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11 January 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 741: Boom Town

Dear diary,

Much like The Long Game, Boom Town has something of a reputation that precedes it. Coming sandwiched between two big two-part stories, being shot almost entirely on location in Cardiff (as Cardiff, this time), and featuring really only our main characters and Margaret Slitheen, it’s got a bit of a reputation of being a little bit cheap and a little bit rubbish.

But you know what? It’s not! Hah! It’s brilliant! I can remember, back in 2006 when I first stumbled into fan forums, reading all the dislike for this one and recalling it as being rather good, but over the years I’ve sort of slipped into the thinking that it’s probably one of this first series’ weaker episodes - if probably not as bad as some people say it is. Actually, though, there’s so much that I’ve enjoyed in here that I think it’s quickly rocketed towards the top of my list for the series as a real belter.

Again like The Long Game, this story serves a very specific purpose to the season, and is placed in this ‘just-before-the-finale’ slot for a very specific reason, because it’s levelling the playing field ready for the final showdown. As so many of the stories in this latter half of the season have been, this is all about character, and about the relationships between all the characters across the entire season. Most powerful of all are probably the scenes between Rose and Micky, out on the Bay, where they finally confront her running off at the end of that first episode, and address the fact of their relationship. I’ve seen it said repeatedly that Micky’s character was ‘re-written’ as the show went on to make him less of a pushover… but that’s nonsense! His character isn’t written - it evolves, and you can see that process most clearly in this episode. There’s something so powerful about that final scene, where he watches Rose and chooses to leave. Coming so soon after his confession that he hates that he’ll always come running when she picks up the phone makes it all the stronger. For me, that’s the real heart of the episode.

But then you’ve also got the Doctor and Margaret Slitheen out for dinner together! The only bit I could remember of this scene was the comedy moments with the dart and the poison gas, but once again, there’s a real emotional discussion underpinning the whole scene, and it all stems from that rather brilliant synopsis of the episode that Margaret gives in the TARDIS;


I wonder if you could do it? To sit with a creature you're about to kill and take supper. How strong is your stomach? 


Strong enough.


I wonder. I've seen you fight your enemies, now dine with them.


You won't change my mind.


Prove it.

It’s such a powerful exchange, and it reveals so much about the Doctor - especially when he then tries to find an excuse to not do it.

Annette Badland’s performance throughout the episode, but especially in her TARDIS scenes is simply flawless. I think I’m right in saying that this episode was largely crafted simply on the basis that Russell T Davies watched her in the earlier Slitheen two-parter and decided that she had to come back. Of all the monsters and villains this series, I can’t think of another I’d rather sit face-to-face with the Doctor in this situation.

Plus, you know me, I’m a sucker for a Slitheen. I’m just glad that we got one back for another episode! It’s also telling that between the start of the shoot, when they filmed Aliens of London, and the production of this episode, they’ve learned an awful lot about the making of Doctor Who. All my complains about the way the Slitheen were handled in the earlier story have been washed away now, because they’re far more clever with it this time around. That’s partly because they’ve learned to keep the actual ‘big green monster’ moments to an absolute minimum, but also because they’re shooting them better on the rare occasion that they do come along. The scene with the Slitheen on the toilet* for example, really shows off just how great those costumes are, with the little mouth movements and detailing in the face.

Perhaps my absolute favourite thing about all of this, though, is the way the TARDIS team are presented at the very beginning. I said yesterday that I’d likely miss the air of distrust between the Doctor and Captain Jack, but actually I like the sense that these three have been travelling around the universe for a long time together, having no end of adventures and getting more-and-more comfortable with each other. They’re unbearably smug and irritating to start with - which only helps to strengthen Margaret’s prodding and stirring later on. Something similar will be tried with the Doctor and Rose next season, setting them up for another fall, but from memory I don’t think it works quite as well as this does here.

All in all, a hidden gem at the tail-end of the season, and the perfect sorbet to prepare for the big finale to come…

*Probably the closest we’ll ever come to the oft-quoted ‘Yeti on the loo’.

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