STORY 169: BOOM TOWN
Boom Town makes it clear from the get-go that it is going to be a sequel to a previous story. The episode begins with the word "Previously" on the screen while scenes from Aliens of London Parts 1 & 2 (Aliens of London/World War III) play before we start our new adventure. Side note: off the top of my head I can't think of a story from Doctor Who that is a sequel to another Doctor Who story save for The Peladon Tales, where The Monster of Peladon follows the events from The Curse of Peladon. How one feels about Boom Town, I imagine, depends on how you feel about the Slitheen. If you liked them, then Boom Town is a great treat. If you didn't, it's an exercise is stupidity. I confess to not being crazy about the oddly cuddly aliens, but I don't hate them. Russell T Davies, who wrote both Aliens of London Parts 1 & 2 and Boom Town, I suspect has a soft spot for the Slitheen and expected them to join the ranks of super-villains The Daleks, the Cybermen, or the Master (my Unholy Trinity of Doctor Who villains). Boom Town, in the end, showed that they probably will never reach this lofty peak.
It is six months post Aliens of London Parts 1 & 2. Already knowing who the villain is, we start straight from when the female Slitheen kills the nuclear expert who has warned her about the dangers of a new nuclear power plant. Now going by the name of Margaret Blaine (Annette Badland), she now is the Lord Mayor of Cardiff. Mayor Blaine has an ambitious agenda: to build a nuclear reactor right in the middle of the Welsh capital (even if it means tearing down Cardiff Castle--which I figure will be quite easy). This will be called the Blaidd Drwg plant (one guess as to what Blaidd Drwg means in Welsh).
Unbeknownst to her, the Doctor (Christopher Eccleston), along with his Companion Rose (Billie Piper) and CAPTAIN Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) have also landed in Cardiff. The rift in time that was sealed in The Unquiet Dead now provides power for the TARDIS. It also gives a chance for Rose to catch up with her long-suffering boyfriend Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke), who has rushed to Cardiff to give Rose her passport and I figure to see her.
All is going well with both groups (Blaine is putting those opposed to Blaidd Drwg out of the way and the travellers are enjoying their holiday), but they come across a couple of hiccups. For Slitheen, she can't bring herself to kill investigative reporter Cathy Salt (Mali Harries), especially after learning she is three-months pregnant. For the Doctor, finding the new Lord Mayor of Cardiff's photo in the paper. He goes to see her, and of course, she makes a run for it. However, with his three assistants (even the ever-blundering Mickey) Blaine is captured. The Doctor will take her back to Raxi.... even if it means taking her to her own execution. She does, however, make a final request: to have dinner w/the Doctor.
This works out great for Rose & Mickey, who take the refueling to go on their first date in Who-know-how-long. On their various dates, things go awry: Margaret (whose real name is Blon Something-Or-Other) just can't kill the Doctor (no matter how often she tries), while Mickey (who asked Rose to have dinner and then go to a hotel...rather daring stuff for a kid's show), realizes he will never win against all that the Doctor can offer her, and his anger erupts. That, however, is small compared to the eruption right above the TARDIS, with the rift opening.
Margaret takes this as her chance to escape via a tribophysical waveform macro-kinetic extrapolator (a pan-dimensional surfboard)* which will have the unfortunate effect of destroying the Earth. While the world (or in this case, Cardiff) was cracking all around them, Rose rushes to the TARDIS, leaving a frustrated and angry Mickey behind. Bad choice: Margaret takes Rose hostage, but just as she's about to hang ten the TARDIS console opens, and she sees the light (literally). Overwhelmed by it, she is overcome, and turns to thank the Doctor. Her body suit falls, the console is closed, and she has reverted to an egg. The Doctor decides to return Blon to Raxi... where she will have a chance to start again. Rose goes in search of Mickey, and she does spy him, but opts to let him go.
I think where Boom Town goes wrong is first off by telling us from the start who is the villain, especially since director Joe Aherne begins the story proper by moving the camera to an open door while letting us see only one character and having us hear the voice of the other. You can't build suspense of who the other person is speaking to if you already know who they are speaking to. Second, Davies' script is openly exaggerated: how does he expect us to truly believe anyone would get away with tearing down Cardiff Castle with nary a word of protest? I don't know much of Welsh history (OK, I know NOTHING of Welsh history) but I know the Welsh people are passionate about their history and culture and language. Therefore, the idea that one of the leading symbols of their culture could be torn down so quickly is beyond laughable. For a story to be believable it has to be grounded in some sort of reality. Cardiff Castle will always stand so long as there is a Wales.
