.

If RTD wanted to introduce moral ambiguity to Aliens of London/World War Three, why not have the Slitheen's original goal be to get some resource from Earth, then leave the planet otherwise untouched, and have their decision to nuke the planet instead motivated by revenge after Mickey kills their brother? Then we might actually feel empathy for the monsters without needing arm-twisting and actually questioning the Doctor's response.

Understandably, as a fan now writing the show, RTD wanted to make the show matter and be meaningful like we always wanted it to be but never could be after Tom left and JNT turned it into pantomime.

But the line "Only a killer would know that!" worries me.

Given the Doctor's numerous second chances to the Master, it suggests he is by nature opposed to capital punishment. But historically the show's ethos has always been retributive. Consider Power of the Daleks, Robots of Death or Warriors' Gate. Inevitably, the Doctor has assisted that retributive narrative and been protector to worlds that practice capital punishment.

RTD's staunchly against the death penalty, and claims he'd have hated the Doctor had he delivered Margaret to her execution. The above line's telling us the Doctor is a murderer for all of the above, and that maybe it's not so much Margaret who needs rehabilitating as him.

We know of course RTD can't keep his own politics out of this show to save his life. I'm not the first to say so. It's a complaint that's abounded repeatedly among fans and previously baffled me. I mean, Malcolm Hulke's most celebrated stories heavily preached his left-wing views.

And it's the Planet of the Apes films' political content that gave them their raw vitality and allowed them to articulate anxieties over the Vietnam war that the rest of cinema wasn't touching with a bargepole.

But it's a problem here when the writers' politics are turned so fiercely against the show's hero whom RTD seemingly once revered but has since grown politically apart from. Indeed, one worries why someone so staunch in their politics that they think of the Doctor as their ideological enemy should be writing the show, let alone being head writer?

The problem with this is the show's good versus evil narrative depends on the Doctor having to do what heroes in this situation must, because it's what makes them a hero, and makes the narrative and the stakes happen. It tells us the stakes are high when the Doctor acts ruthlessly to stop them. You can't have him just stop amidst the action to pontificate over what this means he's forever guilty of for 45 minutes. And it seemed initially like RTD actually understood this. Besides, the Doctor's always believed in justice, and always considered the consequences.

But back in 2005, before Enemy of the World was rediscovered and we were shown the Doctor refusing to co-operate with human rebels who wanted him to help them execute a important war criminal, we might've believed RTD's apocryphal rhetoric.

Enemy of the World was such a revelation against all RTD had us believe that Planet Mondas' infuriatingly obtuse Nick Headley dismissed it outright, claiming its moral dilemma was an excuse for padding by having Troughton's Doctor procrastinate. That after The Ice Warriors had seen him quickly decide with moral certainty to act against nefarious aliens that threatened to conquer humanity, this moral indecision didn't fly.

Of course, Salamander didn't represent an alien invasion but an instance of Earth's population being general shits to each other, as par for the course. Therefore, it's not an affront to the show's usual equilibrium. On the contrary, things rarely get more ordinary for Earth. Salamander's corrupt leadership is another case of humanity going through awkward historical developments, teething troubles and forwards and backwards steps on the path to reaching a more civilized state. One where human history's best left handled by the humans themselves without Troughton assuming the right to interfere.

Troughton doesn't simply defer to the justice of the land, because he knows firsthand the kind of arbitrary vigilante justice and execution without trial these rebels propose for Salamander (having nearly been killed wrongly without trial by them himself). This informs his moral indignation at their actions against what could equally be an innocent man.

The Doctor needed facts about Salamander's guilt and means to prosecute him as fairly and judicially as any human deserves before co-operating with the rebels' agenda. He disapproves of their murderous means, but he's also aware that he's in ignorance of the situation and can't assume the right to sabotage their rebellious efforts either because maybe they're right.

The Doctor demonstrates that he needs to know how legally immune and untouchable Salamander is, before ever agreeing the rebels are right that brutal street justice is the only justice available.

So the rashness the Doctor's accused of in Boom Town is just wrong, although back when Enemy of the World remained missing, maybe fandom was more susceptible to believing it.

It's also frustratingly nebulous and points worryingly to the thought that RTD actively hates the Doctor, or at least any Doctor who isn't Davison. This suspicion goes hand in hand with how Torchwood seemed RTD's real ambition all along. A show that screams out how silly and naive he thinks regular Doctor Who and its heroes are by comparison.

The repetitions of this diatribe against the Doctor, whereby the Master and Davros later repeat Margaret almost word for word (because RTD's villains all have the same voice), means the show never seems to stop hating its hero, and forcing him to demonstrate his penance and spout bitterness, even whilst finding ways to use deus ex machina cheat resolutions to keep his hands clean.

Tellingly, Steve Lyons specifically wrote The Architects of History to reckon with this story's dilemma properly.

Ideally, the show never asks its audience to believe too many impossible things at once. But fans sometimes will accept that rule being broken because we want to believe the fiction. We've invested in it so much we'll try and somehow find a way, against the odds.

With New Who, this was compounded by our still struggling to believe the most impossible thing about it, which is that it was back on TV at all. Everything else seemed easy to excuse comparatively, and RTD's emotional content made it feel more believable, despite the fairy-dust plotting. My failing to ignore the poor logic or trashy pandering, marked me out as not a 'true' fan, because I should've been too glad it's back to remotely care.

So the Planet Skaro forum's cult of trendy, neo-liberal RTD sycophants can mock me for being grumpy about RTD's era and for not loving shite like Let's Kill Hitler, and even for my preferring Dalek Empire's 'tinpot fanwank' as they call it (apparently they'd considering listening to Doctor in Distress again 'more fun'). Ultimately, what Russell's writing here isn't fanwank, but its corrosive antithesis, spelling ruin to the show and its characters.

And sadly I realize even under Moffat, even after Series 6's false dawn of the Doctor seeming to return at last to instinctively just doing what had to be done, this headache just isn't going to end.

I still maintain had Doctor Who ended in 1980, it'd probably likewise have come back sooner. And I think ten years of this headache has conclusively proven New Who was revived by the wrong man at the wrong time.