Boom Town

And I was having such a nice day.

The Ninth Doctor

Synopsis

The Ninth Doctor, Jack and Rose return to modern day Cardiff, where they are joined by Mickey. On their arrival, they find that Blon Fel-Fetch Passamer-Day Slitheen (better known as Margaret Blaine) has become Mayor of the city, with no obvious escape route off Earth and willing to tear apart the world to ensure her survival.

Review

The Slitheen are perhaps one of my least favourite creatures in the history of the show, so it is always a surprise to me that when I rewatch Boom Town that I enjoy it so much. I know that this one can be a bit of a marmite episode for a lot of people, but I feel that it does a good job of being a ‘calm before the storm’ of the finale and moves relationships between the Doctor, Jack, Rose and even Mickey to a different levels.

The story seeks to draw together the arc before sending us spinning into the chaos of the end of Eccleston’s only televised series. We get an acknowledgement – and equally quick dismissal – of the fact that the words ‘Bad Wolf’ have been following the Doctor and Rose through their travels in time and space, and the story’s resolution seems only to be there to set up future events in Parting of the Ways. The resolution does let this story down as the TARDIS becomes a deus ex machina, and it is a little frustrating after the focus on the Doctor, his conscience and ongoing theme of the consequences of his actions catching up with him is undermined somewhat by a lazy conclusion. As the Ninth Doctor has softened in his behaviour through the course of this series, it would be interesting to see if he could deal with dropping Blon back on Raxacoricofallapatorius to be killed by her race. As it is, the plot gives her a second chance, something which the Ninth Doctor has been unwilling to give some other characters, for instance Adam or Cassandra. The story is quite witty, and whilst Mickey is still the comic relief, Clarke’s performance seems to have matured since earlier in the series. I remember hearing an interview with Noel Clarke from a while ago in which he said that his attitude towards Doctor Who and acting in general changed after a car accident that occurred during production of the first series, and it is a noticeably better performance. I’ve found a link to it (below), which is worth a watch!

The story starts off really fast-paced from the arrival of Mickey in Cardiff, then slows down for introspection during the restaurant scene, but it is to director Joe Ahearne’s credit that the change in pace doesn’t affect the wider story. Scenes like the ones in the restaurant, or with Margaret in the TARDIS with the Doctor and Jack are really visually interesting. The latter uses some interesting areas of the TARDIS set which I don’t recall seeing before or after this, whilst the former could feel cartoony in the wrong hands, especially the bit with the dart. Ahearne keeps the camera tight on the Doctor and Margaret in these scenes, which makes the scenes feel quite claustrophobic. The scene in the TARDIS where Blon asks her captors whether they can look her in the eye knowing that they are taking her to her death is an interesting one, as I suspect that if the events of this story had happened earlier in the series, the Doctor might have held her gaze. Eccleston and Badland are fantastic in their scenes together, especially in that restaurant scene, where both of them are sizing each other up. The turn by Badland, when she realises that the Doctor isn’t going to let her go is also superb.

Who the hell are you?

What do you mean, “who the hell am I?” Who the hell are you?

Captain Jack Harkness. Whatever you’re selling, we’re not buying.

Get out of my way!

Captain Jack Harkness and Mickey Smith

This is quite an important episode for Rose and Mickey too. This story sees Rose realise that she has unconsciously been quite self-centred through her travels with the Doctor, to the expense of Mickey and Jackie, as we’ve seen earlier this series. The TARDIS team seem quite cliquey when Mickey arrives, and we see what the trio look like to outsiders – and it acts as a precursor to some of the smugness when the next Doctor comes along in a couple of episodes time. Rose doesn’t even realise what she sounds like when she’s talking to Mickey and all she’s talking about is the Doctor and their travels together, leading to him ultimately talking about going out with Trisha Delaney instead, despite his devotion to Rose, which has led him to coming down to Cardiff on the pretext of bringing her passport. By the end of the story, Rose seems to have realised how her behaviour has affected Mickey and is almost left wishing for a second chance, like Margaret. The performances from themselves and Barrowman are good, even if Jack takes a backseat for most of this story. I wish we had more of the Ninth Doctor, Rose, Jack and Mickey as a team as they have a really fun dynamic.

