Boom Town is the eleventh episode of the revival of Doctor Who, starring Christopher Eccleston and featuring the return of the Slitheen from earlier in the series, making them the first returning aliens of the new series.
Story: Mickey Smith visits Rose, the Doctor, and Captain Jack as the Tardis recharges in Cardiff, along a temporal rift that sits there. When they discover that Margaret Blaine, in reality a Slitheen they encountered previously, has survived and become the mayor of Cardiff, they confront and capture her. Margaret was in the process of building a nuclear power station designed to melt down and provide power to a small device that would allow her to “surf” away from the earth. The Doctor vows to return Margaret to her world after the Tardis finishes recharging, but she protests, stating that she is under the death sentence on her world, and returning her there would be like killing her. Margaret and the Doctor have dinner, discussing the moral implications of this. Margaret tricks them, however, into attaching her device to the Tardis which allows it to open up the Tardis’ power source, and the local rift, so that she can escape. However, in the process, she stares into the heart of the Tardis, and instead of escaping, is regressed into an egg. The Doctor decides to return her to her world in the hopes that she will grow up to be a better person this time around.
Comments: Boom Town is a bit of a mixed bag. One one hand, it’s fun to see the The Doctor, Rose, Jack, and Mickey all out and about, socializing and enjoying themselves. On the other hand, it’s got some painful to watch relationship breakdown business between Mickey and Rose. Back on the first hand, it brings up some interesting moral dilemmas associated with the Doctor and his way of doing things. Back on the other hand, it’s got the Slitheen. Ugh. At least the humorous aspects of the Slitheen are kept to a minimum here.
The script is by Russell T. Davies, and a big part of his approach to Doctor Who is often one of friendly deconstruction – showing the (often darker) implications of things that the audience might otherwise just accept. For example, what impact does the Doctor really have on those he comes into contact with? Why do the villains do what they do? How do the monsters really feel about things? Here, we get some of this with both Mickey and Margaret. It’s sort of interesting, but it gets a little tiring when you realize that most of the episode’s screen time is going to be devoted to sitting around and talking about this.
This episode does not do Rose any favors. She comes across shallow and manipulative with Mickey, being willing to apparently spend the night with him, but with no intentions of staying beyond the night. At the end, she wistfully of Margaret’s “second chance,” as if she wishes that she could have one. It’s hard to know what second chance she is looking for. She wishes she hadn’t left Mickey? Or that she’d spent the night with him after all? The only one that makes any sense is that she wishes she’d never gotten together with him in the first place, or that she’d made a clean break-up with him. If that were the case, it’d be a credit to her character, really.
In the beginning of the story, Mickey actually gets the best lines, especially in relation to Captain Jack. First, when he first gets to the Tardis…
Mickey: So, what you doing in Cardiff? And who the hell is jumpin’ Jack Flash? I mean I don’t mind you hanging out with “Big Ears” up there…
Mickey: Look in a mirror. But this guy, I don’t know, he’s kinda…
Mickey: More like “cheesy”.
Jack: Early 21st Century slang. Is “Cheesy” good or bad?
Mickey: It’s bad.
Jack: But bad means good, isn’t that right?
And then a bit later, Mickey gets this jab in as well.
Mickey: What are you captain of, the innuendo squad?
But at the end, when he starts freaking out and screaming at Rose for returning to the Doctor right when the earth starts shaking and a huge sustained lightning bolt comes out of the Tardis just makes him seem ridiculous.
But the heart of the episode is the dinner conversation between the Doctor and Margaret, and the moral quandaries she poses. The Doctor is impacted by this, but only so far. He rightly her accusations, and puts her in her place with one of my favorite lines:
Doctor: You’ve been in that skin suit too long. You’ve forgotten. There used to be a real Margaret Blaine. You killed her and stripped her and used the skin. You’re pleading for mercy out of a dead woman’s lips.
It’s the fact that he speaks these words so calmly, to tenderly really, that makes it particularly memorable.
Things to watch out for (Warning: includes veiled Spoilers for the rest of the season):
• Well, the big moment of course comes as the Doctor and Rose recognize the “Bad Wolf” term and its recurring role in their lives. The next episode of the series in in fact called Bad Wolf.
• The Slitheen only show up once more in the series, as far as I remember, in End of Time part 2, though a cousin-race, of sorts, shows up in Love and Monsters.
• The rift, which was first referred to back in The Unquiet Dead and plays a major role here, becomes a big part of the forthcoming Torchwood series, featuring Captain Jack.
• When Rose talks about the Tardis’ “cloaking device” which the Doctor clarifies that it’s called the “chameleon circuit”. Intentionally or not, these lines reference the 1996 Fox TV Movie, in which it was called a “cloaking device” by the Doctor. This was considered by many to be an example of how the concept was being “Americanized” in that iteration of the series (as “cloaking device” is a term well familiar to Star Trek fans).
• Notice how the Doctor watches the scanner as Rose and Mickey walk off together. I take that as mild evidence of the Doctor’s growing feelings for Rose, which really began in the previous story.
• The heart of the Tardis will be important again in just a few episodes. And watching that climax here in hindsight, having seen The Doctor’s Wife, brings a new texture to the scene.
Last Word: An attempt to make a character-based “calm before the storm” story, watchable as a curiosity, but not really successful as an episode.