Review: Boom Town

Last Alteration: Monday 19 September 2005

... a skip on the Isle of Dogs


It may take its time to get going, but it’s well worth it. Shame about the ending though.


NB- By now you should all know which villain is in this episode, so I’m not considering that information to be ‘spoilerish’- don’t say I didn’t warn you.

So we knew that ‘Boomtown’ would be set in modern-day Cardiff- were you really expecting the Nimon or Sutekh to be re-launching their careers in such a location?

Following all the intense speculation, there seems to have been a feeling of disappointment that the returning baddie is ‘Margaret Slitheen’ (we do get her real name here, but don’t expect me to remember it all after one viewing).

The Slitheen’s previous appearance tended to divide opinion according to whether one felt that comedy flatulence had any place in a serious, high-minded drama like…erm…'Doctor Who'. Others simply didn’t warm to the distinctly knockabout nature of the moon-faced monsters and their Del Boy flavoured plan to demolish the Earth.

Over the weekend I was asked whether or not somebody was likely to enjoy this story if they hadn’t gone a bundle on ‘Aliens of London’. The answer of course is that I have absolutely no idea what anyone will make of this. What I will say is that this does something very different with Margaret, not just in her role as this story’s menace, but as a WHO villain in general.

Also, despite a bit of toilet humour (literally) one shouldn’t expect a filler episode that simply re-runs the monsters’ earlier showcase in a different city.

Without revealing too much about the actual events in the story, you may be surprised that it’s very much a character-driven piece and a total break from the somewhat black & white morality the series has traditionally employed

Wonderfully, rather than dreaming up a location, a threat and a resolution, RTD uses this episode to look at how the Doctor ticks, how he reacts when finally made to face the consequences of his regular world-saving trips rather than just dematerialising as soon as the newly liberated locals suggest that he stays on to be their leader.

That these themes are examined using such a previously jokey monster as a Slitheen is a masterstroke. To have wheeled in The Master, Davros or someone similarly iconic would have made this far too straight-faced and grandiose, a dreary, ‘…we are two sides of the same coin, you and I’ argument played out for the zillionth time. Using a villain who doesn’t seem either as formidable or essentially evil as the above gentlemen makes the idea far more potent.

Does this all sound too earnest? Well, it’s RTD writing so of course not, once again elegantly balancing the more serious notions with some extremely silly humour.

Mickey crops up from the story’s opening giving us a lovely sequence that contrasts neatly with the sort of companion squabbling we all remember from the days of Davison’s first season.

There’s also something charming about the four leads striding grimly through Cardiff, shoulder to shoulder like a pub quiz team playing at ‘Mission:Impossible’.

Mickey and Rose have some really nice scenes together. It’s clearly been a priority with this season to examine how Rose’s bizarre new life of adventure conflicts with the one she’s left behind- or at least visits only occasionally. If the Doctor has to consider his responsibilities here, then Rose too has to face up to how juggling TARDIS-travel with an on/off relationship makes for big problems.

With all of the above going on it’s inevitable- but still a pity- that Captain Jack doesn’t have more to do. As a new character, I think we all wanted to see how he’d work in the series as an on-going companion.

At around the half-hour mark, I realised that I had no idea how this episode was going to end- what a fabulous feeling. I’m sorry to say then that the resolution was a big disappointment for me. Firstly for everything to erupt into flashing lights and CGI chaos (that’s in the trailer too so not a spoiler) was like being shaken awake from a pleasant dream.

Worse though is the actual finale, which seems like a cop-out dramatically but also woefully depends on a hitherto unknown ‘magic ability’ of which I’ll say no more.

I was really willing this story to deliver something unexpected for its last act following all of the other surprises. I might say the same of the series so far as a whole. Let’s hope that RTD has cooked up something very special for the last two episodes.

Jim Hall

  • Read Jim's review of the previous episode, The Doctor Dances.