Verdict: Boom Town is a good episode to reflect on how far characters have come over the course of the first series. There are a lot of fun moments in here too, but it is let down by the conclusion, which feels a bit underwhelming. 8/10

Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), William Thomas (Mr Cleaver), Annette Badland (Margaret), John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Mali Harries (Cathy), Alan Pedrick (Idris Hopper) & Alan Ruscoe (Slitheen).

Writer: Russell T Davies

Director: Joe Ahearne

Behind the Scenes

  • The episode had a working title of Dining With Monsters.
  • The episode was originally offered to Paul Abbott and would have taken place in Pompeii, with Jack discovering that the Doctor has manipulated Rose’s life to make her into an experiment to create the perfect companion. Abbott had to pull out due to other commitments.
  • Russell T Davies wanted to bring back Annette Badland, as he found her performance in Aliens of London and World War Three to be brilliant, despite her not having many lines.
  • The first story to be set in modern-day Cardiff and establishes the Cardiff Space-Time Rift as still being active, thus laying the groundwork for the spin-off, Torchwood.

Cast Notes

  • William Thomas previously appeared in Remembrance of the Daleks, making him the first performer to appear in the original and revived runs of Doctor Who. He would go on to play Geraint Cooper, Gwen’s dad, in Torchwood.

Best Moment

I quite like the scenes of the Doctor, Rose, Jack and Mickey making their way through City Hall to confront Margaret.

Best Quote

I promise you I’ve changed since we last met, Doctor. There was this girl, just yesterday, young thing…And something of a danger. She was getting too close. I felt the bloodlust rising, just as the family taught me. I was going to kill her without a thought. And then…I stopped. She’s alive somewhere right now. She’s walking around this city because I change! I did change! I know I can’t prove it –

I believe you.

Then you know I’m capable of better.

It doesn’t mean anything.

I spared her life!

You let one go, but that’s nothing new. Every now and then, a little victim’s spared. Because she smiled, because he’s got freckles, because they begged. And that’s how you live with yourself. That’s how you slaughter millions. Because once in a while, on a whim, if the wind’s in the right direction, you happen to be kind.

Only a killer would know that. Is that right? From what I’ve seen, your funny little happy-go-lucky life leaves devastation in its wake. Always moving on, because you dare not go back. Playing with so many people’s lives – you might as well be a god. And you’re right, Doctor. You’re absolutely right. Sometimes you let one go.

Margaret Blaine and the Ninth Doctor

Previous Ninth Doctor Review: The Doctor Dances

Other stories mentioned:

The End of the World

Aliens of London

The Long Game

References

Noel Clarke interview with Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode

World War Three

World War Three Doctor and Harriet

I think you’ll find the Prime Minister is an alien in disguise!  That’s never gonna work, is it?

No.

Fair enough.

The Ninth Doctor and Policeman

Synopsis

With the Slitheen family planning to destroy the Earth to sell off for fuel and the Doctor, Rose and Harriet Jones trapped in Number 10 Downing Street, the fate of the human race is in the hands of one man: Mickey Smith.

Review

Like the first part of this two-part story, I find World War Three to be utterly frustrating in times, especially when there are more interesting elements, in my opinion, begging to be explored.  The second part has the same issues with tone, with the broadly childish characters of the Slitheen family plotting nuclear armageddon and repetitive Scooby-Doo style chase sequences.  There are also parts that feel a lot like padding to get the episode up to the 45 minute mark – the Slitheen constantly feel as though they are constantly undressing from their rubbery suits, which can only be down to the episode falling short.

One positive, however, is the development of the character of Mickey.  In his previous appearance, he has been portrayed as the idiot, however, this story takes the opportunity to really do him justice.  In my review of Rose, I spoke about how I dislike how easily Rose abandons Mickey in the episode’s closing moments, and here we get to see that the Doctor has re-evaluated him by the conclusion of this episode’s events, offering him the opportunity to come and travel with him.  His character has not made a jarring change but instead has made the first steps towards a more believable change.  Potentially there hasn’t been enough groundwork laid for it to be believable that Mickey is capable of saving the day, however, I enjoyed the opportunity for the character to be useful rather than just being there.  Noel Clarke deserves credit for making this version of Mickey seem like a logical progression rather than an overnight change though.

