RUSSELL T. DAVIES
DINING WITH MONSTERS
'THE COMPLETE FIRST SERIES' COLLECTORS' EDITION DVD BOX SET (BBCDVD1770) RELEASED IN NOVEMBER 2005.
The TARDIS crew take a holiday, but when the Doctor dines with monsters, he discovers traps within traps.
4TH JUNE 2005
Of all this series’ thirteen episodes, I was looking forward to Boom Town the least. Slated to feature a recycled monster in a present day setting, this one might as well have had ‘cheap money saving episode’ written into its Radio Times blurb.
However, though comparatively cheap it is, Boom Town is still as visually striking as most
of the preceding episodes, the production team obviously having taken great pains to make their native Cardiff look every bit as glorious on screen as Platform One or the Blitz. Indeed,
I don’t think the TARDIS has ever looked as good as it does parked up beside the fountain in Millennium Square, recharging its batteries from the Cardiff Rift introduced earlier in the season in The Unquiet Dead. Incidentally, it’s interesting that the TARDIS needs to refuel these days - a consequence of the destruction of Gallifrey, I wonder?
The story itself, though clearly borne of necessity, is actually rather inspired. The Slitheen costume needed another airing for the production team to really get their money’s worth out of it, but rather than simply re-hash Aliens of London on a shoestring in Cardiff, showrunner Russell T Davies uses the opportunity to do something that Doctor Who has never really done before - stop and take stock. Davies’ script looks at the carnage left in the Doctor’s wake as we catch up with the surviving member of the Slitheen family that he ‘butchered’ in World War Three, as well as the ‘boyfriend’ that Rose left behind in the same episode.
But despite its interesting premise, Boom Town feels much slower than its peers. I am hesitant to use the word ‘padded’, but this episode’s wordy scenes do tend to run for a lot longer than usual and far less actually happens in them. In this way, it feels more like one
of the more reflective Big Finish audio dramas, than it does Dalek or The Empty Child. That’s certainly not to say that this episode is devoid or energy of incident, however.
“According to intelligence, the target is the last surviving member of the Slitheen family...”
Davies’ script handles all three of the regulars well; the Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack
work wonderfully together. Even John Barrowman, whose character probably has the least exposure here, is given a number of chances to shine, and shine he does. I assume that
the events of the second batch of tie-in novels have happened since The Doctor Dances though, because here the TARDIS trio operate as one slick, well-oiled machine.
On a side note, I noted Rose’s reference to Justicia, the prison
planet that the Doctor took her to in Stephen Cole’s recent novel
The Monsters Inside. To my knowledge this is the first time that
the television series has alluded to the events of a tie-in novel so
strongly, arguably breaching the BBC’s marketing charter, but doubtless putting a smile on many a reader’s face. It’s nice to know that they do actually count...
“...you give me a kiss and run off with him and you make me feel like nothing, Rose! I was nothing!
I can't even go out with some stupid girl from the shop, 'cos you pick up the phone and I get summoned!”
However, as entertaining as the Doctor, Rose and Jack are, throw Mickey Smith into the
mix and you have an even more vibrant dynamic. The scenes featuring Mickey and Rose, each brilliantly performed by Billie Piper and Noel Clarke, really give this adventure and continue to give the series as a whole that all important grounding in real life - the idea that when the Doctor whisks someone away with him in his TARDIS, there are consequences - and Mickey has arguably suffered more than anyone as a result of the Doctor taking Rose away from him. This episode’s end, where Mickey sees Rose, but turns and walks away rather than run to her, is really quite painful to watch. I can only hope that we see more of Mickey, even if this is the end of his relationship with Rose.
And speaking of consequences, these are exactly what the Doctor comes face to face with when he finds that the last surviving member of the Slitheen family has become Mayor of Cardiff, and plans to blow up the entire city using her ‘Bad Wolf’ nuclear power plant just
so that she can escape Earth! Surely living in South Wales isn’t that bad?
“Dinner in bondage. Works for me.”
The villain of Boom Town could well have been any former foe really though; this is not a shock-horror scary monsters story, it’s more a psychological piece. Even the obligatory farting is kept down the bare minimum.
Given more screen time than in her previous episodes, Annette Badland gives an utterly engrossing performance as the Slitheen posing as the Mayor of Cardiff, Margaret Blaine. Badland plays the character on a knife-edge, maintaining that delicate Slitheen balance between humour and horror throughout, and even introducing an element of conscience.
And to her credit, in a few fleeting moments the viewer almost sympathises with her plight, especially when she is describing the mechanics of her execution (should the Doctor make good on his threat and return her to Raxacoricofallapatorius), or how she was brought up
to hunt and kill, having never known any other life.
“It was a very icy patch...”
And at times, Boom Town really takes us into murky waters. The night time scenes inside the TARDIS - where, as Rose points out, the Police Box shell of the TARDIS is for once being used as it was intended, i.e. as a makeshift cell; a novelty in itself! - really push the envelope psychologically. The moment when Margaret asks the TARDIS crew to each look her in the eyes before they deliver her to the proper authorities to be executed particularly sticks in my mind as being rather telling. Even the Doctor can’t match her gaze.
For every dark moment though, there is a frivolous one. Margaret trying to explain away the deaths of all the officials that died suspiciously in her presence is particularly funny, as is the Doctor’s “…she’s climbing out of the window isn’t she?” line to Margaret’s secretary, not to mention Margaret’s feeble spate of attempts on the Doctor’s life in the restaurant or all that slapstick teleporting. Even Margaret’s Slitheen name is amusingly onomatopoeic - Blon Fel Fotch, I believe, or something equally portly.
“The heart of the TARDIS. This ship is alive. You've opened its soul.”
The episode’s finale is beautifully done, as - once Margaret has demonstrated that she is, beyond reasonable doubt, rotten to the core - the exposed heart of the TARDIS regresses her into an egg so that she may have a second chance at life. This I found interesting for two reasons - firstly, just like in The Doctor Dances we have an episode where (save for a few health and safety officials and bureaucrats that no-one really likes) everybody survives the story unscathed, making me think that the series’ last two episodes are going to be very, very dark indeed. Secondly, and most importantly, it is emphasised that the TARDIS is a living creature. I love that mystique.
All told then, Boom Town is an intriguing little episode, cheap but hardly cheerful; thought-provoking and intense. Even the most generous of budgets are finite, and so the odd ‘bottle show’ is something that we shall have to get used to if Doctor Who is to endure. And Davies has certainly done a sterling job with this one, managing to tell a unique and absorbing story without breaking the bank.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
When is now? This episode takes place between the Aliens of London two-parter (March 2006), and The Parting of the Ways (late 2006). Given the apparently cold weather, we speculate that this story takes place in late autumn 2006.
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