“Boomtown” – Review: Redux

Captain Jack Harkness: “Who the hell are you?”
Mickey Smith: “What do you mean who the hell am I? Who the hell are you?”

Boomtown

Boom Town got mixed reviews on first showing and in hindsight this may have been because it was shown following after the incomparable “The Empty Child” / “The Doctor Dances” double bill, which will undoubtedly become one of the classic stories of the 43 years of this show’s history. It is certainly a filler episode, set in contemporary Cardiff (i.e. on the doorstep of the production team’s home) and features a re-use of the Slitheen (thankfully fart-free) so soon after their debut, so from a production viewpoint you get the feeling straight away that they are trying to save a little cash. Not that that is a bad thing, necessity is, after all, the mother of invention. Throughout, I got the impression that there was one great idea (the restaurant scene) and everything else needed to fit around it, which superficially sounds a bit negative. However, Boom Town like The Long Game earlier on, actually gets better on second viewing.

Things got off to an ignominious start with a quick but necessary rehash of the Slitheens’s previous appearance but it picks up soon enough as the impeccable Annette Badland shows up six month’s later. There are lots of linking themes that tie various aspects of Series One, and to some extent the wider Who mythology, together. The space-time rift that exists in Cardiff is visited in the modern era, which echoes back to its introduction in The Unquiet Dead and forward to its key role in Torchwood. Even the landing site of the TARDIS is used in that spin-off’s debut to explain one of the features of the Hub, that we later find out lies beneath Roald Dahl Plass. The revelation about the heart of the TARDIS itself, sets up the very finale of the series that leads to Nine’s regeneration: Deus ex machina say some dismissively but I look at it as being more meaningful and rich than that suggests.

The newly introduced Captain Jack gets little to do and feels somewhat superfluous to requirements, which is something of a surprise, although it’s clear when they are introduced that the trio have been travelling for some period of time between the last episode and this one. therefore, the fact that Jack has quickly grown from being an out-and-out conman into someone with heart and compassion can be easily assumed. We also have what I consider to be Noel Clarke’s best performance in Series One as the put-upon boyfriend, Mickey and he gives some indication of how the character might develop the following year. The other guest star is the afore-mentioned Annette Badland, who revisted her character, Margaret Blaine, from earlier in the series but here she was given much more breadth than previously and showed some great touches in bringing a little humanity to the role. Also, it gave Christopher Eccleston the chance to show yet another edge to the Doctor’s character.

The highlight of the episode is undoubtedly the restaurant scene and even if you were not in any way a fan of the show, you could not fail to be impressed with the tete-a-tete that unfolds, the beautiful dialogue and the powerhouse acting on display. [In fact, it’s not the last time that the highlight of an episode will be a scene in a restaurant but there’s a long way to go until “The End of Time”]. As the Doctor opines to Margaret that “You let one of them go. But that’s nothing new. Every now and then, one little victim is spared. Because she smiled. Cos he’s got freckles. Cos they begged. And that’s how you live with yourself, that’s how you slaughter millions, because once in a while, just on whim, if the wind’s in the direction… you happen to be kind” and the sharpest of ripostes from Margaret that “Only a killer would know that”. It’s a wonder to behold.

It will never be a classic tale but there’s plenty of depth when you look closely. However, not for the first time this series, the fact that it was the “Next Time” trailer during the closing titles that left the viewers begging for more rather than the story itself probably tells its own story in the end.

Highlight: The restaurant scene

Lowlight: The early thought that this might turn into another alien fart-fest

Talking Point: Do low-budget episodes such as this fit in well with Doctor Who mythology?

Demon’s Run Rating: 13 out of 20

Original BBC1 Broadcast: 4th June 2005

Marathon Status: Another day, another blog… the eleventh

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