I just went down the shop and I was thinking, you know, the whole world’s changed.  Aliens and spaceships, all in public.  And here it is.  How can they do that? They saw it.

They’re just not ready.  You’re happy to believe in something that’s invisible, but if it’s staring you in the face – “Nope! Can’t see it”.  There’s a scientific explanation for that.  You’re thick.

We’re just idiots.

Well…not all of you.

Yeah?

Mickey Smith and the Ninth Doctor

Christopher Eccleston again does do the best he can with a rather subpar script.  The scenes with the Doctor trapped with Rose and Harriet Jones in the Cabinet Room are some of the highlights of the story with the Doctor trying to work out how to stop the Slitheen whilst Jackie questions whether he can guarantee her daughter’s safety.  There are other great parts of his performance as well, especially his broad grin when he re-enters the TARDIS at the end of the story and his speech to Rose about the Horsehead Nebula.  He is especially at his best when he is responding to Margaret Blaine’s incredulous reply to the fact that he believes that he can stop the Slitheen despite being completely trapped.  He even gets to bluff when he talks about triplicating the flammability of the alcohol which is a lovely moment.  Penelope Wilton as Harriet Jones also feels as though she’s doing the best with this story and the pair of them add some gravitas to this generally and at least keep me entertained for the majority of the episode.  Harriet Jones has some lovely moments, even minor ones like telling the Doctor to pass the drink to the left first, which demonstrates that even in a crisis she doesn’t forget basic rules of manners and etiquette.

Slitheen World War Three

The elephant in the room here is the Slitheen family from Raxacoricofallapatorius.  The reveal of their home planet is just the latest revelation about these ridiculous creatures that irritates me.  I appreciate that Doctor Who is a family show, meant to provide something for everyone, however, I feel that the flatulent, booty shaking villains are frankly just too childish even for this general audience.  They are pretty incompetent villains too, demonstrated by the fact that the very weapons that they use to incapacitate the experts are also capable of harming them too, and they seem pretty ineffectual at hunting too.  Only the policeman who hunts Mickey and Jackie really seems to know what they’re doing, and this isn’t helped by scenes that wouldn’t feel out of place in Scooby-Doo or a Benny Hill sketch.  Ultimately though, their plan is quite interesting: they want the UN to give them access to the nuclear codes under the pretence of an alien threat in space, then use nuclear weapons to destroy the planet and sell the remains off for a profit.  However, with the flatulence and ridiculous undressing scenes and desires to be naked, it’s difficult to take them as seriously as the story demands, undermining the threat and damaging the tone of the episode.  I will praise Annette Badland, who puts in a good performance as Margaret Blaine in spite of some pretty cringe-worthy dialogue as I think she’s the best of all of the villains in the piece.

I feel that this story also neglects potentially the most interesting element.  The story begins in Aliens of London with Rose returning home 12 months after she left with the Doctor, and shows in a limited capacity the effect that this has on those left behind.  This is the first time in Doctor Who history that this kind of issue is even flagged up, and it is surprising that Davies, with his more domestic storytelling, doesn’t focus on this more.  Jackie, despite her concerns, still seems to grudgingly accept that she can’t stop Rose travelling with the Doctor, and it still bugs me that there’s no lasting consequence on the relationship between Jackie, Rose and Mickey due to the fact that the latter was suspected of her murder for an entire year.  Whilst it’s nice to see this issue brought up in the show, I feel that it could have been handled a whole lot better.  That being said, however, the scenes where Jackie pleads with Rose in vain for her to stay and the moment where she looks at her watch for ten seconds after the TARDIS dematerialises are utterly heartbreaking.

