Boom Town

Doctor WhoThe Doctor parks the TARDIS in Cardiff, Wales, to recharge the ship via the residual energy remaining from the death of the Gelth. They meet up with Mickey, but the reunion is interrupted when the Doctor learns that Margaret Blaine, the Slitheen in human disguise who survived the attack on 10 Downing Street, is also in Cardiff – as its mayor. Margaret has apparently convinced her constituents to let her build a massive nuclear reactor in the heart of Cardiff. The Doctor, Rose, Jack and Mickey try to corner Margaret at her office, but Mickey accidentally lets her escape until the Doctor thwarts her attempts to teleport herself to safety. After discovering that the reactor project is simply a cover story for a device that will help Margaret escape the solar system (at the cost of destroying Earth), the Doctor plans to return her to her home planet as soon as the TARDIS is ready to travel again, even if it means that she’ll face the death penalty for crimes she committed there.

Order the DVDDownload this episodewritten by Russell T. Davies
directed by Joe Ahearne
music by Murray Gold

Guest Cast: William Cleaver (Mr. Thomas), Annette Badland (Margaret), John Barrowman (Captain Jack), Noel Clarke (Mickey), Mali Harries (Cathy), Aled Pedrick (Idris Hopper), Alan Ruscoe (Slitheen)

Reviews by Philip R. Frey & Earl Green
LogBook entry by Earl Green

Earl’s Review: Unusually, this story starts out pitching a quiet little time in Cardiff, and that’s what it ends up being (major earthquake and cosmic rays erupting from a Police Box notwithstanding). Boom Town is chiefly a character drama, with a little bit of a sci-fi event occurring at the end (not to downplay that though – it’s referred to later in the season in a big way). At the heart of it is two relationships: Rose and Mickey finally calling it off, and the Doctor having to spend an evening with someone he intends to deliver to an executioner the next day.

Annette Badland gets full marks here, returning as Margaret Blaine with a little more depth and a little less villainous moustache-twirling. Some of the ways we’re led to feel sympathy for Margaret do, admittedly, feel just a little bit manipulative on the writer’s part, but Badland’s performance sells the feelings better than the words alone could manage. The other returning semi-regular is Noel Clarke, who finally gets across some of the frustration that one can only imagine he’d be feeling after watching his girlfriend take off in the TARDIS time and again. On a slightly more practical storytelling level, it clears the decks for Rose to have future romantic involvements (I almost can’t believe I’m saying that about a Doctor Who character), though that same practical thinking has me wondering why the TARDIS’ returns to Earth keep occurring in a straight temporal line, without even addressing the possibility that this visit with Mickey may have occurred after the next time we see him (if, indeed, that makes any sense whatsoever to anyone reading this). That said, the teaming up of the Doctor, Rose, Jack and Mickey makes for an interesting dynamic, though I’m not sure if such a crowded TARDIS team would work outside of this story (though three companions aren’t unprecedented, as the Hartnell and Davison eras demonstrate).

Overall, a relatively quiet episode which, between the heart of the TARDIS and the Doctor and Rose finally admitting that they’ve been seeing the words “bad wolf” as often as the viewers have been, sets up some very important stuff.

Philip’s Review: Well, the return of the Slitheen. Nice to know that Russell T. Davies won’t allow his creations (and their accompanying gastronomic humor) to sit around idle for long. The problem is they (or rather she) work as poorly now as they did in the previous two-parter. The big plan is a bad one and the realism that the new Doctor Who tries so hard to achieve suffers for it. The initial setup of Boom Town, that they are building a nuclear power plant smack dab in the middle of Cardiff is preposterous. No matter how charming Margaret the Slitheen is (and she’s not really that charming), there’s no way she could convince anyone to do this. Ever. Not even in Cardiff.

Davies seems to have a very poor opinion of humanity. His countless blatant attacks on the nature of mankind have been well documented, but when he shows them being gullible enough to elect a mayor who won’t allow her picture to be taken and then allow her to build a nuclear power plant in the middle of town, he again attacks the common man, if in a more subtle way.

Luckily, there’s Mickey. What a change there’s been in him. From the whimpering, feeble loser of the first episode to an actual, proper substitute for the viewer here. When he comes upon the merry crew of the TARDIS early in the episode, he’s the only one who sees how full of themselves they are. Once again, the Doctor’s complete inability to read people properly shines through (he still likes to call Mickey an idiot). And once again, Mickey’s the only one who comes off as remotely sympathetic.

Something also needs to be said about the effects used for the Slitheen again. They are still as unconvincing as they were the first time out, but this time far too much is asked of them. When Margaret has her little emotional moment with the reporter, they actually give the Slitheen costume major screen time and try to have it emote. It doesn’t work. The blank, expressionless (but slightly articulate) head simply can’t give anything.

There’s also a higher level of pseudo-science gobbledygook in Boom Town than usual. And Captain Jack’s enthusiastic exposition of same simply emphasizes how silly it all is. As an additional note, I don’t think anyone can complain about the conclusion of the Doctor Who TV movie after the nonsensical ‘heart of the TARDIS’ sequence.

The “Bad Wolf” theme finally becomes palpable in this episode, with the Doctor actually noticing it. So far, it’s been nothing but words, without the slightest indication of what it might entail. But the Doctor noticing it means that it will become explicit. The specific words “Bad Wolf” will mean something. If that something is worth the buildup will have to wait until next week, where I’m sure it will all be explained.

Sadly, Boom Town is the most soap-opera-like episode of the series so far. Most of the time is spent wallowing in angst or debates about the death penalty or heart-felt discussions on one topic or another. It’s everything Doctor Who never was.

Overall, lacking any kind of decent story (the advertised theme being snuffed out rather quickly) combined with the lack of a proper villain (just the mopping up of an old one) makes this a rather useless episode. The only thing it really accomplishes is bridging the span between the Doctor’s journeys and his conclusion. That Davies was willing to throw away a whole episode on nothing more than getting his ducks in order shows that (as I have stated before) the 2005 series of Doctor Who is really just one story. Its conclusion (to be settled over the final two episodes) will ultimately determine if it was worth it or not.