Boom Town


There’s an interesting thing that happens on Doctor Who forums when you bring up Joss Whedon (Creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel) and his influence on the new Who. Half of the people will say “Yeah, there’s lots to learn from those shows, Buffy rocked, w00t.” And then the other half will say “Oh dear me, he’s that uncouth American fellow with those shows with insanely hot people in them. Tut tut. So clever and superficial. Nothing like that please.”1 The core lesson of those shows is one that Russell T. Davies has been vehement in supporting: make the audience care for the characters, use fantasy ideas with a strong emotional backbone. But none of the preceding episodes of Doctor Who has felt as much like a Buffy episode as this.

If you’ve watched some of Whedon’s shows, you’d be familiar with the sorts of episodes that advance all the arc plots, and focus on the characters, rather than having a solid, dramatic ‘A’ plot. This is one of those, though nowhere near as bad as some of the season seven Buffy ones. ‘Boom Town’ would be an easy episode to hate: the premise of an alien becoming Mayor of Cardiff and getting people to make a nuclear power plant in the middle of the city is ridiculous even by Doctor Who standards. There’s a lot of angst between Rose and Mickey that might not work for you, and a superbly irritating deus ex machina to round off the episode.

But like all of Davies Who scripts (save, perhaps, The Long Game) ‘Boom Town’ almost glows with his joyful, witty touches. Who cares about all that crap I just mentioned when we get a scene with the Doctor doing his very best Bugs Bunny routine?2 What there is of the story rotates around the question of capital punishment, and whether the Doctor has the right to condemn the villains. With a good villain, this episode could have been unquestionably fantastic.

Unfortunately, this week the Slitheen are back.

Annette Badland does an excellent job with what she has, don’t get me wrong; I’m just not a huge fan of the natives of Raxacoricofallapatorius. The design doesn’t do much for me — my favourite bit was the clicking of their eyelids as they opened and shut, and we don’t get much of that this time. As a human, ‘Margaret Slitheen’ is sympathetic, but not sinister enough to give the story the menace it needs, especially at the end. Mind you, the end needs a lot more than just a bit of menace. A bit of story logic wouldn’t have gone astray. Frankly, I would have been quite happy not to have any crazy pyrotechnics3 and actually seen the Doctor make a decision on Margaret’s fate.

So, there’s a lot of bad in this episode. It’s near World War Three I suppose, in terms of quality. And yet, I’ve got this peculiar fondness for it. It shows our heroes relaxed, mostly happy, and enjoying each other’s company, before the presumably4 apocalyptic season finale. It shows a capable Doctor, a Rose who’s realised the effect her life has on Mickey, and more Captain Jack, who’d better be damn well coming back in Season Two. It certainly convinced me that while one companion is nice, two is great fun.5 Given the title of the season finale, ‘The Parting of the Ways’, I’m quietly confident that they’ll all get to stay happy and together.

  1. The best thing about written language is that I can do a British impersonation and not be left with people saying “Isn’t that how you normally talk? I don’t get it.”
  2. I understand this won’t thrill everyone. But I love it.
  3. Very reminiscent of the 1996 TV movie, those were. As was the ending. Let no one say that peculiar beast wasn’t an important part of Doctor Who.
  4. It’s tricky, writing reviews weeks after you should have.
  5. Like Season One of Angel. Simple and perfect.
Everwhere we go: two words, following us. "Bad Wolf." — The Doctor

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