Mickey and Jackie World War Three

Verdict: A story that has some more interesting ideas but fails on execution.  3/10

Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), David Verrey (Joseph Green), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Penelope Wilton (Harriet Jones), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Rupert Vansittart (General Asquith), Morgan Hopkins (Sergeant Price), Andrew Marr (As Himself), Annette Badland (Margaret Blaine), Steve Spiers (Strickland), Jack Tarlton (Reporter), Lachele Carl (Reporter), Corey Doabe (Spray Painter), Elizabeth Fost, Paul Kasey & Alan Ruscoe (Slitheen)

Writer: Russell T Davies

Director: Keith Boak

Behind the Scenes

  • This story is the first time in either Classic or New Doctor Who that the TARDIS is seen to have a working telephone.

Best Moment

The scene where Rose and Harriet fire facts about the Slitheen at the Doctor to work out where they come from and how to fight back against them.

Best Quote

I’ve seen this life of yours, Doctor.  And maybe you get off on it.  And maybe you think it’s all clever and smart.  But tell me, just answer me this: Is my daughter safe?

I’m fine.

Is she safe?  Will she always be safe?  Can you promise me that?

Jackie Tyler and Rose Tyler

Aliens of London

slitheen spaceship

Every conversation with you just goes mental.  There’s no one else I can talk to. I’ve seen all that stuff up there.  The size of it.  And I can’t say a word.  Aliens and spaceships and things.  And I’m the only person on Earth who knows they exist.

Rose Tyler

Synopsis

Rose returns to Earth, only to find that the TARDIS has returned them a year after she originally left with the Doctor.  At the same time, a spaceship crash lands in the Thames, smashing through Big Ben in the process, and there are mysterious happenings at Number 10 Downing Street.  The Doctor is required.

Review

Aliens of London is the first time that the revived series really feels like it stumbles.  It may just be one of my least favourite episodes of Doctor Who that I have seen so far.  There is absolutely no subtlety here, with the story seeming like it’s been directed as an out and out comedy.  With the exception of Eccleston, Piper and Wilton, all the cast seem to be playing it for laughs.  Doctor Who doesn’t need to take itself too seriously, and a good fart joke isn’t in itself a massive problem, but the story doesn’t seem to know when to stop.  There are other elements of the episode that don’t work so well as well, but I’ll delve into them in more depth in this review.

Slitheen

The Slitheen are really the elephant in the room so I will address them first.   I don’t mind the idea of shapeshifting aliens, but the added element of the flatulence is a joke that wears thin far too quickly, and it isn’t aided by the performances of the three main actors portraying the human forms of the Slitheen.  Lines like “I’m shaking my booty” and “would you rather silent but deadly?” just make me cringe, which is partially down to the writing and partially down to their delivery, but combined, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  Part of me wonders why they didn’t think of bringing back the Zygons if they were going to use shape-shifting aliens – the production team obviously weren’t afraid to bring back ‘B list’ aliens, as they brought back the Autons in Rose.  I think if the direction and the actors treated the Slitheen slightly more seriously, they would be slightly less jarring to me – everything in the first series has been at least treated as a serious threat, but the treatment of the Slitheen makes them feel decidedly lightweight.  It is fine that they treat their plans on Earth as a bit of fun and a joke, but the fact that the episode itself does too seriously undermines them.

Another issue I have with this story is the fallout from Rose’s missing year, although I have to say I love the reveal at the start of the episode, more specifically the way Murray Gold’s score starts off bright and optimistic and slides into a minor key which puts the viewer on edge.  Jackie is pretty one-dimensional in her reaction to the reappearance of Rose, and thinking long term, this doesn’t really have very much impact on the relationship between Jackie and the Doctor going forward to the end of the Tyler’s time on the show.  In a way, Martha’s mother, Francine, has a much more understandable reaction after learning about the Doctor in The Lazarus Experiment than Jackie does here.  She is just angry and shouting constantly, which is understandable, but there are no hints of sorrow in this performance.  Coduri is just shrill, which just sets my teeth on edge, but I don’t think it is entirely her fault.  Again, there is no nuance to either the writing or the directing and her character suffers as a result.   The treatment of Mickey is also a bit ridiculous.  We’re led to believe that Mickey has been questioned about Rose’s disappearance and treated as if he murdered her for almost an entire year.  The story only briefly delves into the effect that this would have on a person, and Rose just asks him if he’s been seeing anyone else whilst she’s been gone.  If Mickey is going to be treated as the comedic “idiot”, which the story wants to do here too, judging by the scene in which he runs to the TARDIS whilst it is dematerialising and crashes into the wall behind it, then there’s little point in adding this detail to his character.  It goes without saying, but Mickey being suspected for Rose’s murder and Jackie’s treatment of him during this year is never explicitly mentioned again after this two-parter.

