Shiny Shelf

Doctor Who: Boom Town

By Eddie Robson on 04 June 2005

This episode is very much the calm before the storm, even though there is a whacking great storm in it. The old format of ‘Doctor Who’ wouldn’t have allowed for an episode like this, which contains a total of about ten minutes of action and makes up the rest with conversations. This may frustrate those who hanker for a more traditional approach to the show, but as ‘Doctor Who’ settles into 2005’s television environment this is the kind of experiment that needs to be made and it’s a good time to make it, just before the end-of-season belter we’ve been building up to.

Although I wasn’t exactly clamouring for the return of the Slitheen after their less than effective appearance in the ‘Aliens of London’ two-parter, the use of one of their number here works nicely. Annette Badland’s performance is superior to that in the earlier episodes – less bumbling, more menacing – possibly as a consequence of working with a better director.

Joe Ahearne turns in another fine episode here, not quite up to his dazzling work on ‘Dalek’ and ‘Father’s Day’ but still ahead of everybody else who’s worked on this series (the only one who has really come close is James Hawes, who did ‘The Empty Child’). Not only is Ahearne imaginative with his camerawork, he’s good at shooting material for visual effects to be added later. Particularly impressive are the scenes of Rose dashing back to the TARDIS as cracks open in the ground around her, probably the best effects shot of the series so far.

But as noted, this is more of a talky episode, forcing the Doctor to justify his moral stance whilst Rose and Mickey deal with their own issues. Again there are statements being made on what ‘Doctor Who’ is about, which Russell T Davies always does in his episodes – it’s a series where the main character can sit down in a quite nice restaurant and have dinner with an alien mercenary.

It also demonstrates the other Davies hallmarks: it’s quite jokey (if you took the writer’s credits off all the episodes of this season and asked them which was Steven Moffatt’s they’d probably have picked this one, with its relationship focus and absurd dinner-date), and Davies’ humour comes through better here than in any episode since ‘The End of the World’ (the ‘climbing out the window’ gag is nicely delivered by Eccleston and Aled Peddick).

It also has a slightly weak ending, which has been true of all Davies’ episodes thus far except ‘Rose’: they either seem a bit too simple or don’t involve the Doctor himself enough. This shouldn’t be taken as a massively damning criticism as ‘Doctor Who’ stories are difficult to round off satisfactorily: it’s not like ‘Buffy’ where a nicely-choreographed fight sequence will do the job, and that’s why the old show used to resort to blowing things up a lot. And it’s only in plot terms that they feel a bit easy, as they tend to work well emotionally and this is no exception. But this is something that needs to be worked on for next year.

Another issue is raised when Rose talks about the journeys she’s had with the Doctor that we haven’t seen. Whilst it’s nice to get this sense of scale and the sequence described would obviously require more CGI than the BBC can afford, it does make me wish we could see a bit of that. Davies said before the season began, ‘I don’t care what’s happening on planet Zog’; although at the time I thought this was probably wise, I’ve started to wonder what is happening on planet Zog. By all means stick some humans on Zog to give us some relatable characters but I really would like ‘Doctor Who’ to stretch its wings and show us a bit more of the universe. Budget permitting, of course.

Next week we’ve been promised an episode in the freewheeling spirit of 1960s ‘Doctor Who’, an ‘outer space epic’. With reality TV spoofs. And Daleks. Could fall flat on its face, of course, but I can’t wait.

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By Eddie Robson

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