It was more believable when Blaine complained how London never notices or cares what goes on in Wales. Realizing how she now sounds like a Welshman (or Welshwoman), she says rather stunned, "I've gone native". THAT was funny because it was true, or at least based on reality. It surprises me to think Davies wouldn't realize that having more realistic moments make for a better episode.
Come to think about it, that bit was actually one of the better moments in Boom Town. The other comedy bits fell flat (really Russ, "Doctor...who?"); worse was whenever Mickey was required to be the 'comic relief'. There's something almost sad that this kid has to be the butt of the joke. Here, he's a total moron (I winced when he had a trash can on his foot as he chased Blaine). How much better it would have or could have been if he'd been allowed to capture Blaine.
It also surprises me that neither Aherne or Davies realized how slow and rather uninteresting the story is. A long time is spent at the restaurant with Blaine and the Doctor (and seeing how long they were there and they never got around to eating anything, all I could think of was how bad the service must have been). Another bad part of Boom Town is the fact that you have seven major characters within 45 minutes of screen time. This has the effect of leaving Captain Jack pretty much left to his own devices (is it wrong to think of the Pet Shop Boys song while thinking of Captain Jack). In the montage of the various 'dates' we just get a quick glimpse of Captain Jack working on the TARDIS. Granted, it had to be done, but I would have thought Captain Jack would have taken a bit of a break to hit the clubs. Just a thought.
I also am surprised that it is THIS particular episode that the "Bad Wolf" running theme is finally address. We've seen or heard "Bad Wolf" in almost every episode (I don't think it came up in Rose, but in some way shape or form in almost every other episode post-Rose). Moreover, while it has popped up throughout this series/season I can't recall when it was so prominent or memorable enough to draw the Doctor's attention. All that might have worked save for the fact that the Doctor is the one that makes us see "Bad Wolf", then cheerfully dismisses it as nothing. It just doesn't ring true and for my part I'm not a big fan of obvious foreshadowing.
With few exceptions, there is always something good in any Doctor Who story. Here, the performances of Badland and Eccleston together are wonderful: full of regret and anger and recriminations, they play off each other so brilliantly. The same goes for Piper and Clarke, who play the difficulties of a relationship coming apart. Clarke in particular has great moments in the dramatic scenes when he reproaches Rose for basically kissing and leaving him to run off with another man. He plays the hurt of someone who runs whenever the woman he loves calls but who ultimately will never be a match for our intergalactic hero.
I digress to point out that when Badland was the Slitheen, her voice communicated a warmth when dealing with Salt. The Slitheen are a curious creature: they are evil but with their big eyes they almost look cuddly. You can't really fear them because they have an odd cuteness to them.
Once we get the threat of the opening rift, it's almost done to remind us that there is some sort of danger in this episode. Most of Boom Town is spent on dealing with relationships that the fact the world could get torn apart is almost incidental. There's nothing wrong with dealing with characters, but there is when you have them face a threat near the end only to be resolved so quickly that the TARDIS does it for them. Finally, an intergalactic surfboard...really?
I digress to wonder why we had to stop to explain the history of the TARDIS as a police box. I know fans of the revived series might wonder about the police box (given they aren't around anymore) but it does seem to have been written as exposition rather than straight-up dialogue. I think they could have had this conversation over breakfast with Mickey again being the curious one--I'd rather hear that then of Captain Jack's frolics in the nude (that Intergalactic Nymphomaniac).
Ultimately, as much as Davies appears to push the Slitheen into being these great Doctor Who monsters, it just didn't take. Boom Town is the last story (as of today) to feature the Slitheen (not counting cameos in The End of Time Part 2 and The Big Bang Part 1: The Pandorica Opens). Granted, they are actually a family called Slitheen (technically, they are Raxicoricofallapatorians, but it's just too damn hard to say that repeatedly), so calling the Slitheen themselves monsters may be technically wrong. Yes, you have them make a return in The Sarah Jane Adventures, but I'm speaking in reference to Doctor Who itself. The story isn't terrible, but it doesn't have a great sense of menace or threat. Really, the villain could have been anyone. In the end, Boom Town is really a bust.
Next Story: BAD WOLF PARTS 1 & 2 (Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways)
* This entire phrase courtesy of the Doctor Who Wiki Page.