Excuse me.  Harriet Jones.  MP for Flydale North.

I’m sorry, can’t it wait?

But I did have an appointment at 3:15.

Yes.  And then a spaceship crashed in the middle of London.  I think the schedule might have changed.

Harriet Jones and Indra Ganesh

Fortunately, some of the cast are treating it as serious drama.  Eccleston, Piper and Wilton give decent performances whilst the story crashes around their ears.  Penelope Wilton gives Harriet Jones suitable gravitas and she is likeable enough, even when asked to repeatedly churn out that “Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North” line which is initially amusing but wears thin quickly.  This is yet more evidence of Davies not knowing when to stop flogging a dead horse.  It is also really lovely to see Eccleston getting to investigate and discover on his own in this story, which is something we don’t really get to see him to do much of.  I love the Doctor’s equal disdain for the aliens who created the “mermaid” space pig and the soldier who shoots it dead, which for me is the strongest part of the episode.  I am going to put in an honourable mention for the scene where the pig is trying to break out of the morgue, which pays a rather obvious homage to Paul McGann’s regeneration scene in the TV Movie, which I only really noticed on this occasion! Billie Piper also helps to keep the story grounded, and these three performances perhaps save this story from me giving it a lower rating.

Verdict: Aliens of London might just be one of the weakest episode of the revived series.  Repeated jokes and extremely broad performances make this one to forget about as quickly as possible – the rest of the series does, anyway!  2/10

Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Corey Doabe (Spray Painter), Ceris Jones (Policeman), Jack Tarlton (Reporter), Lachele Carl (Trinity Wells), Andrew Marr (Himself), Matt Baker (Himself), Fiesta Mei Ling (Ru), Basil Chung (Bau), Rupert Vansittart (General Asquith), David Verrey (Joseph Green), Navin Chowdry (Indra Ganesh), Penelope Wilton (Harriet Jones), Annette Badland (Margaret Blaine), Naoko Mori (Doctor Sato), Eric Potts (Oliver Charles), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Jimmy Vee (Pig), Steve Speirs (Strickland), Elizabeth Frost, Paul Kasey and Alan Ruscoe (Slitheen)

Writer: Russell T Davies

Director: Keith Boak

Doctor Rose Downing Street

Behind the Scenes

  • First two-parter of the revived series and the 700th episode of Doctor Who.
  • The final Doctor Who story to have any footage shot at Television Centre.
  • This story introduced some recurring characters and aliens for this era of Doctor Who.  The Slitheen would go on to reappear in Boom Town and The Sarah Jane Adventures, whilst it would also introduce Harriet Jones, who had several appearances later in the Tennant era.  It also introduced Toshiko Sato, who would be a member of the Torchwood 3 team in the first two series of the spin-off, Torchwood.  Finally, it marks the first appearance of newsreader Trinity Wells.
  • This story features U.N.I.T. for the first time since Battlefield.  Notably, this is the last time they are referred to as the United Nations Intelligence Task Force.
  • The story moved the narrative of the programme to a year ahead of the broadcast version, something which would continue until Planet of the Dead in 2009.
  • The next time trailer being shown immediately after the cliffhanger was criticised, and following this story, the trailer for multi-part stories would only be shown after the closing credits concluded.

Best Moment

The scenes where the Doctor is off investigating at the hospital, especially when he expresses his disgust at what the space pig is, comparing it to a “mermaid” and his anger at the U.N.I.T. soldier for shooting it dead.

Best Quote

Excuse me, would you mind not farting while I’m saving the world?

Ninth Doctor

Doctor Aliens of London